We were a quartet of pianists, dressed to kill, if I do say so myself. I imagine we looked something like a walking jewelry display case of slick, sparkling onyx. Dom did the European thing, and had a black knit sweater slung boldly over her shoulders, accented by a silver necklace. Emily G. had the classic black pants and blouse. I wore my cocktail dress, faintly splashed with silver designs. Classic black. All except for Kacey. Miss strawberry-blonde curls was decked up in a nice bright orange blouse and flowery skirt. She was like a cheerful bowl of sherbet uncharacteristically juxtaposed next to us onyx slabs of stone in the display case.
I was importantly clutching the city map of Vienna, and also my legal pad, on which Petra had scrawled specific directions to help us find the Konzerthaus for the piano concert we were to attend. Take the U-Bahn to Kagran, and get off at Karlsplatz. Alright. I got it.
We stepped onto the half-empty U-Bahn and sat down, four in a row, chatting about nothing important in particular. We were speculating on the nature of this concert, if we would even find the Konzerthaus.
Emily piped up. “Oh, look there’s Petra. Hello, Petra!” She waved enthusiastically and spoke almost a bit too loud.
We looked curiously over to see Petra swirl into the bus, blinking in recognition at us four students who sat quite casually on the seats, looking back at her in surprise. She had exchanged her jeans for a pair of tan ones, complete with a dark brown, beaded belt. A stylish, sparkling necklace hung from her neck, which seemed to intensify her sudden burst of swirling energy.
“And what are your plans for tonight?” Emily wanted to know.
A bit flustered, she swallowed some air, and said: “I’m meeting a friend. She’s meeting me in the city.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
As the U-Bahn began to pick up some speed, she said: “I’m actually getting off at the same stop as you.”
We all breathed a sigh of relief. Including me. I didn’t trust my navigational skills one bit. We exited at Karlsplatz, and turned left, and headed up the escalator, carefully obeying the sign that said “Bitte stehen rechts.” Except for Dom. I don’t think she ever realized that this sign meant “Please stand to the right.” Oh well.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Petra asked us.
“Yes… We think so.”
She pointed to a path through a park that lead up to the Karlskirche, an opulently domed cathedral that seemed to be guarded by two strong, straight pillars. A fountain in the front anachronistically had a large, metal modern sculpture in the middle. “Just follow the road past the church, and that is where you are going.”
“Thanks, Petra. Have a good night!”
“Enjoy the concert.”
And she disappeared in the opposite direction.
We strolled through the park and headed in the direction of the road.
“Shouldn’t we cut across and make a turn here?”
“She said to follow the road. The Konzerthaus will be on the road anyway.”
“But there is a lot of construction going on here. I hope that this road still leads to where it’s supposed to!”
“Relax, I’m sure it does.”
“These heels are killing me already. This better not be a long road.”
“She said it would take about ten minutes.”
“My feet don’t have ten minutes.”
I kept alternating peering at the road and then perusing the map. It should be on the right, next to the Akademie. I squinted. “There’s a crowd of people in front of that building.” My eyes traveled up the building. “Konzerthaus. This is it!” I said excitedly.
A queue of cars were crawling slowly past the Konzerthaus, but it stopped to let us pass. We entered through one of the many pairs of double doors that graced the front lobby.
There was an unsettled, pristine orange glow that immersed the open, cavernous hall. Polished parquet floors shined, reflecting the faint shadows of the fashionably clad Viennese that tread upon them. The scent of expensive perfume wafted in and out of reach, and the clink of crystal glasses filled with champagne, juice, and sparkling water chimed around us in aristocratic flair. Fine ladies swathed in expensive silks and knit wraps surrounded us, as some gentlemen escorted them, while others congregated in dignified broods, speaking rapidly in German. The hum of conversation bespoke of anticipation and a determined sense of enjoyment. I checked my ticket. It said “Galerie Links.” Emily’s and Dom’s said “Galerie Rechts.” “I suppose we’re split up, then. Kacey and I are to sit on the left. You guys are on the right.”
“How can you tell?”
“Well, ‘links’ means ‘left’ and ‘rechts’ means ‘right’.”
“Why don’t we meet after the concert, right here in the front lobby?”
“That sounds cool.”
And there our paths divided. Kacey and I turned left to hand the young usher our tickets, and he spoke in German and pointed us upstairs. Sometimes the best thing to do in these situations is to pretend that we understand, and we smiled and said “Danke” and headed upstairs.
