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Gabbi WernerGirl Friday –the Book of Bad 15. Death in the Museum

Von | 15.11.2013, 9:00 | Kein Kommentar

Vienna, part 1. It was the Kunsthistorische Museum and she was lying on a plush bench, in front of a Dutch Master, barely breathing.

Welcome. To the stories I told in many hotelrooms. To a man who had trouble falling asleep. A business deal, men usually pay for different services in hotelrooms. He just paid for my words. Here they are.


 Hotel Sacher, Vienna in late fall.

I was accompanying R. to Vienna this time. I decided to arrive one day before him. Vienna was rather well-known territory to me, i could meet up with friends and not feel lost. I had been to Vienna a lot as a little girl. When travelling to Switzerland to visit my grandparents, we would sometimes cross the border to Austria. My parents always joked that they needed a getaway from the holiday. I liked Geneva, where my grandparents lived, but Vienna always felt like the real treat, for my parents finally relaxed there.

Some of my Swiss friends had moved to Vienna. We had coffee on Sunday morning  and afterwards went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

A Chinese woman was in the room with the paintings of the Dutch masters,  accompanied by her son. The woman and the son were both wearing the same lime green parka coats. The woman was sitting on a red plush bench in front of a painting. It was a seascape by Jan van Goyen. The boy was bored, he kept walking circles around the bench.

The mother did not notice her son, nor did she notice anything else. She was sound asleep. Her head resting on her chest, barely any movement of breath at all. It was a weird situation, as the museum was so crowded. The son tiptoed around her, sometimes bringing his index-finger to his lips as if to hush himself, not to wake her up. I looked at them for a while, and then noticed that there was a strip of medication on the bench next to the mother. The leaflet was taken out of the box, as was the strip. There were two or three tablets left in the strip. The tablets were just a notch of a different colour than the lime green of the mothers´ coat.

My friends and I walked on. When we had finished visiting all the artwork, admiring some and ignoring other pieces, we came through the room with the Dutch masters again. Nothing had changed. Loads of people, the boy walking circles and the mother still motionless. Sleeping deeply. The boy sat himself next to his mother and sighed.

I got a very eerie thought: what if the mother had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and was dying? What if she had decided to kill herself and had wished for two things near her when coming to her end: her little boy and that painting?

The painting was a turbulent work: a couple of ships at a very wild sea. Dark colours, splashing waves. I could imagine wanting to look at a picture before you die, but the boy sitting next to her made the whole image less appealing. I dared not go over to the woman and shake her. That could be perceived so silly of me, if she was just resting. I decided to follow my friends who walked out of the museum.

We strolled through the city, but somehow the mother and son had clung themselves onto my mind.


That night we had dinner at another friends place. I told the story there, including the lime green matching raincoats. It amused the guests, we had a little laugh about it. If they found it funny, all should be all right i figured. But I could not stop worrying. What if the woman had decided to kill herself. How long would it take for people to realise it? Would she sit upright till closing and would one of the guards find her? Or would she all of a sudden just slide off the red velvet couch? Would the boy start crying at one point? First the art lovers in the museum  would respond irritated to that most likely, then they would slowly realise what had happened. Would they panic? And what about the boy? What would happen to him?

As dinners go this story was soon replaced by another one, and as the wine and wodka did their work I slowly forgot about the museum.

On Sunday I was getting a little nervous, the time I could spend in my real life just dwindled away. My time with R. was soon to begin. I was not looking forward to the evening. This was the easiest job I had ever had, in theory. Go to a room, tell a story, get money, travel.

The intimacy of the deal bothered me. Or maybe it was the lack of true intimacy. I had to conjure op new images and stories, dig into my memories with the sole purpose to entertain. It made me feel corrupted. Things that were dear to me lost their value, as they were not truly shared, they were dished up, consumed, and left at that. I had not dared tell my friends why I had ventured to Vienna. I didn’t feel they would understand. My boyfriend did not want to hear anything about the job anymore. So i was in Vienna all by myself in a way, even if I had my friends with me.


They took me to the Belvedere Museum, to look at the Klimts. The kiss, the Adele Bloch Bauer portrait and my favourite forest painting, „Buchenwald“. I had seen the Klimts many times before and soon started dwelling through other rooms.

One particular painting just struck me completely. It was by Lovis Corinth. A woman sitting next to an aquarium, reading a book. Painted at the beginning of last century. You can still feel the slow pace of that century, the quiet. But the future is waiting to happen. The way Corinth used his brush, the speed, like he was anticipating and wanting to leap into the time that irrevocably was to come … it was such a difference to the relaxed Sunday afternoon atmosphere he painted there.

I fell in love with the image and remembered the Chinese woman of the day before. I thought, that if I would ever feel like passing away, I would want to do so in front of this very painting. Not in a suicide situation, but just taking a nap, and not waking up. It is such a happy and careless picture, a good thing to look at before leaving this world. There was no comfortable couch in this room of the belvedere, so I just sat down on a small blue chair. And looked and looked. The room this picture hung in had been fairly empty. But, because I was sitting there, studying the painting so intensely, other people started noticing it too. That was funny.

When my friends had finished with the Klimts we went outside into the palaces‘ gardens. We discussed the painting, thinking about whether we would want to die in front of it. All of a sudden, around the corner, came four lime green parka’s. The mother and son, the father and a girl.

I was relieved to see them safe and sound, and hoped the woman would find some rest in the Lovis Corinth painting. I smiled at them when they passed me, but of course, they did not know who I was or why I smiled at them.

To be Continued. Next Friday. At 9.00h.

Link to German Translation: click  Girl Friday – Buch des Bösen. Tod im Museum.

Artwork: Gabbi Werner

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