the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Almost Like Vienna

I’m beginning to accept a philosophy of life that combines equal parts idealism and cynicism  — everything good has the seeds of something bad and everything bad contains the potential for something good.  There are some problems with this new theory, so I won’t expound on it too much, because I might decide by next week that it is total hooey.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about — coming to New York and separating from Sophia is bad (and sad), but it has also has created some good.  I have gained some independence.  I don’t worry as much.  A few weeks ago, there was a problem on the E train.  Everyone had to disembark and wait for another train.  It was late at night.  It was hot.  It was crowded.  The wait was an HOUR!  Sophia would have just fainted, or glared at me all night for living in Queens, not Manhattan.  If Sophia was there, I would have gotten eanxious worrying about her discomfort, making things worse.  But since I was there by myself, I didn’t fret. I amused myself by taking artsy, but poorly-exposed photographs of the subway signs.  I had FUN.  I could only have had that experience alone.

I hear about this good/bad dichotomy all the time.  Having kids is the greatest joy in a person’s life.  Having kids is the biggest pain in the ass.  Working hard means I get well paid.  Getting well paid means I have to work hard.

One of the best things that has happened to me by coming to New York is a surprise — my bonding with my mother.  It is a good in a bad situation.  She is without her husband.  I am without my wife.  And for once, we are both “adults,” — or at least I pretend to be.   During this visit, we have become friends.  We went to the movies together.  We went to the theater.  We went to City Bakery and made fun of the skinny girls sitting next to us, picking at their fifteen dollar salads while we were eating our huge muffins.

Today, during lunch, my mother and I met Suzanne, a former workmate of my mother, at the Neue Galerie at 86th and Fifth.  The Neue Galerie is located in a former mansion of the Vanderbilts, and the museum is dedicated to German and Austrian Art. 

I’ve always liked German Expressionist art.  I especially love the work of Gustav Klimt. 

Gustav Klimt

Neue Galerie has one of his most famous works, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

I’m not sure my mother was crazy about some of the paintings in the museum.  Much of the German work from 1900-1930 is shocking, seedy, even ugly — as if these artists could see the festering amoralism of German culture of the time period.

Girl with Doll by Erich Heckel

“That girl looks like she is eight years old.” said my mother.

“I think she is eight years old.”

“Why would you paint a nude eight year old?  It makes me uncomfortable.”

“I think that’s what he was trying to do.”

“Who would want that in their house?”

“It’s probably worth thirty million dollars.”

“I still wouldn’t put it in my house.  Yuch.”

“You’re in a museum.  You’re not supposed to say “Yuch.””

“What should I say?”

“You should say, “Interesting,” but with a lilt to your voice to show your uncertainty.”

My mother walked over to a wall of Klimt’s sketches.

“I like this one better.” she said,

“Which one?”

“The sleeping nude.”

“I don’t think she’s sleeping.”

“It looks like she’s sleeping.”

“I don’t think she’s sleeping.”


Reclining Nude Facing Right by Gustav Klimpt

After walking through the galleries, we went downstairs to have dessert at Cafe Sabarsky, a restaurant decorated to look like an authentic Viennese cafe.  At first, after seeing the menu, we almost left.  Desserts were eight dollars each and coffee (no refills) was six dollars.  We decided to splurge. 

Cafe Sabarsky

My mother and Suzanne

Cheesecake, Rum Cake, Apple Strudel

The desserts were pretty good (we shared a rum cake, cheesecake, and apple strudel), but not really worth the fifty bucks.  In fact, we were all a little disappointed that the food didn’t really live up to the high price. 

Suddenly, my mother noticed a Mr. Softee ice cream truck pull up on 86th Street, directly outside the cafe window.  Two museum employees ran outside to buy themselves ice cream cones for $1.50 each. 

“At least the people who work here are smart enough not to spend fifty dollars on dessert from the cafe!” said my mother.

We all laughed, because my mother, my new friend, is funny.


  1. vodkamom

    So I am laughing so hard about the sleeping nude shit- I could hardly get through the rest. But, of course, I did. loved it. (And aren’t your mom and her friend adorable???)

  2. Black Hockey Jesus

    Friends with Mom. Good art. Leisurely delays. Those are the white spot on the yin, Neil. Good stuff in the dark.

  3. margalit

    Once again you make me cry Neil. As one who has never been able to have any adult relationship with my mother, who I last saw in 1980, it’s hard for me to read such a lovely post about your new found best friend. Good for you. I’m proud of you for making this transition into something positive.

  4. All Adither

    So true. So true.

    And why am I not surprised that this kind of art is right up your alley?

  5. Momo Fali

    Funny, smart and totally right about the “yuch”.

  6. Jesse Luna

    What a great post Neil. Sounds like you had a fabulous day.

    Hum, and I’m still trying to decide between the apple strudel and the cheesecake.

