I missed the bus no. 61 AGAIN. Kicking myself in the shin, berating myself for the incorrigible lateness-o-holism. Was it really that crucial to locate the mascara? I wait for good fifteen minutes. I resign to my fate and start looking around. It is the first time that I have the opportunity to evaluate the progress of my fellow countrypersons in a year. Got home just last Thursday, but other than my sister's brand new house, I didn't go anywhere. Men all seem to be ready to head for the mountains. They wear, invariably so, khaki shorts of obscure lengths with gigantic pockets and awkward shirts of all patterns and colors. Many are greasy and stink. Oh boy. I glance at the watch. 8:18. I won't make the 8:32 train from the main train station. Bus comes, I take it to the city, switch buses. I am now headed to the bus station. There is a bus to Vienna at 9am. I get there at 8:50. There still is a stand with lángos, fried dough with garlic, oil and salt, in front of it. Ever since I was a kid. I stand in line for a bus ticket. I have ten minutes. Good. The lady in front of me asks for 4 adult and 6 child tickets. Not good. Each of them takes an eternity to print. Then she proceeds to count luggage they will have. She describes every single piece of luggage in detail and haggles with the woman at the ticket counter whether she needs tickets for the luggage, too. Grrrrrrrr. Three minutes. My turn. I am told the bus is full, but of course. 2,700 nerve cells died for no reason. I head out again. This time to the Petralka train station. Goal: train at 10:04am. I will never ever be late again, I swear! This is a new train station, quite nice, for Slovakia anyway. I proceed to the counter. It dawned on me that I have no Slovak money. Damn fool. There's an ATM. Nope, my card STILL doesn't work, even though I called and yelled at my bank on Friday. I ask if I can pay with a card. I can! Hmm, progress after all. I scuttle out of sight quickly, for I know as a fact, that this transaction is most likely not authorized by the Bank of America. The only other ordeal to deal with is the passport control. I left my only valid passport at the Indian Embassy, it will wait there for a week to be adorned with Indian visa. I did have another valid passport, but that I lost four days before flying home. Another fun story, but I digress. I have a passport that says it's valid until 2007, but it has been terminated. They only let me keep it because I have tourist visa to America in it. I put on my poker face. Do I have a poker face? Mr. B. says that's my usual look, so I try to look most casually. The Slovak officer glances at my passport with unfeigned boredom. The Austrian officer scrutinizes every page of it. He enters the numbers into the computer. Cold sweat appears on my temples. He stares into my passport for what seems like an eternity. He hands it back, I scuttle out of sight again, breaking my legs to get on the train, before his computer tells him I'm an illegitimate intruder. I'm in! I'm in! Lesson learnt: I will never ever be late again, and I will get organized. Apply for visa well in advance, have passports in order, and stop losing them.
People come on the train. The good looking people. People that work in Vienna (hey, that's me too, now!). Not the people from trams and buses who need an Army of Mercy equipped with portable showers and sensible clothing. I am, however, painfully reminded of one of the reasons why I left this country
PLASTIC BAGS! There is a model on a next seat, some professional working woman on another, business man, another two models (or they all at least look like models to me). Each has a few plastic bags. They must have a special lure to a common Slovak. They don't seem to be able to ignore them for five minutes. There is always something to be fetched from a plastic bag. All of the contents in a plastic bag are naturally stored in smaller plastic bags, so each befetched item produces endless rustling. A true hell for a sensory defensive (read neurotic) individual. It's an iPod time. It will be an iPod time very often in the next six months, I'm afraid. The fields between Vienna and Bratislava are filled with wind mills. What are the Cape Codians complaining about? They should come visit. Vienna on the horizon. Hmm. Mixed feelings. Well, Vienna, here I come, whether I like it or not!
It took Vienna less than 10 hours to win me over. I am a convert. I love Vienna. Not that it doesn't throw logs under a non-german speaking foreigner's feet (another of true slovakisms). I got off the train at Südbanhoff, looked around for information. None. Looked around for a map. Also none. I pulled out my little outdated map of Vienna, figured out where I am and where I need to go. OK, I'll get there. I have to. Located a tram stop. One of the trams goes to Wien Mitte. There's a subway there, that has to work. Now where does one buy tickets for these trams? Not at the tram stop, I can tell you that. I ask a pleasant looking man (a Wiener?), he speaks no English. I ask another young man, no English. Harrumph. Finally I see a row of machines, inside the train station, I go to explore. I'm in luck and purchase a day ticket. Hooray. I get to the Institute without major hassles, but tired and overwhelmed. Mrs. Maria is waiting for me already. The Institute with, to me, still unpronounceable name, is located on a branch of the Danube river in an old neighborhood smack in the center of Vienna. It is surrounded by trees and parks with benches.
View facing the Institute
Mrs. Maria proves to be a true Austrian quickly:" I have zese animls krowling in from ze outside. Zey bite me. Usually I kill zem quick, but some of zem still bite me." That may be a gross exaggeration, as her and everybody's English is perfect, but it made me smirk nonetheless. My office faces a courtyard, it's large with artsy light fixtures under the tall tall ceilings. Great place to work. After a few hours I drag myself to the Pension Gaber where I'm staying for two nights. Another charming, Prague-like neighborhood, but I am beyond exhausted. Need to rest. After an hour of just staring at the ceiling, unable to nap, I convince myself to go explore Vienna just a little. I'm glad I did. After five minutes of walking, I hear music. I come across the Rathaus. Everybody's there, the whole of Vienna. There is a large screen TV affixed on the Rathaus wall showing Beethoven's concert live. Rows of chairs of people watching. Just behind them is a huge area with food stands, beer, mixed drinks
some sort of a food festival. Absolutely wonderful. It reminds me of the Christmas open markets in Bratislava, except there's music and one doesn't have to shiver in a fur coat and keep oneself alive with rum and tea. I get a Kebab Kuhobi and a beer, watch people for a long time. Walking through the quiet streets back to the Pension, I feel utterly excited. Maybe it won't be such a drag after all, this whole fellowship business. If only I can trick someone into writing my thesis for me