Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ostriches in Österreich

On the train again today [Wednesday, actually. This is being typed and posted a day late]! This time alone and headed out of country. Time for a visit to yet another world I love--Vienna, where I finished school.

I decided to be sentimental and take the same route I nearly always went, and it is perfect. This train is vastly different for the ones of the last few days of the Tatra trip. It is this fabulous, slick, double-decker train that runs so silently you merely feel rather than hear its gentle chug-chug. It was always great for getting a start on homework over the weekends, catching a solid 50 minutes of sleep, reading, or as now; writing.

There is still a vast difference between these neighbouring countries, neighbouring capitals despite the EU, despite the fall of the wall--differences that touch heritage, speak of East vs West and of Slav vs German, and I love them both.

I suppose now that we no longer have even to check passports when moving one to the other, one of my more vivid and painful experiences would be unnecessary.

It happened just after I had lost my residency as a dependant in Slovakia and had begun school in Vienna, living in the city (not at a boarding school) and, as per the agreement with my parents, returning (most) weekends.

One evening officers came to my house in Vienna to see me. I wasn't there at the time, and had to report to their office promptly upon return. I did so, ,wondering why, what had happened? They put me in one of those interrogating rooms you always see on TV, with the bright light and the loud burly officers. Why was I in Vienna? What was I doing? Who was I living with? What was my connection to them? Was I sure I wasn't sneaking over from Slovakia to work in Vienna (much better wages)? And on it went.

My student visa hadn't come through yet, and although the Austrian embassy in Slovakia said to start anyways, my name still got flagged. We sorted it all out at the station eventually. But I remember wondering, what would they do with me? Deport me home to a country where I had no residency, no legal connection? Deport me to my passport country where I had never lived? How that? And what of my school and life?

This train just passed an ostrich farm I have never seen on this trip before. I did see wild ostriches when I was doing photojournalism in northern Kenya. For some reason I find this both hilarious and sobering. Ostriches in Österreich (austria).  So... perfect and yet odd--oddly suiting. I think perhaps I have always been my own sort of ostrich in Österreich; only I can come and go instead of finding myself caged in. 

And I do come and go! One year I came back from visiting friends and "hanging out" and wandering through the streets and eating my favourite kabobs and pizza just in time for Christmas Eve with my family. 

There is one scene where you can spy to two important Slovak castles (the Braistlava castle and Devin, which was lain to ruin by Napoleon), the Slovak Parliament, the Danube (Dunaj in Slovak, Donau in German), and a lovely Austrian castle (where we picnicked several times) all at once. That always makes me deeply contented. 

I think of this story we have of Babel, of how people came to be separate. One tongue shattered into many pieces, garble to each other. I think if there were only one language today, I should weep. The pain of this story lies not in the differences that grew up, but in the inability--no, in the unwillingness--of our humankind to reach through them to wholeness.

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