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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Coincidence. By John von Daler

                   In the Vienna of the last Habsburgs my great grandfather lived and worked. His passion was to collect good paintings, fine glass and beautiful artifacts. Once some work of art had been through his hands you could read all about its history and trust its genuiness; M. Strauss was both a fine lawyer and a meticulous art collector. Being the son of an award-winning and successful manufacturer of silk, he new the quality of the exquisite and could afford to track down and systemize some of the best art of his time.

                Now my story jumps just momentarily some thirty years ahead in time. M. Strauss' daughter, Clara, hears banging on the door of her apartment in Vienna. She knows full well the quality and meaning of the sound she has heard through the years since Anschluss. Ever since the arrival of the Germans she has helped fugitives to flee the once enlightened city. She opens her door, is arrested and never comes home again.
                Back three decades to her father in Vienna. M. Strauss is in no hurry to get to his office this morning. He decides to walk instead of being driven and ambles, briefcase in hand, past cafes and restaurants with windows fogged by steam and smoke. The weather is cold, but he enjoys it; the sun gives off a slight warmth together with a brilliant radiance. Enjoying this moment he stops to smoke a cigarette in the pleasant light. He tips his hat as acquaintances hurry past. Let them. His daughter has just given birth to a son and he wants to celebrate the moment quietly, within himself.
                With a little stub of a cigarette in his mouth, his head tilted back so much that his goatee almost points at God, Strauss closes his eyes a moment and enjoys a ray of warmth. When he opens his eyes again he is looking into the face of a young man, mustached, not well-dressed, but clean. The man is proffering some small pictures of buildings in Vienna, postcards and small works in oil. In Strauss he feels he might have found a customer.
                Strauss holds one of the pictures out at arm's length. He hands it back and takes another. In this way he inspects a half dozen before he hands the last one to the artist. He looks at the young man; this is not the first time he has talked with an artist about art.
                "Sir," he says and looks into the round eyes of the artist, "you may possibly have some talent, but you will never sell your pictures until you begin to populate them." The artist looks at the lawyer quizzically.
                "Populate?" He stretches out his hand to take back the last picture Strauss had been holding.
                "Yes. Put people in them. Humanize. Look around you, sir. The world is populated - with people. But your pictures are not. Nor are there traces of humanity in them. These buildings might as well be empty. Perhaps you should consider architecture?" He looks into the beady eyes one last time and turns away just as the artist offers his hand in thanks and mutters his own name. But Strauss is back in his own thoughts and already has become oblivious to his daughter's murderer.

Tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 14, there will be no blog.
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