a souvenir of Vienna

by richibi

these earlier “back tracks”, of which the following is one example, are pieces I consider still to be worth your while

please enjoy                                                                                                           


                                                                                                                                    April 9, 2004

this is for Alice, who has only recently lost her only son, and for also her husband, who must be also equally profoundly aggrieved, it is about maintaining faith

                                                                                                                                          a souvenir of Vienna: 

a friend came over yesterday for the first time, I had my usual concerns about my apartment, it’s modest, I call it my thimble, but I also call it my aerie cause of its unobstructed view of the mountains, and the sea from the bedroom on the other side

I soon enough began to display its features, the walls painted each a different colour, a gift from an artful partner, who also appended a fleur-de-lys of a contrasting shade in each their upper right hand corner as a tribute to my heritage, upon the walls many of the photographs are mine from when I used to enjoy photography and they hold up remarkably well after some over twenty years, of London, Athens, Copenhagen, places I’ve been

I tried to sit her down with a porfolio of other pictures there but the conversation was lively and she followed me to where I fidgeted and fussed, and  as I flew to one spot or another, the kitchen to get a glass, the washroom for a tissue, I pointed out some article and its associations

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall”, I quoted from Robert Browning and told the story of my own wall-hanging, a menu that many years ago I’d brought back from Vienna when I used to fly there with my work, I’d of course told the story of the restaurant where I’d found it to my mother, my father, family, friends, who’d admired it when I put it up

because the restaurant goes back to the fifteenth century it’s entertained Viennese celebrities going back through history, Mozart, Beethoven, probably Freud, the like, and had at the time of my earliest visits a scroll you’d unfurl to read their offerings, which were printed in High German and in a medieval-like script with a lot of ornamentation and curlicues, and seemed ideal for framing, black print with some red illumination on artfully tarnished parchment

when my parents returned from a visit there the following year my mom brought back one for herself but hadn’t for my sister who’d also wanted one, she was upset and I, because I love her and could carry the experience in my heart, gave her my own

many years later I would return to Vienna to take lessons in German this time to follow up on some that I’d taken earlier in Germany proper, Berlin for a couple of months and also a little hamlet south of Munich called Murnau nestling at the foot of the Alps 

in Vienna I would not only study at the prestigious university there but stroll the elegant streets, visit the opulent museums, revel in the art and magnificence that still hold court there like an ever benevolent grand duchess who  despite the times cannot forego the manners of an earlier age for a more modern and more democratic way of seeing things, and remains dutifully dusty and magnificent

my mom had proposed to meet me at the end of my stay, we’d amble the elegant streets, revisit the opulent avenues of the stately city this time together, and we’d devised to of course forage out our fabled restaurant

but when nearly thirty years later we couldn’t remember of course its name she went directly to the menu that still hangs on her wall, made out among the items on its fare a few that were prepared according to apparently the house in that “à la” was always followed by the same set of letters, which she then spelled out over the phone, the “G” had become a “B” to her, the “s” an “f”, unfamiliarity with a not only foreign but also ancient script and text, but enough for me to decipher “Griechenbeisl”, which in German stands for Greek inn

and there it was in the phone book with a telephone number and location

                                                                                                                                                                         I didn’t go there till my mother showed up, but when she did we were there several times cause it was not only reminiscent but delicious, the food was hearty fare, savoury and succulent with an atmosphere to match, the service matchless
we had the good fortune, I believe an angel was sent, to have wait at our table always the same young man

                                                                                                                                                                         my father died several years ago, that same year also my beloved, and to deal with the grief we each my mother and I after having leant an ear to heaven had our own channels of communication, “adagios always remind me of John” I’d read at his memorial from a text I’d composed for him, the slow, deliberate pace of this sonata extract advanced always in his step, and lo and behold I’d found that afterwards he would descend in spirit when fortuitously one was on, like a key I’d found, invented, to a transcendental visitation, my mother had found an esoteric tune by an obscure composer, something not quite baroque with birds twittering for maximum kitschness but which spoke to her in spades, she would rush to her player to crank the volume up whenever the music came on, still does, and was, is, then, imbued with the spirit of my father

I sit  in silence then rapt in the mystical moment until the moment and the miracle has come and gone, evaporated

                                                                                                                                                                     but meanwhile back in Vienna where we were contemplating this other gift from heaven, the golden waiter who stood before us to take our orders, he had the height from our sitting positions and therefore the authority, and of course he was at home in this environment

his German was fluent, more fluent than mine, but he was discreet about my inaccuracies and hesitations, for my mom he spoke a perfect English brushed slightly and beguilingly with the exoticism of an accent, a deep, resonant voice inspired confidence, even mystery and enchantment, as did his imagined but resplendent wings

“I’d eat him all up”, I said to my mom

“so would I”, she retorted

                                                                                                                                                                      we sat then enjoying our Austrian fare, good wine, in our historic surroundings, imbibing the centuries and traditions that graced the walls, the tables, the chairs, the very air of the place, we would’ve been savouring venison or quail in a deep, rich probably wine sauce, something particular to the region, and trying to anchor a memory to the experience

but suddenly my mom pointed up for me to heed the music, there had been a few musicians who’d presented a jovial set, full of sometimes lively, sometimes plangent good cheer, to get us all in the mood and they’d done so, conversation bristled through the several rooms in the house, and the cutlery and dishware clattered, but now there only sounded from the system above, sweet and simple but unmistakable to us, the voice of my father, the little esoteric tune which in the fifteen years since he’d died I’ve only heard at my mother’s, speaking to us

I love you, Dad, I said
I love you, Dad, said my mother, as we both looked up to where he was

and then he sat beside us making us three one

we had never been there together of course, but we’d all individually at least been there, and now we were together reunited, and we all knew we were reunited and always would be, it gave us all great strength

                                                                                                                                                                          later the waiter would ask us about our stay, when we were planning on leaving

“tomorrow”, we replied

“because I leave as well tomorrow”,  he informed, to return to Poland where he would continue studying law towards his career, and I knew that here again God had spoken, had sent this messenger just for us

and that finally God, or love, in all Its infinite variety of manifestations, is everywhere

                                                                                                                                                                       later I talked to my mother about the menu that still hanged at my sister’s, surely nearly thirty years since I’d first handed it over, and how it would be nice to have it in my own home, now that it would speak so eloquently to me of my adventure but also of my beliefs, the voice of my father, God, she might merely bring it up to my sister that I might want one, but they’d been no longer available, without indeed outright asking for it, I knew my sister would hear even so indirect a request with the ear she also cocks towards heaven, for she listens also with her heart, but I didn’t want to press her if perhaps she did not, might not want to let go of an item she had once ardently coveted

but she knew as well that my father had spoken and she had it with her the next time she came around

                                                                                                                                                                    and there it hangs upon the wall
                                                                                                                                                                          I could choose to call this my imagination, to consider these juxtapositions merely coincidence, perhaps they are, then perhaps again they are not, but I’ve found that to believe in merely coincidences, the mere association of fortuitously conjoined incidents, leaves me dry, arid, empty, on the verge too often of existential despair whereas believing in the voice of my father has brought me miracles and poetry, which is to say faith, grace and boundless love

and all there is to do is listen