Sunday, May 29, 2011

death and the matron

I have wanted to go to the Zentralfriedhof since before I got to Vienna. The way it's shot in The Third Man is so beautiful, and it is even more beautiful in real, um, life. Even the cemetery here is elegant.

Life, of course, intervened after I got here. More than once this year I've thought that the new job would be the death of me, but of course that's typical human hyperbole as I continue to be relentlessly alive and have failed to make the time to get to the outskirts of town and walk among the former Wieners. But today - today was perfect, sunny and mild, weather begging for a bike ride and body begging for distraction.

See, this week, these weeks, are full of news from friends all over, news of turmoil and upheaval. Some of it is joyous: marriage, new jobs, babies on the way, surprising endeavors. Some of it is frightening: changes in health, in employment, in the idea and picture of the future. Is it an especially stormy spring, or does the current constant glut of information make it seem so? The picture of the flood, the ruin, is ever before our eyes. I wanted to go walking in the cool green, lots of people, no conversation, imagining myself (as one always does in a new neighborhood) living in one of the newer homes.

This here is the Trusty Steed, which multiplied its daily commute by a factor of 4.5 today for this trip. She was a champ. Lord, it's a pleasure to ride the bikeways of Vienna, although I'm still a little tense on the busy streets where cars are closer than I'm used to. But most of the way even as far out as Simmering is designated bike paths, pleasant and safe. You can ride your bike around in the cemetery too, but I locked mine up at the entrance.

The entire place smelled incredible after the last two days of rain, fresh and green. It also smells often of roses, and there are bushes and vines of wild and cultivated roses on many graves. Some are totally overgrown with ivy, some of the statuary is falling down, some graves are hand-washed and carefully tended with new flowers and white rocks. There are Eastern European tombstones with photographs of people and cars. There is a section for babies with toys and pinwheels. I saw a family spading up earth there, and I could not take a photo of that. I remember my own family gathering around a small place in my hometown's soil, just large enough for the tiny box. So many things fell apart after that, so many things fell together. When I think of my own dead, the shades that seem closest, I still think of that day, of our angel.

And I think of Alice, of course, of my grandmother, who also tended roses in her own garden. I was mentally planning my summer trip and was looking for a good day to visit her when I remembered that of course, I wouldn't. She came to mind often as I saw the many tombstones that referred to "seine lieben Bergen" - his beloved mountains. That's a fairly common theme, city transplants calling up the memory of their Alpine homes at their place of final rest. Alice loved to be outside, and she loved to go back to New Ulm, to "the farm", or to be out on the lake.

This particular monument made me smile, knowing this town of literature, of learning, of law, of analysis. Was it the dead man who had trouble letting go of this world, his work, his opinions? Was it family? An admirer? patron? pushy engraver? Talk about getting the last word! There are so many fascinating works of art here, languid goddesses and strange busts and eerie death masks and oddly/brilliantly judged abstractions, along with plenty of grandiose religious statuary.

I spent a peaceful and inspiring few hours here, strolling on the dappled paths and thinking of the shifting sands everywhere. Then I hopped back on the Steed and headed home. Riding up the queenly broad path along the canal, the main artery that leaves town to the south hummed with cars to my left as trains and trams crossed the bridges over my head. My way was no less busy, packed with bikes and joggers, dogs and inline skater, strolling lovers and immoveable packs of tourists. Every artery of the city was flowing with its life's blood, its people, and we were all on our way in and out of Vienna's heart.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

kzk, Steven here. Love this post. I love spending time in old cemeteries. Few things are more peaceful, restful, and conducive to reflection and keeping life in proper perspective. Somehow it makes complete sense to me that you feel the same way.