It’s 7 a.m. when I wake up today. The sun is shining through the skylight in my room, Kevin is getting ready for work, the fish are swimming about in their tank and both cats take a turn at taking up all the space on my bed. I’m home.
I give myself some time for breakfast and to get myself oriented. It’s been nothing but hot and humid outside this week but despite all that I look outside and feel there is work that is needed to be done. When I left for Vienna my garden was really only just starting to kick into a growth streak. I normally spend the summer tending to it, cleaning it up, and adding more flowers as the summer goes along. It’s my way of keeping myself sane with any excess time in the summer and it makes for a pleasant place to sit and read or have friends hang out around.
I left my garden in the capable care of my family. I have to give credit where credit is due and say that it continued to grow spectacularly while I was gone but it’s maybe grown a bit too much. Flowers have started spreading where they shouldn’t be, there’s some weeds scattered about larger plants, and the vines have left their trellis to dominate the rest of the area- it’s going to take some time to sort it all out.
I suppose that’s how I feel about Vienna. Or perhaps it’s how I feel about home. Home has been kind of a tricky word for me as of lately. While on my flight the other day I could not shake the feeling that I was not going home. Even when I landed I had to remark to my mom that I felt like I was only coming for a visit and that any moment I’d be on my way back to Vienna.
The dust has settled a bit more today and the old feelings and habits have started to rekindle, but the word home still alludes me.
For the past six weeks, 2 Ybbstrasse has been my home. The sound of German weaving its way through the air has been my home. Walking back from the U1 at night to see the Prater all lit up has been my home. Exploring constructed languages in the Esperanto Museum or Lhotzkys literaturbuffet became my home. A fresh plate of Cordon Bleu became my home. Vienna became my home.
And yet, it didn’t always feel like that. When I first arrived in Vienna, the image of my family waiting at the security check of Philadelphia International and waving goodbye to me was still fresh in my mind. It was my first time leaving home to go outside of the states and I was doing it all on my own. I remember remarking to Vince when I first arrived in Vienna that I felt like the two angels from the German film ” Der Himmel über Berlin” (The Heaven over Berlin).
Like the angels in the film, I felt that I was just observing and that I was in almost my own bubble. Vince and I would walk down the streets of Vienna and he would point out an interesting fact about a person or place and we would talk about it among ourselves. The German at first especially through me off and made me feel more distant. It all felt kind of surreal, that’s not too say I didn’t love what I saw, within the first week I fell for Vienna but I still felt the distance. As time went by however, and much like the German film previously mentioned, I began to participate and any and all barriers began to break down. As the weeks passed it became less like I was visiting there and more apparent that I was really living in Vienna.
Of course, as Vienna became more and more of a home a family of friends began to spring up with it. After all, what good is a home if it is not shared with others? Vince, of course, was my first friend and a familiar face in Vienna. In more than one way without Vince I never would have been in Vienna. To think it all started with a shared facebook article about constructed languages… I could write a whole book on the sheer amount of insightful conversations we’ve had during my time in Vienna (to which I think Vince would happily probably respond “What’s that crap you’re dishing out blanch?!”) A true mentor and friend that I cannot ever fully describe with words (any attempt would be “from hunger”.)
Through Vince, I became introduced with a many more multitude of friends. I cannot talk about Vienna without mentioning René, who I’d proudly call a familiar friend from the beginning. There are only so many people you meet for the first time and feel as if you’re picking up a conversation with an old friend. Being from Vienna, René always gave me the local perspective that was enhanced by his incredibly perceptive and sharp mind ( there is definitely no doubt in my mind that he was a detective in a past life). It always made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for liking Vienna when I would get the René seal of approval over any sort of experience I had in Vienna (as René would always make sure to remind me that Vienna was still a city like any other and had just as many problems! When René said I was really onto something about the city, it probably meant I really was)
Of course, it would be hard also to talk about the musical side of Vienna without mentioning Kaitrin either. Vince and I met Kaitrin (who sings for the Arnold Schoenberg choir and the operas in Vienna) through a mutual friend of a friend who did a radio show about literature who somehow knew Vince and then suggested to that mutual friend of a friend that… it’s a bit of a tangled story honestly. Regardless, I could always relate to Kaitrins nerding out about music and singers despite my knowledge of Opera being relatively little. It was more so the passion for the subjects she was talking about that I could really jive with (as anyone who has heard me nerd out about Springsteen or philosophers will know, I can be quite the nerd). Of course, it was also always nice comparing notes about the differences and benefits in Vienna versus the States. Like comparing Vienna safe to American city “safe”.
