B A R R Y L A N D .



anniversary waltz.
verbal snapshots from our springtime in vienna









things I did in 05.
how do you measure a year in the life

a man, a woman, no plan.
last year's trip, to panama

land of smiles.
tall tales from our thai honeymoon

made of this.
the level of every day's most quiet need

engagement pictures.
she said yes


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As we began asking ourselves where we should go this year for our annual jaunt, Catherine poked around in her old favorite town, Vienna, where she had some connections at the church she attended while she was au-pairing there. The new pastor, Laura Trent, had arrived after Catherine left, but was nonetheless very accommodating, and arranged for us to stay at the apartment usually reserved for interns but now empty. That's what we'd thought, at least: as it turns out, that apartment is occupied, but there was another one free, except for church-meeting times. Fine with us; it's full of light and life, and free as a song. Vienna, here we come.


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 W E D N E S D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 2 . 

After an exhausting 34-hour trip via Atlanta, Frankfurt, and Bratislava (which I was glad to visit after having heard for decades the performances of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava without having a clear picture of where the place is), we were welcomed by Laura, a warm-hearted, tea-cozy person with the sensible pepper-grey hair of all Methodist ministers. Then we found our apartment, several floors up by a stairwell that was predictably grand, moldy, echoey, and redolent of Central European welcome. We were home for a month. A couple of hours later we were in bed, and stayed there for seventeen hours.

Seventeen hours, folks. Of course, that was the first time I'd had more than three contiguous hours of sleep since Friday. We got up at quarter to seven, put on some clothes, and went out to explore the great city. Catherine is an expert, having lived here for a year several years ago. She keeps thinking it was only the other day, but then is startled to see how time has flown. It was 1998-99, seven years ago! If you are seven, you weren't even alive then. If you're fifty, it seems like just the other day.

We subwayed, walked, shivered, shopped, gazed, and reveled in the heart of this beautiful town. It's Praguish and Budapestish, which is fitting, because, in this era in which "Europe" has begun dotting the lines of national borders, Central Europe seems to have a meaningful identity. We stood sideways on the subway escalator and craned our necks to allow St Stephan's dome to reveal itself to us, stained and grand. We lusted after the Sachertortes at the Hotel Sacher, and vowed to have one before we leave. We bought a couple of Mozart Kugeln, delightful balls of marzipan ensconced in chocolate and nougat, figuring out which brand was Catherine's elusive favorite. We ate some subway pizza. We stopped at the minigrocery for jam, bread, and a local favorite drink called Almdudler, a spiced apple-lemon soda.

We padded around and read and ate in our new home — evening and morning, the first day.


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  T H U R S D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 3 . 

Our apartment is beautiful. The walls are plaster, old and off-white and much-painted. The wood is dark and darker. The floors are creaky. Some of the floorboards are sturdy, some are wiggly, some complain loudly, some give way immediately. The ceilings are high. The light is wintry. The view from the fifth floor is unmistakably Viennese, with rows of buildings plain and ornate lined up on streets that wind and bend along some long-forgotten calf's-path.

We woke, and read, and ate, and then strode into the city center again. It's just a fifteen-minute walk from us. We visited an Ostermarkt, which is a bunch of booths that crop up in a plaza during Holy Week, where you can buy ornately painted eggs, festive clothes, food and drink, and kitsch. The Ostermarkt in spring and the Christkindlmarkt in winter are the two big things that every city and town have that roughly equate to the state fairs and city festivals of America.

Up and down and all around Old Vienna: we strolled along Kärnterstrasse, the chic fashion street. At Zanoni & Zanoni, we had three scoops a piece of the finest ice cream I've ever tasted. Catherine has been raving about it since we met: and she wasn't exaggerating. Everything about it — the texture, the flavor, the entire city surrounding each cone — was perfect.


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  F R I D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 4 . 

Yesterday was my day to wake up strangely early. My eyes popped open at six-thirty in the morning, and I stayed zippy till ten at night. Today was Catherine's day. Weird, how these time-zone issues work.

