Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

April 16, 2005 Spring in Vienna.

Vienna is pretty and somewhat sterile. After Cairo, it is incredibly calm and clean and rich and white. Easy, but not interesting. Hong Kong seems easy and interesting, as is New York. Cairo is stressful and interesting, but hard because it always feels so foreign and its so dirty and chaotic. Here, except for the language, it doesnt feel foreign. It is charming, but very tame.

Last night Rebecca and I ate dinner at a pleasant restaurant, sitting outside under an awning, crammed next to a bush at the far edge of the plaza. As far as we could get from people smoking cigarettes, that is avoiding cigarettes is a major challenge in

Vienna. It was lovely despite the Gitanes next to us. It is spring in Vienna, everyone is out in the streets, eating ice creams, talking in cafes, and playing on park lawns in the sunshine. It feels as if they have burst out, finally released from the throes of winter. So different from Washington in spring, where you cant walk out your door into an exuberant community en plein aire. Vienna lacks the exuberance and chaos of Cairo or even the sparkle of Rome, but the life in the streets is cheerful and relaxing. And there are flowers blooming everywhere, the trees are the clean fresh green of spring, before they have accumulated the dust of the city and darkened to the colors of summer.

Today I got out of touristy Vienna into a very ordinary part. Though ordinary here is still very well-groomed, tidy, clean, and quiet. I walked across the Donau (thats Danube in German) Canal towards the river itself, though an area of four-story buildings, some charmingly old but many drearily modern in a 1960s way. The walls of newer buildings are decorated with mosaics, as if to assert that they aren't trying to compete with the flamboyant decoration of the 19th century structures.There were only a few people walking. The shops were


mundane, the occasional dry cleaner, small food markets, the long faade of an elementary school, a dress shop, a toy shop, a snack bar selling kebabs and shwarma. A big supermarket with an equally big parking lot in front. Car dealerships, clean well-tended car repair shops. Everything is bland and suburban, no elaborate decoration, no decay or grime. I cut through what I thought was a park, but turned out to be the playing fields of a boarding school. Parents were picking up their boys by an imposing institutional building, and from an open window came the sound of someone practicing piano. Nearing the river, I came to a huge new shopping mall reeking of cigarettes with a Starbucks, where I stopped for an iced coffee. Dreadful, to be reduced to going to Starbucks instead of a Viennese coffeehouse, but its the only smoke-free place around.

My destination was a kite festival on an island park in the middle of the Danube. The festival was a bit of a disappointment. It was a lovely warm day, but there wasnt enough wind to fly kites. And there were hundreds of little children in the area roped for flying, so crashing kites was a risk. I meandered for a bit and took some photos, then finally summoned the nerve to ask a man if I could fly his kite he had left it laid out on the ground. He hesitated, but then agreed, after asking if I had flown two-line kites. I got it up, and did a few nice turns, but the wind dropped and it came down, fortunately without too much of a bang. We chatted for a

bit and I left. It was nice of him to let me try. Next time I go to a kite festival, though, Im bringing a kite!

From there I headed down a path by the river, where I spotted an enclosure with children bouncing on a trampoline. The sign said 2 8 min. so I put aside my hesitancy and asked if adults could do it. Her oldest jumper was 80, she said, go ahead. So I did! It was wonderful and scary and harder than Id expected. When I got up a rhythm, Id fly into the air and have an amazing moment of hanging weightlessness, before feeling my stomach lurch as I dropped back down. But if I looked at the trampoline beneath me Id lose my balance and tumble down onto my butt, my knees folding up into my chin. If I dropped my weight onto my heels Id fall backwards, and sometimes I found myself windmilling my arms to shift my weight forward or back. It was tiring, too at the end of my very short eight minutes I was sweating, and the ground felt uncomfortably unresponsive as I walked off the trampoline.

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