(I must sadly admit that for such a great amount of time that I had with both René and Kaitrin, I completely forgot to get pictures with them ;_;)
I’ve spent a good bit of time talking about friends as one of the biggest anxieties and also wants I had coming into Vienna was the wish to make friends while I was over there. When you find yourself away in a new place you begin to realize how hard it is to make friends outside of social institutions or from being introduced to them. For a good bit it would seem like I would not make a friend on my own.
Well about halfway through my time in Vienna a Russian and fellow linguistic nerd (and all out fellow nerd in general!) dropped out of the sky. There are not really many people that I can talk about the differences in gendering of words like Spring and Winter across languages one moment and then the next get lost in the Bermuda triangle of Vienna and find ourselves at the mercy of a Viennese bachelorette party. I’m happy to say, however, that I found that sort of friendship in the person of Nikita- a true Mensch, adventurer, and an absolutely spectacular friend.
It is weird to make a friend over seas and get used to hanging out with them and then have to leave. I certainly have no fear of keeping my new friendships going as I’ve been making and keeping international friends for years now. Growing up in South Jersey is nice- I’ve always loved it here. However, I have continually been a curious person and love to meet new people and learn about different cultures and places.
One such frien, I’ve made online I was lucky enough to meet while in Vienna. I was happily surprised when Yan messaged me saying he would be visiting the city. This was a wonderful experience for me for two reasons: 1. I had the opportunity to meet a good friend that would’ve been much harder to do back home
and 2. I could now use what I knew about the city to show someone else around. (I think I did alright! Even if I got us on the wrong train track once or twice… or three or four times >.>). The four days Yan spent in Vienna only go to prove the value of making friends even if they are from far away. You never know when you’ll meet them in person, but that doesn’t have to be a requirement for friendship, it’s more of a nice bonus if anything. 🙂
I could go on for pages about the people I’ve mentioned and how much they have added to my life. For the sake of brevity and making this post readable, I tried to keep it a bit more contained and to the point: a city and a home will always be lacking without someone else to share it with.
After a good couple of hours or so out in the garden I have to take a break. The area has been in a heat wave these past few days and I’m really starting to feel it. All the while I’ve been pulling up weeds and cutting back overgrowth I kept thinking about this concept of home. It admittedly had me stuck for a while but in sorting out the garden, a place where I normally feel at home in, I think I have begun to sort out my own experience.
You always hear phrases like “home is where the heart is” or “you never can go back home”. To an extent, I think both of these phrases have truth to them. Home is Somerdale and the suburbs of Jersey, that much is so. It’s where I grew up. It’s where my family and friends are. Not to mention it’s also my main residence. But even then, for a time, I felt like I overgrew my home for a bit.
When I went off to college, Philly became my home. I got to know the city like the back of my hand. I proudly boasted about how I could navigate the transport system with little to no problem. I explored everything it had to offer.
But of course, even then, Philadelphia has it’s intimidating and foreboding side. As I’ve talked about with Vince, it’s a city I love, it’s a city I feel free in, but every now and then it’s nice to get out of it and go….home.
Vienna has affected me so much that the standard has been raised. I love my homes whether it be Philly or South Jersey- don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I have enjoyed them any less, on the contrary, I have just been so swept away by Vienna.
I didn’t merely visit Vienna, I started laying down roots without even realizing it. Surrounded by the safe feeling of the corridor-like streets, the aged churches, the street lamps that run on wires throughout the city, history’s ghosts walking among you, the clanking of the streetcar making its rounds, the thrilled screams coming from the amusements of the Prater at night, the never-ceasing flow of the Danube, the cradle around the city formed by the Berg’s and the Wiener Wald, the smell of sweets or meals drifting from cafe’s and restaurants- and the bells! When the bells ring to mark the hour and each church takes its turn in the chorus as it bounces off the walls of every surrounding building making the city sing! Among all that I rooted myself firmly within the city.
Like any place, of course, it has its problems and it has its faults. Much like here in the US, Austria’s political situation makes on a bit queasy. And as René would point out to me, I may have not wandered near some of the not so great sections of the city.
Who knows too, perhaps Vienna will get blown away by another place I visit somewhere down the line. Perhaps I haven’t seen enough yet. Perhaps I would have gotten bored with the city after a while. I cannot say for sure. For now, I will speak in certainties and say this is my love letter to Vienna and everyone who has made it so special. I may have physically come back to the states but I left my soul in Vienna and it’s taking its time coming back to me.
I already miss the city. I cannot lie about that. The more I think about it though, the more I realize my experience and time in Vienna has given me new insight and feelings over the Billy Joel song by the same name.
“When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?”
All things must end, that much is true. I close my chapter on Vienna for now but I know that one way or another, Fulbright scholarship or not, I will come home again to Vienna some day soon.