Nostalgic Thoughts about The Vienna Coffee House

borscht and strudel | image: taken by me

This piece was a commissioned by curator, poet and translator Jen Calleja for the Austrian Cultural Forum .

I was asked to respond to a past event at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London for their 60th Anniversary. I chose the event Nostalgic Thoughts about The Vienna Coffee House, that took place in 1979. I made a site specific sound sculpture (foodwordmemoryloops) in a recreation Vienna Coffee House and read live over the top of it at the event VARIATIONS ON A THEME on Saturday 18th June, 2016.

The Vienna Coffee House is always nostalgic; it grasps at a moment long gone. The interior of Vienna houses and the content of the menus in Vienna coffee houses always refer to the past, specifically, to the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The menus of Vienna coffee houses are filled with booty from the Imperial sprawl – schnitzel from Italy, borscht from Ukraine..

Can you think of Vienna and not think of coffee houses? No, you cannot.

Curtains, wallpapers, flooring, chairs, uniform-wearing waiters, cooks, soft drinks have been replaced, but replacements are in the service of maintaining an identical Vienna Coffee House.

delaunay

The force that resists the rigor mortis of The Vienna Coffee House, is the stream of new voices and new bodies that course through it every day, misting up the windows, spilling coffee, dropping crumbs. Words are like breath, a kiss of life, whirlpools (‘Strudel’) of thoughts and memories around each table, keeping its blood circulating, whirling…

I took the words of participants from past performances I had given at The Austrian Cultural Forum, where I fed the audience food I had made to provoke memory, and asked them to write down words, poems, memories, moments of ritual. I collected their words and for this piece, made loops, creating a burble of memory. The loops are the overlapping conversations you might overhear in a Vienna Coffee House. Sometimes, while drinking a coffee, in a Vienna Coffee House, you reach into the burble and pluck out a thought, an idea, an instruction for moving forwards, a paradigm shift, an image that resounds and begins a new loop with you.

I recorded the foodwordmemoryloops in a recreation coffee house in London (The Delaunay), where elements of The Vienna Coffee House had been painstakingly pieced together to give the impression of authenticity. I ate borscht and strudel, dishes that provoked memories in me, as I listened in to others around me. I wrote my own memory loop to read live over the recording, which flickered in and out of the foodwordmemoryloops I was reading aloud, my own past, and Nostalgic Thoughts about The Vienna Coffee House, provoked by the space.

delaunay wall
‘Authentic’ Austrian images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nostalgic thoughts about The Vienna Coffee House
borscht and strudel
(Count to 2)
I remember
borscht
Eurovision 2009
the first time
I made it
(Count to 2)
I remember
boiling onions
boiling beet
boiling broth
boiling beef
a girl who
clung on too hard
as I stirred the pot
(Count to 2)
the unfamiliar practice of
adding vinegar to soup
to make it taste like
borscht
(Count to 2)
here
they’re too familiar with it
(Count to 2)
soup too sharp to taste
a bad borscht
unfaithful tribute
pastiche became parody
and this ham and cabbage strudel
is rancid
(Count to 2)
a shock
(Count to 2)
I remember
every other rancid
rind I’ve spat
(Count to 2)
it does no credit to the
Vienna Coffee House
here
they’re too familiar with it
(Count to 2)
the Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
always the
definite article
there is only one
there is only one
Vienna Coffee House
every other one
refers to
nostalgic thoughts about
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
every Vienna Coffee House
is nostalgic,
refers to one
nostalgic
Coffee House
(Count to 2)
a house
a dry dead bone land
an unfaithful home
a copy but
still
but still the
(Count to 2)
Vienna Coffee House
a dry dead bone land
an unfaithful home
it is a copy but
still
but still
but still a home
in between homes
it is a copy but
still,
the voices
flow through
(Count to 2)
voices
touching the walls
grazing the floor
making the recreation of
The Vienna Coffee House
treacle dark
wooden panels
clammy
giving brassy waiters
in The Vienna Coffee House Uniform
a kiss of life
words like breath
(Count to 2)
words like breath
make the windows run
– condensation –
water of life
the salty expiration of
new lungs filled with
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
words like breath
make the windows run
– condensation –
water of life
the salty expiration of
new lungs filled with
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
Dipping in the spoon
again
I remember
borscht
Eurovision 2009
the first time
I made it
(Count to 2)
I remember
boiling onions
boiling beet
boiling broth
boiling beef
Count to 2
I remember a girl who
clung on too hard
as I stirred the pot
(Count to 2)
the unfamiliar practice of
adding vinegar to soup
to make it taste like
borscht
here in
The Vienna Coffee House
they’re too familiar with it
(Count to 2)
again
soup too sharp to taste
a bad borscht
unfaithful tribute
pastiche became
parody and this
ham and cabbage
strudel is rancid
(Count to 2)
I remember
a shock
I remember
every other rancid
rind I’ve spat
My worst food memory
My worst food memory
does no credit to the
Nostalgic thoughts of
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
it is a copy but
still
but still
the voices
flow through
(Count to 2)
touching the walls
grazing the floor
making the recreation of
The Vienna Coffee House
treacle dark
wooden panels
clammy
giving brassy waiters
in The Vienna Coffee House uniform
a kiss of life
words like breath
(Count to 2)
words like breath
make the windows run
condensation
water of life
the salty expiration of
new lungs filled with
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 2)
The Vienna Coffee House
two dozen
overlapping
sitting rooms
(Count to 2)
pools of sound
parallel worlds
whirling galaxies of
words wheeling
round, ricocheting
off the hard
marble floor
the burble burble
of memory
I reach my ear into
the burble and snatch
that moment
when you feel
something good
may happen.
(Count to 2)
an arousal trapped
between the past and
the anticipation
of the future
(Count to 2)
again,
I reach my ear into
the burble and snatch
that moment
when you feel
something good
may happen.
(Count to 2)
What connected us
was our haphazard
but enthusiastic attitude
towards spices.
What we created –
chicken in a yogurt-cinnamon sauce,
became a staple for a while.
A moment of father-daughter bonding
(Count to 2)
My mother makes the
most wonderful
nettle soup.
She picks
the stinging nettles
when they are young and tender.
(Count to 2)
The soup is a family symbol of spring.
It is grass green and vibrant
and tastes of nature
and new beginnings.
(Count to 2)
the salty expiration of
new lungs filled with
The Vienna Coffee House
(Count to 5)
The Vienna Coffee House
two dozen
overlapping
sitting rooms
(Count to 2)
pools of sound
parallel worlds
whirling galaxies of
words whirl
wheeling round
ricocheting
off the hard
marble floor
the burble burble burble
of memory
(Count to 2)
I reach my ear into
the burble and snatch
that moment
when you feel
something good
may happen.
Count to 2
The Vienna Coffee House
is a copy but
still
but still
the voices
flow through
(Count to 2)
touching the walls
grazing the floor
making the recreation of
The Vienna Coffee House
treacle dark
wooden panels
clammy
giving brassy waiters
in The Vienna Coffee House uniform
a kiss of life
words like breath
make the windows run,
condensation,
water of life
the salty expiration of
new lungs filled with
The Vienna Coffee House.

 

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