Another day of walking, walking, walking through the city. This is exactly what we'd both pictured. It began raining today around middday, perfect for Good Friday. I've always thought it should rain on Friday and then be sunny on Easter; maybe it's perception, but it often seems to work out that way. The weather observes the liturgical seasons, or maybe it's just our selective perception.

We searched in vain for a good concert. I'd just assumed that you could get a good Mattäuspassion or Johannespassion on Good Friday around here, but the closest thing we could find was a prohibitively expensive eleven-p.m. Easter Oratorio by Bach at St Stephan's dome. So we gave up on the idea of a concert, and went back to the Ostermarkt for some delicious Gluwein: that's the hot spiced wine that makes any day, concertless or not, a day well spent.

I've been humming a lot since we arrived. Mainly, the humming has been divided between "Time After Time," an American standard that expresses perfectly our anniversary feelings, and various Strauss waltzes and polkas. We started out the day with a cheap serenade: I cranked up the iPod to eleven and put the headphones between us, and we listened to Roses from the South, every note of which is burned into my memory. Later in the day, I somehow transitioned to the Champagne Polka, jumping and pipping and popping in all the right places, and then burrowing into the great low-brass countermelody with so much gusto that Catherine finally had to ask me to stop with the Strauss.

But how can you stop with the Strauss in this town? I'm still a bit miffed that on our very first night in Vienna, the Staatsoper put on the season's final performance of Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss's dazzling tribute to the glittering, waltzing Vienna of his fathers, and we missed it by a few hours. What an opening night that would have been! Ah, but would-have-beens are of little use. There's much music to come.


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  S U N D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 6 . 

Christ ist erstanden!

It was a feat for us, but we too rose this morning, and caught two beautiful Easter services. At the Hofburg Chapel, the Vienna Boys' Choir did the Beethoven Mass in c-minor. We sat in a stuffy third balcony — fifty people in a hundred square feet — and listened to Beethoven's take on the liturgy: intimate, stern, lovely, forceful, with a deep energy excellently expressed by the small ensemble. Then we went straight over to St. Augustin's magnificent gold-and-stone church at the equally magnificent Josefsplatz, where the service was Mozart's Missa Solemnis. Mozart's solemnity, of course, is more jubilant than most people's jubilation, and the full orchestra and chorus, this time with women, glimmered and shone.

The pipe organ outshone them both, and outshone all the gold in the room as well, partially because of the instrument itself but also because of the musicianship of the organist, Ernst Wally, who was a brilliant stop-chooser and a darn good improviser. In his hands the organ burbled and breathed and simmered. And he had a Wagner-like understanding of the concepts "dominant" and "tonic": in the F-major Hallelujah, his V7 (or, more precisely, its substitutions) dominated and dominated, turning awry and reasserting, then turning awry again, and then finally, finally — finally — resolving to the F-major chord, which by that point the ear drank in like tonic. Masterful.

Mozart didn't write that Hallelujah, of course. Some of the liturgical material was filled in either with traditional chant, harmonized by the organist (such as the Hallelujuah), or with works by other composers: Michael Haydn's Alleluja! In die resurrectionis meae, Johann Albrechtsberger's mountainous Terra tremuit, Schubert's Regina coeli, and, for the recessional, Franz Schmidt's magnificent, ornate Prelude and Fugue in D-major. Catherine and I, having stood through the entire hour-and-a-half-long service, took a seat in an ancient dark wooden pew after it emptied, and listened to the Schmidt. She'd never been taken on a tour of a fugue before. When I showed her with my hands the various iterations of the main theme as it entered and re-entered at the fifth and at the octave, and as it compressed and expanded and turned upside-down, she was delighted. It's one thing to say, "This soup is delicious," and it's another entirely to say, "Hey! That's nutmeg in there!" Boundaries expand.

Last night we had another kind of music experience. We were walking home at midnightish from an evening of strolling, ice-creaming, and revisiting Catherine's memories of her year here, when, right in our neighborhood, not five minutes from our apartment, we heard some folkish singing. Standing in the courtyard of a small plain plaster church was a circle of about fifteen people in their twenties, clapping and singing and guitar-strumming in the light of a few candles. These people were the real thing.

