27 December 2012
My Dear Piece of Home,
At first I wanted to write you of the Baroque splendor that surrounds me here in Vienna. Vienna was once the height of elegance and culture, and it shows in the grand golden and white palaces of Austrian royalty. While watching the Lipizzaners warm up to classical music under chandeliers at the Spanish Riding School, I wondered what it would feel like to be Maria Theresia–to wake up in the massive summer estate of Schönbrunn and know that it’s my home, to have my choice of Lipizzaners to ride…
Lonely, probably. It would probably feel lonely. And so, I want to write to you not only about the things we’ve seen but the company I’ve had this Christmas. AC and her sweet swagger and spontaneous dancing. AK and her huggableness and genuine heart. IS’s cool collection and great generosity (and her unbelievably long lashes we talk about over and over again). GB’s constant insistence to put others before herself. NL has no hesitation when it comes to helping someone out. EC always has a fun fact or yummy snack to share. PT’s fierce love and wild loudness: “WE’RE NOT GETTING IN THE VAN WITH YOU!”
Christmas evening, we toured Schönbrunn palace and had dinner at the Christmas markets under its shadow. The glamour of Schönbrunn emanates from every one of its rooms, from the crystal chandeliers to the gold-leafed Rococo moldings. Schönbrunn has its own hall of crystal mirrors, which I thought made Versaille’s look plain in comparison. Marie Antoinette (her mother Maria Theresia, Empress of Austria married her off to Louis XVI of France) spent part of her childhood there. Walking through the palace, I reconsidered Marie Antoinette’s inability to curb lavish spending and empathize with the struggling populace. She spent her childhood in an unbelievable fantasy of riches, then became married off to a foreign land. Such opulence was a constant presence since the day she was born. She knew little else before she was married off at a young age.
Despite its shimmer and shine, Vienna has become more to me than a beautiful center of history and culture. Vienna is where our 8 girls became, dare I say it, friends–its where we spent Christmas together, many of us for the first time away from home.
Christmas morning we stood in line at the Viennese State Opera to catch standing-room tickets for the Nutcracker ballet (at 3 euros apiece!) Many of us had seen the Nutcracker before, but this production was uniquely phenomenal. The sets were absolutely brilliant, with lights and mirrors and staircases. The costumes were sparkling in all the right places; my favorites were in lovely butter yellows and sea foam green. And the dancing: even from the gallery you could tell the principal couple was having the time of their life whirling and leaping with power and grace.
We spent the late afternoon and evening at Schönbrunn, then returned to the hostel after the markets closed. On the way back, we raided a tiny supermarket in the Westbanhof underground station, emerging with armfuls of candy, cookies, wine, and cider. AK and I secretly purchased 40 sparklers–a nicely round number which gives 8 girls 5 sparklers each. We went crazy with what remained of Christmas, eating, yelling, laughing, photographing in the hostel lobby, and then sparkling outside on the street in the cold. After all the celebrating a few of us were famished–lucky for us a kebab shack was open for Christmas right across the street.
Weigh in however you will, but cheap snacks and golden laughs with honest people make life real to me.
We ate our last
supper brunch the next morning at the historic Cafe Central, talking about our dreams (and hypothetically escaping the law in Cuba) as black-coated waiters served us coffee and viennoiseries. Movie producer. TV agent. Lifestyle writer. International daycares. Hotel manager. Bakery-cafe. International Organizations. TV Writer. Creative nonfiction writer. Novelist. Professor.
At two o’clock we came to goodbye. Three of the girls left for Budapest. I do hope to see them again in the future. They’re a fine bunch, those girls.
And then there were five. We spent the afternoon lounging around and watching Elf until we headed out to stand in line for Opera tickets again. This time we watched Ariadne auf Naxos, an opera.
Now we’re packed for our last day in Vienna, by this time tomorrow I’ll be writing from Copenhagen.
P.S. Our favorite historical Austrian figure is Sisi–Empress Elizabeth. A portrait of her with star ornaments in her hair is everywhere at tourist shops and attractions here in Vienna. A purported beauty of her time, she reluctantly married Emperor Franz Josef who adored her, spent her days as empress exercising and not eating to maintain her slim figure, brushing her ankle-length brown hair, and complaining about marriage. She was quite the independent and sassy little empress, having a vibrant life apart from her husband. In the end, she was stabbed by an Italian anarchist with a file. All of us thought her quite the character and wikipedia-ed her later to satisfy our curiosity. (There are also movie trilogies made about her).