At one point during a strict lock-down phase of the pandemic, a controversy that had been simmering since June 2019 regarding the 2.4 square kilometer (0.92 square miles) areal that is home to the 330,000 graves serving as the last resting place for 3 million dead in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, flared up anew. Should the living be able to use the cemetery’s well-kept paths as a place to go for a run? Part of me got the critique. It was the same part of me that has never been quite comfortable with Arlington Cemetery’s dual-purpose as a resting place for the nation’s bravest and a tourist stop for DC’s Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. Another part of me, the part that recalibrates through a good run, rooted for a peaceful co-existence between the runners and resters. Granted, the upbeat orange runner signposts installed throughout the cemetery conveyed neither the solemnity nor the reflection due the cemetery’s (semi-)permanent residents (“semi-” because make no mistake, in Austria, they are hardcore when it comes to timely payment of gravesite fees – dead or not, you don’t pay your rent for your six feet under and you will be booted outa there faster than you can say Zentralfriedhofbestattungsmuseumdirektor). But given the fact that vehicles of all shapes and sizes were, with special permission, also allowed to drive the cemetery’s lanes, it seemed hard to argue that anyone out for a quick canter around the tombstones would be causing any kind of greater disruption. A part of me believes that the cemetery’s (semi-) permanent residents would even appreciate the presence of young, fit visitors, breathing deep and moving fast. Austrians, always the diplomats, baptized the trails “The Silent Run.” According to a report by the ORF (Austrian National Broadcasting Agency), the Central Cemetery hadn’t received a single complaint about runners using the trails. In these polarizing times, that’s something to aspire to.
Just wanted to take time out from my dissertation work (yep, still working on it) to wish everyone a wonderful 2020. May all your resolutions hold till February at least!
A beloved, albeit ambivalent, saying about Vienna goes: “When the world ends, I’m heading to Vienna, everything there happens 50 years later.” Actually, the jury is out on whether the original statement predicted it would take Vienna 10 or 50 years longer to end and whether the Austrian who declared it was the composer Gustav Mahler or the satirist Karl Kraus. Regardless of who the sage was, and however long Vienna would need to catch up with the rest of the world, it is exactly this saying that came to mind yesterday evening while dining at the Pfarrwirt.
What you won’t see when you visit the convenient online-reservations section of Pfarrwirt’s professionally done website is any indication that this restaurant has a smoking and non-smoking section and has reserved the superior seating for the friends of Phillip Morris. The reservation form poses all the necessary questions EXCEPT a preference for smoking or non-smoking.
In fact, nothing, NOTHING, on the carefully crafted website, complete with a gallery of room-by-room photos, gives any visual or written indication that your dining experience will begin by navigating through a hanging cloud of fumes to arrive at the non-descript back room sectioned off for non-smokers. Assuming, of course, you are lucky enough after-the-fact to secure a non-smoking table. (Unfortunately, we weren’t).
Immediately upon detecting (smelling) our dire reservation mistake two minutes after being seated at our first charming table, the staff was professional enough (or accustomed to such last-minute requests by unpleasantly surprised guests?) to swiftly re-situate us to an alternative table directly outside of the glassed-in, far smaller, non-smoking section (which, not surprisingly, was full). This new table was where hope went to die. Instead, of counting our losses and high-tailing it out of there, we recklessly remained seated and ordered, falsely believing that the two bouncing, bright-eyed 6-month olds at each of the tables next to us would guarantee a smoke-free evening.
Ten feet away, three perniciously determined nicotine addicts worked their tobacco-stained way through enough Marlboros to make up for every non-smoking diner present.
The Pfarrwirt boasts that it is Vienna’s oldest restaurant. Nestled in an enchanting, cobble-stoned square beside a picturesque church more than seven centuries (!) old, I don’t doubt that it’s true. The whole locale oozes in so much Old-World charm, you want to bundle it up and preserve it on the front cover a Christmas greeting card. Assuming, of course, that you don’t mind if the golden-winged cherubs wishing you “Good Cheer” all have Pall Malls dangling from their pouty, angelic lips.