We stopped and listened for a moment, ignoring their come-join-us gestures. Then a couple came over to us. There was no escape. We went over to join them, and swayed and clapped a bit in the cold. They found out we were Americans from Texas; whispers were whispered to the guitarists; the next song was auf Englisch. It was Open the Eyes of My Heart, by now an old standard in the contemporary worship songbook. We sang along; they and we were delighted. After another song we handed off our candle, exchanged blessings, and went on our way. Catherine's first remark was that this was the first group of young real-believers she'd ever encountered in Vienna. Her second was that she wished our San Antonio church could be anything like that ten minutes. We chewed on those topics till we reached home.


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  M O N D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 7 . 

We were strolling on Mariahilferstrasse a couple of days ago — how I love being able to utter that phrase! — when Catherine jerked to a stop and said, "Don!?" Yep, it was an old friend from seven years ago. We agreed to meet up on Monday at one, which we did today.

Don and Catherine caught up on old times and people as we made our way to a spacious park dotted with mainly old men in suits and old women with bright smiles.

You see Tyrolean hats here. I was delighted the first time I spotted one, on a man passing by: a pea-green traditional hat, worn not as a costume but by a guy who Meant It. I haven't seen one on someone younger than fifty, but even fifty is pretty good. If you're fifty, you weren't even born when the Second World War was over. And yet you might still be wearing a Tyrolean hat. What a town! I suppose that someone might be as delighted to see the profusion of real live cowboy hats in downtown San Antonio.

On Easter Sunday morning, in St Augustin's, I spotted a woman wearing a Trilby. Never seen that before, either, on either side of the Atlantic.

We've been relaxing, drinking in the sturdy multicolored buildings, walking and walking and walking, and reading and reading and reading. We realized the other day that in two years we've had more anniversary trip days than most American couples do in a lifetime.


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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   A P R I L   1 9 . 

Today was Melk day.

When I was in high school, I discovered in the school library an architecture book that had a section of pictures and analysis on the great monastery at Melk, fifty miles down the Danube from Vienna. I fell in love with its extravagant gestures: the riotous frescoes in its barrel-vaulted ceiling, the impressive molded entablature that holds it up, the magnificent pipe organ, the shimmering gold glopped over everything, the vast library with its trompe l'oeil ceiling and dark leather books. It's one of the greatest structures of the Baroque era. That place has dominated me for over twenty years now. When we first talked of coming to Vienna, it was the fulfillment of the lifelong dream of seeing Melk that brought tears to my eyes.

I often go there in my mind in intense moments of worship or prayer. During my cancer episode, it was this chapel where I pictured myself as I went under the cloud of chemotherapy.

So we took a train through the gentle countryside, through towns nestled into rolling hills, towns that have incorporated trains, cars, asphalt, and corporate advertising without sacrificing a bit of their original beauty (how do they do it? why can't we?), and arrived in the delightful town of Melk on a sunny afternoon.

The town itself is postcard-perfect, with cobbled streets lined by cheerful rows of shops, cafés, and inns. The monastery presides over the entire thing, laid on a nearby cliff. We hiked up to it, and were not disappointed.

We walked through the vast courtyard, the dizzyingly long cloister halls, through a Euro-silly modern installation that offered meditations on the monastery's history and meaning, through the gorgeous marble hall, the library, and the chapel. We spent lots of time moving back and forth in the library, trying to figure out the exact nature of its optical illusion. I had remembered that the ceiling was actually flat and painted to look vaulted, but we think we ascertained that it really was vaulted to an extent, though much lower than it looks. Either way, it was masterfully painted, although Catherine and I noticed that the painter wasn't nearly as skilled at faces as he was at cool visual effects. Not that we're complaining at all. The frescoes througout the place are stunning.

We also spent lots of time sitting in the chapel, just taking it all in. Gold upon gold, shape upon shape, an explosion of exuberance.

