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May 15, 2008

Renaissance Man: Why the Piano Tops the Tapeworm

Rock me Amadeus!
Rock me, Amadeus!

Conde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker is on a mad quest to make himself into a modern-day Da Vinci during a month's stay in Europe. So far Mark has "mastered" golf in Scotland, "excelled" at gardening in England, and "ruled" the kitchens of Paris. His next task: playing the piano in Vienna.


The truth about miracles is that they do happen, and they happen to those who are undeserving. As proof, take the example of me. Or, to be more precise, my physical mass. You would think that spending five days in Paris would lead to an increase in said mass. After all, I ate something like one full lobe of foie gras, several fish, three to four steaks, a baker's dozen sausages, a pallet of eggs, three udders' worth of full-fat cream, 20 pounds of butter, 50 crayfish, a whole lot of veal tripe, and two servings of head cheese.

I capped off my visit to Paris with a trip to the fabled Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee for my first-ever experience of a three-Michelin-star meal. So add to the above list the following: langoustines topped with Ossetra caviar, a Brittany lobster, roast squab, a chocolate raspberry souffle, a chocolate raspberry bar, and a serving of baba au rhum topped with several dollops of whipped cream.

And yet, when I stepped back on the scale in my hotel bathroom, something magical happened: The room filled with an impossibly bright yet soothing light, an angelic choir burst out in celestial harmony, and the needle of the scale went no further than it had days earlier. I was, in other words, the same weight.

I know what you're thinking, and I've already thought of that, too: a tapeworm. (Or perhaps a colony of tapeworms.) But here's the thing. If I had a tapeworm, then maybe I wouldn't have gained weight. But the tapeworm would have. The tapeworm would have had a heart attack and died, and then I would have lost weight. So much for that theory.

I ran it by Christophe, and he thinks it has to do with the manic life of a chef. There's a lot of eating, yes, but there's a lot of running around, loads of stress, and chefs keep long hours, to boot. (Christophe says five hours of sleep is plenty, and four hours is fine.)

Whatever the reason, I vowed that it was time to work the butterfat out of my circulatory system. What I needed, I decided, was a little exercise, and that thought was followed by a revelation. The problem with most forms of exercise is that you don't move enough parts of your body. Everyone raves about swimming and cross-country skiing, because you use your arms and your legs. But that works a mere four extremities. What about, say, ten?

How can you simultaneously exercise ten different parts of your body? The secret is to go retro. I'm talking, of course, about the miracle weight-loss device of old Europe, the thing all those fat ladies with cleavage and wigs used to get their figure back for the royal ball, the precursor to the LifeCycle, the Stairmaster, and that contraption Suzanne Somers squeezes between her thighs. It's called a piano.

Piano at the Hotel Sacher
The miracle weight-loss devise of old Europe.

If there's a place to play piano, that place is Vienna. This is a city obsessed by the genre of music teenagers will not listen to. My hotel is on a street called Philharmonikerstrasse. There are guys standing outside the Vienna State Opera in Mozart-style outfits. Famous composers have their own squares of sidewalk, just like in Hollywood. It's safe to conclude that if Guiseppe Verdi, say, were alive today and living in Vienna, he'd be married to a woman who pouts in front of the camera for a living and if he wrecked a new sports car every two weeks, people would respect him more for it.

Viennese sidewalk: Not quite as gritty as the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I have a room at the legendary Hotel Sacher. It's situated right across the street from the Vienna State Opera (the big opera house)--in other words, it's flanked by those aforementioned dudes dressed like Mozart--and when I got to my room, waiting for me was my very own 17th-century elliptical trainer: a Bosendorfer upright piano.

(Bosendorfer is the Ferrari of piano makers, though recently it was bought by Yamaha. Which means you and I may one day realize our fantasy of rolling through the Wyoming backcountry hunting for whitetail bucks on a pair of Bosendorfer ATVs.)

On a little table next to a window, there was another Viennese treat waiting for me: A tray of sweets. As famous as the Sacher is for music--the rooms are all named for characters in operas--it's more famous for extremely delicious confections. It even lends its name to a famous tort. Those sweets, I can tell you, were seriously good. Better, even, than the macaroons I had in hotel in Paris. They lasted seven minutes, tops. I'd say it's high time I tickled those ivories.

<< How to Make Pain Perdu | The Piano Teacher >>

The Hotel Sacher's tray of sweets.


I think by some strange magical effect that defies scientific explanation, I have put on the weight you were meant to gain. I did not, however, get to enjoy the eating part. Thanks.

Is that Barclay with the aviators on?

Mark,you are 35 I am61.9,keep indulging

Mark,you are 35,I am 61.8,keep induging and I guarentee eventually the sheit will hit the fan.

Here's my theory, recognizing that the laws of thermodynamics are still intact:

Based on the cholesterol content of your diet, you are constantly narrowing your enitre vasculature, which is causing your heart to pump faster, which is increasing your metabolism, and is hence burning off any excess fat/weight. My prediction is that by the end of this trip, your heart will be the size of a basketball, your eyes will be bloodshot, your skin - beet red, and you will weigh less than one hundred pounds.

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