New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

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Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

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How to Illustrate an Austrian in California

In a literature class we have been discussing images and symbols, and students created symbolic self-portraits and tried to show their interests, desires, fears, and traits with visuals only (no words allowed). This got me thinking about a visual representation of an Austrian in California when I came across this photo opportunity.

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Not many pictures can so clearly express Austrian in California than an Austrian-Bavarian dancer in lederhosen eating a burger at In-N-Out. Well, I guess I could have asked him to stand up so the short lederhosen are completely visible or asked him to put on the traditional hat with the eagle feather; and I could have hoped for a surfer walking past in the background or at least a palm tree visible through the window. So there is room for improvement and a reason to keep looking for an even better illustration of the concept of an Austrian in California.

In case you are curious, In-N-Out Burger is a fast-food chain founded in California in 1948 and still limited to the West Coast of the States, so it is often associated with California. When I was in Italy this spring, an In-N-Out burger with extra sauce was really the only food I missed after a while and was looking forward to when coming back to California. Some argue that In-N-Out is all a hype and not that great, but it does seem to get associated with California usually (read about the hype in this article about Hillary Clinton stopping at an In-N-Out – although I am not sure why this is newsworthy). And in case you are wondering why one runs into a guy in Bavarian/Austrian outfit in Northern California, the answer is that Oktoberfests with traditional dancers are becoming more and more popular on the West Coast as well.

Traditional Bavarian Dancers

Traditional Bavarian Dancers at an Oktoberfest at the Budweiser Brewery in Fairfield, CA

Reposing with Jewels: Bejeweled Skeletons of Saints in Austria

Statues of saints in Catholic churches aren’t anything surprising; skeletons of Saints adorned with precious stones and pearls, however, are quite a lot rarer and also much more fascinating. These bejeweled skeletons can be found in churches throughout Austria, Bavaria, and Switzerland and while they were rather common in the 17th century, many were taken down, looted, or lost in the 18th and 19th centuries. I am always amazed and amused by any bejeweled saint I come across; most of them nonchalantly repose on cushions and seem to try to make eye contact with those who meander down the side aisles of a church (most bejeweled saints are by side altars).

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Interior of the Church of Melk Abbey

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Saint Clemens in Melk Abbey – A Gift to the Abbey in 1772

During my last trip to Austria and Bavaria, I was lucky enough to see quite a few of these bejeweled saints (without actually looking for them). They are so-called Catacomb Saints and meant to personify the glory of afterlife – which explains the relaxed poses and the over-the-top jewels; I guess there is no stress and plenty of riches. The Catacomb Saints are skeletons that were found in catacombs in Rome, Italy in May 1578. During road construction, an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 remains dating back to the first three centuries of Christianity were found. Based on the amount and age of the remains found, the conclusion was that some of these remains must be the relics of early Christian martyrs. Perfect timing – during the Protestant Reformation in Europe many relics (the physical remains or personal effects of saints or venerated persons) had been destroyed or lost, and now new relics had been found. It was an opportunity to “restock” so to speak.

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Relic of San Feliciano in Capelle Medicee at the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy

 

 

The Catacomb Saints of course came without labels or a resume, so names were invented for them after they had been declared saints by the Church. Thus, many of the saints have very German-sounding names to fit the place where they were going to be housed. Catacomb Saints were often gifts by the rich and famous to a church, such as Saint Friedrich, who was presented to the Abbey of Melk by Austrian Empress Maria Theresia.

 

Fine mesh gauze covers the bones and jewelry; precious stones and pearls are sown to the fabric. The elegant clothes and fancy jewelry were often donated by the rich of the parish. Most of the work was usually preformed by nuns but also by monks. While I am fascinated by the poses of the skeletons and the artistry of placing the jewels, many visitors are rather put off by the display.

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A Bejeweled Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

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Close-up of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

 

Saint Sandal

Another Fancy Sandal of a Saint in the Monastery Engelszell

This repulsion by some  may be one of the main reasons why so many of the saints are not displayed to their best advantage: the glass cases are often old, dusty, and badly lit, so it is hard to see the details clearly or take a picture; few of the saints have clear descriptions beyond their names on labels; signage that could also explain their history and importance at one time is non-existent usually; and most of them are placed in side niches cordoned off by rope, so it is easy to overlook them. Guidebooks and even leaflets about the history of the building and parish found in the church rarely if ever mention the saints. This meant that I usually came to see a church and “stumbled” across a Catacomb Saint, so if you are interested in seeing some of the saints, do some research ahead of time to look for the churches that still display these amazing examples of sacral art.