Later, we sat on a lovely terrace on the town street, enjoying the sunny afternoon, and discussed how architecture contains a point of view. The medievals, who saw this world as a musty illusion and the next as being vibrantly real and whole, created buildings like Notre-Dame, whose grey exterior contains a depiction of the wheel of Fortune, demonstrating the falseness and griminess of fame and glory in this miserable world; when you go inside, that very wheel transforms into the Rose Window, luminous stained glass that shows the inner light, the ultimate truth, a glimpse beyond this world's veil. Their favorite Scripture could have been, "We see through a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face."

Children of the Enlightenment, who built Melk, would have been more attracted to the Scripture that says, "Behold, it is good!" This glorious world, created by a genius Creator, to whom all human genius is a tribute, needs no filtering. Not one panel of glass in Melk is stained: the clear light of day streams in and lands on all that gold, as well as multicolored marble — melted and mixed by human hand — and garish frescoes that crowd the eye with splendor.


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  T H U R S D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 0 . 

After a leisurely morning — ah, there are so many of these! — we spent the afternoon at Schönbrunn Palace, the spacious classical masterpiece that was the home of Austrian royalty. Out back, they're just beginning to fill the acres of symmetrical flowerbeds with bright blooms whose beauty will peak when the tourist season does. But the off-season has its beauties, as well. The palace and its grounds were sparsely dotted with people, giving us a chance to really breathe in the oxygen of the place. Beyond the flowerbeds, there's a majestic fountain that any UT alum will recognize ("Heyyyy! They copied it!"), and then a vast green hill crowned by a wide Romanesque monument. From there, you can see Vienna stretching out before you, and pretend that it's yours.

We strolled along forested pathways, and sat in silence in the evening's final burst of light, and loved each other all over again.

Then, to the Naschmarkt! Catherine has been raving about the gyros here since I met her. Finally, I tasted one. The Naschmarkt is a huge marketplace of Middle Eastern wares, foods, clothes, and trinkets. We passed the wares, fingered the clothes, ignored the trinkets, and greedily savored the smells of the food.

We came upon a place that had a rotisserie, and Catherine exclaimed that this is "where I always come" to get the best gyros in the world. In this case, "always" means eight years ago, a fact that we have to keep reminding ourselves of. As the days pass, Vienna seems more and more present to Catherine, and the intervening time compresses more and more.

And the gyro was superb.


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  F R I D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 1 . 

Today we visited the Hundertwasserhaus, a delightful architectural confection and idealistic community. Hundertwasser is a lovable, fuzzy old designer who creates hippieishly whimsical designs that are, like all good design, very workable and livable. It was fascinating to see on this one block the old, ornate, gold-painted, fussy-windowed housing so typical of this part of Vienna, right next to a stripped, grey, sleek, plain modern version of the kind that came up in the late twentieth century, right next to this gloppy, colorful masterpiece that appropriated all the ornate traditions of old Vienna and piled them up in a quite beautiful way — all lined up next to each other. Traditional, modern, and postmodern.


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  S A T U R D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 2 . 

Sunny, sunny, sunny, warm, warm, warm springtime! Wow! It's hard to believe that just a few days ago we were shivering and bundled in sweaters and, in Catherine's case, borrowed coat and gloves. Today Vienna was filled with spaghetti straps, sandals, bright shirts, and the smell of sweating Austrians.

We strolled through the grounds of Schönbrunn, criticizing the palace's new, browny-yellow color scheme (what happened to — ahem — Schönbrunngeld?), and people-watching. Old couples, young families, pallid sunbathers on the grass with their pant-legs pulled up, red-faced children recapitulating society's virtues and ills in sandboxes, all enjoying the spring day.

Catherine decided I should see her old house, the one she lived in for the second half of her year here. The first half was with an unhappy family with spoiled children, out in the suburbs. In the spring, she defected to a happy family with unspoiled children, in the tony eighteenth district, much closer to town. Her best memories of Vienna center around that house. She knew that her family had moved a few years ago to America, but we figured we could walk around and at least see the place.

