In 1978, my parents, both second lieutenants in the Army, met in a mess hall in Nuremberg, Germany. My dad’s mess sergeant pulled my dad out of his office, dragged him down the “cafeteria” line, stopped abruptly, and said to the young woman in front of him, “Ma’am, I’d like you to meet my Lieutenant.” He stepped out of the way for my parents to meet, and, in my dad’s words, “There was Lieutenant Jameson: big blue eyes, big smile… and a big engagement ring on her hand.” 

Fast-forward seven weeks. These two are now engaged, and married within three months. According to my mother, my father stood her up on their first date, which was meant to be a sightseeing tour the day after Thanksgiving. According to my father, I was almost never born, because on their “real” first date, my mom reached over, fork in hand, to eat the last bite of apfelstrudel that my Dad had on his plate in front of him. 

I love that story. And I love it even more because my parents got engaged in Vienna on a snowy New Years’ Day; my dad spontaneously proposed in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, where they ducked in to escape the cold for a bit. When I first visited Vienna a few years ago, it was with my parents and a few relatives, and I made sure we found the Hilton and took photos. 

On their most recent trip back to the city of their engagement, though, they were visiting me, and we had a great weekend exploring parts of the city we missed last time around. The evening they arrived was a momentous occasion – Ghana was playing Uruguay in the World Cup, and I had to watch Ghana because they had to win this game and make it through to the semi-finals. My parents are not the biggest football fans, but enjoy the spirit of the World Cup (it’s impossible not to, living in Europe) and they knew how much I was pulling for Ghana. So, after walking around for a bit, we spent their first evening watching the game at a big venue in the city. The outcome was depressing, but watching with so many Ghana fans and even a few Ghanaians was pretty great. Plus, Mom was content sitting with a beer amidst plants, and Dad indulged me during half-time with lots of picture-taking. 

check out dad's shoes..

 

***

Schönbrunn Palace was the former summer residence of the imperial family (the Habsburgs), and its gardens, with its fountains and statues framed by trees and alleyways, are gorgeous. Meandering through these gardens on a sunny afternoon, Mom and Dad started reminiscing about me as a child. Apparently, when I was young, I was always trying to climb out of my crib. I always have had trouble staying still – and nowadays, I have trouble staying in one place for a long period of time. There’s just too much in this world to be confined to one corner of it. Am I right? 

 

After a bit of a hike to the top, we took a minute to enjoy the view. And before heading back down, we sat for a while for a few of the most typical Austrian treats: goulash soup, beer, and, my parents’ historical favorite: apfelstrudel.

they're pretty darn cute.

*** 

The Albertina is a beautiful palace-turned-museum that houses a tremendous collection of prints, drawings, and photographs. There are always several annual temporary exhibitions, and this summer, a Monet exhibit was one of them. Mom and I went to check this out while Dad spent a few hours sitting at an Australian pub nearby (because, clearly, that’s a better way to spend an afternoon in Vienna..). Actually, this turned out fine, because Mom and I met him there afterward and we all watched Germany beat Argentina :) 

Parrot Tulips by Matisse

I don’t know much about Pointillism, but I knew enough to recognize the painting above to be an example of it, and I’m becoming more and more interested in this technique of painting. Branching from Impressionism, Pointillism relies on the viewer’s abilities of perception to mix the colors in a painting into a fuller range of tones. I think what most intrigues me is how much the perceptive ability of the eye plays a role in how one appreciates and understands a Pointillistic piece of art. In some ways, it forces the viewer to take on part of the responsibility in internalizing a piece of art; interpretation is not going to just be handed to them. I like that. 

Later, walking through a Heinrich Kühn photography exhibit, I learned about his views on cameras: “The mechanical device has no more significance for the photographer than the brush has for the painter.” Interesting, no? 

*** 

Just about four years ago, on my 17th birthday, I celebrated with my parents and my good friend Emily in Prague by going on an evening boat cruise down the Vltava River. Mom, Dad and I decided to go on a similar cruise down the Danube Canal on Sunday evening. Quite the touristy thing to do, yes, but it’s hard to beat two hours traveling by boat down a famous body of water. Good conversation and relaxing ensued, and I saw parts of Vienna I hadn’t seen before. 

 

 

 

*** 

I had to go back to work on Monday, so I sent them off to explore on their own. We met back up in the afternoon before their flight, and they had a chance to meet my editor, Dardis. We all met for coffee at the State Opera House, and everyone got along really well. (Dardis has lived in Vienna for fifteen years but is originally from northern New York; when she and Mom started dropping names of cities and places that only those from northern NY would know, Dad and I started raising eyebrows at each other.) 

I sat there trying to figure out why exactly it’s so fun to chat with strangers who happen to be fellow Americans in foreign cities. The three of them by no means sat reminiscing over what they were nostalgic for in the U.S., but there was a certain bond created by the fact that both Dardis and my parents are expats who have lived, by choice, in Europe for the past several years. A generation younger, I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation when it turned to social security, kids’ passports, and holding bank accounts in different countries. But I did take a moment to wonder where I will fit into these kinds of conversations years from now – will I still split by time between the U.S. and Europe, whether for school, family, or work? Who knows. 

All too soon, it was time to see Mom and Dad off. It wasn’t too hard saying bye to them, since I knew I’d be seeing them when I left Vienna (I’m taking a train to meet them in Garmisch for a few days, and then we’re driving back to Stuttgart together.) I was glad they had a really good time visiting. 

Personally, I attribute our quite enjoyable weekend to the very fortunate fact that Vienna has copious amounts of coffee and sunshine, both of which are vital in order to maintain the happiness of Dad and Mom, respectively. I doubt they knew that about each other on their first date though, and maybe not even by the time Dad popped the question in the lobby of the Hilton that snowy afternoon so many years ago. Then again, I also doubt that they ever imagined their daughter would be living and working in the same city they decided to spend the rest of their lives together, either.

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One thought on “vienna gets peter and alison back for a weekend.

  1. Natalie,
    I love your stories and all the memories you share with your parents! The pictures, too, are wonderful. I met your parents in 1980, when we both moved to Columbia, MD. Your Mom and I played on a recreational soccer team!! Please tell them I said hi! Glad to see that you are doing well and enjoying life.
    Cheers,
    Lynn

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