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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  M O N D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 4 . 

We've gone back to the Schönbrunn Palace grounds a few times, to walk and sweat a bit and see some beautiful vistas. From pretty much anywhere on the grounds, you get a view of Vienna that can't be much changed from what the emperors saw back in the day: colorful rooftops, church spires, tilty lanes. The part of the city that's gotten built up is either over the hill or blocked from view by the forests. You can stand there and pretend you've gone back in time, until a neon jogger chiffs by.

The grounds include a zoo and a topiary maze. We've never been too interested in the zoo, but figured on coming back to the maze at some point. Its steep entry fee might very well have been worth it. But when we found ourselves right there significantly after closing time, we asked why we shouldn't just hop on over right then. So we did. Looking over our shoulders, breathing a bit quickly, hunching down just enough not to be seen over the hedges, we got from entrance to exit, mostly because of Catherine's infallible mental map skills. We zipped back to a hidden part of the fence, and hopped back over to the law-abiding side of things.


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  T U E S D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 5 . 

Vienna is proud of its artists. There are plaques all over, stating that here is where Vivaldi did this, and Mozart wrote that, and Strauss did the other. Entire stores are dedicated to candies like Mozart kugeln. What would Mozart think if he knew that two hundred fifty years after his birth he would be not only immortalized in stone, and still performed for enthusiastic audiences, but made into a delicious and popular candy? Probably he'd be delighted.

You see tons of pictures of Mozart, very few of Vivaldi, none of Janacek. But the city is filled with Klimt in general, and "The Kiss" in particular. Today we went to the Belvedere, a set of twin buildings facing each other across a long garden, and beelined to the top floor of the first building, which Catherine knew by heart: the Klimt gallery. "The Kiss" is one of her favorite works of art. We gazed and gazed, examined brushstrokes up close, wandered among the other paintings, came back and gazed some more, knelt down in the middle of the floor to replicate the characters' positions, and kept gazing. What a singular vision, and how singularly executed! There were a few of his iconographic famous paintings, and several I'd never seen before but all bursting with Klimtness. This town is a better place because it houses these things.

After strolling down Kärnterstrasse, we sat down in a sidewalk café, where we had an indifferent coffee and a really good, not-too-sweet, Heisse Schockolade. We watched the people pass by the shop windows and grand facades, and thanked the heavens that there's still a public place in the world without a television in sight.


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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 6 . 

Sunday morning at church, Catherine had reconnected with John, a fatherly friend from when she lived here several years ago. He'd invited us to lunch, and we'd settled on Monday. He works at the International Atomic Energy Commission, which is housed with a bunch of international bodies like the UN. When we arrived Monday, protesters from Greenpeace were standing around outside the main lobby. Inside, they'd brought in a barrel of Chernobyl dirt. Pretty effective protest: you don't want this in your lobby? Well, we don't want it in our backyard. At any rate, the place was shut down and we couldn't get in for lunch with John. Just as well, because Catherine had forgotten her ID. We wouldn't have gotten past security anyway.

So today came and we tried again. ID present, protesters not. John met us and took us through the main lobby and into the courtyard. You, and anyone on earth, would recognize the place as belonging to a certain type of international body: soaring 20- and 30- and 40-story parentheses-shaped buildings made out of the beige-gris plastic of airplane interiors, embracing a spacious courtyard with flagpoles and fountains. You'd also recognize the inside. We entered the lobby of John's building: the circular and flat room, the fluorescent lighting, the hundreds of flags hanging from the ceiling, the room-dividers holding small artworks from every country — it felt like a professional high school cafeteria.

Up in the actual cafeteria, though, things were different. There was a pleasantly international chatter and the smell of wonderful food. We enjoyed the venison stroganoff, tender tender hunks of venison on a bed of impossibly fluffy spätzle and topped by cranberry. We also enjoyed the fresh-squeezed orange juice that reminded us of Thailand. Most of all, we enjoyed catching up with this warm-hearted friend who had been such a support to Catherine in her year here. John is a fit, crinkle-eyed, trim-bearded, good-humored Tennessean who's near retirement and full of plans and news of settling down in the Blue Ridge Mountains he knows so well. His blue-blue eyes twinkle when he's about to say something funny; his genial demeanor goes down all the way. Apres lunch, he took us over to the dessert area, where we stood around a marble table and drank the best coffee we've had in Vienna.

