Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wiener Kaffeehaus and Thanksgiving for the Physical

"There shall be," it was declared, in a firm and serious tone,"no more socials for the week."

But we know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men.

And we know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men especially when what is on offer is Austrian fare.

Newspapers at Wiener KaffeehausSo at Wiener Kaffeehaus on Neil Road, the air was thick with the sweetness of coffee beans roasted and ground and brewed into heady liquor. The dark wood panelling, round marble-top tables, Michael Thonet-bentwood-type chairs and mirror-lined walls exuded the promise of a real Viennese kaffeehaus. On the newspaper rack near the door sat copies of the New York Times and the Süddeutsche Zeitung for a read while waiting for friends and food. Over on the other side of the room, there was a golden hint of Gustav Klimt's man in a geometric print cloak snogging a lady. "Eeee," said the boy at the next table,"the man kiss the woman." Later, the door swung open and a young blonde and an old brunette blew in, discussing ex-boyfriends, followed closely by the distinctive scent, topnote-wise, of fresh jasmine flowers and bottomnote-wise, of ang mohs who'd walked some distance in the humid Singapore night.
Fiaker Gulasch at Wiener Kaffeehaus
Then, before it could be explained why, until he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, only a select few had ever heard of Orhan Pamuk, there appeared on the table fiaker gulasch with frankfurters and fried egg and knodel dumplings and also roasted pork loin and sauerkraut and then a good apfelstrudel and a slice of sachertorte lined with apricot jam and also an Einspaenner (because we had a horse-cab-driver theme going on) and a glass of palate-cleansing water on a small silver tray.
Einspaenner at Wiener Kaffeehaus
(And because sometimes, brains take a hike after a decent dinner, there was the following conversation:
"Hmmm...Viennese," she said,"Viennese is Austrian?"
"Yes."
"Austrian is Communist?"
"No."
"Austrian is 'The Sound of Music'?"
"Yes."
"So Austria was where they were at the beginning of the film or at the end, when they were running over the hills?"

Whereupon there was a confession that, infact, nothing much was known about the beginning or the end of "The Sound of Music", or, for that matter, anything in between.

"But you must watch it! How could you not have watched it?"
"I was traumatised," I said,"as a kid, when I happened upon that kissing scene in the garden."
"You mean between Julie Andrews and whatshisface?"
"Yes, because she was a slut."
"No way. She was nun!"
"Worse then: she was a flirt!", the said nun having first of all, broken her vow of chastity, and secondly, stolen Captain von Trapp from his betrothed. Ah, the righteous indignation of snotty eight-year-olds.)

And we love Wiener Kaffeehaus because nowhere among the packets of roasted coffee and shelves of shining coffeemakers, nowhere, was there even a peek of paraphernalia commemorating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday: Mozart, that is, currently of the malted chocolate milk fame, formerly of the Mozartkugel chocolate fame, and slightly more removedly of the Peter Schaffer "Amadeus" fame. (There were, however, T-shirts printed with the opening bars of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik".)(But, like, hello, let's get over Wolfgangus already. What about Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert and Erwin Schrödinger and Ludwig Wittgenstein? Why not diversify into Schubert sherbets and Schrödinger cats?)

But speaking of Nachtmusik, Wiener Kaffeehaus wasn't that sort of Nacht-Café where buxom prostitutes are groped by leery men. Down the nearby Keong Saik Road, however, nestled among a Whatever and the boutique "Hotel 1929" and "The Royal Peacock", there were old shophouses with their numbers clearly lit for nacht business and ladies of the nacht looking sheepish in the lobby of the "cosy" Hotel 81.
Keong Saik
When we'd sauntered to the other end of Keong Saik Road, I said, "Let us go," ill-advisedly waving in the general direction of Pearl Centre where the well-stocked Visma and also the dodgy Yangtze Cinema were located,"to the CD shop."
Yangtze Cinema
There was an awkward silence and some shuffling about.
"By CD," I hastily clarified,"I meant CD, like Charlie Delta. Not seedy, like lonely old men with umbrellas."

