It’s Wednesday and I already feel like I’m getting acquainted with my surroundings. I’ve managed to beat jet lag and get plenty of rest (all this despite the constant sound of jackhammer working hard somewhere on the streets below). The day before I was able to go and explore a bit of the city (Which did not disappoint in the slightest). Vienna has such a wonderful mix of classic and modern architecture, it’s transit system is simply fantastic, and everyone is out and about but it’s not uncomfortably crowded. Vince and I had met up with a friend of his , Renee, at the Belvedere Manor also. The Manor was simply breathtaking, I continue to be wordless when it comes to describing it and can only help but feel clichéd! Renee joked with me telling me how he likes to call the Belvedere his backyard since he lives so close.
While the Belvedere was incredible, I could not help but be struck by another public park. The park between the Prater and Vince’s apartment really grabbed me today. It’s a simple park by all means- well simple compared to the Belvedere. Definitely larger than most American public parks but in no way a tourist trap like Central Park (and certainly incredibly smaller). I decided I would find my way down to the park that day as Vince was running some errands and it was such a beautiful day to just sit outside and read. I found myself a spot and got to reading “Holy Sh*T: A Brief history of Swearing” ( a fantastic book by the way, though probably wasn’t a great thing to read right near a children’s park).
I got so far into my book before having to put it down. I could not help but find myself getting lost in the atmosphere in the park. It struck me as strange to see so many people gathered around and just enjoying the day here. This kind of volume of people outside and about in a park is almost unseen at home. The feeling in the air was that of an open and relaxed celebration. Everyone was welcomed. There were of course plenty of kids running about the playgrounds, playing tag or kicking around a soccer ball (or a few actually running naked through the little watering hole at the edge of the park- I have been assured this is normal!). Across from me sat a group of three elderly Austrian women chatting about at what I can only assume was the usual gossip. And it was not strictly homogenous to Austrians but also a bit of Slavic and middle eastern influence, and I believe I heard some English voices mixed in. I found the atmosphere to only add to an already beautiful day. It felt safe and fun.
Now, don’t chalk me up quite yet as a full blown romanticist! As Vince had pointed out to me the first time walking through the park and while walking back from the Prater, the area around his apartment once had a reputation for being only a tad bit shady. And by a tad bit I mean that the area was frequently known to have prostitutes readily available and a hub of drug activity. In fact, it should be mentioned that my first time through the park I saw two different groups of police (about 4 in each) searching people. Both seemed to be rather routine random checks, but naturally it caught my eye immediately. It should be mentioned that the area as of recently has become incredibly less a place of prostitution (especially since roadblocks were installed and scattered around the streets of the park. This keeps “customers” from driving around looking for someone to pick up). Likewise, with drugs, since the passage of a law that allows police to arrest people who do not have a record (prior to this you could not), it’s been a lot less frequent (or well has mostly moved out of the area).
Still, it can’t help be noted that despite its former reputation for prostitution and drugs and also the giant spray-painted penis on one of its buildings (pictured next to this), people keep coming to the park at Venediger Au. Why? Perhaps it’s a rather Austrian attitude. Even in the height of all the shady activity the park was still highly used and enjoyed by families. “No one ever bothered them”, Vince told me, “They have a rather live and let live attitude towards things.” It’s certainly strikingly different from the way things are handled at home. I don’t mean to suggest that the Austrian way of doing things is the best thing anyone can do, but it is certainly interesting to ponder about.
The rest of the day consisted of dinner followed by a trip to Heiling Ice Cream on Praterstrasse, a place that both Vince and I confirmed as THE best ice cream in the world. I still could not help but think of the park though. In particular, there was a sight that stuck with me. I didn’t mention it earlier, but across the way from me I saw a man simply sitting and staring at a tree. The tree was bare, no leaves to use for shade, and scarred all over. He wasn’t on the phone; he wasn’t talking to anyone nearby. It was just him and the tree for a good several minutes. I suppose I’ll never know the exact reason for it. Maybe he was just taking some time to himself? Perhaps the tree was special for some reason? Or maybe he saw something special in the tree much in the way I saw something special in seeing him look at it? The inner philosophy major in me wanted to know why this was happening and the inner English major wanted to fill in the unknown motives with a story. Regardless, I had to capture the moment. I suppose I’ll never know what was happening here but I suppose that is all a part of the magical strangeness of Venedigar Au. I can only say that it all felt strangely serene.