Secession

Only the most stylish furs stand out among the thousands worn in ViennaSecession in Vienna

It is not only the famous Secession Building that makes Vienna attractive to Secessionists, discovers the Silver Vixen

Travel can be an enlivening experience for the Secessionist. The English-speaking world is, in our opinion (we are open to correction) the Pit of the Pit. One can hardly step out of it without seeing people who appear at least superficially more human. Certainly in most of Europe people dress more decently and appear less deracinated. We make no comment about Scandinavia whereof travel guides warn the English not to dress so formally (!). One imagines people must be thrown out of restaurants there for having less than the statutory number of tears on their pseudo-sportswear. Consequently we have never ventured there as we have no pseudo-sportswear to tear - and if we had, should tear it into very small pieces which even a Swede would be hard-pressed to wear.

Austria, however is a very different matter. Here - and especially in Vienna -standards are decidedly above the European average. We, who in England are accustomed to finding ourselves the best-dressed people pretty much wherever we go, even when we are not particularly trying, suddenly find ourselves in a place where we must look to our laurels. This is not to say that the flotsam of international slob-culture - the young (and not so young) contemptibles - are not to be seen littering the streets. Unfortunately there is nowhere of which that is true. But large numbers of people dress quite beautifully. How many times in England does one see some one wearing an outfit and murmur "I wish I had that"? Once a month, perhaps - in a good month. In Vienna you will find yourself doing it several times a day. In winter you will see the most delightful furs. The number of furs on a busy Viennese shopping street near Christmas at any given moment is beyond count. You will only find yourself noticing the really outstanding and ultra-stylish ones, and of these you will see dozens.

The Secession building, ViennaThis is not to say that fur-faddism is unknown in Austria. This malicious attack on femininity an superiority under the flimsy pretext of concern for anmals is of course found anywhere that international money has spread its influence. But the fur-faddists are where they should be - on street corners, bedraggled and ignored rather than hand in glove with the mass-media and pompously preaching to the public from a position of unassailable influence. We have seen one anti-fur demonstration on our visits to Vienna. It was attended by exactly the same rubber-stamp type-threes as in England, America or anywhere else, and they attracted virtually no interest whatever from the passers-by whether furred or unfurred. One also felt that the smallest attempt on their part to make a nuisance of themselves would have been welcomed by the authorities as a reason to break them up. Certainly they were extremely well-behaved, but then Vienna is an extremely well-behaved city. Large displays of tempting confections are arranged outside shops and left unsupervised, apparently with no fear of pilfering.

To return briefly, and with apologies, to the question of type-threes. One of course finds these storm-troops of international degeneracy in Vienna as anywhere else, but they are noticeable by their lack of influence. They go about in small groups and are noticeably un-Austrian. They do not for example, patronise the highly popular Viennese Würstel stands which serve delightful variants of sausage found nowhere else. You may put this down to vegetarian scruples, but you would be wrong. Their haunt is MacDonalds, the high altar of international pop-capitalism - as, indeed, one would expect. Of real Austrians MacDonalds is, except at the busiest of times, pleasingly empty, while the Würstel-stands and other traditional Viennese eating places do brisk business.

The Vixen sees some friendsThe extent of type-two culture in Austria is difficult to gauge. Standards of dress are on the whole better. One very rarely sees bits of track-suit or training shoes and almost never earrings or ponytails on males who are not very clearly card-carrying type-threes. Puffy jackets one does unfortunately see among type twos, though one has the impression this is more of a class-related thing than in Britain. As in the real world the less well-dressed people tend to be the poorer ones, and at present bad dress tends to mean international bongo dress. One gets the feeling that people wearing puffy jackets would be wearing furs or stylish overcoats if they could afford them.

