Saturday, June 25, 2005

Today was one of those days where everything conspired to be so beautiful and humanity was all on its best behavior . . . I actually got a little choked up.

This was the last class of the school year for Baboo’s Spanish playgroup. The Spouse was off on his office retreat (camping and canoeing near Karlovy Vary aka Carlsbad in the Czech Republic), so the girls and I were on our own.

The typical Saturday Morning Trip to Vienna means getting up about the normal time (6:30) and getting to the border before 8:00. We were really early this morning, but, now that it is summer, I guess, the line was really long.

The only blemish on the day was a jerk with Polish plates who just cut a huge chunk of the line and ended up along side the car right behind me. I watched a guy from a car much farther back walk up to his window and politely try to explain to Mr. Krakow that this just didn’t cut it, but Mr. K just sort of waved his hand at the guy and ignored him. I thought perhaps he was late for the Vienna airport, as that happens, and sometimes people beg forgiveness when they cut the line then rather than miss their flight. Then, because I wasn’t paying attention, he actually joined the line in front of me! Sorry, dude. He sort of got his, (kinda) when his slut girlfriend (really . . . she was about 21 to his 45+ and trampy) got out to use the potties, forcing him to hold back a little while the rest of us got to start a second line (WHAA-wha!). I saw him next to me, being required to open his car trunk, not filled with airport luggage but bottles of orange Fanta and loaves of white bread. Huh?

Meanwhile, the girls, Parrot Heads both, sang Cheeseburger in Paradise over and over again. It took about half an hour to get over the border today. Go figure.

But back to the normal routine, which means breakfast at a little bakery/restaurant chain in Hainburg called Nagelreiter. It is all Austrian Country Craft-y with a big water wheel and dried flower arrangements and anything else that fits this genetic tendency towards “coziness” the Austrians all seem to have. There’s a mostly Hungarian waiter there who likes us and we like him. No one there speaks much English, so without the Spouse we have pidgin Deutch, but they know us by now, so it’s pretty obvious I’m trying to mime “The usual, bitte.”

And then it is about 9:30 and time to get back on the road. We were in Vienna and parked about 10:00, it seemed. There’s always a Saturday street market near the apartment where the class is held. I have my usual Free Range Egg Guy, who is cute and charming and understands English even if he is shy about saying anything (although he has been on vacation the last two times, it seems, and we have been served by some older guy who is probably his dad. Dad caught us last week in the middle of a . . . discussion, and a sort of heated one, and, if I understood him correctly, gave us a raised eyebrow look and a “Everything’s FINE, right kids?” sort of greeting before he sold us eggs). I save my egg cartons and usually buy 2 or 3 boxes which hold ten and not a dozen eggs (what’s up with that?).

Anyhow, it was dad again today, who was chatting up the old ladies and giving everyone cherries to taste while they stood in line hoping to suggestive sell them. He gave some to the girls and convinced the old lady in front of us to buy a kilo and then brought out the lettuce for her. Next lady had him set aside a flat of the cherries. Wanna go to HER house tonight.

Then we drop off our plastic and glass recycling (I can do it here, but sometimes I forget to drag it along with me, while I know I will easily walk by the big recycling bins on Saturdays), and walk closer to class where the vendors have permanent buildings.

Today there was an oompah band playing in the middle of all this. I stopped at World of Cheese, which is this great gourmet stand. They have all sorts of things like tapenades and olives and marinated artichokes. Plus homemade butter. Plus homemade breads (a walnut bread to die for). Plus Italian antipasta type salamis. And just an endless election of cheeses. Some of my personal favorites are these biscuit-sized ones that come either with dried cranberries or apricots on the outside or just flavored with lemon so they taste like cheesecake. Today I got the apricot and the lemon and something else with dried rosemary on the rind and something like a Chaumes and a BIG hunk o’ parmesan. Whatever it all was, it came to about 30€. No lunch out for me this week.

We bought End of Class Thank You flowers for the Spanish teacher and the woman who lets us invade her house every week. The guy with the flower stall also has some fruits and herbs . . . all gorgeous. He has big pots of lavender wrapped in pale purple foil. Today he had water lilies. Not the whole plants but just the flowers. And bunches of roses in every possible size and color. You could get nosegay sized bouquets of roses or beauty queen armfuls. While ratting in my wallet, I dropped 15€ on the ground while he was waiting on us (and the operative word was waiting as the girls are not quick to decide). He picked it up and returned it to me (I didn’t even realize I had dropped it), plus gave the girls and me each a tiny, perfect apricot.

I dropped off the girls and the flowers at class and intended to sit outside at my favorite café which is right next to that building. It is a pedestrian block with an ice cream parlor and an Italian restaurant and this café. And they all put out tables the minute the weather permits. There are two public benches and at least two good-sized flower beds maintained by the City, and those are fragrant and colorful. It’s great for people and dog watching.

But because it was so nice today, every available table was taken. Even the benches had people sitting on them. I strolled around and looked in some shops for a bit (there is a shoe store there I really like), but it was warm, I found little I couldn’t live without, and I really wanted a drink.

So I headed back into the market block and took a seat on a wooden deck outside a bar/café/pub type place right next to the oompah band.

I had two books with me, but I find I never read during these Vienna café moments as the people watching is just too interesting. There were families and dads with kids on their shoulders and potbellied guys in shorts with their shopping and old ladies with dogs and pretty girls and babies and people selling strawberries and apricots and bio meat and vegetables and locally made wine . . . it was very entertaining.

So I sat there with my coffee and my bubbly water, smoking a clandestine cigarette since I was child-free. There was an old lady standing outside the pub deck, watching the band and trying to engage the pub patrons in conversation. Possibly she knew the old guys around me. She kept talking to them. I was far enough away I didn’t need to do anything more than nod at the band and give a “These guys ARE good” sort of smile. She grinned and waved and stage whispered things to me in German. When she realized I was smoking she mimed smiling disapproval until I put it out. The she went back to tapping her feet along with the bad, which was what the potbellied guys drinking glasses of red wine at the table next to me were doing too. The sheer loveliness made me choke up more than once.

All around me and on the other side of this pedestrian-only street were people sitting at tables eating scrambled eggs and drinking wine and beer and coffee. The band took a break and passed around liter-sized bottles of beer amongst themselves. Everyone was in a good mood, enjoying the sun and the spirit of the morning. I tried to think about how 50 years ago some of these same people were our mortal enemies, and we were bombing the hell out of their beautiful city. It was hard to imagine. Maybe someday my grandchildren will sit in a café in Baghdad? It was just all very nice, and I was damned glad to be there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vienna is magic. The city has been a balm to my soul on the many occasions when I have visited. The "coziness" that you mention is called "Gemütlichkeit" in German, and Austrians seem to have it in spades.

Thanks for sharing your musings with us.


9:37 PM  

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