Visma Video & Trading Pte Ltd
100 Eu Tong Sen Street
#01- 21 Pearl's Centre
Singapore 059812
(+65) 62249592
*************

Catholic upbringings leave one sensitive to the danger of false piety and meaningless ritual, so it was a conscious decision not to make a practice of saying grace before meals.

However, over Hari Raya, I've been reminded (even though it ought, really, to be patently obvious) that there is much to give thanks to God for that need not be merely ritualistic. We tend to think that the God preached by Christians is a stern austere wetblanket, purely concerned with a spiritual higherplane. But the God of the Bible is nothing like that at all: for it was he who created the universe physical; he created dry land and gathered together the seas, he created lush vegetation and trees laden with fruit, he made the waters team with fish and creatures of every kind and filled the air with birds of many colours and songs, he brought into existence all animals on earth, and he also made man - physical. And he looked upon his material creation and saw that it was good (Genesis 1).

So there is nothing inherently evil about the physical and we are neither to despise our bodies, nor its pleasures, nor any created thing like food or textiles. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). And indeed the new creation, the new heavens and earth and the new bodies that we look forward to will be physical, as the bodily resurrection of Jesus was physical (1 Corinthians 15).

Yes, we should hate sin and we should not use our bodies and their pleasures in sinful ways - for greed or gossip or against God's creational design etc; we should exercise control over our bodies and master our desires. And we are rightly sad when there is physical sickness and infirmity because these things are some of the consequences of our sinfulness and the Fall.

But there is also much to give thanks to God for: hearts and lungs and brains that function to give us breath, general mobility, eyes that can appreciate the modern European Art Deco interior of a café, the sun and the rain that bring forth the plants that feed the animals, hands that prepare wonderful food, palates that taste and enjoy the fruits of the land, ears that take pleasure in music, joy in friendship, synapse-to-synapse connections, language, fingers that type this out...

The thanksgiving list is endless. And the nice thing is that, because Jesus has bridged the separation between God and man, we can thank he who gave us all these good gifts directly and without the need for an intermediary.

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3 Comments:

At October 28, 2006 8:57 pm , Anonymous Fresh Dew said...

Amen! :-) you wrote: "been reminded that.. there is much to give thanks to God for that is not merely ritualistic. We tend to think that the God preached by Christians is a stern austere wetblanket.. But the God of the Bible is nothing like that at all: for it was he who created the universe physical; he created dry land and gathered together the seas, he created lush vegetation and trees laden with fruit, he made the waters team with fish and creatures of every kind and filled the air with birds of many colours and songs, ... and he also made man - physical. And he looked upon his material creation and saw that it was good (Genesis 1)... "So there is nothing inherently evil about the physical."

Indeed, God "give us richly all things to enjoy" as the bible says.

The often-misquoted "Money is the root of all evil" was actually not in the bible at all. The actual verse is "the LOVE of money is A root of evil" .

Meaning, inter alia, it's our attitude towards the physical (whether we prioritise them avoe God? place the wonderful creations above the most wonderful Creator? or whether we are pleased to give them up if ever called upon to do so by God)

 
At October 31, 2006 12:49 am , Blogger arpc said...

ah!
i know that CD shop.
was just thinking about it for a blog entry, but point i have in mind is not coming across.

 
At November 02, 2006 2:43 pm , Blogger shadow said...

fresh dew: Thanks! Yah, so you should just have gone with the bright pink cast, 'cos, you know, "God gave us richly all things to enjoy". Looks like feather boa in a cabaret show? Pffttt. Attracts more attention than a flare in the dark? All the better for your safety.

;-p

Okok. I am still trying to pass you the Murakami(s), hor.

arpc: Yah! That CD shop is in such a seedy area but, man, the uncle reads NME or something? Eh, and thought you've stopped with all this old skool buying of CDs?

 

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