New Year – Vienna comes to the Cotswolds

New Year’s Day, and I’m celebrating gently at this moment listening to Strauss waltzes, polkas and marches from the Musikverein in Vienna, always a wonderful way to start the year. Full of optimism, music with a spring in its step, an abundance of gold, not least the coffered and corniced and painted ceiling, everyone super-smart dressed, the secretary-general of the UN in the audience, ballet out at Schoenbrunn, and even the occasional touch of calculated lunacy in the orchestra.

Back when I was 10 years old my soon-to-be stepmother brought me back from Vienna an EP, which I still have, of the Vienna Boys’ Choir – children’s songs, including Trara die Post ist da, which I used to sing to my children. And there they are this morning, high above the orchestra, singing in that same crisp and mannered style, and looking terribly smart.

The whole occasion is a throwback to the high days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when emperor and court would attend such events. There’s a strange sadness interwoven with the exuberance, a sense of the old Vienna, in its heyday, one of the world’s great cities, full of self-belief, with no sense of a future which took out Hungary, the Alto Adige and more from the old empire and left only Austria, and a Vienna which had to suffer the Anschluss before reinventing itself post WW2. Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes tells the tell through one family quite brilliantly.

Should we lament this world, its elites and arrogance and gilded Baroque grandeur? Of course not. But … if you get carried along by the waltzes and the dance and the ambience you can imagine it as some kind of a lost paradise. Imagine it. A little bit of Ruritania, a world of childhood and make-believe fashioned for adults.

We can’t escape ambivalence. All that pleasure, and a touch of guilt. Somehow adds to the enjoyment.

And what of this New Year? It starts as always with a bounce and optimism, probably all too quickly undone. There will be celebration, it’s an Olympic year, and triumph, the human spirit proving itself in adversity – and new crises, and the old crises – refugees at this moment waiting to cross from Turkey to Greece, and IS still working its evil.

Will the world solve old problems more than create new ones? Shift the balance of the scale a little?

I will live in hope.

Last night, half-past midnight, I looked out across the valley, from our New Year’s party, hardly a light amidst the fields and woods, but above a half-moon, last-quarter, climbing the eastern sky, and to the south Orion, and the air cold and turning frosty – the first frost of the over-mild December just expired, and the first of the new January.

Come the morning, three hours ago, pulling the curtain back, all was grey, the east now delivering a chill wind as I ran along the lanes and across the common, ahead of the promised rain….

But, damn it, there is an extra spring in my step, then, and now, a few hours later, after a village walk and Christmas cake and mince pies.

I had literally waltzed in my heavy walking boots down the hill, humming the Blue Danube, and adapting the Radetsky March. Hazel, my partner, didn’t know what to make of it, or me. I didn’t get beyond two disastrous dancing lessons in my teens, but I almost floated this time, in a clumping sort of way.

I will probably clump my way through 2016, but I will aim to do so exuberantly.

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