Upon entering the neighborhood, Catherine was transformed. It had houses rather than apartment buildings, and was leafy and hilly, offering lots of green shade and pleasant fragrances. She pointed out this and that in the neighborhood, and then we came on the house itself. She was just filling me in on how this and that had changed, when its new inhabitants got home with armfuls of groceries. At the last possible second, shy Catherine finally screwed up the wherewithal to catch them and tell them who we were, and ask if we could walk around the house for a moment. They were very gracious; the man, who has owned the house for years, had known the family when they were renting from him, and was glad to remembrance them with Catherine. The place itself was superb, glowing with that quiet hefty clarified quality that can only come from the combination of money and taste. We walked through the rooms, and Catherine exploded with memories.

She then took me to the park, a splendid, huge, natural park that showed the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead and the Romantic naturalist tradition that had so obviously intervened since the days that created the trim symmetrical forest avenues of Schönbrunn. We walked hand in hand, we sat and watched the green trees turn to black silhouettes against the sunset, we talked through the dusk and the gloaming, and then made our way back to the cityish part of the city, full of happy memories.

As we passed back by the houses, we saw one with several different types of windows on its side face, and couldn't help but see them through the eyes of old Hundertwasser. Suddenly the stodgy old house looked lively and inventive; we saw the oddness of the past. That's what art does.

We kicked around our favorite part of downtown, right near Stefansplatz, ate some pizza, saw some street performers, and had a tea and a hot lemon drink that had captured our imagination a few days earlier. Delicious! Just a hot lemonade, served in a quiet ivory-walled, red-upholstered, bowtied-waitered cafe.

When our tired feet had carried us home, Catherine pronounced this long day her favorite of our stay.


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  S U N D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 3 . 

We attended our host church today. It wasn't exactly a glorious cathedral, and the music wasn't exactly Mozart, but the service was satisfying in its own way.

I'd been asked to play the offertory. I showed up early and fooled around on the pretty nice piano, which sounded round and full in the spacious, neatly decorated church-modern room. I also saw the old pipe organ, a self-contained thing that was angled on stage left, opposite the piano. (As you know, in all non-Catholic churches, the piano is on stage right, the organ on stage left. That's in the Bible.)

I cranked it up, pulled out a few stops, and was instantly delighted. The top manual produced pretty nice pipe-organny sounds; the middle produced more reedy, accordion-like sounds; and the bottom had a few mellow stops with percussive elements to them. One in particular sounded like a Wurlitzer electric piano with no decay. Cool! The music leader, an ice-blue-eyed gal named Selina, had said she didn't like the organ much, and it didn't fit in to contemporary music well (this was contemporary Sunday; next week is gospel; other weeks are traditional hymns). But I thought the opposite. You can get a wheezy sound that adds perfectly to a contemporary band. Man, I wish I had one of those! So they had a keyboardist that morning. Sounded good.

The guest preacher, a chicken-fried Southerner with preacher voice, delivered a pretty good sermon that centered on Jesus's story of the wayward son. Quoting from The Pastor's Book of Stories, he talked about a painter who depicted the father as wearing unmatching shoes, because he was so eager to get to his son. During the prayers section of the service, following the sermon, I quickly came up with a good tempo, a handful of interesting chords (I - ii/I - iio/I - I, if you must know), and a few lyrics to start with, and sang a new song called "The God of Unmatching Shoes." It's not good enough to ever repeat, but the congregation was pleased, as much with the newness of it as with the actual music.

After a light lunch, we retired to the bedroom, where I read an entire Mary Higgins Clark book — my first — as Catherine, who, feeling nauseated, had taken a few pills and conked out, slept and slept, all day, evening, night, and into the morning. Good: she needed it. She felt a bit queasy for the next couple of days, too, but she seems to be OK.

That reminds me: this is the first trip we've taken in which Catherine hasn't once had to walk into a foreign doctor's office or hospital. May it ever be so.


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