PrevNextTop85-01-29* The Reluctant Traveler in Vienna

January 29, 1985
Tuesday Afternoon

Dear Mom and Dad and Everyone,

I've been busy. I'm on the train from Vienna to Rome and so have some spare time to write. I'll try to write larger to counteract the jumpiness of the train.

We're going through some beautiful mountains (Australian alps?) and villages and farms and it's hard for me to begin and concentrate on this letter. This is a disability of the traveler. Always moving, Always a feeling that there is more to see than one has time for. The scenery is worthy of several photographs but to take pictures through glass windows seems wrong somehow. I'll buy some postcards. Or look in travel books when I return.

In many ways I am a reluctant traveler. I'm on my way to Italy for the first time in my life. I've heard many stories about the wondrous beauties of Italian art - MichaelAngelo, Leonardo DaVinci, Raphael, ... Yet a part of me says I should be back home. Night before last I read the essay “Art” by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a book I'm carrying along. I copy part of it here: (partly to help me understand it better).

I remember when in my younger days I had heard of the wonders of Italian painting, I fancied the great pictures would be great strangers; some surprising combination of color and form; a foreign wonder, barbaric pearl and gold, like the spontoons and standards of the militia, which plays such pranks in the eyes and imaginations of school boys. I was to see and acquire I knew not what. When I came at last to Rome and saw with eyes the pictures, I found that genius left to novices the gay and fantastic and ostentatious, and itself pierced directly to the simple and true; that it was familiar and sincere; that it was the old eternal fact I had met already in so many forms; unto which I lived; that it was the plain you and me I knew so well, - had left at home in so many conversations. I had the same experience already in a church at Naples. There I saw that nothing was changed with me but the place, and said to myself, - “Thou foolish child, hast thou coume out hither, over four [for me seven] thousand miles of salt water, to find that which was perfect to thee there at home?” - that fact I saw again in the Academmia at Naples, in the chambers of sculpture, and yet again when I came to Rome and to the paintings of Raphael, Angelo, Sacchi, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci. “What old mole! Workest thou in the earth so fast?” It had travelled by my side: that which I fancied I had left in Boston was here in the Vatican and again at Milan and at Paris, and made all travelling ridiculous as a treadmill.
I understand this. It makes sense to me. It seems right. And so I am a reluctant traveller. But I am here - and I can hear you all saying that I'm very lucky to be here and that you would like to be in my place. - (Don't worry, I'll be done with this in a minute and will write another page plumb full of all the juicy details of what's been happening with me.)

Before I left on my trip I met with my yoga teacher, Baba Hari Dass, who has taught me many important things about happiness, women, God, fear, work, play. I told him I was going on a long trip. He asked “Why?” I couldn't give a good answer. He said - “Some people travel to waste time.” I asked “What can one learn by travelling?” He wrote, “When you travel many things come up. You can see what is hidden inside.”

He would agree with Emerson.

When I come to Rome and Venice and Paris, I hope my doubting mind will leave me and I can simply enjoy. I hope these wondrous works of art can go straight to my heart in the same heavenly blissful way that the northern lights did in Stamsund and northern Norway.

As the train passes these villages I see people enjoying the snow - skating (on a little rink in a backyard - like behind the house in Bottineau with Janet and Julie), curling (a kind of winter horseshoes - remember the time we went fishing in Canada and played horseshoes in the sunshine until 10 pm?), sledding (down the hill in Max) cross country skiing, hockey (with two old shoes as the goal - in Hamilton I played ball hockey in the Parnell's basement with Jeremy, Margaret's son.)

Just had fun waving to two girls in an adjacent train. I started it by waving hello and as my train pulled away they waved goodbye.

Time out to go to the bathroom. - Always an adventure. Always something different. This time a metal handle on the skinny black rim of the toilet seat. Flushed by stamping a pedal. I'm getting tired of reading the multi-lingual warning about not using the bathroom when the train is stopped in the station - this time in German, French, Italian, and English.

In Amsterdam they use the “honor system” for paying bus fare. Some have passes, some time stamp a ticket when boarding. When I arrived I bought was sold 3 tickets when I really only wanted one and I was told I could have bought them cheaper elsewhere. I lost those 2 remaining tickets and didn't use the bus again until I left. I figured that I had already paid so just boarded with no ticket. One block before the station the ticket inspector got on and charged me 26 Dutch gilders - about 8 dollars. I thanked him for the lesson. The imbalance created by Lisa's and my winning at roulette has been remedied.

From Amsterdam I went to a small town in western West Germany called Landau. There I met Antoine Fried, the European coordinator for SERVAS, a traveller-host organization. I stayed one night with her and became a member of SERVAS.

[[ During my visit with Antoine I'm not sure I fulfilled the mission of SERVAS:

SERVAS is an international cooperative system of hosts and travelers established to help build world peace, goodwill, and understanding, by providing opportunities for deeper, more personal contacts among people of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Antoine kindly served a dinner of potatoes and ham. I informed her that I was vegetarian. She was upset that I had not informed her beforehand. I learned from this experience that it is completely my responsibility to let hosts know of my dietary needs. ]]

Antoine is about 40, never married, is a teacher of history and English, and has travelled almost everywhere. I saw that we shared some important things and so asked her why she was single and what she learned by travelling. I hoped to learn about myself and saw her as a good sparring partner. We wrestled. I don't think she enjoyed it. Oh well.

Just passed a magnificent castle on top of a steep tall hill near St German ??? The sun is setting. The snow covered mountain landscapes remind me of Norway. Another town - St. Veit an der Glan. Long name! After Landau I went to Vienna with the aim of hearing lots of music. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Strauss, Mahler, ... these people lived and worked in Vienna and the Viennese still love them. In Copenhagen everyone rode bicycles everywhere at all hours of the day. In Vienna people love to play and listen to music. At the hostel I met Nicole, a young woman from New York who studied in London for a semester. Together we went to a concert of the music of Handel and Mozart. It cost $4.80 (80 schillings). Sunday morning we heard the Vienna Boys Choir at a lovely mass. Only $3.50. She left for Innsbruck (sp?). (Hello Goodbye Hello Goodbye Hello Goodbye). Sunday night I went to the Volksoper [Peoples Opera] and saw/heard Offenbach's “Pariser Lieben” only $5.00. It was full of songs, dancing, costumes, spectacular props and sets. It aimed to please. Sunday was really a day for filling up my eyes and ears because during the afternoon I saw a movie - “Paris, Texas” in English without subtitles. 3 other theatres in town had it dubbed in German. Fine film - although I can't say I fully digested it - too much else to eat that day. Antonie did say that I travelled too quickly. Today That day I did. Monday night I went to a piano recital only $2.50 given by a Japanese woman. One of the pieces she played was Beethoven's “Appassionata” sonata, one of my favorites.

At the hostel I made another good friend from South Africa. (I may go there to visit). There was also a somewhat insane fellow from Ohio and a very nice Brazilian who is a talented street violinist, taking 7 years to travel around the world.

On to Rome and ancient wonders,

PrevNextTop85-01-29* The Reluctant Traveler in Vienna