Sunday, November 20, 2016

Peter Wodarz writes

The Young Woman Who, in Telling a Simple Story, Made Herself Cry

                   If I`d be your psychologist, who would be the psychologist`s psychologist?
- Jens Lekman

I had wanted to be alone. That’s why I travel by myself at times. To be alone. Not to have to speak or listen to others. To be frank, the human animal often depresses me. Bad people saying bad things. Unkind people doing unkind things. Then the selfishness, the greed, the strange, cruel ways people die. It gets too much. A sadness fills me. As Bob sings so well, you feel “tangled up in blue.” So I go alone. I go see what the world has to offer. I can feel better then. 

Yuka attached herself to me on the tram at the Taipei Airport. We were both making the transfer from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. Most Japanese people, especially women, are not so forward, but she asked me where I was going. I told her Vienna. She seemed relieved. She asked me if I spoke German. I told her I knew enough to get by. She was going to Vienna too; she spoke no German. After we got off the tram, we were walking next to each other and talking. I had wanted to be alone, but here I was just hours into my eight-day holiday, and I had already made a friend.

I told Yuka that I was going to the China Airlines lounge. I had a gold card. I had been flying a lot with China Airlines back then. I told her I would meet her at the gate. I felt I was being rude, but I wanted the free email access, the free food, the free alcohol. And I didn`t feel like talking. Yuka seemed very nice, but I wanted to be free of others. 

By the time I boarded, ninety minutes later, I had forgotten about Yuka. I like to be one of the last people on a plane, so I got to the gate late and just went and found my seat. After we lifted off, I ate a few bites of the dinner, watched a part of a movie, and then fitfully slept. At Abu Dhabi, when we deplaned to take on more fuel, I didn`t see her, wasn`t thinking about her. I remembered her only when I had cleared customs in Vienna and had collected my bag.

“What should I do?” I was ready to take the train into the city, but I paused. I looked around the baggage carousel but didn`t see her. She must still be in the long immigration line. So I waited. I waited about fifteen minutes. Then I saw her walking from the immigration booths. I waved. She seemed happy to see me. We found her bag. We were ready for the train. We bought our tickets and made our way to Wien Mitte. There, we had to transfer to the U-Bahn, the subway. I was going north to my hotel in the city center, she south to her youth hostel. I had two stops to go, she had four. I put in some euro into the ticket machine and bought our tickets. Then I pointed up at the U-bahn map on the wall over our heads and told her, “Four stops, okay?” I walked her over to the down escalator, the escalator that would take her to her platform and her train. Then I took out a scrap of paper and wrote down the name of my hotel, The Graben, and told her to come at 1:00. “I`ll buy you lunch,” I said. “Okay?” I pulled out a map I had and showed her where my hotel was in the city center. So. We were done.

Daijobu?” I asked. Are you going to be okay? 
She nodded.

 “See you later,” I said.

After I made sure she punched her U-bahn ticket and I saw her disappear down the escalator, I felt bad. Was she afraid to go by herself? Was that fear in her eyes? I should have taken her to the youth hostel. That`s what I was thinking. Of course, Vienna is a safe city, but I felt that I should have done more. I was tired, though, and perhaps a little selfish. So I turned and made my way to my own train and to my hotel.

I got there and desperately wanted to check in and shower and sleep a few hours, but I couldn`t. It was only 9:00 a.m., after all, and a Sunday too. Arriving in any European city on a Sunday morning is never a good idea, but one cannot alter plane routes and times. So I left my bags with the front desk clerk and walked over to the Albertina; the museum opened at 10:00, and from some advertisements on the outside of the building, I could see that there was what seemed to be a good photography exhibit. So I walked around beautiful Vienna until 10:00; then I enjoyed the exhibit.

When I got back to the hotel just after noon, Yuka was waiting for me. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Did you find the youth hostel?” She seemed fine. I got my key, collected my bags, took the rickety elevator up to my room. When I saw the bed, of course I wanted to tumble into it, but Yuka was waiting for me in the lobby. I brushed my teeth and washed my face. 