Catherine and I strolled and shopped in the early afternoon. We came on a remarkable fast-food place: cool art, thoughtful ceilings, Starbucky color scheme, free internet access, interesting furniture, traditional Viennese pastries at great prices, giant video games embedded in the floor for kids to stomp on free of charge. We wondered why on earth there isn't this in America. They'd make a killing. People would flock to it. The place's name? Unmistakable from the moment you see the giant yellow M on the door: McDonald's.

Strolling again along the increasingly hot sunny street, we passed a street performer doing a shell game with a marble and three matchboxes. I've always felt rather superior about these guys: who on earth would ever fall for it? This one in particular was a little rough. We could always see where his clumsy sleight-of-hand left the marble. Some of his victims, though, weren't quite so quick. Several times, people would guess what was from our angle the obviously wrong one. Finally, Catherine spoke up: "No, it's that one!" He wouldn't reveal it without a bet, though, so we obliged. Wrong! We tried to get our money back, and were wrong again. Suckers.

Dang it! This cuts right to the core of our self-image. The loss of money was merely the injury — a few dollars can be made up for by depriving ourselves of this or that. The insult, though, goes deeper. I'm smarter than you. I'm smarter than Catherine. She, in turn, is smarter than I am. We're both smarter than roughly ninety-eight-and-half percent of the test-taking world. But this test we failed. We were jittery and irritable for hours, till we finally forgave ourselves. Small price to pay for a lesson we didn't think we'd have had to learn. Now I'll never be able to act superior about those people. I'm one of them.

The evening belonged to Mozart. Aside from the beautiful Masses, we haven't been to many concerts or operas. We've been saving them for this last week or so. Tonight was "Marriage of Figaro." If you are in Vienna during the year of Mozart's 250th birthday, and get the chance to see "Marriage of Figaro," you gotta do it. If it's a lush Vienna Staatsoper production, so much the better. And if it just so happens to be conducted by Riccardo Muti, then you are indeed a fortunate person. And if you get to be by the side of Catherine Brake while watching it, then you are me, and officially the most fortunate person in the world.

The show was great. Catherine said it was the best stage set she'd ever seen, and I'd pretty much agree. The bedrooms were gorgeous. The sunlight streaming in through the window was actually sunny. The magnificent court looked magnificent. The garden in the final scene was dark, gleaming, and breathtaking. How do they do it? One can't help but think it's partly the Vienna, but partly the staats. The city of Vienna and the government of Austria subsidize the arts incredibly heavily. There's certainly pro and con to that, but when every surface in an American opera house bears a corporate logo, it just seems quiet and beautiful and right to be in a place devoid of hawking.

As for the performance, it was really really good. Every singer was more than equal to the part. In particular the Countess dazzled. And Muti kept an almost dizzily quick tempo the entire time. You could see him using his baton to whip the players and singers into a slightly peppier, more agile version of Mozart than they might have done. The result was a comedy that was really comedic, aided of course by very good acting by the performers. It's really hard for comedians to be funny; it's almost impossible for opera singers to.

A word, though, about dance. Whoever it was who banned ballet back in Mozart's time has finally had the last word. The censors won. Why on earth is there no dance, even in the dances? Catherine and I nearly laughed out loud during the extended ballet sequences, some of Mozart's most uplifting music, as the singers onstage grimly moved this way, then that, using as few steps as the director could possibly get away with. Pitiful. Nonetheless, it's hard to complain about such a workmanlike show. Really really nicely done.

Having stood for three hours, though, after a day of so much walking, Catherine and I were glad to flop down at home.


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  T H U R S D A Y ,   A P R I L   2 7 . 

This was exactly the kind of day I'd pictured when we were planning this trip. It rained a bit, the air cooled a bit; we read, snuggled, and fixed a good meal or two and some hot tea; we walked down quiet, wet streets, we had coffee under the dripping awning of a sidewalk cafe; we talked and talked. Hardly a dime spent, and a beautiful Viennese Thursday.