When you go out to dinner, and particularly when you are entertaining guests from abroad, you really want three things from your restaurant of choice: 1) savory meals (and quality wine) 2) professional staff and; 3) an atmosphere that imbues you with the sense that everything has come together in effortless perfection.
Pfarrwirt achieves the first two of the three. The food was good (not great but good – though the chocolate mousse was great), the wine selection okay, the staff attentive but not overbearing (though when I kindly suggested a smoking/non-smoking button option on the website, our waiter seemed to imply it was my mistake for not mentioning my preference in the “Your message to us” box at the end of the page), but when the place reeks of cigarette stench so stifling that every non-smoking diner feels asphyxiated, no stretch of the imagination can describe the dining experience as “imbuing a sense of effortless perfection coming together.” In fact, if you venture to close your eyes in an attempt to grant them a temporary break from the stinging fumes, rather than the fine aroma of Schnitzel inspiring illusions of a visit to one of the city’s best restaurants, the pestilent odor of Lucky Strikes conjures up images of a fenced-in courtyard of a high-security prison facility. With main courses ranging in price from 12 to 30 Euros, you expect a high quality dining experience that will be impossible for Pfarrwirt to ever achieve as long as it persists in allowing a nicotine haze to permeate its air, penetrate its food, and invariably taint what-could-have-otherwise-been a (positively) memorable experience.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but it ain’t nearly good enough. In fact, in this case, it was highly disappointing.
For a restaurant that once had a smoking section and then decided it was time to go completely smoke-free, check out a local favorite – the Schöne Perle. No, it is not Vienna’s oldest restaurant and it does not look so quaint that it belongs on a Christmas card, but you will be guaranteed good food, good service, and a smoke-free atmosphere. (Reservations recommended). Save room for the Susi Torte for dessert. Decadence embodied. Usually one serving with forks for everyone is the way to go!
Hoping everyone had a great “slide” into the New Year and wishing you all in 2018 happiness, fulfillment, and plenty of quality time with good friends and great books.
As for me, I am still slaving away at my studies of female-authored historical fiction novels of the US Civil War so I am still on break from this oh-so-lucrative blogging gig and currently buried in cotton rather than coffee. I hope the old blog posts might be of use to some of you. If not – maybe my ostrich photo will make a good 2018 screen saver for some. Gotta admit those ultra-cute, clueless faces staring back at you generate more fuzzy feelings than all those eavesdroppers, and peeping Toms you’ve inadvertently granted unrestricted access to 24/7 monitoring of your every action via apps using the microphone and camera on your devices. I promise, the ostriches are non-info-gathering birds (how much can a billiard ball sized brain retain in one sitting?).
If I have one personal wish for 2018, it is that Austria will NOT go back to the stone age, cave into corporate, anti-health interests and relax the smoking laws because I do care about you (and all those poor bright-eyed, rosy-lunged service personnel out there who have to inhale your cigarette-induced hazes of death). Let’s face it, Phillipp Morris has earned enough dough to get from here to the moon and back quite a few times and emphysema is just not sexy. While puffing out a white cloud of noxious fumes through a hole punctured in your trachea might be a guaranteed crowd-generating or crowd-dispersing party trick (depending if your Friday night cohorts are more of the beer-pong or cocktails crowd), scoring a seat on the U6 with an oxygen tank in tow is a sure-fire way to get anyone’s carbon-monoxide clogged vessels bursting. And don’t go giving me that it’s your life and your body to poison how you see fit. You best believe that if you announced an intention to commandeer your trusty ol Ford pick up truck Thelma-Louise style over the nearest cliff, you can be damn well sure that I’d wrestle you to the ground and get those keys off of you before I let you kill yourself. Friends don’t let friends be stupid. I know if you are still addicted to those cancer sticks, you might just need a little nudge in the right direction. So, if you live in Austria and haven’t had the opportunity yet to sign the petition, please consider doing so: Petition against the New Smoking Law. I mean, think how ridiculous these ostriches would look with cigarettes hanging from their beaks! Not to mention venturing on the U6 with an oxygen tank in tow.