Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Vienna: The Klezmer Project at the Viennale Film Festival!

Fumie, Leandro, and Paloma 

Some years ago I was approached by a young couple from Argentina at the Krakow Klezmer festival. Paloma Schachtmann and Leandro Koch were making a documentary about Klezmer music and they wanted to accompany me and Jake Shulman-Ment on one of our summer trips around Maramures to record fiddlers who retained a knowledge of Jewish repetoire. I don't always like traveling with a cohort of folks I do not already know, but they turned out to be fine traveling companions. I didn't hear about the project for a couple of years and then in 2020 they contacted me again. They had recieved funding to finish the film with a group of Austrian film makers and could we go on the road with a full film crew again? Covid intervened, but the next year we went to Tranylvania with them. They turned out to be some of the nicest film folks I ever met. (Note: I rarely say anything nice about film makers once they finish paying me.) The result was "The Klezmer Project" or "Adentro mio estoy Bailando" which premiered at the 2023 Berlin Fim Festival, winning the Best First Feature award. The Austrian premier happened a few weeks ago at the Viennale Film Festival in Vienna, and we were invited to attend. 

The film is like nothing I had expected - not a simple documentary about collecting folk music, but an experimental fim that works on many levels - a romance, a road film, a I.B. Singer Yiddish allegory, and of course, a documentary. The narration in Yiddish tells a tale that transcends the scenes of film financing, backstage at gigs, and weddings in Maramures, Moldavia, and Argentina. The end result is something I am really proud to have been a part of, and when this film finally gets to widespread distribution I hope it gets seen at festivals of Yiddish culture: it is probably the most contemporary Yiddish film of this generation. In any case... the Viennale was a great excuse to visit Vienna. We got to stay in the Hotel Intercontinental downtown next to the Stadtspark. Not shabby at all! 

Plus, the Viennale staff handled everybody with VIP courtesy, no eay task when the VIPs are hundreds of quirky avant-garde types whose stories always begin with "When I was kicked out of film school...". We checked in with the office and were given swag bags with info and gifties and shown a refrigerator full of refreshments to which we could help ourselves while in the hotel. I like swag bags! I like free beer!  Plus: the Viennale hosted a dinner each evening at classic Viennese restaurants of the sort that I would probably never visit on my own dime (I'm more of a felaful and chinese noodle kind of guy on the road.) Of course, if traveling in Vienna, there are certain prosaic pleasures that are not to be missed: such is the Wurtelstand.

Wurstelstands are located all over Vienna and offer the street level diner a quick and cheap Teuronic standard, the wurst. For about three Euros you get a choice of bratwurst, boerwurst, frankfurter, or the odd construct that is a bosna. Everybody says to go for the käsekrainer, a kolbasz laced with cheese that is the darling of the Austrian Wurstiverse but just seems like a Polish kielbasa that is trying too hard. There are also Leberkäse sandwiches, a thick steamed slice of square veal baloney on a kaiser roll that fills you up as you hop on the tram.

Bratwurst and käsekrainer in the park.
I do love sausage, but I still had to go farther afield to Ottakinger Strasse west of the Vienna city center. There, along what is called "The Balkan Mile" is the Brunnergasse market. This neighborhood started out as mainly Serbian and Turkish, but has grown into one of the centers for the recently arrived Syrian refugee community, the one that Hungary's Viktor Orban treated so miserably in 2015. They were welcomed in Austria and from the looks of it, have made a pretty decent home here, given that Vienna is rated the most liveable city in the world and Budapest is... not the most livable city in the world.
Brunnergasse Market
You might think that Budapest and Vienna, given their historical connections and their geographical proximity, would have close relations and cultural exchanges. You might also be wrong.  Vienna and Budapest are like neighbors that never speak to each other except when one puts hits garbage bins in the other's parking space. It is as if the two cities pretended that the other does not exist. At present, Budapest doesn't even have a direct railway connection to Vienna - you have to switch from buses to trains several times. This has to do with the state of the Hungarian railways, which are no longer allowed to make international connections any farther west than Vienna since the Hungarian trains simply can not run on schedule. In the end, this produces a bit of an inferiority complex which the Hungarian government deals with by producing short films for its government controlled media in which Vienna is portrayed as a shabby and dangerous place inhabited by shady Middle Easterners slinking about the streets in burnooses and caftans. Like much of the propoganda coming out of the Hungarian government, it comes off as a bit racist and laughably inaccurate all at the same time. I considered this as we sat down for a snack of fresh Syrian mankaneesh - a freshly baked flatbread topped with olive oil and za'atar spice - and tea. Three Euros for all of it. Why couldn't we have this at the corner market in my neighborhood?
Syrian breakfast
Given that the news in the Middle East at the time of our vist was rather catasrophic, we found everybody in the market to be chatty and friendly as they went about their business of selling fresh vegetables and halal meats and Syrian street food at prices even I can afford. We had two of the most impressive lamb kebab sandwiches of my life at one stand. it was hard to choose - there are stands offering kebabs, felafuls, lahmacun, every kind of Middle Eastern delicacy in its raw, local authentic version. We simply got lucky.

You choose your meat skewer, and they rack it on an upright grill to roast for about five minutes and roll it with parsley, onions, and sauce on a fresh flatbread. Two full kebab sandwiches and two ayran yogurt drinks came to nine Euros. And I will add on more thing: the Wiener schnitzel we had at the Viennale dinner that evening was transcendant as well. And then, on our way home, we stopped at the huge superkarket located in the Main Train station and did a weeks worth of shopping to bring home to Budapest. Yes, shopping for groceries is now cheaper for many things in Vienna - due to the 125% food inflation that Hungary has accomplished in the last year. We picked up smoked fish, wurst, cheese... at about half the price I pay at my local supermarket. As soon as they get the direct trains running again, I will be back!