Pilgrimage to Austria Part 2: We made it to Vienna
by Christopher von Kap-herr
I had spent the five and a half days of relative inactivity with my sister mostly in acquainting myself with the café houses in her neighborhood. One in particular sticks in my memory. It was run by a lady from Australia, a ‘hangout’ for English-speaking expats. (Who knew there were so many of them?) It provided a welcome relief from having to search for German words that just didn’t want to flow off my tongue. This hiatus gave me time to reflect on my ‘Hero’s Journey’.
In present times, ‘Hero’ is a metaphor for someone who successfully meets unexpected challenges so that a project or goal can still be accomplished successfully. As I described in Part 1, I think I was pushed into this quest by a message I received in a dream, a message which I believed came from my mother. Since my quest was initiated under the direction of someone from the spirit world, I felt I would receive help from this realm in order to complete my journey. Therefore, giving up because my father was in hospital was not an option. All I had to do was to persevere with the plan of travelling to Austria and trust that a way would open up to us. It occurred to me that the shape our journey was taking on very much resembled a mythological or, perhaps, a fairy story.
My niece had wanted to meet us in the Vienna airport properly, rather than do a ‘drive-by’ on the road outside the terminal. After my father and I had landed, I called her cell phone to tell her that we had arrived and were in the baggage claim area. She asked for a landmark, and I spotted a McDonald’s right across from me. Its presence in Vienna exemplified, for me, how America is benefiting from the new ‘globalism’. After ending the call, my father and I went over to the restaurant and ordered café lattes with lactose-free milk. My niece arrived shortly thereafter along with her mother, (who is my cousin), and her little boy, Conrad. They greeted us warmly, then ordered coffee and a Happy Meal for the little boy. Except for the monuments just outside, we could have been sitting in a restaurant in America.
I use the term ‘fairy story’ specifically because when I saw my cousin at the Vienna airport, the first thought that came into my mind was that “she is like a fairy godmother in a fairy story”. She wore a thigh-length winter coat and carried two plain bags, one large and one small, each on opposite shoulders. She had gray hair tied back in a bun and was slightly stooped, perhaps from the weight she was carrying. It wouldn’t be long before I would find out some of what her large bag contained. In a fairy tale, such as Cinderella, a fairy godmother carries within her powers which are divine and which can, for instance, change mice into horses. I was sure this was not within my cousin’s ability, but perhaps there were other ways in which she could aid us in our quest. The contrast between my cousin and my niece could not have been more striking. My niece is the quintessential young, trim-looking professional with toddler in tow. She is, in fact, a medical doctor.
I had read in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that the fairy godmother, or kindly aunt, often has a beautiful daughter. What made my niece so beautiful was not any particular feature in her appearance or behavior, but a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Even though she is a scientist, she seldom spoke of science. Her main focus was on family and relationships. What I found particularly inspiring about her was that there were never any silent moments in her presence. She had the ability to always keep the conversation going without ever being annoying. What also impressed me was how affectionate she was, walking close to me when we were in the garden of Schloss Schönbrunn, touching my arm, and occasionally even linking elbows. This closeness was an amazing surprise and gave me a lovely feeling of well-being in her presence.
After McDonald’s, my cousin decided that my father and I should go directly to our bed-and-breakfast where we could freshen up. My cousin lived nearby and said she would have my niece drive back in an hour to take us all on a tour of Vienna. I don’t know if it was intentional on the part of my cousin or not, but the pension we were booked into was run by nuns. She knew that there was a chapel one floor above, or perhaps she had read a sign, but that was where she took me while my father lay down for a much-needed rest after the ordeal of being taken from a hospital bed and flown to another country.
My cousin and I knelt in one of the pews where she removed several soft-covered books from her large bag. These contained devotionals and from the condition of the books, looked like they were frequently referenced. My cousin turned to a specific page and had me read it out loud. I recall nothing of what I read, but I do remember thinking that I was glad to be here with God because I really had not given Him much of my attention since I started this trip. So, alternately, I read and listened to my cousin read for no less than an hour. I felt spiritually refreshed after this, but also very tired. However, I knew there would be no rest at present because we had less than two days to spend in Austria with not a moment to waste.
We returned to the room, woke my father, then met up with my niece for the driving tour of Vienna. We visited the place where my father had lived as a boy, the University of Vienna where he’d studied and, in general, just took in the beautiful architecture. Our tour ended that day at the Schloss Belvedere where we marveled at the almost life-size paintings of the last emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph, and his wife, Empress Elizabeth, or “Sissy” as she was and is still affectionately known to locals and tourists. Before stopping for coffee at the Schloss, we visited the gift shop, which sold silk scarves and handbags imprinted with images of the paintings of Gustav Klimt. I bargained with the owner and was able to purchase a silk scarf worth 60 Euros for only half that amount. I would give it to my sister as her birthday present.
The next morning we drove to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most well-known church in Vienna. We did a quick circuit of the church and as we neared the entrance, I spotted their gift shop. “I have been looking for a crucifix to wear around my neck for a while now,” I thought.
“I wonder if I might find one here?” I went up to the sales counter and asked the man whether he had any crucifixes on neck chains. He told me ‘no’, but I decided to look anyway. Lo and behold, I found two silver crucifixes with the image of Jesus being held by His mother. These were not on chains, but hung from plain brown cords. I was ecstatic. My cousin, (or fairy godmother as I should now call her), informed me, however, that the crucifixes carried no spiritual energy unless they were first blessed. So, we set off on an almost comical search for a priest.
My cousin led me first to the confessional near the rear entrance where several people waited in line. She asked a rather distraught-looking man if she could move ahead of him just to have the crucifixes blessed, but he shook his head in a negative response. Looking at him, I had the eerie feeling that he was there because of something he had done to his wife. Perhaps he had abused her, or maybe she’d caught him watching porn on his computer.
My cousin then had the idea that there might be a priest in the sacristy behind the front altar. To get there we had to open a gate in the altar railing and then walk past the side of the altar to a back room. I will never forget the surprised look on face of the priest, surrounded by his acolytes, when my cousin entered. I dared not voice the thought that flashed through my mind: “It’s OK, she is my fairy godmother in the employ of my mother!” My cousin asked the priest to bless the crucifixes, but in a heavy Eastern European accent he replied, “After the Mass”. We bowed in a way that we hoped was both humble and apologetic.
I was ready to give up, but my cousin was determined. She returned to the rear entrance of the church, saw that there was still a queue of penitents, so proceeded to pull me into a side chapel. It appeared that a mass or prayer service was in progress. As we sat down quietly in a pew, I fought to control a cold fear that my cousin might approach the priest before he had finished, but thankfully this did not happen. She got up, but instead of heading to the altar, went to a font of holy water and dipped the crucifixes in. She handed them back to me and whispered the German equivalent of, “Here you are; you’re good to go!”
Perhaps because the crucifix around my neck energized me, I was able to keep going in the afternoon on a tour of the Schloss Schönbrunn with my niece. To finish off the day, she took us to a Heuriger which is, to my understanding, a wine garden where in addition to serving wine they offered sausages and roast pork. All of the fare was terribly high in cholesterol, I guessed, but with all of the walking we had done, both inside and out, who was counting calories? My father finally had his first really good day in Europe, in part due to the wine, which helped stimulate his reminiscences about his family members who had long since passed away, but mainly thanks to the company of my cousin and my niece!
In the taxi the next morning, heading back to the airport, I thought to myself, “Except for the souvenirs telling me otherwise, what I experienced yesterday could easily have been a dream.”
To read part 1 click here.