Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to tell a true Vienna Story

A blog post inspired by Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story" and Brett's assignment to his postmodernism class to write directions for a true story of their own...

To tell a true Vienna story, you should really start with a Saturday quest for a Wiener stand. Make it complicated, but not too complicated. Have your hero and heroine waiting to cross the street, watching a horse and carriage go by, when suddenly they spot a little brown fort nearby. They approach. Good things happen. Perhaps as they walk away, one sipping Gluhwein and the other dipping meat into mustard, they spot a bronze statue of a man on a horse or a distant church spire.

A true Vienna story will always involve music. If you want your reader to believe your story took place in Vienna, you better have caped men approach your protagonists, offering tickets for the Vienna boys choir and a touristy Mozart concert, or perhaps ludicrously expensive scalped tickets to the opera - say - Madame Butterfly. If your protagonists are young travelers, have them reject these offers. Perhaps send them to listen to a free concert rehearsal in the St. Stephensdom cathedral, or to the standing room section of the opera. Let them get to the front of the section, so they can see the moonlight on the Japanese lake as Madame Butterfly sings her aria to close the first act. Undoubtedly, they will push out from the front and leave after Act I, when they get tired of standing. On their way home, they should pass at least two bronze statues of men on horses. They should probably also buy a postcard. It shouldn't be their last. And perhaps they should see a street performer dressed entirely in silver, imitating Mozart. Too bad the opera they just saw was by Puccinni, or you could create a nice symbolic link in your story between the opera and the street performer.

There's more to a true Vienna story than wieners and music. Use alliteration to name your characters - perhaps Brett and Betsy - and send them to Schonbrunn palace. Be sure to describe their hand held audio guides - spouting facts about the Hapsburg empire and the ornate carved wooden chandeliers. Use quotations. For example, "Maria Elizabeth had hair down to her ankles, and spent several hours each day brushing and arranging it" and "Her daughter, Marie Antoinette, was married to the king of France, to improve relations with the country. Marie Antoinette died on the guillotine during the French Revolution." No one visits Schonbrunn without a stroll through the gardens, so be sure to send Brett and Betsy around the lakes and up the hill for a view over the enormous yellow castle and all Vienna beyond. Don't make them too winded on the path; the hill is tapered, perhaps from the days when the famous Lipezzaner stallions used to practice there. Now might be a good time to work in another postcard. Or a visit to a roasted chestnut stand - whichever you prefer.

A true Sunday morning in Vienna is quiet, so when your characters wake up and hit the streets, they should see a few runners and maybe some pigeons. Now you have several options - your characters could visit some of the many statues around the city and take amusing photos of themselves with the statues (perhaps narrowly avoiding the gaze of passing policemen). They could explore plazas and churches, noting Gothic spires and admiring a mini-dachsund flitting about a nearby garden. Or perhaps, if you want your Vienna story to have a particularly happy ending, they could stumble into a Christmas market just as it is waking up. If you like using sensory imagery, this is a golden opportunity. Cauldrons of apfelpunch bubble, gingerbread and chocolate covered everything crowd displays, kids laugh as they run around in santa hats or eat doughnuts larger than their heads, the windows of the enormous Rathaus building loom over the tiny merry cabins.

At the end of a Vienna story, you must find a way to show the characters' sense of fulfillment and gratitude for a wonderful weekend. Perhaps you could end with an image of one of them posting photos to a blog, or nibbling thick almond and orange cookies brought home from a street side stand. Or you could describe them falling into the deep sleep of ones who have spent the last twenty four hours striding over cobblestones in a world of delights, then dreaming of Madame Butterfly falling in love with Emperor Franz Josef in the Demel Cafe over Apple Strudel and wieners with horseradish.

No comments: