From Vienna, Austria

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

As the days are growing warmer and longer, it seems like summer is just around the corner.  I'm not sure where nearly a year has gone since we moved back to Washington, but I still find myself telling people that we just moved back from Vienna.  When we first returned, that statement came with a heavy heart and we've missed our life there enormously.  How could we not? Vienna was a tremendous time for us - all in all, nearly three years.  It's where your father and I learned to live as a married couple; it's where we launched on a million different adventures; and more importantly, it's where we embarked on our biggest adventure yet when you were born.  If for no other reason than that one, we'll always be connected to that very special city.

When I first found out we were moving to Vienna, I'll admit that I wasn't exactly enthusiastic.  I said it would be sleepy and slow . . . I said it would be boring and old-fashioned . . . I said I didn't speak German.  I've had to eat all those words - except for that I still don't really speak German.  But Vienna turned out to be such a grand dame of Europe, comforting in its own nostalgia.  It is a city where historic institutions are still living institutions, where what is old is being made new again simply for the fact that it is part of daily life.  As I found, it's a perfect place for people who like to get lost in memories---people like me.  Here are a few of the things for you to take away from Vienna:

  • Every lady should know how to waltz - Dancing in Vienna is a little bit like drinking coffee in Vienna---everybody does it.  And if you don't do it when you arrive, you will definitely be doing it before you leave.  The balls are the most beautiful I've seen, with full orchestras and sweeping gowns.  The Viennese will say that they are probably not like they used to be, but for me they are like they will never be anywhere else.  Immediately, you notice that anyone Austrian seems to know what they're doing---the dance floor is orderly and elegant, swirling to the beat of the music.  Learning to waltz - 1,2,3 . . . 1,2,3 . . . is a basic skill that will follow you through life as you attend awkward school events, then weddings of family, then your own wedding, and finally, the weddings of your own children and grandchildren.  Even when the music is modern, these traditional steps won't fail you.
  • Sunday (or some day) is a day of rest - Our first day in Vienna was a Sunday.  I remember because we quickly found out that everything is closed on Sunday.  Apart from museums and a few central cafes, there are nearly no commercial transactions on Sundays.  At first, we were panicked.  What about shopping? What about groceries? What about Target runs? We learned to adjust our schedules and to love the fact that for one day a week, we were protected from having to do the commercial grind that so often consumed our weekends.  We had the day to rest . . . to enjoy the outdoors . . . to sit over endless coffees in cafes and read the paper cover to cover . . . to enjoy a field trip . . . to work on photography . . . to see exhibits . . . to see a performance . . . it turns out there is so much to be discovered when you have one day all to yourself.  And it makes Monday that much easier.
  • The beauty of the holidays are the traditions that go with them - Vienna loves Christmas . . . and New Year's . . . and Easter . . . and Summer Festivals . . . and a whole calendar of festivities.  And each one comes with it own set of traditions and markets and foods and libations.  Take care to notice people's tradition's for holidays---part of what makes holidays so special are the rituals that we build for them in anticipation.  Don't rush right to the big finale, take the time to enjoy each step in preparation.
  • Always make time for live music - Is there anything more beautiful than the sound of a live orchestra? They are getting rarer in many places, but Vienna is not one of them.  But it's not just home to orchestras---Vienna has smaller groups and ensembles and it seems, music students and aficionados at every turn.  So much music came from Vienna that maybe it just sounds a bit better there.  Live music is a wonderful thing---when you hear it, even if by a street musician on the corner, take at least a moment to appreciate it.  Someone is playing so that someone else can hear.
  • Enjoy the arts at whatever level you can afford them - Try to make time for enjoying live art of any kind.  Some of the world's most beautiful stages and museums were in Vienna and we enjoyed many performances: sometimes saving for special seats to be front and center, and sometimes, from high up in rafters for just a few euros.  Dress as if you have the most expensive ticket---people spend lifetimes learning their craft well enough to perform on these stages and have their work hung on these walls.  Being dressed appropriately is respectful of that.  And always try to have enough for a glass of bubbly at the bar during intermission.

I think to the end of my days I won't be able to hear about Vienna without my heart skipping a beat, at least a little bit.  Almost like an old flame that you never quite extinguished.  We'll be headed back this summer, and the notion that we would get one more last hurrah in this city that was our home for those three fantastic years has gotten us through this past one.  I know it won't be the same, but the beauty of Vienna is that it doesn't really ever change all that much.  Now that's a comforting thought to be enjoyed over a piece of Sacher torte, isn't it?

All my love,