On holiday near La Rochelle, we went out for a meal this evening and I had fruits de mer. Our (American) son-in-law stayed at home to look after our grandson. I brought back a whelk for him. He thanked me kindly but declined. It seems there is no obvious American word for a whelk. I mentioned the English saying, He couldn’t even run a whelk stall.

My son said given how disgusting they look, I can’t see how anyone could run a whelk stall. Profitably, anyway.

I ate it, anyway, with the rubbery pleasure that whelks bring.

whelk Chatel 318.JPG

public writing THIS IS ART Bxl 615.JPGI’m sorting out photos from a few years ago, from the summer of 2015. I like this picture of public writing on the wall of some flats in the Petite Suisse area of Brussels.

Is art what artists do?

Is an artist someone who calls themself one?

Peter Hitchens on “The railway lines that are so perfectly fitted to our intimate landscape”

Peter Hitchens writes about the English country railway line he took as a child:

Since it closed, I have often walked or pedalled along its course, finding much of it needlessly neglected and overgrown, something which grew much worse after privatisation. If you did not know there had been a station at Marsh Gibbon and Poundon, you would never guess it now. I listen sourly and sceptically to vague, unfunded political promises… to reopen it. What I hear instead are plans to make the same mistake we made in the 1960s yet again – more roads, instead of the railway lines that are so perfectly fitted to our intimate landscape, and so cleverly and gently connect the ancient and the unspoiled to the modern and the busy.

(Spectator, 2.12.17)

ball train Orsha-Brest 815.JPG

This picture of a child and a ball in Belarus was taken from a train travelling the length of the country, from Orsha to Brest, in the summer of 2015.

A weekend in #Vienna

We caught the ICE from Brussels Midi station last Thursday evening to go to a party in Vienna. The BordBistro, which is one of the things I appreciate about these German trains, had less good food than usual, but I could still drink a Weissbier. At Cologne we picked up the night train to Vienna. The 2-person compartment was clean and new. German railways withdrew their night services a couple of years ago. We owe a lot to the Austrian railway company, ÖBB, for keeping theirs going. It would be nice to have a little table, though, like on the Russian night trains.

Austria from window morning night train Cologne-Vienna 318.JPG

In the morning the Austrian countryside was flat. The sky was curdly. We came into Vienna first thing and got the S-Bahn to Rennweg.

view from hotel window gold ferris wheel tower Vienna 318.JPG

The hotel let us have a room straight away, a big room with a small window with a view over the city towards a new Russian orthodox church. Joy – a kettle, teabags, a Nespresso coffee machine. I could hear the hooves of horses drawing tourist fiacres.

Friedmanngasse old housing social housing snow cars Josefstadtstr Vienna 318.JPG

At first I wasn’t so taken with the city. I found the grand late Victorian buildings florid – Manchester has some of the same things, for example on Portland Street, and I don’t like them either. Recent buildings showed flat stucco.

bicycles MacDonalds Vienna 318.JPG

When you weren’t looking at a McDonalds

glass balcony offices Vienna 318.JPG

you were looking at a McDonalds sign.

Hbf station Vienna 318 blue.JPG

The public transport system had an ugly square typeface, low ceilings, overlit spaces, angular angles.

Heaven/ Heaven is a place/ Where nothing/ Nothing ever happens.

tram Rennweg Vienna 318 2.JPG

But oh the public transport itself is marvellous. You can use it like water. Like turning on a tap.

public fish Stadtpark Vienna 318.JPG  public mussel Vienna 318.JPGpublic mermaid sphinx Belvedere Vienna 318.JPG  public babies fish .JPG
And there are some lovely sculptures across the city of water creatures.

public birds Vienna 318 2.JPG  public griffin cathedral Vienna 318.JPGsphinx Belvedere Vienna 318 6.JPG
And of air creatures.

public Mark Anthony Vienna 318.JPG
And of Mark Anthony in a chariot drawn by lions.

I was interested in the graffiti

public writing EUROPE WITHOUT GREECE IS LIKE A PARTY WITHOUT DRUGS S-Bahn Vienna 318.JPG(Europe without Greece is like a party without drugs)

PhD pricing candles St Stephen's cathedral Vienna 318.JPGand in the candle pricing policy practiced by St Stephan’s cathedral.

We went to a book reading by the author Robert Pimm, at the Café Korb. The electric bus, 2A, dropped us off right outside. His thriller Blood Summit kept me up till two. He said that he once went to a reading by P.D. James. She said that up to a point in one of her books, she didn’t know who did it. When he heard that he stopped wanting to read her. If she doesn’t know, how am I supposed to work it out?

trendy hairdressers PH Vienna 318.JPGIn preparation for the party I went for a haircut in a city centre hairdressers with high ceilings and a parquet floor. A boy in a black elf costume gave me a 0 and a hot cloth head rub. How much will that be? I asked the tattooed leather-wearing manager. He looked at my head and smiled. You can have that for nothing, he said. Just give the boy a tip. Enjoy your visit to Vienna.

On Saturday the snow came down.

Leigh's party Vienna 318.JPGThe party was at the British embassy, dancing late, and brunch there on Sunday morning.

egg cups Leigh's brunch Vienna 318.JPGThe embassy crockery includes a set of egg cups.

politics queueing to vote Russian embassy Vienna 318.JPGLeaving the embassy we passed an anti-Putin demonstration corralled outside the Italian embassy; then a people queuing to vote in the Russian election (voting music was being played); then the Orthodox church we saw from our window.

On Sunday evening, after a visit to Cohen’s Smartfoods at the railway station, it was time for the train home.

Things that were different from home (Belgium): good internet in every café and restaurant. No bread with meals. You are expected to write the tip into the card payment machine, not leave a separate quantity of cash. The hotel room had a kettle. (It warned, however, that the kettle was for water only.)

On the way home we had a bit of a to-do at Frankfurt airport station; that’s another story.

Snow: the view from my office window in Brussels this afternoon

snow from my office window curves cars flats bicycles Bxl 318.JPG

What is it about the romance of snow? When we don’t have it, we complain about it. Snow is important to who we are as humans. It delights, brings surprise and play; it transforms, shifts the mood, fills the world with possibility. It brings us into the moment when being in the moment is so rare these days. – Miriam Darlington in the Times, 17 February

Is it the same for everyone?

A colleague skipped across my office this afternoon, in pleasure at the snow out the window.

I wanted to skip too.

Yet I remember a meeting of Commission people a few years ago when fluffy snow started to come down out the window where we were meeting, even later in the season than this and heavier, visible to everyone, coming down continuously. Noone remarked a word.

Snow Girl and Penguin, Christmas cake, Boxing day 1216.JPG(Snow Girl and Penguin on the Christmas cake, a couple of years ago)