Swept into Graz by the Rain
Essay by Christian Seiler
One evening the rain swept me into Graz. I had set off a bit further to the south on a ramble that was meant to take me from one art-work to the next, but the hills of southern Styria developed a gravitational force that was stronger than the sculptures and feather boas hewn into the landscape. Just take a look at the tables the vintners have encouraged to grow on the cusps of the landscape: the weathered grey of an age-old conifer, the best possible match for an off-white stoneware plate laden with bread & cheese and a handful of pumpkin seeds; and with the plate already on the table a glass of the palest green, crystal clear Sauvignon cannot be far away. I admit that such circumstances, on these hills with their panoramic views, are an invitation to enlightened considerations about art.
I was thinking about Géricault’s "The Raft of the ´Medusa´". My favourite author, Julian Barnes, has written an entrancing essay about this painting, which I just happened to have in my pocket, and in tracing the course of the history of the shipwreck and the unleashed elements I missed the others´ departure. The sun was shining. The view was immaculate. Barnes considers how art is born out of catastrophe. He goes as far as developing the thesis that this happens automatically nowadays. While I mulled over the best way to counter this elegant cynicism with the rapier, thick clouds were gathering in the west, over the Karawanken, and when the good Lord directed the skies to open with a certain degree of irreconciliability, I began to feel a little uncomfortable, internally and externally; nor did the water improve the Sauvignon.
Turning up my collar, I marched on, a wanderer of sad aspect, to where I had pitched my camp, and when I got there the landlord informed me that I need not have hurried so much, the radio had forecast three days of rain.
The driver of a courier service happened to be there, having just delivered elegant dog collars from San Francisco to the heavenly remoteness of southern Styria. He offered me a lift to Graz, and naturally I accepted.
Graz in the rain was a purring complementary programme: the city is not made for rain. The colours of the façades speak a Mediterranean language (which however does not apply to the local inhabitants themselves - enough said about the "ou" - sounds that pepper the native idiom), and on market day Jakominiplatz is heavy with the smells of wanderlust that seem normal only to the locals, accustomed as they are to the admirable blend of metropolitan attitude, southern flair and Gemütlichkeit.
So once again I was impressed by Austria´s nearly-true-south and the courier, who was from Graz himself, took a diabolical pleasure in becoming acquainted with an impressed Viennese, who to top it all even had a smidgen of artistic sense tucked away in his pocket. We agreed to use the Graz that is actually made for rain, under the arcades of the middle inner city. We left the delivery vehicle parked deep below sea-level and the courier showed me his own world called Graz, the Graz of poets and minds.
Where Wolfi-Bauer-this and Werner-Schwab-that, but naturally I was most impressed by the bolthole where Herr Innerhofer was able to open a bookshop for Italian literature for a while, that´s what I call a logical ambient reduction, and just as we were starting to talk about these great sacred men from Graz, who knew so well how to use their city that their untimely and permanent parting was nothing less than unavoidable, we ran straight into the arms of Alfred Kolleritsch, the personified antithesis to the extravagant spirits. He hugged us briefly and directed us to the lobby of a hotel with very large rooms, supposedly harbouring a few guest poets, oooh, said Kolleritsch, beware, I´m better off going home.
What can I say: the guest poets really were there, they were in the best of moods, they wanted to laugh and argue, consequently the night lasted for three days, in Graz supposedly a law of nature, and while the courier went off now and then to deliver odd items of mail in the suburbs, I was allowed to argue with the guest poets about the anthropomorphic forms of the "Kunsthaus", which was simple, because everybody has a qualified opinion of the "Kunsthaus"; whereas the thoughts about the trifles we consumed in different places during the discussion were unanimously dispatched to the greatest common denominator. And then the rain stopped too.
Out onto the street.
Sniff the air.
Smell of wanderlust.
The raft of the ´Medusa´ softly ran ashore.
Born 1961, was cultural journalist at "Die Weltwoche", Zürich and editor-in-chief of the news magazine "profil" and the art & culture magazine "du". The writer ("Verkaufte Volksmusik", "Wie träume ich Tag", numerous cookery books), concept developer and columnist lives in Vienna and the Weinviertel.