Wednesday, March 30, 2011


"Das ist das Gift Wiens" he said with that cold little smile, and my bilingual (actually it feels more unlingual these days, master of no tongues) brain took his comment positively at first. I caught myself, though, and I'm sure I managed some version of a polite but grammatically incorrect reply before this conversation faded into another jampacked day of meetings, rehearsals, schedules, and practicing. It resurfaced, however, this morning as I strolled to work. Now that the sun is out and the air grows warmer, I let the D-Bahn go by and strolled down the Liechtensteinstrasse on my own two feet. I turned right on Hörlgasse (where yes, my inner Butthead always gives a tiny heh heh) and I saw this:
Das Gift Wiens. Aber nein, das Geschenk.

I smiled then at the gulf between my two languages. Present, poison. I continued down the Herrengasse, chariots and angels bursting from the tops of the old palaces on either side of me, fake Greeks in marble and real Austrians in too-warm winter coats for my company. Churches of six centuries, students on bikes in their impossibly cool t-shirts, stylish professionals in good shoes, the gold paint that was the emperor's favorite color, flower shops, bakeries, birds, babies. All of this was there, is there every day, simply available to me if I will just look.

But not every gift is easy like that. Sometimes the great prize comes at a great price. Just because the apple was poisoned doesn't mean it wasn't a gift (does the prince ever show up if Snow White never takes a bite?).

Poison, of course, is a real topic in these weeks. None of this is simple.

Geschenk, related to schenken, which can mean to pour out, as water, or wine, or whatever antidote seems right. In the story, the piece of poisoned apple is jostled from our heroine's throat when the cart carrying her casket goes over a rough bit of road. The Fiaker clatter by me on the Herrengasse, the horses from the Riding School are led across the street.

Perhaps the Gift is given so that we may pour out...our voices? Ourselves?


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