A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.


Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

In Berlin

Having made our stops in Paris and in Amsterdam, having bickered and trudged cobblestones and deciphered maps for a week, my friends and I stopped lastly in Berlin.  I, under the influence of a magazine article about Kirsten Dunst, in which she announced a plan to move to Berlin and called the city young and happening, was expecting to be swept away in a torrent of neon lights and streets drenched with thudding music.

What happened was that we stayed in a hostel that doubled as a stop along a free walking tour of the city.  The hostel, like most of the others we had encountered in our travels, was filled with bunk beds topped with discarded backpacks or with collapsed young people, exhausted at the prospect of one more new city.

Despite wanting to lay down for a while ourselves, we had thus far made it a point not to  turn down free things, especially of the tour variety.  Besides, as Berlin was the last stop for us, Berlin was also the stop that had received the least amount of attention in the weeks-ago planning stages.  “It’s only Germany,” we thought.  Surely it would be a breeze after bumbling through French and Dutch.  Germany was a language we knew, one we had been learning in class and speaking flippantly on the streets of Salzburg.  Ja, genau.  It would be easy.  But Berlin was large and fast and it seemed safest to weave through it in a line, following a guide who would hopefully not make us hold flags or wear itchy lanyard necklaces.

On that tour, having seen Checkpoint Charlie, the graffitied remains of the Berlin Wall, the parking lot that used to be the site (give or take a few hundred vertical feet) of Hitler’s suicide bunker, Brandenburg Gate, a magnificent chocolate shop called Fassbender and Rausch, and the large circle of land they call Museum Island, we came to this:

The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  2,700 unique slabs of concrete sitting unassumingly in the twilight, casting shadows on tourists wandering through.  Many people, beginning with the opening of the monument in 2005, have criticized it.  “It’s not religious enough to be a Jewish monument,” some claim.  “It’s too abstract to represent what it’s supposed to.”  “Victims’ names should be engraved on the stones.”

But our guide, a 30-something musician from England, merely told the story, folded his hands behind his back, and asked us to walk through the monument for a few minutes.

And so we did. Splitting off from each other, we wandered the undulating path between blocks.  Sometimes the blocks would tower over our heads, and sometimes the path would rise (or the blocks would shrink; we never knew which), and suddenly we would be able to see over the top of the entire monument.  The dull concrete didn’t reflect the light of nearby buildings; it seemed to absorb it, keeping its contained roads in darkness.

All you could see, once you were in the center of the monument, was the navy of the sky above.  It was lonely, in that quiet field of stone.  You felt isolated, although you knew that your friends were surely only a raised voice away.  You felt that if some giant should reach down, aiming to pluck you up, there would be nowhere for you to go.  You would be like a rat trapped in a maze, always desperately, heart-poundingly, stupidly hoping that the next turn would get you out.

All is Right in the World

All is right in the world when you wake up at 6:30 a.m., sit through a committee meeting until 9, and then trudge straight back to bed for two hours.  And later, your writing class spends a half hour discussing how stories should be submitted; electronically or physically.  One girl couldn’t handle the stress and walked out.

Truth:  In all my years of schooling, I’ve only been in two classes that had walkouts: Creative writing in high school, and now advanced fiction writing.  Writers are touchy people.

Things continue to be wonderful when the awesome German teacher wins Jeopardy, and when you and your trivia-obsessed buddies decided to forgo leftovers in favor of a better dinner in the Student Center.  Then, at your work safety training meeting, you laugh until you’re wheezing on the floor after the trainer says the following:  “Too many people try to sneak free pump coffee refills.  Next time I see this happening, I’m going to be all: ‘I will cut you!'”

Volleyball doesn’t go so well.  One of your teammates is struck down by a charley horse, which you know hurts like the dickens because it happens to you decently often.  Your team loses to a team that you probably could have beaten, but you don’t feel too horrible because afterall 5-1 isn’t a bad record.  And because you knew the moment you were all lined up on the court that you were probably going to lose because your team just wasn’t playing like they usually do.

After the game, silently ashamed of being a living breathing cliché, you say you don’t care about the loss, but you regardless spend fifteen minutes in the snow talking about what exactly went wrong.  And then you skip off to the Convenience Store, where friends are buying ice cream and you’re just looking for an excuse to avoid reading your book of nature-heavy poetry.

And then you come home and read it anyway.