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Kos - Journey to My Dream Island

Finally Home

As the train pulled into Milan station, I was well on the way to crying. It was surreal, sitting in a carriage with three nuns (what is the national nun average per train carriage in Italy?). I had spent the previous night travelling on an Orient express from Vienna to Venice. In the sleeper below me lay a woman from Massachusetts; a fan of Victoria and Albert ('She really loved him , you know. She never got over him.'). She was skeptical at my insistence that, despite being English, I had no knowledge  of the private life of Queen Victoria. Such matters had never rocked my boat, strange to tell.

I presented a 1,000 lire note to the large ladies sitting at their knitting in the Ladies on Milan station. They told me it was a forgery. In Italy, banknotes are issued by various banks; unlike the English system i.e. one sort, Bank of England. I showed them another note. That, too, was a forgery. I was not allowed in. I walked into the large concourse of travellers and was greeted by a diminutive Italian station cop, speaking English with an Aussie accent. I burst into tears.

*****

Vienna - August 12th, 1976

To tell the truth I don't seem to be going anywhere and over the past few weeks I've had repeated attacks of boredom and soul-searching. It doesn't help, being in this isolated community of Poles and Yugoslavs. Acute loneliness comes from being surrounded by folk with whom you have nothing in common - not even the language. I am tired of trying to make a  foreign country my home, for the 2 - 3 months I spend there. If this is homesickness, then it is a unique form. A kind of screaming panic inside; yet outward calm and acceptance. The struggle to keep that inward trauma battered (sic) down and out of sight; giving it small concessions. Like going home on August 31st instead of September 21st. It doesn't effect a cure. It only stops the disease from spreading.

Vienna itself is beautiful. Still living in the past, with horse-drawn carriages and unspoilt architecture and little grocer's shops. Not a block of flats in sight in the centre. Still, it's very grey, and the most expensive city I've ever lived in. I noticed lots of oddities when I first arrived. Dogs have to be lead and muzzled by law. There's a strange mixture of nationalities and, therefore, looks. Not your standard fair-haired, jeans-and-leather-jacket clad rowdy German. Though, of course, there are hoards of them around. Classified as 'tourists'.

This is hotel is being invaded by Turks and Spaniards at present. There were about 800 in all at Dinner last night. Rushed off our feet with no thanks for it, and they were downright rude. Thumping on the tables and stamping their feet on the floor because the groups all came at once and two groups of Spaniards had to wait for their dinner. I'm afraid my motto isn't 'mein Kunde ist König' [my guest is King] if he doesn't show consideration, particularly with the wages we get. I sent my wage (£60) home last month and I'm attempting to live off my tips. Pretty lousy this week. The Germans are the only ones who tip. They are also the only group to leave the hotel rooms as they found them, apparently. Which cannot be said for the other groups of visitors. Enough of the gripes.

I've been taking advantage of the cultural events in the city since I arrived on July 6th. Especially the musical ones. We only get one day (i.e. evening) off a week. My first free evening was spent listening to the Strauss Orchestra in the Stadtpark Kurssalon; savouring my wine and soda spritzer as it cost almost £2. On my second free day I went to the Gershwin concert in the Town Hall quadrangle. By myself. It was really moving and romantic to listen to 'Rhapsody in Blue' and 'American in Paris' under the blanket of stars. The pianist, Gloria Robert, was wearing a turquoise voile dress which drifted in the breeze. I was really lucky to get in, as all the ticket offices are closed from mid-July - mid-August and there was a crowd at the gates trying to get in. At the tram stop on my way there I asked a woman for directions, and she had a spare ticket to sell.

On August 4th I saw 'A feast in the court of the umbrischen Duke Leopaldo in the year 1400', held in Schönbrunn castle. That was a real event. The performers, 'les Menestrels', consisted of four blokes and two girls and the only word to describe the audience is 'variegated'. Everybody in their best evening dress but also many arty types dressed accordingly.

'Les menestrels' had rigged up a table: complete with feast-type food, candles and musical instruments. They set to with a will. While one sang, another played; and the rest ate chicken, drank wine and generally made merry. Halfway through the concert the 'leader' came across to me at the end of the second row stage right and gave me a basket of fruit and nuts. I was so surprised I just stared at it, until the woman next to me took the basket and helped herself to a fat peach before passing the mouth-watering assortment up the row. She spent the next ten minutes eating her peach and making my mouth water.

