Brief Encounters: Sept., 2011
Tales of Everyday Life
I was riding my bike down the Wiedner Hauptstrasse the other day on my way to work, when a police officer pulled me over. Now what?
He looked at me very sternly: I was riding on a tram lane, he informed me, whipping out his ticket book. (The tram lane is slightly raised in this section to separate it from the traffic). I rolled my eyes, but of course said nothing; I’m not suicidal. But it was patently unfair. I had been on a very legal bike lane until then, but here, it ends, and there is no other lane that’s safe.
Riding this way is also shorter, of course. You’re supposed to turn off just above, onto Paulanergasse, which leads to a long-winded detour that only makes sense to city planners.
Who in his right mind is going to do that? Like all the cyclists from my neighbourhood, I have been riding ont this streetcar lane for years, and there have never been any police to check.
Didn’t this guy have anything better to do?
It was evident that I was experiencing "Aktion Scharf" – the crackdown on bike rowdies recently announced by Vienna City Hall. With unseemly satisfaction, the policeman fined me €21, then and there.
So Vienna is changing. And then again, maybe not. As I mounted my bike again, it occurred to me to ask how to continue.
He shrugged. "Sure! Go ahead," he agreed cheerfully. "After all, you’ve already paid for it."
So I plugged in my earphones and rode off, unsure whether to feel pleasure or utter dismay.
The Pleasures of Home
On a remote bench somewhere near the Riesenrad, my friend and I were fully engaged in a heated conversation about the flat we had just gone to look at: renovated, but too dark, the area is nice, but it’s not furnished...
"How awful it is to be homeless in Vienna...," we sighed.
Suddenly, "Oida!", that choice bit of Viennese dialect, derived from "Alter," or "old chap", but now hardly more than punctuation.
A woman in her mid-forties, sauced to the gills, at least as much as any Wednesday would allow it, was staggering our way on what seemed like a mission of destruction.
I felt obliged to light her half-cigarette after she gave me a piercing stare. But she would
have none of it.
"You men are all scum!" she hissed at me.
For some reason it didn’t seem appropriate to let her know that I was a girl.
"Do you have a house?" she asked abruptly. "No...we’re actually...," my friend attempted.
"I have a home," she interrupted. "My own personal one. Like a normal, decent human being. Not like you." Baffled, we waited to see what she would say next.
Quite taken with my friend, she then pointed at me and concluded sagely:
"It’s alright if you love him... her... whatever. Just get a home, and then you’ll be okay. Like me."
And that was the moment we decided not to take the flat.
An Unsafe Aura
On the ÖBB InterCity from Leoben to Vienna, a woman in red and black sat across the aisle. Around 65, her striking face lined with age, she was carefully made up, with red lipstick accenting the contours of her lips to perfection. In her hands was a magazine, Tarot Week. She turned the pages to study every article with great interest.
All of a sudden her phone rang. It took her a couple of seconds to realize it was hers – or maybe she was just too captivated by the article about "Moonlight and its Effect". When she finally picked up, her face lightened up.
"Hey sweetie, how are you?" she chirped into the phone. I found myself listening in spite of myself. "Yes, yes, I’m alright. It’s fine now. Don’t worry about me..." Her face clouded. The red-lipstick-lips became a thin line.
What had happened to her? I held my breath. It was like being in the movies.
"It seemed alright," she continued, "A seat next to four young girls – but then suddenly they took out these ‘notebooks’ – you know, not real notebooks, computers! – and opened them on their laps! Can you believe it?!" I frowned. What was wrong with four girls with laptops?
"But don’t worry..." She paused. "I’ve already moved to a different seat – it’s much safer here," she sighed again. "I don’t think the rays can reach me here."
Then as effortlessly as she had begun, she moved on to her latest reflections on the mysteries of Tarot, the legends that had so fascinated the great psychologist Carl Jung, and to the spiritual meanings of symbolic language, once practiced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.