• John Diamond-Nigh

#Vienna waits for you

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Yesterday, quite coincidentally, I heard two pop songs about Vienna. The first was by an obscure musician who lived next door to Lynne growing up. Name hardly matters, a guy known as Billy #Joel. The Vienna line goes: when will you realize Vienna waits for you?

The other song was by Leonard #Cohen. I‘ve loved Cohen since Grade 9 English class, where an ebullient, duckling-haired teacher played his river ballad, #Suzanne, as though it were the #Ave Maria of our time. Cohen died not long ago, an Old Testament-prophet pop star, a “beautiful loser,” whose gravel-muttered truths we prefer to ignore.

These are lines from his best album, #I’m Your Man:

And I'll dance with you in Vienna

I'll be wearing a river's disguise

The hyacinth wild on my shoulder

My mouth on the dew of your thighs

Echoes of #Xanadu, that erotic, opium-painted, river-throwing city of heart’s desire.

Add to that #Tales from the Vienna Woods by #Strauss, music that I pretty much wore off my library LP. That boyish Vienna was less of a city than an infinite dance floor lit by Chinese lanterns and the sibilant whirlpools of slippers and skirts.

I found myself in Vienna, expecting to meet a friend there, who didn’t show up, but in the course of a couple of winter weeks (snow falling most of the time), god, I choked on music: You could hear Alfred Brendel, The Vienna Boys choir, an opera a day, the Vienna Philharmonic, see the White Stallions, meander through the Christmas bazaar–all for pocket change. I was #living on pocket change. And chiefly I saw what I had come to Vienna to see (far more than some windy-haired, twittering no-show).

What did I know, at waltz-minded 17, of how deep went the black #treachery of this city? That when #Hitler had arrived, the Viennese reveled and swooned like an arena mob does today. Film footage of his diabolical entry ranks among the most chilling things I have seen, and a caution against anyone taking too lightly the ludicrous, triumphal, promissory rhetoric of any megalomaniac and the frenzied choreography of his filial mob.

In his luminous book, #Invisible Cities, the Italian novelist Italo #Calvino imagines the cities that Marco Polo saw on his great voyage east as puzzles, gardens, mazes of dissolute beauty, outlining as few have ever done the enchantment of all exotic spots since Ur, since Babylon–our deeper home, of which quotidian, visible cities are just the clattering shadow. #Paris, #Kyoto, #Venice, #Savannah–cities that we need at this frightening moment, lifting their bells and domes in the shabby parentheses of sleeplessness and the low, chastening ache of each day. Laying out their leafed and lanterned dance floors.

#Take this waltz.

I had come to see four paintings by Pieter #Breughel the Elder, portraying rural Flemish life in each of the seasons. Still my favorite #paintings. Exalted over the moon as I was, I stepped out of the museum into another snowfall. And so Vienna will always be, a city in a snow dome that, in normal times, in frightening times, I can take out and shake at will.

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