Friendship on the rails
I COUNT Leopold Hampel my best friend, I guess, since, were I
planning to marry, I would ask him to be my best man. I was the
groom's witness - Trauzeuge des Bräutigams - at his and
Monika Sulm's wedding in Vienna in summer 1995, and our affection
for one another seems never to have faded, though we meet
infrequently. Perhaps that is even the reason.
Next month will bring the 30th anniversary of our meeting in the
queue for the Vienna State Opera's daily standing places - he
"ein echter Wiener", I a sweaty Brit back-packer. After
striking up a conversation and the exchange of some innocent
confidences, he explained to me how we had to behave to secure
places at the very front of the raked area at the rear of the
stalls when the box office opened. This involved scuttling round to
the second ticket window that was not necessarily obvious to
Staatsoper virgins, and then, tickets in hand, dashing to stake our
We then had to delineate our territory, i.e. the length of the
metal rail on which we might prop ourselves during the performance
by tying something to it. Though it was summer, and hot in a
Mittel-European way, he had brought a woollen scarf for this
purpose. I was cloth-less; so he lent me a (clean) handkerchief,
which, though not entirely satisfactory in guaranteeing me enough
room, was better than nothing.
Having done this (still a full hour before the show), we went
for a drink and a cake, since it was Vienna, at the well-known
coffee house Aïda. The opera was Così fan Tutte.
I sent Leo a text on 4 August as my single act of First World
War commemoration, noting the centenary of a war between Britain
and Austria and thanking him for 30 years of
LEO and Monika sent me a handsome edition of a new English
translation of Robert Musil's novel The Man Without
Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) for my 50th
birthday. We had talked about it during a cosy March evening at
their Danube canal-side apartment, and, despite their both being
teachers of German literature, they admitted to never having read
this Austrian modernist classic.
Never to be daunted by the prospect of Baroque gargantuanism, I
have joyfully tackled it. To start with - and in this like Proust -
it is enormously funny. Set in 1913, Ulrich, the eponymous "man",
contrives to be employed as a theoretical mathematician in the
context of a leisured and pampered life in the capital of the dual
monarchy. His distinguished lawyer father insists on "real"
employment, propelling him through court contacts on to the
committee of the "parallel campaign" - the Austrian Establishment's
attempt to undercut plans for Berlin to celebrate the 30th
anniversary of the accession to the German imperial throne of
Kaiser Wilhelm II in June 1918, with a much grander event in honour
of the 70-year reign of Emperor Franz Joseph.
Engagement with such "pseudo realism" becomes the philosophical
theme of the novel. Readers, painfully aware of the real reality of
1918 (the novel, written mainly in the 1920s, never achieved
definitive form during the author's lifetime, and is generally
dated to 1978) are invited to laugh so as to avoid crying at the
pity of it.
I ATTENDED the enthronement of Mgr Nazareno Marconi as Bishop of
Macerata in July. Readers may remember that the largely Nigerian
Anglican congregation there worships in a church put at our
disposal by the Roman Catholic diocese (Diary, 17 February 2012). I
do all that I can, therefore, to show the ecumenical flag in
gratitude for this generosity.
So, after two Sunday-morning masses at All Saints', Rome, I
drove for four hours through torrential summer storms to be in the
Cathedral of San Giuliano by 6 p.m. Now, it is far more exhausting
to sit liturgically still for two and a half hours than to be
"performing" as a principal at these events; so I was looking
forward enormously to the dry Martini and good dinner promised me
beforehand by Professor Paolo Matcovich, the diocesan ecumenical
officer, after the obligatory bunfight - in this case, a hog roast
in the piazza.
So, there we were, outside our preferred cocktail bar, the first
Martini downed, when who should hurry past but the former Bishop of
Macerata, Mgr Giuliodori, and the Bishop of Città di Castello, Mgr
Domenico Cancian. They had been among the new Bishop's
consecrators, and had supported him at his taking possession of the
They were off to see Verdi's opera Aïda at the town's
world-famous opera festival, staged in the semi-open auditorium,
the Sferisterio, built into the town walls in the 17th century to
house a local form of real tennis. After only a moment's
hesitation, we found ourselves invited to join them in the
directors' box, since there was plenty of space, and so off we
went, dinner having now to wait till after midnight.
It was a far cry from standing places at the Vienna State Opera
- the best performance of Aïda I have ever heard, and the
magic and absurdity of the situation.
AFTER almost 15 years of my waiting for it as Chaplain of All
Saints', we have been adopted by a stray cat. She lives in the
garden, and seems to be having a beneficial effect on the almost
cat-sized rat population.
We have not named her yet, but we could do worse, I suppose,
than call her Aïda.
The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and
Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.