The plush carpet that covered the marble stairs seemed to spiral up forever. It seemed like quite awhile until we reached the Galerie. We were early, and so it was no problem to slide into our seats. As I began to realize that our seats were directly in the middle of the galerie, I began to laugh. Perhaps we would see Emily and Dom after all. Sure enough, they appeared to our right and slid into the seats right next to us.
“That worked out well.”
“I was wondering about that. It makes more sense that we sit together.”
Alfred Brendel was a small, far off figure hunched over the nine foot Steinway, but all energy and concentration in the concert hall was directed to this man. His hands glided over the keys, and produced a beautiful, deep-set tone that precisely brought the works of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert to life. The concert was absolutely astounding. It was a pleasure to recognize Brendel’s infinite sensitivity for dynamics, tone, tempo, touch, and emotion. Then the music, and not the famous celebrity and persona of Brendel, suddenly became the centerpiece, and my mind tried to follow the musical ideas, remembering that only the morning before, I had visited the Viennese residences of all three of these great composers. I listened for the distinct characters of each piece, the deceivingly simple nature of the Mozart Sonata, the poetic and sensitive quality of the Schubert piece, and the radically rapid and shifting emotions of each Beethoven bagatelle. I allowed my mind to rest upon the knowledge that had been shared with me, and the pleasure of allowing history to come alive within the confines of my mind. I knew I wasn’t the most intelligent, aware musician, but I knew I recognized beautiful music when I heard it.
I discovered that night that the Viennese love to applaud for an infinite eternity and shout “Bravo.” They could applaud until the blood stopped circulating in their limbs. Alfred Brendel entered and re-entered, bowed and re-bowed. I was thinking, “Let the poor man go home and kick off his shoes and go to bed early.”
The burst of applause finally began to recede, like the wave of people already ebbing toward the door. We followed the crowds down the staircase the spiraled down toward the lobby, and then stepped out into the cool night air.
As we strolled from through the streets of Vienna, Dom–in her infinite eloquence–remarked “Dude, that was so cool. We should all go out drinking tonight.”
There was a long pause. Kacey spoke up, “I’ve actually never gotten drunk before.”
“Really?” Dom was in pure amazement. “Never?”
Emily said “I tried to get drunk on my twenty-first birthday, but I couldn’t. It didn’t work.” She gave a short laugh.
Dom was clearly stunned. “Dude, I thought everyone at UF got drunk.”
“I’ve never been drunk either,” I offered. “And we’re the number two party school in the nation!”
“I think Melissa and I may be skewing the statistics a little. If not for us, UF would be number one.” Emily chuckled.
We laughed at this absurd notion. Dom said “Hey, that’s totally cool. I just assumed everyone at our school got drunk.”
Emily said what I wanted to say. “There’s more to going to college than getting drunk.”
“Yeah, but there’s nothing more fun! It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby! Whoo!” Dom charged down the streets.
We passed the Karlskirche on the left again, and saw our familiar friends Eric, Meredith, and Emily R. lounging out by the side of that grotesque, metal sculpture in the fountain.
“Hey how was the piano concert?”
“Awesome, dude, that guy was so good.”
“It was really something. He had incredible tone.”
“I enjoyed it, I thought it was good.”
The four of us sat down at the side of the fountain. The air was perfectly cool, and the streets weren’t crowded. A few faithful pilgrims, attracted to the beatific glow of the cathedral, were drawn like moths to a flame, and their dark figures standing on the not-too-distant church steps were emboldened by the light cast by electric torches and candles. A lone man was walking his dog, and a couple sat cuddled on one of the many park benches that lined the path across from us. And we chatted under the starlight, about nothing truly important, just the animated, slightly eccentric chatter that may inevitably arise from a group of music majors. We compared classes, theory professors, gossiped about the “incident” that happened last semester with “we won’t name names” from the clarinet studio, and how a bunch of students were caught cheating on an exam, while Kacey and Emily R. regaled us with the quirks of their experiences at UCO.
I mostly listened, then I began to tune out the conversation, busy with my own thoughts. I was so busy soaking in the experience as a whole. Sometimes I felt as if I were soaking it in too much, that I was missing it altogether. Talking with Kacey sparked my interest: we shared a common desire for music ministry, and she had some interesting stories to tell about The Stellas, the band she was formerly a part of, acting as a keyboardist, keytarist, and back up vocalist.
Group conversations like these always make me step back and say to myself, “This is college.” Conversation just flows so naturally and uninhibitedly, that the seams of mutuality almost are invisible- these seams are merely accepted as a part of the fabric of life, and conversation continues as normal; however, one either consciously or unconsciously remains aware of and enormously grateful for that mutuality.