Over lunch, Yuka told me that she was an artist, that she was going to Innsbruck the next day for some kind of show. She withdrew a flyer from her large bag, unfolded it, passed it over to me. She told me I should go too. I told that I had stayed in Innsbruck a few years ago, that it`s a very nice place with a beautiful city center, that she would have a nice time. But I didn`t want to go.
I suppose I should tell you that from the beginning, from our first moments on the tram in Taipei to our present lunch in the Hotel Graben`s restaurant, we had been speaking Japanese. Just about everything she had told or asked me—minus a word or two of English—was in Japanese. My Japanese is not that good, so I found it very hard to follow along. She was an artist, she had been invited to Innsbruck for some kind of exhibition, she was going there tomorrow by train. I was trying very hard to process what she was saying. And I wanted to eat my schnitzel and drink my red wine. In response to some of her questions, I would, at times, revert to English. “My wife works at an office,” I would say very slowly. Then I would translate what I had just said in English into Japanese. I mean I would try. I was doing my best. When the waiter came over with her desert, of course I said “Arigato” instead of “Vielen Dank.” Japanese, English, German. It was a long, difficult lunch. I was exhausted from the thirteen-hour flight. Soon I had a bad headache.

After lunch, I took Yuka to the Kunsthistoriches Museum. You don`t have to talk much to look at paintings, and she had told me she was an artist, right? Plus, it`s a wonderful museum. One of Europe`s finest. I paid for two mobile interpretive devices, one with explanations in Japanese, the other in English. Then I took her up to the second flood to the Pieter Bruegel room. He`s one of my favorite painters. I told her this. I sat down on a couch in front of Hunters in the Snow. If I turned slightly to my right, I could see The Peasant Wedding. Behind me were more glorious works, perhaps six or seven, all by Bruegel. I lifted my hands in a what-more-do-you-want? gesture. There was absolutely nothing to say. We were surrounded by great paintings. I was pleased and content to be sitting in that room again. Yuka strolled around and examined the paintings.

“I understand you better.” That was her verdict. At least that`s what Yuka told me twenty minutes later. At least that`s what I think she said in Japanese. I didn`t know what to say. I was getting sleepy. I hadn`t moved from my couch.

After another hour in the museum, I could barely walk I was so sleepy. I had to return to my hotel; and Yuka needed to go to the Westbanhof to buy her train ticket to Innsbruck. I told her the train ride itself would take about three or four hours, that the last hour was a stunning ride through the majestic Tyrols. I had been on that train. I told her she would enjoy the tremendous views. “So beautiful,” I enthused. I told her to make sure to sit by the window. I sensed Yuka wanted me to take her to the station, wanted me to assist her in purchasing her ticket. It was only a few tram stops from the museum—perhaps fifteen minutes tops—but I didn`t want to go. I was exhausted. I didn`t want to speak Japanese anymore. I didn`t want to talk at all. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to sleep. So I walked her down to the tram station. There was a kiosk there. I bought her a ticket and waited until her tram came. “Good luck, Yuka,” I said. “Goodbye.” I returned to my room and crawled into bed at 5:00 in the afternoon. I slept eleven wonderful hours.

I don`t recall what I did the next day. I thought of Yuka sometime in the morning, though. Did she make it? I sighed and wondered. I could only hope so. One part of me said that I should have done more to help; the other part said that I had done enough.

I spent a couple more Yuka-free days. To be honest, I had forgotten about her. I was just doing my thing, being alone and not speaking to others. At night, I read some short stories by Fitzgerald.

On Thursday afternoon when I returned to the hotel and asked for my room key, the front desk clerk told me that I had a guest. She nodded toward the lobby behind me. I was a little startled. “A guest? Impossible. Who could be…” As I wrote, I had forgotten all about Yuka, but when I turned, sure enough, there she was. I thought I had seen the last of her, but there she was, sitting on a couch in the hotel lobby. “Sie hat zwei Stunden gewartet,” the front clerk said. She waited two hours. Well.

I gathered fortitude. I had been thinking about a nap, but obviously, that wouldn`t happen.

“So how was your trip?” I asked. “How was Innsbruck? Are you hungry? Should we eat?” Even though I wasn`t hungry, Yuka and I walked across the narrow street to an Italian restaurant. I ordered pizza salami and a large beer, she some pasta and a glass of wine.

It seemed Yuka had returned the previous afternoon. And she had gone to the opera in the evening. There were some standing room tickets available for five euro. “Well done,” I said. “That`s great!” She had checked her winter coat and something very important happened. “An old man took my coat. He smiled warmly. He was very kind. He showed me where to stand.” Something like that. She was telling me what had happened. And then she started to cry. “He was so kind,” she repeated. “Totemo yasashikatta!” Slowly, large tears rolled down her face. She was speaking her Japanese, and again I had trouble understanding. But it seems the gist is that the old coat-check man at the opera had been very kind to her.

