Postcard from the past

Helga’s Post #117:  Writing this post during a three-week visit from my hometown, Vienna. Not much about writing as such, but paying tribute to the craft with this picture of one of Vienna’s public libraries

imageScant progress on the writing front. Family members, especially those from the ‘old country’ have a way of monopolizing visiting relatives’ time. Not just a day here and there, or a couple of hours every day or two. Oh no, not my family. They go all out: 24/7 with a scant allotment for sleeping.

Trying to catch up on my blogging commitment too is a tricky undertaking. My beloved 94-year old mother hovers over me, checking as I write on my iPad. More than once am I reminded that I will lose my vision, and besides, all this time spent on the Internet is a dangerous habit akin to drug addiction.

But I do have my ways. With Houdini-like skills I manage to free myself from well-intentioned maternal shackles and go on the odd escapade. I head out, ready to rediscover my roots and my city. With an eye towards gathering morsels for my novel in progress I start walking down memory lane….

First stop, my grade school on Grubergasse. The first four years. The building looks smaller now, the street more narrow. This is where I got my first taste for the pleasure of writing. A teacher publicly praising an essay I wrote in Grade two or three. A small gesture, a lasting passion for a young pupil.

Next stop the dance school my parents signed me up for. This is something most teens in Vienna used to attend, regardless of social and economic background. Not only to learn the basics of ballroom dancing, but to get acquainted with social etiquette. The girls, usually at age 16, lined up on one side of the long wall, facing a row of shy pimply boys across the room. The boys had the privilege of choosing a dance partner. Before the first dance, they had to entertain their girl with polite and charming conversation while promenading her around the hall. I seem to recall my partner’s attempts as something like “My name is Fritz and I live in the third district.”

Tracing my steps back through the Volksgarten I look for that hidden alcove. That special bench, the first kiss. Alcove and bench are gone as is the memory of the boy’s name. Onwards along the Ringstrasse to the opera house, recalling my first opera, Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Not a good choice to spark a passion for opera.

Thankfully, opera is not the only choice of entertainment in the city of music and dance. I was introduced, early on, to jazz by boyfriend du jour, a jazz musician of considerable charm (footnote: he later became a character in my Cold War novel ‘Closing Time’). The venue, a damp cellar deep below St. Ruprecht church. Fans used to sit on roughly hewn benches sucking straws from coke bottles filled with a devilish mix of coke and corn brandy, the drink of choice for jazz aficionados. The place still exists today, many decades later. It’s now the popular Jazzland, the oldest jazz club in Vienna.

Jazz, corn brandy and a musician boyfriend inevitably lead to heartbreak. That too is part of growing up, part of life’s unavoidable experiences. We had better become experts in dealing with it. Losses of one kind or another will become routine throughout our lives, mounting as we get older.
Memory lane is nearing its end. I am getting close to that all important point in time, my life-changing decision to leave my native country for Canada.

But a few more steps remain.

My dad had planned out my career path for me early on. After graduating from business college he ‘pulled strings’ with the Socialist party to get me a job at the nationalized funeral office. ‘You will never be out of a job’ he reasoned.

What? A young ambitious fun-loving woman working in the funeral industry? I had different ambitions.

My departure for Canada was not without drama. And a romance that may have played a part in my decision.

More in my next post.

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About Helga Bolleter

My friends know me as world traveler, fiction writer, music lover, passionate cook, ex-gardener and hopeless romantic. My glass is always half-full unless it’s a chilled NZ Sauvignon Blanc, in which case I can’t help myself.

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