Thoroughly Alive

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


Vienna, My Love

A year ago today, I was walking the Naschmarkt in Vienna. I met my mom downtown today for a stroll after a morning of work, and as we walked and hunted for the first (late) daffodils, she reminded me of our Vienna jaunt. The mere thought of it was like breathing new air, basking in a fresher light. Vienna, my love.

There is a special grace that comes to me in that city. I don't know if its because of my family's history there, or if it really is a grace specific to that city with its particular story, its music, its honey-toned buildings and copper-roofed palaces with the cobbles and the pigeons and geraniums in all the windows. Whatever the cause, it freshens and revives me just to think of it. So, though I am on a writing deadline and really wasn't going to post today, at least I can share a bit of Vienna with you. The post below is a repost from a visit a couple of years ago. Vienna is one of those places that, even when I leave it, in my heart I am always on my way back...


:: reposted :: Never before have I known it so fully. Vienna is part of my history, yes. My first conscious memories claim Vienna as their home. The images from that time march through my imagination in all the splendor, and blur, of an Impressionist painting. I recall flocks of pigeons in the cobblestone squares, a park with giant blocks that made a fantastic playground, a tiny door next to our fireplace, a statue of mother and child, an ice cream shop (gelato I'm sure) I visited with my dad, perched on his shoulders. We moved away when I was three, but those images were the first whose beauty formed my memory.


I did not return to Vienna until I was fifteen. Then I came on trip with my mother, a journey in which she introduced me to the Europe that had captured her heart and soul when she was a young woman. Together we savored, we wandered, and wondered as we went. My early life came alive to me there through her stories. Again, I came to Vienna when I was sixteen and spent part of the summer with Gwen, a friend as good as family. The city began to be mine then, at least in part. I spent whole days alone 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. It was almost mine, but I wasn't yet old enough to understand the way the city formed my story.


Until now. I have come  full circle. This time, I know the city as my own. This lovely place comes to me as a presence that has lingered in the background of my being all my life. Vienna, I realize, is mother to much of what I love. As I walk the cobbles in company with the grey sky and quiet houses this time, I feel a sense of homecoming. Finally, I am beginning to understand how deeply Austria shaped the values of my parents when they were young, newly married, with their babies just beginning to tumble into the world. What they tasted and heard, walked and saw in these streets changed the way they raised us.


Vienna is a city mighty in beauty. The very streets, the rhythm of the days here reflect a philosophy of life that holds loveliness to be necessary as bread. Music to be dear as water, celebration to be precious as fresh, clean air. I noticed this time, the way candlelight glimmers in so many windows at dusk. The way that music fills the streets at night, violinists on the corners, the latest opera broadcast on an outdoor screen so that the late walkers downtown make their way through shadows that seem made of music. Geraniums gild the windows. Cafes guard the cobble street corners, serving very strong coffee in very small cups. One may sit for many hours, stare, and think.


Vienna is a place of creation. An atmosphere of excellence pervades the city, for it is a refuge for those who study, who delve, who make, and sing. Music is made here, books are written, philosophy taught, worship given. My parents have told me that it was the people they met here, friends who discussed and read, thought hard and deep, who held themselves unceasingly to the task of learning that modeled to my parents what an education ought to be. The spiritual pace thrums swiftly here, new thoughts are born, or fresh things created, painted, sung. Vienna is a city whose palaces and courts have sheltered the making of much that has enriched the world. Everywhere I walk, I am confronted with artistry. The careful creation of forgotten hands reaches out to me from the statues, the doorposts, the solemn churches.


But the city itself, a sprawling, golden maze is a gift simply in itself. The mornings here are my favorite, for then I get to walk with the dawn, alone, exultant. I stride long in the cold, sweet stream of the early wind. Stone streets, dark, then gold, under my feet, each narrow alley lifting a slender, enigmatic face. The sky is close somehow, a rivulet of cloud and blue in a ripple between the creamy walls of the houses, the leaping, giant heads of the copper-domed churches. There are 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 curve, now a flagged alley lined by dark-eyed windows, 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, requires of me, and required of my parents, a love for what is lovely. Vienna taught them the power of beauty to form the soul to love what is true and good, and they, in turn, taught it to me. Even as a child, Vienna helped me to understand that what is beautiful has a power beyond the merely material. Beauty, I understood, speaks eloquently of the world and the value of the people who fill it. Beauty requires excellence from those who would create it, forms the very inner minds of those who set themselves to seek it. Vienna is an eloquent place. It's loveliness calms, its rhythms root one in grace. Perhaps it is a particularly powerful atmosphere for me because of the story my family has lived within it. Each person has a place or two of their own that calls them into life.


But Vienna is one of mine, a place that grounds me, reminds me of my story and what I have been given, and of all that I must now work to become. I am deeply 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 be prodded into new creation by the sight of old beauties that have lasted. Whatever your own place of life, I hope this glimpse of Vienna returns you to it in thought, or brings a fresh beauty of its own.