 The evening was really enjoyable and included a guided tour round the  Schönbrunn apartments before the concert. I found it difficult to keep a straight face as the guide said, '...and in the next few rooms we have portraits of Maria Teresa's 16 children.' The palace seems to be full of them. They must have employed half a dozen live-in artists to catch (sic) the children, in art; at every stage, age and pastime.

Vienna, August 14th

Another woolly day today, weatherwise. It doesn't bother me. I can't afford to go out on my budget anyway. I sent my pay-packet home at the beginning of the month and am 'living' on my tips. For a couple of days I did really well, getting £5 - £6 each evening. I treated myself to a minor spending spree at the sales; buying a rust-coloured lined cord midi-skirt and a genuine Viennese enamel bangle. Daylight robbery it was, too.  Today I have been very 'tüchtig' (good), getting stuck into my dissertation, for which I have collected a pile of information from helpful Austrian officials. I have chosen the topic, 'Care and Treatment of Handicapped Children in Vienna'. It's about as wide as I dare let it be, as policy changes from council to council in most countries and Austria is no exception. I'll have to spend most of my free time rushing round more officials next week, to make sure that I have drained most sources before I leave here. Unfortunately, the schools and handicapped centres don't open until September which means I won't have time to visit any. This also wipes the Sociology Department of the University off my list. I have also been to a 'therapeutic workshop' in Vienna.

Vienna, 15th August 

I've come up to Kahlenberg on the train and bus for some fresh air and a walk. It makes a change from sitting in my room looking at the four walls. But, now I'm here, I can't be bothered to get up from this bench and muster any energy.
I went to the 'Cottage Club', just up the road, for a farewell drink last night. Two of the restaurant staff are leaving; Lisa from the buffet and Jáçek, a Polish waiter. Lisa is studying anthropology and is going to join a 'dig' on the Yugoslavian border. Jáçek has got a rendezvous in Amsterdam with his girlfriend, who has been convalescing in England during the summer.

*****

Vienna, August 19th 1976

The gift of choice

See, if it were another day,
We wouldn't think of it that way.
We wouldn't feel the aches and pains,
The striving for our hard-earned gains.
We wouldn't judge the morning so;
As, rising from our beds with - oh!
such weariness in every limb,
and no desire to start again;
cursing the morning and the day
for giving us so little say
in what to do, and where to go.
Whether to waste the day or no?

The gift of choice: granted to men 
who rule the world with buck and yen;
and children. Those, with nature sweet,
Who squander all their days complete;
Not realising that Fate stands poised
Equipped with work to replace toys;
And invalids, compelled to lie
and watch the sun creep through the sky;
Or the retired, that noble breed,
a race apart, going to seed.
Spending the day long reminiscing.
'Our Golden Past', though none may listen.

And still the ants all scurry by
Monsieur Grasshopper's lullaby 
to Life's deception. Can it be
he's letting down the community?
A day's work done is food for thought.
Yet, is work all that we have sought?
And, if we let the labour lie,
Living today now; showing by 
our 'laziness' that we all do truly exist
and all may share the thought of bliss,
seizing our freedom on this day,
following no pre-ordained way;
And if, today, we each could feel
the other's release from so much toil
A new solidarity would be
the common strength, for you and me.

*****

At work, Vienna, August 22nd 1976

I wanted to write a flowery line~
about this dreadful summertime;
when, all the time, it rained and rained
and kept me at my books again;
And no-one here to talk to me;
To make me feel, at least, assured
that I was not apart, alone;
with nothing left but thoughts of home.
And this is why the flowers have died.
A flowery line? I would have lied.

*****

Vienna, August 23rd

The Spiral of Life

Turn, turn, on the spiral of life;
Darkness on one side while the other is light;
And there, at the top, a restricting blight.
No turning back for me.

Follow the spiral through the curve;
Memories behind me, mystery ahead;
The fire of  our bodies , flaming shadows against the night,
leave but a glow to greet daylight.

Safely comes the sun, the herald of the dawn.
All night's shadows suddenly are gone.
Knowledge certain 
is dimmed memory of time past;
A bad dream, a spirit at play.

One day, will I see it clear 
as shines the risen sun;
sweeping the shadows with its gaze;
making knowledge fact?

*******

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