Dreams, Empires and Unfortunates
Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
212Trip End Ongoing
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"There is a level of comfort I've come to truly enjoy in the civilized world," Ellen said. "Riding to work on the streetcar at home in Toronto is like taking a journey with the creatures from 'Night of the Living Dead'. Every trip there's at least one person that you feel might take a chomp out of your arm or leg; make you one of them."
I looked at Ellen, then out the restaurant window and replied. "Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert walked these streets, perhaps sat at this very table."
"One morning," Ellen responded, "in early February, when it was -10C or -15C I stood at the corner of Bay and Queen Streets, right across from City Hall, just watching. There were three men sleeping on the sidewalk in front of Starbucks. I stood there for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. One hundred people must have walked past them with their coffees and muffins, going to work. Not a single person let on as though these sleeping people were even there. I couldn't help but think that each time a coffee carrier walked past these 'living dead' that they must shed a tiny layer of their own humanity."
"And the architecture of Vienna blends so well," I replied. "St. Stephen's Cathedral was built over a seventy-five year period in the 12th century, while the Rathaus, city hall, in all its neo-Gothic splendor was only completed in 1883."
Outside the fog was thick and heavy now. Ellen set down her fork before continuing. "These people are exercising their rights, our government tells us. As though opening the asylums was a good thing. I wonder if Mayor Miller steps over, or around them, on his way to running the city?"
"Maria Theresia ruled over the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 40 years in the 18th century," I replied. "She's considered the greatest of all the Hapsburg rulers. She reformed both the army and the economy and introduced a public school system."
Ellen picked up the fork and tapped it against her wine glass before saying, "If I shed my clothing and sat reciting Bennett in front of the Toronto city hall, I'd be hustled off as quick as you could snap your fingers. Yet, if I threw a burlap sack over myself, I could spend the entire winter in that very same spot. "
I looked at the generous piece of chocolate cake in front of me and said, "Two vicious dessert wars were fought right here in Vienna, between the Hotel Sacher and Café Demel over the origin of this wonderfully rich, four-chocolate cake and its succulent apricot jam filling. The Japanese even infiltrated the kitchens, trying to steal the recipe."
I was awakened by bright sun bouncing off the wall of our Viennese hotel room. Troubled, I shook Ellen from her sleep and told her of my odd dream.
She looked at me for a long moment. "You know nothing about the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, hate classical music and chocolate cake." Again she paused, then continued, "I had the same dream...but our roles were reversed."
We caught each others uncertain glances as we silently ate breakfast, then set out for the Sudbahnof train station on the precipice of Western Europe. An hour later, still silent, we climbed aboard the train and headed east to the land of the Slavs.
Where I stayed