What could I do or say? Selfishly, I wanted to eat my pizza, but I put down my fork and knife, sat back in my chair, and watched her cry. Of course, I have felt what was feeling. Actually, I feel it a lot. Sometimes the kindness of strangers can be overwhelming. You read in the newspaper about some people rushing into cold water to save some beached whales or you watch on TV the army of strangers who donate their time and materials to build a new home for the legless Iraqi war veteran with four kids. There he goes in his wheelchair up the ramp to his front door. Each child has his or her own comfortable room with a new bed and new furniture. Such a story overwhelms you. You get a little misty-eyed. At least I do. And as I watched Yuka cry, it was hard not to cry too. But I tried hard not to. I looked away for a few moments. Then I lifted my beer, finished it, and got the waiter`s attention. I ordered another. When he came to fetch the empty glass, he could see that something important was taking place. The two foreigners, perhaps, were having a quarrel. Outside, the afternoon sun was losing its strength.

The tears, fortunately, didn`t last long. When I saw that she was feeling better, I passed over a fresh napkin; Yuka wiped her eyes. Soon she was smiling again and feeling ashamed. I could tell by the look on her face. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn`t feel bad, but I didn`t know how to say that in Japanese. So I smiled too and picked up my fork and knife and tried a few more bites, but my pizza was cold. Her pasta sat in front of her. I don`t think she had eaten more than two or three bites. So I turned my attention to my new beer. I lifted it and proposed a toast. “Kampai!” I said. “It feels good to cry, doesn`t it?” I said in my bad Japanese. “Here`s to crying!” We clinked our glasses.

So that`s it. That`s what happened in Vienna a few years ago. We talked for a few more minutes. Then I paid and walked Yuka through Vienna`s charming city center to the U-bahn station. She was flying back to Okinawa the next morning. I had her business card and told her that I would call, but after I got back myself, a few days later, the days went by, and then a month, and I never did.

 Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Peasant Wedding - Google Art Project 2.jpg
 The Peasant Wedding -- Pieter Bruegel the Elder

1 comment:

  1. Jens Lekman is a Swedish musician whose guitar-based pop that heavily uses samples and strings, with witty, romantic, and melancholic lyrics. For a time he was known as "Rocky Dennis," the boy with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia ("lionitis"), an extremely rare, sclerotic bone disorder that causes calcium to build up in the skull, disfiguring the facial features, reducing eyesight and hearing, and destroying the brain; he was the inspiration of the 1983 film, "Mask."
    "Tangled Up in Blue" wa written by Bob Dylan after spending a weekend immersed in Joni Mitchell's 1971 album "Blue." It appeared on his 1975 album "Blood on the Tracks." The "Telegraph" called it "the most dazzling lyric ever written, an abstract narrative of relationships told in an amorphous blend of first and third person, rolling past, present and future together, spilling out in tripping cadences and audacious internal rhymes, ripe with sharply turned images and observations and filled with a painfully desperate longing." It ends:
    We always did feel the same,
    We just saw it from a different point of view,
    Tangled up in blue.
    The Albertina houses one of the world's collections of prints (one million of them) as well as 65,000 drawings, plus modern graphic works, photographs,and architectural drawings. Originally it was the Hofbauamt (Court Construction Office), which was refurbished in 1744 to become the palatial residence of its director. Soon after, duke Albert of Saxen-Teschen tok it over and in 1776 Giacomo Durazzo, the Austrian ambassador in Venice (the brother of the doge of Genvova) presented him with almost 1,000 artworks, in addition to the graphics Albert had colleted when he was the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (Belgium). In 1920, after the new Austrian government took it over, the collection from the former imperial court library was added. The larger Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) and the similarly-designed Naturhistorisches Museum across the Maria-Theresien-Platz were opened in 1891 by emperor Franz-Josef of Austria-Hungary.
    F. Scott Key Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin, three times removed on his father's side, Francis Scott Key, the author of the American anthem. Three months before his birth his two older sisters died; "I think I started then to be a writer," he claimed. As a novelist and short story writer, he was one of the most famous and successful American author of the 1920s, often deaking with themes of youth and promise, age and despair.
    Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a 16th-century painter. "The Peasnat Wedding" (1567) was one of his best-known works, The bride is in front of the green textile wall-hanging, but her husband is more difficult to identify. He may be the man in the red cap, serving food to his his guests. Rudy Rucker (Rudolf von Bitter Rucker), one of the founders of the cyberpunk literary movement, supported that hypothesis and noted that his passing of food towards the bride was "themotion of a husband, to penetrate the wife. Note that near him are no less than three phallic symbols pointing towards the wife: the man’s arm, the knife on the table, and the salt-cellar (?) on the table. Note also that at the end of the man’s arm is an ellipse of an angle-seen dish that is oriented and located in the right location to represent the bride’s vagina."


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