The Comforts of Home

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.

To be clear, the inclusion of this cup of coffee is in no way intended as a comment on the waitstaff at this particular café, whom I've always found to be very nice.
To be clear, the inclusion of this cup of coffee is in no way intended as a comment on the waitstaff at this particular café, whom I’ve always found to be very nice.

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:

All these elements - cyclists, horses, joggers - were there in the dark. But, you know, invisible.
Many elements – cyclists, horses, joggers – are staples of the Hauptallee.

In winter, it can be a more austere setting:

This is how the Prater looked when I went jogging on one of the coldest late afternoons of last winter. Lonely. Cold. But, you know, lit.
This is how the Prater looked when I went jogging on one of the coldest late afternoons of last winter. Lonely. Frigid. But, you know, lit.

But the other night — around 6:30pm — it looked like this:

Hey, guys? Um, guys? Can someone get the lights??
Hey, guys? Um, guys? Can someone get the lights??

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:

So hard to resist the urge to run like hell toward the light.
So hard to resist the urge to run like hell toward the light.

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:

To know a road you own it, every bend and pebble and the weeds along it, dust that itches when the August hayrake rambles home. You own the home. You own the death of every bird you name. To live good, keep your life and the scene. Cow, brook, hay: these are names of coins. --- Richard Hugo, "Montgomery Hollow"
To know a road you own it, every bend
and pebble and the weeds along it,
dust that itches when the August hayrake
rambles home. You own the home.
You own the death of every bird you name.
To live good, keep your life and the scene.
Cow, brook, hay: these are names of coins.
— Richard Hugo, “Montgomery Hollow”
This entry was posted in Around Austria, Regan Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Comforts of Home

  1. Sheri Jennings says:

    Lisa,
    I really enjoy reading your blog. A very long time ago my family lived in Wien for one year (my first year in high school!). Good luck to you in all your ventures and thanks for this.
    Best wishes,
    Sheri Jennings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>