After an hour or so, we decided it was time to head back. We headed through the park to the Karlsplatz U-Bahn stop. Since it was rather late, the train stops became less frequent and we had to wait a few more minutes than normal. The group started talking about Petra again, and how she is constantly freaking out when any one of us is thirty seconds late for a meeting place.
I suddenly remembered seeing her on the train earlier that evening. “Hey guys, who here thinks Petra is on a hot date tonight?”
Dom, Emily, and Kacey all nodded vigorously and raised their hands, laughing, and suddenly remembering. It was as if we had a collective reawakening from the same dream.
“She did look really dressed up tonight.”
“And she was wearing mad cool jewelry. That girl’s got some mad cool jewelry.”
“And she looked kind of nervous when we asked her where she was going.”
“Wait, tell them the story,” Dom said, motioning to Meredith, Eric, and Emily R. “They don’t know what happened.”
We told the three of them how Petra had come on the train, and she was fabulously dressed, and was kind of secretive about the whole thing.
“Definitely on a hot date.”
“I still say she’s a secret agent.” More laughter.
Eric piped up. “I think we collectively figured her out the other night at dinner. We (I still don’t know what the boy meant by “we”… I think he was alone in this analysis) decided that she’s about thirty-three years old, and she’s waiting to have a family of her own. She’s not married, but she wants to be, and she wants children. We noticed at dinner the other night that she was watching Mutlu with her baby, and there was a bit of longing there.”
“She would make a good mother.”
“She kind of has that motherly instinct with us, doesn’t she?”
The train pulled up and carried us away from Karlsplatz toward Kolschitzkygasse. With a laugh, I suddenly realized why all of us were so fascinated with Petra’s mysterious date. We are a group of 15 college students, mostly female, with the exception of two guys. The first, Ben, is engaged and very much in love with his fiancée. And Eric is in love with his clarinet. So naturally, all of us are happy that one of our kind is getting, what Dom so eloquently describes as, “Booty call.”
We disembarked at Sudtiroler Platz, then looked for the sign that said Kolschitzkygasse. I think it was named after the chap who introduced coffee to the Western world. Those Turks did something right when they left behind those strange little green beans.
We parted our separated ways to separate rooms, after retrieving our keys from the receptionist at the desk. I went up to room 307. Kira was inside, stretched out in front of the television. “Hey you! How was the concert?”
“Amazing. How was your solo adventure?”
“Unbelievable! I have to show you pictures. I went to Café Demel, and I think I tricked the waitress into believing I spoke German.”
“No way! That’s really neat.”
“Well here’s what happened. I sat down at a table, and ordered ‘Ein Einspanner und… und.. und’ and I couldn’t think of what I wanted, so I said the first thing that popped into my head: ‘und tiramisu, bitte.’ And instead of acting all snooty like the travel book said she would, she took my order and was actually quite friendly about it. Then she came back five minutes later and started rattling off to me in German, and I just kind of acted like I knew what she was saying, and nodded my head and said ‘Ja’. It wasn’t until she walked away that I actually somehow figured out what she was saying. She was saying something about how the tiramisu didn’t have the normal amount of chocolate in it, and if that was okay with me. So she totally thought I was German!”
Kira happily prattled on about how she had wandered the city, and took the city tram system, and accidentally ended up in the ghetto. She excitedly clicked through the pictures in her digital camera, showing me snapshots she had taken of her einspanner and tiramisu, as well as the princely array of tortes and assorted pastries that lined the glass display cases of Café Demel. “Oh by the way, you’ll never guess who I saw when I was walking around the Stephensplatz.”
”Petra! She was with a girlfriend.”
“No!” I jumped up from the bed. “She’s supposed to be on a date with a guy.” I explained to Kira the whole business of Petra on the train, and how we all thought that she was meeting a secret date.
“Darn it. So did you say hi to her?”
“No she was kind of far away, in the crowd. Plus she looked like she was having fun, and I didn’t want to interrupt or anything. That would have been kind of weird for me to wave and go ‘hey, Petra!’ Then she would just have to explain to her friend, ‘yes, this is one of my crazy students’ No way, man.”
“Dang it! We really wanted to her to be on a date. Oh well.” Kira was laughing at how upset I was.
There was a knock on the door. It was Kacey. She wanted to know if she could use our hair dryer. As she began to dry her hair, I sat down to write in my journal once more, and Kira continued to chat away. When Kacey was finished, she came in and sat on Kira’s bed. “Kacey, do you want to look at the pictures of my little adventure tonight?”
“I went to this café, and the waitress totally thought I was German!…”