The way I see it, there are 2 cities. No, there is one city that is wearing a mask and a costume, and another one that is real but hiding. I change my statement from first sentence – there is only 1 city with 2 faces (like ancient gods).
The face in mask and costume is ready for carnival: carnival of tourists. Carnival of people ready to spend more or less money: either fancy hand bag to be worn across the arm, while the arm is being crooked in the elbow area, almost as if it were broken; or in cheap retail chains, so that when they go back to their poor countries, they can pretend they went “shopping” (count me in that second category).
They all are in their best clothes, because Vienna demands it. It is such a place. It feels like going to formal family lunch to part of your family that is rich and lives in an old building, that smells of old money (you know the smell that old buildings have, you enter and immediately you feel a gush of cold air from the cellar area, that brings that specific smell, is it mould or something?). So you never feel quite comfortable when you go to visit them. You are used to the building where you live, with many many buildings around it that look exactly the same, huge, tall buildings made of concrete and steel, and sometimes even asbestos. Your mother makes you wash your hair especially for that occasion, you have to wear a white shirt with navy blue skirt or pants, or stuff like that. You have to behave very solemnly, if there is such a word; if not, it should be invented for this occasion. Vienna: lots and lots of tourists. Oh, I keep forgetting, I’m one of them. Or should I say: one of us. We are like city invaders. We go to tourist places, in Vienna it is Hofburg palace, Naturhistorisches Museum, Prater Park, Kärntner Strasse, Stephansdom, Schönbrunn Park (actually, we don’t have time nor enough money to go inside all of those; we just go in front, and maybe around it). Beautiful places. Travel guides drag us around because we want to see. We think we’re interested. If we go to restaurants we ask for Wiener Schnitzel, what else. Apfel Strudel. We try not to think about how much money we spend on coffees and fast food. We buy souvenirs like key chains, fridge magnets and coffee cups (“made in omnipresent china”). We try to find out which Mozart kugeln are the real Mozart kuglen (the ones with green filling or the ones with brown filling?? I still do not know.).
Maybe it’s because everything looks totally different from where I grew up. In Vienna, as you walk around and enter into buildings, everything seems to be… for the lack of better word I have to say very old. Very old, but very well maintained. And that is strange to me, because, where I come from, nothing is very well maintained (everything is just mended, not to fall apart, that’s it). Even intercom buzzers are shiny and polished. And then, all the stores are closed after 18/19h.Rarely locals are out, so most of people you see are your kind, tourist kind. We glide trough streets in search of something we cannot name, we think we will find it just around next corner, or if not there, then after first next corner. Maybe that elusive thing is what they call “unique tourist experience”.
So we change tactics and go to a museum.
I find 8, or was it 12 Euros, and give it to the good guy behind the museum counter. There, I see stuffed animals and minerals from all over the old Empire. I see old crowns of kings and queens, the robes they wore at crowning ceremonies, their jewelry, and swords. I see parts of the Holy Cross. I see their residencies, dining tables, salons where they had meetings, or where they were just sitting, contemplating about ordinary aristocracy things. Then I see the famous “Kiss”. I see other works of the same author, and works of authors from the same period (and older periods). Portraits. Portraits are looking at me. Painted eyes of dead people are looking at me. I imagine them, portraitist and portrayed, in the studio. They are freezing (you know how artists never had money for heating and stuff, it is 19th century). Models are shivering. They are sick with flu, tuberculosis, malnutrition. Then, artists, they were popular with the ladies. They have sex with many of them, so they pass STD from one to another. You know, it is Vienna at the turn of the centuries. Hip times, times of milk and honey of fun, „divine decadence“, lalala. People with many health problems. They die, sometimes leaving their work unfinished. I see couple of that type of portraits. They all have white faces, with make-up red cheeks and lips. That way they look even worse. They look like corpses with make-up. That kind of faces look at me. Did I say “haunt me”? I meant look at me. Add glass eyes of stuffed animals to that. A bear, an owl, there’s even a dinosaur made of metal.
From the room of the hotel I am staying in, I hear little birdies sing. I cannot see them, but I hear them. Now, Vienna is the place where you are not sure if you are not the only one who hears them. So I’m thinking, “maybe I’m the only one who hears them, really, maybe the real Vienna is showing itself, only to me”. I’m thinking “I must be special”. And I feel very special. But then I walk out of the hotel and there isn’t a single bird in sight. So I tell myself that I must be imagining stuff. Yeah, that must be it. „Silly me“.
I walk around. I stop at traffic light, wait for my light to go green. I look around. Again, something is strange, even though I cannot quite put my finger on it. And a minute later, I realize that the inscription on the tramway is in my native language, which is totally different from Vienna’s native language. The inscription is to remind you of some very important medical check-ups, otherwise you will die stupidly/in vain. It is said that around 14% of Vienna citizens are of the same origin as me. And, as they come to this country in search of better life, they just work, they sometimes do not learn host language at all. So Vienna is caring about them, and provides important information in their own native language. But I can read it too, so I feel like Vienna is caring about me too! Again, I feel very important!
To be honest, we did stumble upon less fancy neighborhoods, with no tourists, we didn’t go just around museums and stuff. Those parts of town are also OK. In parts where we wandered, you could see small restaurants/cafes, and inside men with big mustache, listening to music from the old country, either theirs or their parents’, hopefully not thinking how the move to Vienna was the wrong thing to do. I can relate to that, as I have already said, I too am from the country of gastarbeiters, and I too had relatives in this beautiful city, thanks to which I had endless supplies of chocolate (and their warn, thorn, stained wardrobe and broken electrical appliances; but the chocolates were new).
Vienna keeps looking at you secretly, like somebody stalking you, and when you turn to see if it is really somebody stalking you, you just see a movement, like somebody hid quickly behind the wall, so you never see this somebody, and you can never be sure if it is a real somebody, or just a nobody.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience, and we’d gladly do it all over again.