Chasing Vienna’s Spring

After an Unusually Harsh Winter in Georgia, It Was a Relief To Find a January Thaw Had Taken Hold Here

On The Town | Mariam Shalikashvili | February 2008

My plane was just about to land at Schwechat airport, when the pilot came on the loudspeaker: A temperature of 15 degrees Celsius awaited us in Vienna, he announced. I smiled. After an unusually harsh winter in my home country of Georgia, where I had spent the Christmas holiday – barely managing not to fall and break my neck on the icy streets, in a cold that reached -18 degrees Celsius – it was great to hear that Vienna would welcome me with weather so warm.

I stepped out of the plane; sunshine filled the air with light and warmth, though a chilly wind blowing into my face suggested that winter had not completely given up its rule yet. I ignored it. I hopped onto the bus into a world of Austrian voices surrounding me. I had an odd feeling, as if I had come back to my hometown from my hometown.

I dropped my luggage at the apartment, changed, grabbed my camera and rushed out onto the street to capture the Spring. The sun was at its zenith, providing perfect lighting for a snapshot.

I wanted to find the most typical Viennese scenes, ones I might have ignored, if I had not been away for a month. But just back, they seemed special to me again.

I took a portrait of the old man at the Hohermarkt Wurstelstand, with a kind, concentrated face, elegantly fixing a Käisekrainer. I went down to the U-Bahn station and photographed a sign displaying a big exclamation mark with a caption underneath Rutschgefahr! (Danger of Slipping) warning the passengers to avoid a wet spot on the floor. In Georgia no one would bother to warn you.

I wandered about in the city taking pictures of the trees that were dressed in green and ignoring the ones that were stripped. Then I began feeling a little tired – I was glad I was feeling tired, I realized, as it was a good excuse to sit down at one of my favorite Viennese cafes. I was on the Ring close to the Rathaus, so I decided to walk to the Volksgarten Pavillon, a favorite warm weather spot.

Funny how people can be cheered by such little things, I thought, imagining myself relaxing at a table in the beautiful garden, staring at the way the cup of coffee in my hands would mirror the rays of the sun. A gust of wind sobered me up, pulling me back from my daydream. The sun had retreated behind the clouds, and the naked trees were looking on gleefully as the wind robbed the others of their final leaves.

I approached the Pavilion. There was a big lock on the gate. I looked through the bars and saw dusty stools and tables chained to the pole. I took one last picture before heading home, as I had foolishly dressed for warmer weather, and now it was getting cold. After all, it was the middle of January. I aimed the viewfinder between the bars, trying to capture on film the memory of the Spring that had existed only in my mind.

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