Hours In Vienna|
by Alan C. Baird
All Rights Reserved
The train pulled out of Budapest's exquisite Eiffel-designed
station in the late morning, and was scheduled to arrive in Vienna by mid-afternoon. It was sad to
be leaving this vibrant city after such a short stay, but I found myself beginning to eagerly
anticipate the next stop - a visit with my old friend Sparky, at his farm in southern
Denmark. The train picked up speed, and I daydreamed of our last encounter, nearly twenty years
ago, when we started a small business selling teeshirts on the Côte d'Azur. As I recalled our
many adventures, and sifted through all the wonderful memories we had made, several involuntary
smiles passed over my face. By the time the train crossed the Austrian frontier, I had become
enormously impatient to see him again. However, I knew there was a long journey ahead, and it
would be necessary to alter my course slightly in Vienna. The layover between trains would
amount to several hours, and I had never visited this legendary European capital, so it seemed a
shame not to take advantage of the enforced delay, and attempt to make some new memories. I
was sure Sparky would want me to use the time wisely...
Attending an evening
performance at the historic Staatsoper, to invoke the spirits of Mozart, Strauss and Haydn,
appeared as if it might be an excellent way to tap into the musical gestalt of this city. Yes, a
concert held bright promise for becoming the perfect "Viennese experience," one that I would
probably treasure for a long, long time. Luckily, a performance was scheduled for that evening, so
I bought a ticket, and contemplated how best to spend the three hours remaining before curtain
time. A voice whispered urgently inside my head, "Let's to the summer palace!" - so I
followed my intuition, and hopped the next tram for Schönbrunn. Once there, I tried to
squeeze in a look at as many of the 1441 rooms as the short interval would permit, but I
soon realized that a lightning tour would never do it justice. I finally relaxed, and just strolled
through the well-tended gardens for a while. Eventually, I wandered back toward the imposing
boulevard known simply as "the Ring," and selected a bench in the small park next to the
Staatsoper. I settled down to my modest meal of bread, wine and cheese, preparing for the
attempt to manufacture a brand-new memory in the magnificent concert hall.
As I sat
enjoying the fading light of the warm spring afternoon, a robin flew very unsteadily from behind
me, and landed on the back of my bench. He was somewhat bedraggled - his feathers were
not nearly as meticulously groomed as most birds are accustomed to keeping their plumage, and
some type of clear liquid dripped from his wings. I was surprised that he had decided to land so
close - not more than a yard from my arm - and when I gazed into his eyes, they
radiated an unsettling look of pure terror. Just at that moment, a rhythmic, thundering sound
approached from behind my bench, and I turned to see an enormous canine - a
Weimaraner - skid to a stop, barely two yards away. It glanced briefly at me, but most of its
attention was focused on the bird. If I had not been sitting so close, I think perhaps this hunt
would have been concluded, and there would have been no more robin. But the robin was lucky,
or wise, and had chosen to perch on the one spot where he was safe.
Weimaraner was impatient to attack, but it was now in
the presence of a human being. Wanting to follow its primal instinct, it bridled somewhat at my
proximity, but it had been trained well - I watched one front paw slowly rise, the tail
straighten, and the nose jut out, in a picture-perfect execution of the famous "point" for which this
breed was raised.
My mouth hung open stupidly - I couldn't quite absorb the
small, intense drama which was quickly unfolding. Obviously, these two creatures had been
involved in a dangerously close encounter, and the robin had exhausted himself in the fight for his
life. He had been lucky to escape those powerful jaws - the dog's dribbling saliva was
identical to the liquid dripping from his wings. He appeared to be resting, perhaps trying to gather
enough strength to escape from his tormentor. The Weimaraner held its point, as I looked first at
the terrified, shivering bird, and then back at the eagerly quivering, barely-restrained dog. The
moment seemed frozen in time, but I'm sure it could only have lasted a few seconds.
at once, the bird mustered his last ounce of energy, and flew off, struggling to gain some altitude.
The dog broke its point and galloped away, in hot pursuit of the wavering robin. For a few
seconds, the outcome of the chase hung delicately in the balance; but finally the bird found enough
strength to fly up onto the lowest branch of a nearby tree. It was only three or four yards above
the ground, but it was high enough to elude the snapping teeth of the frustrated Weimaraner. The
dog snarled and whined, but I expelled a nervous laugh of relief - my trance of dreadful
expectation was broken.
Finishing the last of my simple feast with great gusto, I walked
over to attend the concert. I was looking forward to carrying out my calculated scheme for
making the Viennese stopover unforgettable.
Oddly enough, I can only vaguely recollect
that I enjoyed the evening's performance - I'd normally expect that a musical program
experienced in such exotic circumstances would have been burned into my memory. But in
thinking back, and wracking my brain, I find that I can't recall a single note.
can still hear the tiny flutter of that robin's wings, as he bravely embarked on the most important
flight of his life...