  7. ACG

    that is exactly why i am going to france by myself. i learned on a solo trip to key west, sometimes traveling alone is the most freeing experience. i can enjoy the day and night exactly as i please… i eat when i want, i go where i want, i don’t worry about someone else’s wants, needs, or happiness.

    not that sharing the discovery of new and exciting places with someone else isn’t great too, but it is something amazing about being able to just enjoy yourself complete selfishly.

  8. Kate

    The “sleeping nude” conversation made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. Ironically enough – my mother and I could have had the exact same conversation, but the roles would be reversed.

  9. AnnieH

    Doesn’t this have something to do with the thoughts that the only thing we really own, the only thing we can control is our response to life?? The glass half empty/half full approach we choose to bring to the party?? Some kind of philosophy like that. It’s late. I’m tired. This poor brain has given up the last remnants of effort.
    PS. “…right up your alley” makes me giggle right this minute. Please excuse the rabid immaturity.

  10. Danny

    Last time I was in New York everyone I knew was urging me to go to Cafe Sabarsky but I never made it. I’m glad you all decided to splurge! That sounds like a heavenly day. Sorry to bring this topic up again but the resemblance between your mom and Sophia is uncanny. Doesn’t she look more like Sophie’s mother than Sophia’s mother does?

  11. anymommy

    I’m jealous of your day. I’d love to spend a day in NYC alone with my mom. Great post. I laughed out loud at the sleeping nude exhange too!

  12. TorontoPearl

    I’m glad you and your mom are bonding so well as friends rather than simply as mother-son.
    Do you think now that “the ice is broken”, she might hook you and your writing up with some editors at Farrar?

  13. piglet

    love this post, it sounds like you are living in the moment. maybe gaining insight into the relationship with your mother can bring about some insight regarding the relationship with your wife? just a thought.

    in this picture of your mom, i see a resemblance to sophia too.

  14. JChevais

    sounds like it was a great museum and a wonderful day with your mom. yup. doesn’t it feel great to become friends with one’s mom? Awesome.

    I really like Klimt too. And Schiele. His drawings and paintings are completely whacked, but there is just something about them…

  15. therapydoc

    Well, half of your DNA is hers. Did you thank her?

  16. better safe than sorry

    i’m so glad you went to spend some time with your mother and that it has worked well for the both of you. as a mother, i knew it would be good for her, living so far away from you, knowing what you’re going through with your split, i think she needed it as much as you do. hope you’re in no hurry to go back.

  17. Noel

    Never thought I’d see Reclining Nude Facing Right and Mister Softee in the same post, but such are the perils of going out on the town with one’s mother.

    (I’ve met them both, and Elaine and Sophia bear no resemblance to each other.)

  18. peach

    isn’t it great having your mother as a friend? also, i love the Reclining Nude and will be ten blocks from the museum this afternoon. i’ll definitely check it out, maybe i’ll skip out on the dessert though.

  19. Miguelina

    I don’t blame for becoming friends with your mom. She is funny!

    I’ll have to add the Neue gallery to my list of places to see while in NYC – I was in Vienna the summer they had to return Adele and we weren’t able to see it because the exhibit was sold out. I’m happy that the family is still willing to share it with the world after all they had to go through to get it back.

  20. Memarie Lane

    Gustav Klimt is my favorite painter by far.

  21. Finn

    Please send the Mr. Softee truck to my house. Thank you.

    “I don’t think she’s sleeping.”

    LOVE IT. You need to work that scene into a movie.

  22. Neil

    ACG — I agree with you. I think travelling solo has its benefits.

    Miguelina — I thought of you when we were in the cafe. Are the pastries all that in the real Vienna? Or are you one of those girls who only ate the salad the whole time you were in Austria?

    Memarie — I knew we had something in common.

    Finn — If you liked that sketch, you should search on Google for the REALLY good ones.

  23. pam

    I was going to be all, BAH, that’s not like Vienna at all… and then I saw the cafe photos. It’s totally like Vienna. Wow.

    And yes, Neil, the pastries are “all that” in Vienna. You gotta go to the right place, that’s all.

  24. Chris

    Just saying hello from Notes to Self. Loved your comment on Kyran’s recent post re: aging.

    Your mother sounds wonderful. So nice for you both…to be friends.

    Thanks much. I’ll be back…


  25. Neil

    Chris — thanks

    Pam — No, they went all out in the re-creation, including importing the furniture. And they serve the coffee traditional style with a glass of water and a spoon on the side. (that’s why they can charge six bucks)

  26. Loralee

    There are so many different aspects of life-changing situations. There was a lot of hell and pain from my divorce and the death of my child, but there were many, many, MANY good things that came from them as well.

    That is one of the mysterious and good things about life. Even when it serves you a craptastic sandwich, there is almost always a lovely dill pickle or heavenly slaw salad that you get to eat along with it.

