Monday, April 18, 2011

The Colors of Vienna

If Paris and Miami had a love child, its name would be Vienna.

This is Sunday, Vienna Marathon day. I doubt there’s a more scenic route as the participants will trot en masse across the Danube, jog to the Prater, circle the Ring a time or two, make their way to the Schonbrunn, and then stagger back to Vienna’s historic core.

Classic Colors

Blue Sky
Did I mention that the sky is true blue today? Vienna’s weather can be a bit dreary, but the trade-off is the spring sky. I’m amazed at how elevation, topography, and the seasonal tilt of the Earth influence light.
The sunlight on the Dakota prairie is a distant cousin to the sunlight dappling a stand of Virginia woods. Even more than 20 years later, I can close my eyes and see the eerie mystical hue of the afternoon sun on Incan ruins high in the Andes. There must be a word for that color, but I don’t know it.
That the Blue Danube is a puzzling misnomer is well known, but if this is the kind of sky that reflected in a once-pristine river, the mystery is solved.

Our Neighborhood
Today I envision runners who are first-time visitors to this city, at about mile 10 or so, losing their concentration and their form, and simply stopping, mouths agape, dazzled by the sunshine dancing off stone lions and goddesses, fountains and cobblestones -- and blondes.

The similarity to Paris is obvious; what evokes Miami is color.  The water-color shades of now sun-bathed buildings are reminiscent of Miami’s tropical tints. The scaffolding has finally been removed from the front of our building, and, voila… our new yellow building. Maybe not quite South Beach, but….

Our Building
Given the Austrian propensity for regulations, we wonder what the color scheme rules might be. At the very least, I hope the permits are printed on pastel paper.

Still Our Neighborhood
Weeks ago, when our Virginia friends were here, they were lucky enough to enjoy a bit of 
spring sunshine. When the chill returned, we headed indoors. For me, a highlight was visiting the Leopold Museum with Marion, an insightful college freshman studying art history, who is fascinated by all things Art Nouveau.

Klimt eggs for Marion
I learned so much from Marion. Sometimes I watched from a distance as she read a canvas or lingered in front of a particular painting. Watching people engage with art is like scanning someone’s bookshelves for authors or riffling through a piano bench to check out someone’s repertoire – secrets revealed, character illuminated.

I’ve mentioned before what a joy it is to have adult children who enlarge our world with their own interests, experiences, and passions. Whether it be through enjoying Will and Erin’s reverence for first editions,  Dyl’s delight in zombies and horror films, or Reeve and Melanie’s fascination with artist William Kentridge, our cultural and intellectual lives expand through theirs.
Experiencing art with Marion reminded me of the need to keep inquisitive young people, not just our own children, present in our older lives.

Just being with Joan for hours was heaven, but our walk together in the Vienna Woods was, for me, bittersweet. 

Our neighborhood in Virginia is only 10 miles from downtown D.C., but it is edged by acres of woods through which Joan and I have logged many miles and many volumes  of conversation (well, sometimes more like monologues – thank you, Joan). Joan, with her embracing of the ephemeral, introduced me to exquisite trout lilies that you can truly appreciate only if you slow down and bend close. Every spring for several years now, we’ve noted their appearance.

It’s in those woods that Chase, our German shepherd, once bolted, knocking Joan – who doesn’t even like dogs -- to the ground so hard she curled up in the fetal position trying simultaneously to breathe and reassure me that she was fine.  She didn’t banish Chase.  She did tape her ribs.

With Joan, I can say, “Remember that day we saw that amazing iridescent skink with the blue tail? And that other day when we were looking at brilliant yellow wild poppies mixed with those delicate blue flowers I can’t remember the name of?" And I know she knows not only the common name but the Latin one as well.

She’s the only one who shares a memory of that day at Green Spring when we began conversing with an Iraqi man sitting on a bench. We heard about his flight from Iraq and about bullet holes in his Bethesda windows.  He explained how his Filipino wife made him move with her to the Philippines after George Bush won his second presidential election because she couldn’t “live in a country filled with the kind of people who would vote for that man twice.”  He cried when he talked of his love of the U.S.

Months ago I wrote about how much I missed my possessions, now packed away in various nooks and crannies in Virginia.  I rarely miss them any more. Now what I miss most is shared history – that ability to say to friends, “Remember the time….” And they do.

Which brings me back to Miami.

Reeve spent an eventful decade there before moving to Arles, France with his French wife. 
Reeve, Misti - 2003

 Last month when he turned 30, Melanie organized a three-week trip for him to Florida to work, to create,  to indulge, to revisit memories. The last week of the trip, this amazing woman and baby Ocean endured a panic-stricken journey through red-tape boondoggles to join him.

Melanie, Reeve -- Miami

The highlight was a surprise party she had organized for him, which included his dad and dear friends who had traveled long distances to be there,  as well as the Miami contingent.

When I talked to Reeve after he returned to Europe, the rejuvenation was evident in his voice. He had basked in his history surrounded by people he loves.

The life of an expat is exhilarating and challenging and sounds really romantic. Maybe it’s different for much younger people, but for me at my age, nothing could have prepared me for being unloosed from my moorings of work and friendship and routine in this way. 
Think Small
Of course, what make it easier are the amusing sights that surround us.  Yesterday Jim and I wandered into parts of Districts 7 and 8 that I had explored on my own earlier in the week. We found humor on the street:
We even found essence of Miami, if not Miami, in an art gallery called Inoperable with a show: The Art Of Skateboarding. 

We talked at length with the friendly manager whose parents are French and Tibetan but who was born in Vienna. Among what we had in common was knowledge about Miami’s Art Basel, which we wouldn’t have known as much about without Reeve’s Miami life.

KKK -- Really?

Instead of the shared history we have with our friends – dark times, celebrations, and simple moments on simple days -- here the connections come in snippets, ephemeral like the trout lilies.
Last week we passed a man and young boy with their dog in the First District. If people with dogs look at all friendly, I say, “Darf ich?” which I hope means “May I?” and since I can’t remember the word for “pet,” I motion to the dog. I was petting the dog and asked if the man knew English. He did. I explained that we had left our beloved dog behind in Virginia and that we were suffering from “dog hunger.” He grinned, and simply said, “Eat.” 
He has no idea that that moment will be among my favorite Vienna memories, and I’ll never see him again. 

So, the marathon is long over, and I suspect the city is filled with people nursing blisters and strained muscles, eating Sachertorte and drinking heartily with old friends and new.  And a year from now, they might meet again, and say, "Remember that day...."