Saint Author in Aldersbach

A Bejeweled Saint who also Seems to Be an Author the Church in Aldersbach

 

Close-up of Saint in the Monestary in Reichersberg

Close-up of Saint in the Monastery in Reichersberg

Note: Details about the Catacomb Saint are mostly from the signage at some of the churches that I did find as well as an article by CNN, which has some pretty amazing photos of the saints as well. I visited the churches in Engeslzell, Reichersberg, and Melk (all in Austria) and in Aldersbach in Bavaria.

The Beauty of a Toilet: Toilet Museum in Gmunden, Austria

“For many people, having a toilet is an afterthought, one of the easy-to-take-for-granted amenities of living in the modern world. But for 40% of the world’s population that lives without sanitation, having a toilet is a luxury, and one that can often make the difference between life and death” explains a posting by the American Red Cross. I would argue that for many Americans easy and free access to a bathroom is nearly seen as a fundamental human right, which explains the surprise of many American tourists in Europe when they figure out that public toilets often require a fee and receipts are checked consistently to ensure that really only customers use an establishment’s bathroom. And do not even think about hoping to find a bathroom in a supermarket. Bathrooms – and especially clean bathrooms – are not a certainty. This became clear for example on Mount Vesuvius, where no free bathrooms existed. The toilet I ended up paying for (I think it was one Euro) had no water to flush but was not designed to be a waterless porta potty and it had been used a LOT throughout the day. Let’s just put it that way: what cannot go down must pile up. At that point, I really wished for a lot more bushes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius…

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View over the Bay from Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Considering the impact of toilets and our dependence on them, it is rather surprising that they are not more celebrated or talked about. So it was a nice surprise to find a museum dedicated to toilets in Gmunden, Austria. Sure, the museum is definitely not the main attraction of the town. Rather, the main draw are the panorama of the magnificent lake Traunsee with the tall mountains in the background, castle Orth on an island in the lake, and maybe the ceramic manufacturer established in 1492.

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Lake Traunsee and Sailboats in Gmunden

 

Schloss Orth

Schloss Orth in Gmunden on a small island in the lake (Photo by Ibokel from Pixabay)

 

Saint Orth

Saint Nepomuk Statue on the Bridge to the Castle Orth near Gmunden

On my last visit to Gmunden, I finally visited the toilet museum in the center of town near the lake. The toilet museum (its official name is the sanitation museum) is one of five rather small museums housed in the so-called K-Hof. The other four museums focus on geology, salt and tourism, nativity sets and sacred art, and current art (it seems this exhibit changes throughout the year). It is a very eclectic/odd mix as one floor houses the nativity sets and the next one the toilets. The museum even includes a chapel. The toilet/sanitation museum focuses on sanitation objects from the 19th and 20th century even though the first water closet was already invented in the 16th century.

 

The museum has some interesting pieces with the majority of the exhbits from Central Europe, but it does lack an international or intercultural aspect. Would not this be the place to show and discuss the differences in toilets and the impact of the toilet on everyday life around the world? I expected the exhibit to be more informative and in-depth. But it does have some extremely beautiful toilet bowls that put the common current and very boring toilet bowls to shame. You won’t be able to find anything close to these in your local store I think. Here are some of my favorite toilet bowls (hmm  – what an odd and unexpected sentence to use):

The exhibit also includes other items associated with the bathroom such as toilet pulls and sinks and even an outhouse.

 

Outhouse

Old-fashioned Outhouse

The museum is entertaining enough but not worth a special trip; however, it is an interesting addition to a visit already planned to enjoy the panorama and the castle, which are worth a trip.

Gmunden is in Upper Austria, about an hour’s drive from Salzburg and nearly three hours from Vienna. The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM and during the summer (June-August) Tuesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM. Check the museum’s website for changes in the opening hours and other details.

Celebrating Beer in Bavaria

When states or counties put on exhibitions or fairs showcasing themselves, they usually focus on important historical events, natural sights, or maybe important figures. But Bavaria’s current state exhibition is about beer – of course. After all, beer was named Bavaria’s fifth element already in 1752 by Bavarian Chancellor Kreittmayr. Since beer brewing is historically closely connected with monasteries in Central Europe, it also makes sense that this exhibition is hosted in the Abbey in Aldersbach in southeast Bavaria.