    I loved this post. I love hearing about exploring New York. Although I do like live out here in the country, the sheer magnitude of things to do in New York would make me giddy with excitement (except for the hideously over-priced dessert cart. Boo on that).

  27. Miguelina

    The pastries are great, like someone else said, you have to go to the right place.

    And no I wasn’t one of the girls that only ordered the salad – they’d never just serve you salad over there. Instead they’ll take a block of cheese and fry it. Everything is fried! It’s grease heaven!

  28. Dagny

    Sounds like a wonderful day. And you’ve got to splurge every now and then.

  29. Mary Beth

    I love going to museums with my parents but there are definitely some works I prefer to view without them. Glad you had a great day, even with the $50 dessert:)

  30. Tracy Lynn

    Most of the difficult things in my life have had blessings inside them. And my mom just visited me and we had a ball.

    The conversation about the art? You are now responsible fr the spittake that stained my carpet, and scared the crap out of my cats.

  31. Elisabeth

    The Neue Galerie is a real gem, that’s for sure. And that conversation about the Reclining Nude Facing Right by Gustav Klimpt totally steals the show!

    I think that, overall, Neil, you are managing this “transition” period very very well, discovering your own self, and rediscovering your own mother as more than just a mom.

  32. Postmodern Sass

    Don’t you realize, sweetie, that stories like this are the stuff screenplay scenes are made of?

  33. Judith

    booh that hurts my soul ..
    klimt wasn’t a german artist at all .. he was austrian ..

    no seriously, i’m not patriotic at all, but if u guys mix those germans with us austrians, i have protest 😉

  34. Jenn, aka JeSais

    what a great post! I envy you your time with your mother…. enjoy

  35. Neil

    Judith — My sincere apologies. You are right. But all of these painters are usually associated with German Expressionism, so it easy to make that mistake. Even Kandinsky, a Russian, was featured prominently at the museum because of his work in the German “school.”

  36. Rhea

    I am glad you are seeing the silver lining to your sojourn in NY.

  37. kanani

    A joy to read, Neil. And I’m glad you’re pulling your perspective together back in NYC. I love reading about your “discoveries,” and this post was a real gem.

  38. Nat

    Can I confess to being totally jealous of all the art galleries in New York? I remember visiting pre-children and spending five days going from gallery to gallery.

    Also I want to have lunch with your mother…

  39. Neil

    Nat — oh yeah, most New Yorkers go from art gallery to art gallery every day in their Jimmy Choos.

    And then go home to watch “Gossip Girl.”

  40. John

    “Oh.” — Haha.

  41. JP/deb

    I’m happy to hear that you’re embracing the gifts that this experience is bringing. I know it’s not easy, but that’s where the learning and growing happens. Peace, JP/deb

  42. Annie

    I am so glad you have become friends with your mom :-). I LOVE Klimt! Sounds like you had a wonderful day.

  43. Karl

    “I don’t think she’s sleeping.”



  44. Fiesty Charlie

    Lovely… I am glad you are having this experience, it will be treasured all your life.

  45. headbang8

    “Much of the German work from 1900-1930 is shocking, seedy, even ugly — as if these artists could see the festering amoralism of German culture of the time period.”

    Many Germans thought that these artists were the festering amoralism of the time.

    This allowed the Nazis to exploit the religious conservatism of (especially southern) Germans, just like the neocons do today with the godly folk of the south and midwest.

    We often think of the Nazis as kinky perverts. This may have been true, but like the fundies today, they tried to keep the kink behind closed doors. The official party line was to support the most appalling prudery, in the guise of so-called “family values”.

  46. natalie

    ok…that conversation with your mom totally cracked me up. i can’t imagine ever having anything close to that kind of conversation with my mother. we would both walk by that picture and pretend like we didn’t see it! but on the inside i would be completely intrigued…not sure what my mom would feel!

  47. Jane

    Headbang8 – great comment!

    Neil, I just knew you’d find a way to fit masturbating woman into this post. 🙂

    BTW, for $50, I’d have made you a whole cake or pie, and you could have taken the leftovers home!

  48. apathy lounge

    Every moment spent in New York tells a story. I love seeing your good side/bad side views of living there.

  49. Di

    I love this post!

    I may have drooled over the cheesecake – Belgians don’t do cheesecake, a huge disappointment for this kiwi chick.

  50. christine

    This is so funny, in so many ways. The conversation with your mother in the museum, hilarious. No, she’s not sleeping, mom.

    I love Klimt too, that whole time period, Aubrey Beardsley too.

  51. Diane Mandy

    What an enjoyable post! One of my favorites to date. Your mother sounds like a delight to be around. I’m glad you are enjoying your time with her in NY.

  52. Sam

    i’m a gustav klimt fan. this post gave me a new perspective of how a day with my own mother in an art gallery might unfold.

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