Monday, April 20, 2009

Stars in Vienna

This week I have been taking lots of walks in Sofia, mainly as an excuse to check the progress of the lilac buds in a nearby park and to listen to "Eat, Pray, Love" - an audiobook about a journey across the world - on my ipod. You see, spring is coming to Eastern Europe, and I am determined to experience its every soft breath and gentle ray of sunshine. As I waited for spring to come, in the stark and continuous chill of March, I promised myself that this year I would not welcome spring with a moment of exaltation and then forget all about winter and start complaining of the heat. It was a serious promise. I wrote it down. This year I would embrace spring the way Calvin embraces trouble, love it like Oscar and Felix love chase-wrestle, enjoy it the way Brett enjoys pepperoni pizza - in every shape and color, with every kind of topping. So, most nights I have been heading out after dinner to take in the neighborhood with Liz Gilbert telling her story into my ears.

One line of her tale struck me particularly just before we left for Vienna. She was describing a visit to the tallest tower of an Indian Ashram. As the stars sparked into existence, one by one, ten by ten, hundreds all at once, she felt space opening in her heart. She felt the stars come out inside her too. Friday after school, I felt disconnected with myself, missing my old school and my family, frustrated by some work problems I wasn't sure I could find the answers to. I found myself wishing for some stars and space myself, and hoping Vienna would provide me with my own spiritual NASA. 

On our very first walk down the main street of Vienna, who should I come across but my first ever lilies-of-the-valley-bunches-seller? He was standing to one side as a crush of people made their way down the Graben, offering bundles of fragrant green and white, the tiny flower bells bobbing with any motion of his basket. Star #1. I love these flowers, which I have only ever seen grow wild in my own hometown, carpeting the forest only one block away from my house every single spring. I pushed one tiny sprig from those woods into my perfectly tailored wedding bouquet just ten months ago, and here I was, revisiting all my happy lily valley memories in the middle of urban Austria, at the bargain price of two and a half euros. I spent the next forty eight hours - off and on - smelling my happy memories, sitting in their mug by the bed. 

Star #2. Later, I took another walk while Brett and Larry headed off to pick up their race packets for the marathon. I entered a small park bordered in blooming lilacs, and made it my mission to smell each bush. As I popped out the far gate, a bit dizzy but happy, I saw an elderly man convincing his wife to participate in a lilac photo shoot. She stood in front of a huge bush, obviously feeling that rather pleasant sensation of pleased-awkward-flattered-shy. He stood a few feet away, enjoying the connection to his partner through a long camera lens. I couldn't see it from my perch on the parallel sidewalk, but I have a feeling the lens hid a big smile. 

The next morning I joined a huge crowd cheering for the runners. It seemed all Vienna wanted to show its support - people clapped huge balloon hands, twisted noisemakers, and shouted every possible language variation of "whoo hoo," waving flags to match. Cheerleaders stepped in supportive rhythm, classical music blared from speakers, camera shutters clicked everywhere. Everyone was searching for someone they loved in the horde of runners. Stars #3 and #4 came close together. As Brett ran by in his bright yellow shorts I shouted my own American version of "Whoo hoo" (it sounds a lot like "whoo hoo!"). He turned and immediately tried to come and kiss me. Unfortunately he was in the middle of a river of thousands of runners. The woman behind him instantly slammed into him when he stopped. Reeling slightly, he apologized to the woman disappearing behind him and reached out to me. In the middle of those thousands of people, we came together. 

Thirty minutes later I was again searching for him, this time from a new post at the halfway mark. All the support around me was becoming somewhat overwhelming, and the crowd wasn't producing the guy I wanted to see. Looking up, I saw star #4. It came in the shape of a tiny white balloon. Some clapping hand must have released it, and now it drifted right by the hands of ancient Viennese statues crowning the highest nearby building. Amidst the fervor of the race, all I had to do was look up to find a bit of peace. If I hadn't taken that small break from searching the crowds, I never would have seen the balloon. Probably 99% of the crowd never did, but there it floated. 

Four moments, four stars, a bit of space. Now here I am, back in Sofia, wondering if I am somehow more prepared to confront the problems I left behind for this weekend away. I'm not sure. But I'm always glad for a bit of shine. 


Anonymous said...

Lovely, lovely, dear. Each numbered star in your post added space and light into this reader's spirit, too! We're completely happy you've married a man who puts a kiss on your face ahead of his status in a competition, and that he married a woman who fed him during his training, and was there to record it for all who cheered, far away. We love and respect you both. Peace, now. M&D

Anonymous said...

Second reading:Still beautiful.

judy baker said...

Betsy, Thanks for the lilac pictures, and descriptions that made me able to visualize what you saw. I smile a lot reading your descriptions.

Brett, Great job on the race. And I loved your scrabble birthday message.

I agree with your mom Betsy, you two seem to have a magic formula for enjoying and appreciating each other. Thumbs up!!!

Love, judy/mom