The exhibition offers much – plenty of historical background on the production and cultural impact of beer, beer facts, interactive displays, curiosities connected to beer, a large beer tent with special exhibition beers and live bands, a tour through a modern brewery, and the art of the historical abbey buildings. We spent a whole afternoon at the exhibit and would have stayed longer had it not closed at six (the beer tent often stays open longer, but was closed early on the day we visited to prepare for a special event).

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Typical Interior of a Bavarian Pub (Photo from Pixbay – artist Stux)

Like many others, I have always connected Bavaria with beer, but many historical details highlighted by the exhibit were new to me while others were “oldies but goodies.” Of course, displays mention the Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) from 1516 that limits ingredients used in beer brewing to water, barley, and hops, but I did not know that until the 16th century wine was more popular in Bavaria than beer. Beer started to become a more popular choice because less wine was produced following cold summers and the destruction of vineyards during wars. In 1784, Bavaria wall already called the “beer country” in travel notes.

Wall of Beer Steins

Wall of Beer Steins

 

Currently, about a half of all German breweries are located in Bavaria, where in 1900 the average annual consumption of beer per person was 250 liters or 66 US gallons. This number has decreased to about 145 liters (38 gallons) per person per year in Bavaria, which is still higher than anywhere else in Germany. In comparison, the average number for 2012 in the US was 27.6 gallon according to USA Today. Bavaria used to be the land of the breweries with 4,777 different breweries in 1905. This number sank to 1,566 breweries in 1960 and 616 breweries in 2014.

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Number of Breweries in Bavaria over the Years

 

The exhibition includes a display of typical pub games as well as other artifacts connected with the Wirtshaus (pub), such as a beer mat from 1900. According to the displays, beer mats used to be made out of hair felt and are thus still called beer felts, “Bierfilzl;” paper beer mats were introduced in 1890.

Beer Mat

Beer Mat/Coaster Made out of Hair Felt from 1900

 

Memorable curiosities connected with beer are a display of motorized beer crates that are raced on race ways, a game of wearing “beer goggles” that create the visual impact of being over the driving limit, and a competition of carrying 27 beer-filled liter steins, which add up to 63 kilos (nearly 139 pounds) and were once carried by one waiter at the Munich Oktoberfest. Even Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria, is depicted carrying only 12 beer steins on posters and beer mats throughout the exhibition, so I decided it was not worth my wait at the display to even try carrying that many beer steins.

Motorized Beer Crate

Motorized Beer Crate

 

Carry Beersteims

How many full beer steins can you carry?

 

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Beer in the Fest Tent – The glass depicts Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria

The large beer tent with live music, Bavarian culinary specialties, and specially brewed exhibition beers as well as two additional on-site pubs encouraged us to make a day out of the exhibition and we enjoyed lunch but the tent was closed later on to prepare for a special evening event.

 

A nice break from all the information about and tastings of beer is a stroll through the monastery grounds (founded in 1136) and a visit to its pink Baroque church Maria Himmelfahrt with its bejeweled skeletons of saints, which are pretty common in the Alpine region and completely fascinated me (more about the bejeweled saints in this posting). I was in awe by the amount of precious stones, pearls, and gold covering the bones and amused by some of the body positions that are much more creative than just lying on the back and looking up the ceiling.

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Room Inside the Monastery as Part of the Exhibit

 

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Reclining Bejeweled Saint in the Church Maria Himmelfahrt

 

If you are in the south-eastern part of Bavaria and are somewhat interested in beer, I highly recommend this exhibition that is open daily from 9AM till 6PM until 30 October 2016. Check the exhibition’s website for entrance fees, special events, and directions: http://www.landesausstellung-bier.de/

 

PS: All data is from the displays in the exhibition or from the official website.

#doorporn in Italy: Odd Hashtag and a Shared Attention to Details

Sure, I am impressed my Michelangelo’s David and by Botticelli’s Primavera, two of the most famous pieces of art in Florence, but often I am more fascinated and entertained by the smaller details that help make this town so beautiful. I love ceilings and often spend more time looking up than at the sculptures or paintings in a museum here (see previous post). I also am fascinated by the doors and the doorknockers especially here in Florence but actually all places I have visited in Italy. So I was excited and surprised to learn that my fascination for beautiful doors is shared by many it seems and has created two popular hashtags on Instgram and other social media: #doorportrait and #doorporn.

