Hello there. I’m back in Vienna. It was nice to be in California, but you know how the US is. A frantic dash from one thing you’re late for to the next, always hustling and hurrying and striving. It’s good to be back here.
I had lots of ideas for how I could describe some differences between Vienna and the US, specifically northern California. There are so many funny things that are peculiar to Vienna, that I had really missed while in the US. Concrete example: when you go into a shop here, you will always be greeted by everyone who works there, and it’s expected that you’ll greet them back. Fair enough. But then when you leave, there are typically TWO goodbyes. First they’ll say something like, “Danke! Wiedersehen!” and you’ll say, “Wiedersehen!” and then they’ll double down on that and say to your retreating back, “Wiederschauen!” which means exactly the same thing — and you’ll say over your shoulder, “Wiederschauen!” And this will seem normal to you after a time.
By the very same token, however, you can expect, should you go to a café, to have your coffee basically thrown at you by a waiter, often in evening dress, who shows up 10 seconds after you sit down to demand to know what you want and, should you not be ready to order, will under no circumstances return until you go looking for him. Granted, the coffee will always — and I mean always — appear on a little silver tray with a little glass of water accompanying it and often a cookie or a chocolate. But it will be delivered with a rudeness so complete that you will have to almost admire it.
Yesterday evening, I went jogging in the Prater, up the Hauptallee in the direction of the Praterstern (so, from middle of the park heading toward town). Usually I find this a simultaneously pastoral and social endeavor — horses, bikes, joggers, dogs, walkers, strollers, anybody and everybody uses the Hauptallee in the evening. Here’s what that looks like in summer:
In winter, it can be a more austere setting:
But the other night — around 6:30pm — it looked like this:
Yeah. Like that. The lights were out down the entire final stretch of the Hauptallee. That little light in the center? That’s the Praterstern. I didn’t think it was so dark until I was in the middle of it….and then when I almost ran into a slower-moving person in front of me who I literally did not see until I was right on top of her, I realized I was one of a smattering of joggers, walkers, cyclists, blindly stumbling through the pitch dark. In a public park. In a major city. At night. I turned and looked back in the direction I’d come:
I thought, huh. And then I kept on going — straight ahead into the dark of that first photo. Because this is Vienna. And while I’m not going to say nothing could ever happen to you here, it’s a pretty damn safe place. Central Park. Golden Gate Park. Lincoln Park. Rock Creek Park. Where in the US would you have felt safe making the same choice?
Let’s end this new year inaugural post with a bit of a poem about words and coming home: