Although friends and family in the U.S. had had more than enough of the white stuff by end of January, we never had snow at all in Vienna – until my very last night in town! Just the lightest, sparkling dusting of snow came down like a kiss on my tongue and a benediction on the city streets. While I am well aware that snow and ice can be a real difficulty for many people (and ironically, Atlanta got walloped just after I returned home), I will still savor this moment of catching snowflakes and saying farewell and “Alles Gute!” to this glittering, shadowed, complex and beautiful city of Vienna that I have truly come to love!
After church on my last Sunday, our excellent Chaplain at Christ Church, the Ven. Patrick Curran, and his wife Lucille asked me to lunch at their lovely flat near the Stadtpark, along with their daughter Alex (pictured below), fellow choir member Johanna Reuss-Cabili and her husband Robert Reuss (who also hosted me with a grand bunch of music, UN and IAEA colleagues just the previous Friday). Pictured here: Lucille and Patrick, me, Johanna and Robert; and with the Curran family including Alexandra below. What a lovely way to end my time in Vienna and at Christ Church – among friends, with promises to return! (“Arnie’s house”, Johanna!)
My last day at Christ Church was bittersweet! Looking forward to returning home, but also so grateful for the beautiful community formed at Christ Church, and the many friends I have made there! This was also the 80th birthday of Hyacinth Österlin (pictured here), a true pillar of the church, who I came to love and admire. Patrick asked me to preach on my penultimate Sunday, which was a real privilege (my theme was on the nature of faith and doubt and “loving the questions”).
CHOIR! This Sunday I was able to return to the choir loft and be with my special buddies “upstairs.” From choir I’ll especially remember: toasty feet and freezing fingers; reading the music from one book and the text from another (all in British variations); Andrew and “the TEXT, the TEXT, the TEXT!” and “a little T in our D”; Jack and “Steady as you go”; Judith darling; Christina “Meeeeow!”; Johanna keeping us on track with the biscuits; Bill and the Tombola gift; Christmas carols at the bazaar; Daniel’s gentle spirit; Neil my fellow American!; Maria Christina and being altos together; Lucille and mad dashes across the street; Malcolm and Gabi and walks to the U; singing “God Save the Queen” on Remembrance Day!
I also said farewell to Frank Sauer (pictured below), a PhD candidate and teaching assistant in the Catholic Theological Fakultät of the UniVie, who organized for me to have a delightful Stammtisch about pastoral and practical theology earlier in January – good luck on your dissertation, Frank!
Back in Vienna, my last weekend was all about packing and saying goodbye to the many wonderful people I met at Christ Church Anglican, Vienna. This gathering at Leopold’s restaurant near my flat, with Sally Reading (UN translator), me, Rev. Aileen Hackl (assisting priest at Christ Church), Rev. Dr. Dorothea Haspelmath-Finatti and Lourenço Finatti (just mentioned in a recent posting), and Philip Reading (international banking supervisor and Warden at Christ Church). Shout-out to the Readings, who from Day 1 made Christ Church feel like home, and who have been spiritual and intellectual companions throughout my entire stay in Vienna! Come visit us in the U.S., y’all!
A few more scenes from my solitary explorations of Budapest. This is a café I wandered into for a Coke and a ham and cheese sandwich – not at all grandiose, but colorful and friendly.
Two lovely parks on the old Pest side of the river…
and a charming street. I also found a cluster of wonderful bookstores not far from my hotel on Andrassy Street near the “Octagon” (a major intersection).
I expect to be back here, possibly leading a group of Columbia students if we are able to continue our immersion trips to Prague and Budapest. I’m glad of the chance to continue relationships begun this fall and winter!
This trip, also, because I’d already seen all the major tourist sights (thanks to Eszter’s very vigorous tour-guiding back in October!), I was able to take an afternoon just to stroll, and see what I might find. I hadn’t seen the Basilica previously, and as many times as I’ve now gone into these old European churches and said “Wow!” this was another such moment. Difficult to photograph, because it’s mostly very dark, the interior was truly gorgeous, and the dome was breathtaking. The plaza in front of this church is very wide, and somewhat bare, but there are many charming streets in the vicinity.
I also liked the little dressed up Madonna and child (reminiscent of some similar statues I’d seen or read about in Germany, Poland, and Latin America.) Small but shining in her satin dress, this is an accessible statue – in spite of being encased in glass – her size is sort of cuddly, not intimidating at all, and friendly. I would want to trust her with my prayers.
I liked Budapest on my first visit in October, but coming back a second time added depth and some significant variety to my experience. I heard a wide spectrum of political opinions about the current government and the upcoming elections. I was confirmed by some colleagues in my suspicion that public buildings get the most elaborate makeovers for political reasons – the election is coming up in April, and the renovations are expected to be done in time for that. Some of the people I met – all intelligent, thoughtful people – support or at least “can sympathize” (a quote) with the current prime minister and believe the western media has demonized him as a right-wing fanatic; others think the western media has it right, and that there has been a dangerous tilt to the right in the name of nationalism. Given recent upheavals in the Ukraine and other eastern European countries, Hungary will be a very important country to watch in the near future.
During this trip I was exposed again to juxtapositions of new and old, but had a better sense of both the variety and the stratification of socio-economic classes in Budapest.
This elegant café, with its live piano player, is as opulent as anything to be found in Habsburg Vienna – maybe moreso, with its elaborate gothic windows and gold-leaf carvings and ceiling paintings.
I also had the chance (I splurged) to stay in a 5-star hotel at 3-star New York prices, choosing from a list the analysts provided for me as being convenient to the Psychoanalytic Institute’s location. I stayed in the Corinthia, which by coincidence or synchronicity, was the old Royal Hotel where Ferenczi actually lived for several years, as did many artists and intellectuals in early 20th century Budapest.
I got a real sense of the cultural and intellectual renaissance that was going on in Budapest at the same time as in Vienna, and a taste of an elegant fin-de-siècle world that was crushed, like all of eastern Europe during WWII and the subsequent Soviet occupation and later capitalist corruption (which apparently persists to this day). In places like my hotel, catering to international business people and wealthy tourists, it’s possible to relive a bit of the elegance of old prewar Budapest – and I confess that I really enjoyed being pampered there! The major downside to such tourist places is that it’s actually quite possible to remain somewhat insulated from the poorer realities of Budapest. Once in the hotel room, one could be anywhere in the world where such posh oases exist. I appreciated having stayed with our Columbia seminary colleagues on my first trip, and visiting Judit’s flat this time, so that I was able to experience what “real life” is like for a variety of people at different stages of their lives and careers. I was able to have breakfast with Eszter once more before I returned to Vienna, caught up on the news of her family and close church friends (the pastor Zoltan’s son contracted Hanta virus or some other mysterious infection and was in a coma, but fortunately will recover). I was happy to hear that Eszter is now licensed to prepare for ordination, and is serving what in the Anglican tradition we would call a curacy, in Dunavarsany.