The hashtag “doorporn” does seem a little overenthusiastic, but doors do deserve to be highlighted. Of course, there are the famous doors that are in art books and guide books, such as the doors of cathedrals and of course the Baptistry in Florence.

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Detail of the Doors of the Cathedral in Milan

But even average house doors in small alleys and not even close to any famous sites are worth a second or third look. The size and shapes vary and the colors range from perfectly faded shabby-chic pastels to bright greens and sumptuous dark browns. Some doors are so large that they are not even opened completely on an everyday basis, but a smaller, “normal-size” entryway has been cut into the large door to make it even possible to easily use the door.

 

I appreciate the color combinations of the doors with the house color.

At a closer look, smaller details such as doorknockers are also fascinating on their own (not sure why they do not have their own hashtag as described above).

And this hashtag seems to be limited to doors only and ignores the equally or maybe even  more exciting garden gates since they usually reveal a view into a lush garden or onto a villa.

Gate in Sorrento

Gate to a Backyard in Sorrento

I still stop for fabulous doors and doorknockers and take a few seconds to admire them, but I have given up on taking pictures of all the ones I stop at; I quickly had too many photos and stopped far too often on my walks to work or the train station.

“Memories in the Wind” – Exhibit by Raffaele Celentano in Sorrento

The best pieces of art can lose their luster in a disadvantageous setting or display design, and the right lighting or effective display can let a piece really shine and transforms it into a memorable experience where the piece of art seems to gain energy from the setting and sometimes the display/setting itself becomes nearly as important and memorable as the piece of art itself. I experienced this in the elegant dark rooms of the Gucci Museum in Florence (see previous post) and again in the photo exhibition entitled Memories in the Wind by Raffaele Celentano in Sorrento, Italy.

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Poster Announcing the Exhbit

The exhibition shows mostly black-and-white photographs of Italian scenes and street photography taken between 1990 and 2013 around the country. The photos depict scenes that often made me smile and reminded me of the stereotypical Italy that we expect as tourists. So the photos themselves are worth a look, but what made the exhibition so memorable and exciting was the space they are displayed in as well as the display design itself. The gallery is on the second floor of the Chiostro di San Francesco.

Chiostro di San Frnacesco in Sorrento

Chiostro di San Francesco in Sorrento: The Exhibition Is on the Second Floor of this Building

The space includes large windows overlooking the sparkling blue waters of the Bay of Naples and the silhouette of Mount Vesuvius. It is hard to know what to focus on – the photos on display or the view from the picture windows. Many of the photos are printed on canvas and are also displayed on the the balcony, where a swing hangs from a large tree that reaches up to the second floor. This is the perfect way to view photos about Italian scenes: on a swing overlooking the azure waters of the sea and breathing in the air sweet with the smell of blooming wisteria and lemon trees. I am not sure why not more galleries or museums embrace the idea of fresh air and a view in their exhibit space (for the pieces that can withstand the light and elements).

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Balcony as Exhibition Space

 

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View from the Balcony of the Gallery – Mount Vesuvius in the Background

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Some of the Works Displayed on the Balcony

To fit the theme of “memories in the wind,” many of the canvas prints are actually hung on a clotheslines interspersed with laundry: t-shirts, bras, pants, and stockings. The exhibit plays with the popular motive for tourist photos: laundry drying on the clotheslines in small and picturesque Italian alleys.

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Exhibit Outside on the Balcony

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More Pieces on the Clothesline

I enjoyed the photos but I loved the way they were displayed. I doubt that I would have been as excited about them if they would not have been fluttering in the wind with the Mediterranean Sea in the background and the smell of lemons in the air.

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Print on Canvas in the Staircase Leading to the Exhibit

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Photographer Raffaele Celentano in front of his Work

If you are in Sorrento, I highly recommend stopping by the gallery – no matter whether you come foremost for the photos or the view. Unfortunately, neither the website for the gallery nor the posters at the gallery list any opening hours, but the website includes a phone number. The artist, Raffaele Celentano, was in the gallery when I visited and explained his photos and inspirations for the exhibit in fluent German. The website also lets you visit the gallery virtually and “walk” around the space and see many of the pieces.