Vicki and I spent Christmas 2006 in Baden, Austria, a half hour tram ride from Vienna. This was one of the few chances I've had to use the very (very!) limited German I know, really just some basic phrases. After arriving in Vienna in early evening, I managed to tell someone "Wir gehen nach Baden," and somehow got directions to the tram to our hotel. The ride was pleasant, and as it turned out the tram line ended in Baden. To our amusement, the tram line ended unceremoniously at a bush in front of an Italian restaurant.... Well, I guess you had to be there....
For some reason this beautiful water bird parked itself by a building on our way to the light rail stop near our hotel. On at least four occasions, at different times of the day, we came upon it standing as if waiting for someone or something. Perhaps it saw its reflection in the plate glass window. We'll never know, I suppose. Still, it was a wonderful and unexpected find.
This photo embodies one of the joys of travel, the unexpected meeting which leaves one with a wonderful memory. We met this mother and little girl in the train station at Kaifeng, an ancient city in central Henan Province. Such encounters cut through any presupposition or prejudices one might have, to reveal the beauty and simple joy humans are capable of, at least for a few moments. Both mother and child's reaction to Vicki and me seemed then, and still seems now, so genuine and in the moment, that it has stayed with me since we took this photo in 2008.
Armenian churches such as the one this column is found survived Mongol raids in the thirteenth century. Our guide, at one of these places, pointed to a hill high above us and said, "There, 800 years ago, a Mongol soldier on a horse, could be seen". Some of these churches were abandoned and fell into ruins centuries ago, others are still used. The floors of these churches are covered with worn stone panels where people, in many cases, whose names and identities will never be known, were buried. Yet the haunting beauty of such places cannot be denied, despite signs of decay brought on by the relentless cycle of harsh Armenian winter, spring rains, and scorching summer heat. Oftentimes, such places bring on a bittersweet melancholy, as the passage of time seems most palpable, our lives short and fragile in the light of ages come and gone.
Attribute all to the gods.
They pick a man up,
Stretched on the black loam,
And set him on his two feet,
Firm, and then again
Shake solid men until
They fall backward...
Wild of mind.
-Archilochus, 7th Century B.C., Translated by Guy Davenport
This is me, poring over a map. Just outside our window is the spire of Cologne cathedral. I suspect I'm charting the course to Lake Como, Italy, as that's where we headed next.
Howard Giskin is the author of
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