Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Vienna waits for you

I saw someone I knew on the Metro yesterday.

This is hardly earth-shattering, I know. Just the previous evening, with two other friends from college, I found myself sandwiched between a former residence hall director/co-worker and a previous president of my College Democrats chapter. Clearly, I have been in this town too long.

But this person was not from college, or Washington. I couldn't quite place him, but the preppy navy polo shirt, backpack and slightly snub nose were definitely familiar. He and I got off at the same stop, and I followed after him trying to guess where I recognized him from. Then, after two blocks of highly conspicuous glancing, I tapped him on the shoulder.

"Excuse me," I asked, "This may sound kind of weird... but were you in Vienna this last February?"

He pushed up his sunglasses and squinted at me.



"Yeah, it's me-- Will!"

Will is one of many Notre Dame students I met while backpacking earlier this year. Four of them had been on my delightfully cheesy Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and after we'd yodeled our way through the soundtrack while ambling around the Austrian countryside for four hours, they invited me to join their group for the evening. We had a delicious dinner at a pub called Zum Affen Fidelen (literally, "To the Faithful Ape") and then joined more people from their London study-abroad program, about a third of whom happened to be in Salzburg that night. This was how I'd found myself in pounding Steigl inside a Irish pub in a mountainside in central Austria with 40 Americans (and a good 20 Italian schoolboys on holiday).

I met up with their group in Vienna, where we stayed at the same hostel by the Hauptbanhof and spent a perfect day tramping along the city streets together. This is where Will and I actually met, and bonded over our mutual love of sociocultural anthropology. I recall being in the Historiches Museum with the him, staring at stuffed birds and Venus of Willendorf, debating the merits of Jared Diamond's scholarship. It was one of those days where, looking back, I can't believe we fit everything into just one day's worth of light. We went to several museums, ate overlarge amounts of schnitzel, lingered in Cafe Central (the most famous of Vienna's cafes), saw the Hapsburg crown jewels and watched a production of Aida from the sardine can standing section of the Vienna Opera House.

I loved Austria for everything it had to show me, but the wonderful people I met there were a large part of why it was my favorite country. Now, running into one of them in the middle of normal life, on my morning commute, was overwhelming.

"God," I exclaimed "such a small world!" I winced inside a little at the cliche, but it had never felt more true.

Turns out he was in Washington looking at law schools. Maybe not the most exotic raison d'etre, but it works. We wound up having a two-hour lunch later that day, reminiscing about our travels and trading plans for the future.

Walking him back to the Metro, I asked him if he'd had any trouble readjusting to life back in the States. After all, he had actually lived abroad, while I'd bummed my way across the continent with just a backpack. He paused to think for a minute.

"Well," he finally replied, "I miss easy public transportation. And I don't miss the food. But even though I'm keeping busy and writing my thesis and looking at schools...."

He trailed off again, and we exchanged looks. "Yeah," I replied. "I get that."

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