Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Vienna, my love.

I fell in love with Vienna this time.

It's never fully happened before. It's part of my history, yes. It's the first place I consciously remember. My inner picture of the years I spent there has all the splendor, and blur, of an Impressionist painting. I recall flocks of pigeons, an old park with giant blocks that were my playground, a little door next to our tiny house fireplace, an ice cream shop (gelato I'm sure!) I visited with my dad, perched on his shoulders.

My next taste of Vienna was when I was fifteen, with my mom. My early life came alive to me there through her stories. I visited again when I was 16, spent part of the summer with Gwen, a friend as good as family. The city became mine, in part then. I spent whole days wandering the cobbles and back alleys, learning the "strasses" and "gasses" that twisted through parks and under the brows of buildings older than anything I could remember. Another visit when I was 21, on a  mission trip, but still, it was just one more city, in one more country.

Until now. There was an odd sense of homecoming this time. I realized finally, how much Austria shaped the values of my parents when they were young, newly married, and we kids were just tumbling into the world. Vienna is a city strong in beauty. It reflects a philosophy of life that considers loveliness as necessary as bread, or water, or clean air.  Candlelight and the strains of classical music really do haunt the doorways and windows of houses there. Geraniums preen in every other windowsill. Small cafes guard the cobble street corners, serving very strong coffee in very small cups. It is perfectly acceptable to sit for hours.

Nature is present, and cultivated, in every free corner of city space. Civility, graciousness in manner and demeanor is highly valued. A love for the old lasts here, a value for arts and craftsmanship that has lasted through the years. At night, the operas playing inside the Opera House downtown are broadcast live on a screen hung the length of the building. You walk the streets in the dimness  with the haunting of a soprano voice in every nook.  The mornings were my favorite, all on my own. I strode long in the cold, sweet stream of the wind. Stone streets, dark, then gold, under my feet, each narrow alley lifting a slender, mysterious face. Sky, a rivulet of cloud and blue in a brooding ripple between the creamy walls of the houses, the leaping, giant heads of the churches.

There were a hundred alleys down which I could duck, a thousand streets tossed before me like the shimmer and snake of "a gypsy's ribbon." Stone arches beyond which curved, now a flagged alley lined by dark-eyed windows with geraniums at the sills, then an archway of tawny bricks trickling up to a polished wooden door flanked by wild curtains of ivy. Then the Hoffburg filling the sky from cobble to sun, walls the color of butter, with the fierce, sea green helmet of his roof.

Vienna, I find, pushes me, pushed my parents, into a love for what is lovely. I think it is one of the first places I began to sense, even as a child, that what is beautiful has the power to touch not just the material, but the spiritual as well. The beauty of Vienna rested me this time. It brought me back from a busy, anxious place, and helped me to taste all the goodness of this created earth once more.  I am thankful that my parents glimpsed loveliness here when they were young and decided to bring this particular brand of life into our home. I'm thankful to see all this, to be prodded into new creation by the sight of old beauties that have lasted. I hope you can taste a bit of it in these photos.