Of the corruption of the language I am not in a position to speak, my wenig Deutsch not running to any appreciation of nuances. Corruption of pronunciation is a thing on which it is difficult to gather any reliable information concerning foreign countries (would any German-speakers care to comment?). Corruption of vocabulary, I am told, is considerably less than in English-speaking world. There are various silly Anglo-Americanisms that creep in, but the degeneration of grammar and general jargonisation of the language has not taken root in the same way that it has in Britain, according to my information. And of course, even if language has degenerated one is, as a foreigner, in the happy position of not being aware of it. One can even listen to the wireless over breakfast, just as if one were in the real world.

Though as a matter of fact wireless in public places is much less prevalent, and one hears very little bongo music. That which one does hear is (I am told) quite old bongo music and is mostly British or American. Not much of this stuff is actually produced in Europe - the exception being Germany, but this German stuff does not seem to be terribly popular in Austria. Come to that, I have not noticed it much in Germany either. Possibly it is more a type-three taste and has not entered into the type-two mainstream in the way that it has in Britain and America. Indeed it is a question for an outsider exactly how far ordinary society in Austria can be designated type-two in the same sense as in Britain or America. One would need to understand the culture a little more deeply.

In any case, the outsider will undoubtedly find Austria refreshing. Conformity, in the true sense (as opposed to herd-nonconformity) exists in a form that it has never existed in Britain. When crossing the road at a crossing light, Austrians wait until the light turns green even in the middle of the night when there is no traffic within view in either direction. To do otherwise would scandalise them. They are also shocked by any unconventionality in dress - if one's skirt is too short, or if one has mud spattered on one's stockings on a rainy day they will stare disapprovingly. Scruffy type-threes they ignore altogether, wisely treating them as members of an alien species, but if one presumes to dress as a human being at all then one is open to implied criticism. A visitor from the real England would no doubt find the Viennese unduly fussy and pernickety, but after the Yeekay, where anything goes and most things have gone, it is quite pleasing.

And certainly Vienna solves one long-standing conundrum. We have often noticed that in England there are many shops selling elegant and beautiful clothes. Yet one almost never sees any one actually wearing them. Where do they go? One has sometimes hypothesised that bongo women must buy them and keep them in locked trunks under the bed and - when no one is in the house - lock all the doors, draw all the curtains and dress up for a few guilty minutes as human beings. Now I see that this is not the case. It is clear that these shops supply Viennese women who visit our country in order to buy elegant clothes at our much lower prices and then take them back home to a place where they will be appreciated.

In Vienna one sees far more shops selling beautiful clothes than in London, though it is a much smaller city. But the prices are high as are the prices of all things in Viennese shops. Vienna is not a place to go shopping unless you are wealthy. Though fortunately food and accommodation are at prices similar to those in London - high, in other words, but not as outlandish as the prices of things in shops.

One of the most delightful aspects of Vienna is the persistence of café society. Nowhere in the world will you find better coffee than in the Viennese coffee houses, or more fascinating variants on the theme of coffee, from the humble kleine Brauner to the Melange, the Fiaker or the Maria Theresa. People go to coffee houses to talk, read the papers (which are supplied by the management, usually on those wooden supports used in English gentlemen's clubs) and pass the time. Having ordered your coffee, no one will ever bother you to pay or to buy anything else. The price of your coffee (admittedly a little expensive) has purchased your use of the table for as long as you wish. Nineteenth century intellectuals would sometimes stay talking from the early afternoon into the small hours on the strength of one coffee.

The coffee house continues to be a social institution in Austrian cities as it was in london in the 17th century (both Lloyds and the Stock Exchange were originally coffee houses). In the 19th century coffee houses were centres for artistic and intellectual movements. Fortunately this does not appear to be the case today. I say fortunately since all such movements, even in a city such as Vienna, are invariably type-three. However one cannot help thinking that the foundation of movements within the New Sensibility could easily be centred upon a revival of the traditional cultural and intellectual café society.

So when you are in Vienna you will not forget to make your small contribution to the founding of the new Secessionist café society will you? I knew you wouldn't. And I didn't even mention the cakes.

Twenty-First Century Vixen

Read a letter about furs apropos of this essay