Brief Encounters: Oct., 2011
Tales of Everyday Life
Civilization as We Know It
I ride my bike to work. Through the Prater. First down the Hauptallee, and then on the side road that passes by the Jesuitenwiese and towards the 3rd District. It’s a lovely road, paved but narrow and car-less, and heavily shaded by late summer verdant deciduous trees. On the green lawns in the distance, small groups of kindergarten children are collecting chestnuts. It is early morning, but not too early.
Suddenly I have to brake. In my way are two Fiaker horse carriages, sauntering next to each other and hogging the road. Stuck behind them, I admire the shiny hunter green and deep Prussian blue that the carriages are painted. The crocheted caps for the horses’ ears are also in green and blue. The teams of horses are perfectly matched, one white pair, one brown.
The coachmen are talking, leaning back with their cigarettes, letting their horses amble along at their own pace. They are also on their way to work.
Gradually I feel myself getting annoyed: I do have to be somewhere, sooner rather than later. Worried that I will disturb the horses, I manoeuver my way around the carriages, listening to the clip-clop of the hooves. There is nothing in sight to tell me that I am not in the 19th century.
As I pass by, I catch a few words of the drivers’ conversation: "And soon it will be the end of civilization!"
Yes. It ends at the red light I am speeding towards.
Riding in Style
The Viennese are a bit silly about their dogs, and I’ve discovered you can gain a fairly good listening comprehension of Wienerisch simply by eavesdropping in on the old ladies burbling to their little Schatzies on the U-Bahn. People evidently arrange play-dates for their dogs, bundle them up in designer track suits, and chauffeur the tiniest members of the species around in bicycle baskets.
Once, in the Stadtpark, I saw a lady pushing a pram. She stopped, reached in, and lifted out two elderly Jack Russell terriers wearing gray pullovers. The little dogs trotted around for a couple minutes, relieved themselves, and were then lifted back into the carriage.
With plummeting birth rates across Europe, one sometimes has to wonder if the pooches, cuckoo-like, have wriggled their way into the nests of the Viennese at the expense of the host. A friend corroborates: He once saw a lady pushing a baby carriage. Next to the carriage toddled her young child. In the carriage, riding in style, was a dog.
Birds of a Feather
The sun was setting on the Donau and some of us had been up for days. It was like that at the open air rave Tanz Durch Den Tag at the Otto Wagner Lock in late August. Electronic music flowed over the idyllic setting, as I lay reclined in the long grass, surrounded by Vienna’s young party people. And I overheard the following exchange:
"I’m either buying a weed plant or a canary," said the strung out young man, "but the plant will probably just die, so I think the canary is a better choice"
"The canary will die too, you know" said the young woman.
"Yes, but I won’t be as sad when the canary dies."