This morning I left Budapest, headed to Vienna. I’m flying out of the Austrian capital early tomorrow morning (9/11 — ugh), so had to get over to the city today. I didn’t have much time at all, unfortunately, but I did have the opportunity to pay a call to the European headquarters of Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law organization, and take my friend Andy Thonhauser, ADF’s director of external relations, to lunch. ADF does terrific, indispensable work for religious liberty in the US, but did you know they also work internationally? Vienna is their base.
Andy is Austrian, and Vienna is his city. I asked him to choose a restaurant for us where we could have a proper Wiener schnitzel, and a dessert mit Schlag (with whipped cream). Andy took me to Café Landtmann, a Viennese landmark. It was Freud’s favorite cafe. Mahler drank his coffee here, as did Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig. I could have sat there all day, to be honest. I got my schnitzel for sure, and washed it down with a cold local Helles:
You have seen above that I indeed received a slice of Apfelstrudel mit Schlag. Truly, no matter how doomy-and-gloomy I can get about the storm-and-stress of the world, nothing restores my inner harmony like good food. It’s the hobbit in me.
Speaking of Tolkien, how about this pipe I saw in the window of a shop (the one on the bottom):
It was so lovely that I almost wish I smoked so I could buy it and sit outside on a crisp autumn day puffing on it and drinking whisky. I didn’t notice until I saw the photo, but this pipe was designed with Tolkien in mind. There’s a whole line of LOTR-inspired pipes from Vauen, including this model. Any pipe smokers in this blog’s readership? Would it be difficult to smoke a pipe with such a long stem?
Oh, I forgot to mention that at the cafe, I met Andy’s boss Mike Farris, the CEO of ADF and a longtime hero to the homeschooling movement, and Kristen Waggoner, the top ADF lawyer who successfully argued the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at SCOTUS. They happened to be in the city on ADF business, and came by the table to say hi to Andy.
After lunch, Andy took me on a stroll of Vienna’s center. We stopped by the Capuchin Crypt, the resting place of Habsburg emperors, empresses, and high-ranking family personages since 1618. It was stunning to see the elaborate funerary designs on the tombs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Look:
Did you know that the Viennese have long been cultish about death? I did not until Andy told me during our visit to the Capuchin Crypt, when I was agog over the morbid aesthetics. Here’s an article about it. Mozart, the greatest Austrian, once wrote to his dying father, to cheer him up: “Death is the key to our true happiness.” Mozart was 31 when he wrote that!
We walked over to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the gorgeous Gothic heart of Catholic Austria, and I marveled over the priceless architectural and artistic gifts Europe has to offer to the church worldwide. The faith is in deep trouble on this continent, but nowhere in the world can you see the depths of Christianity made visible in stone and glass and color as in Europe. If you are a Christian believer, and visit Europe with eyes and hearts open to the immensity of the beauty that bears witness to the Age of Faith, it will deepen your own awareness of how we mortal creatures are immersed in holiness. At least I have found it to be so.
Andy and I said goodbye so he could keep his appointment with the dentist. I went off to buy presents for my kids. As I meandered through the center of town, I came across two noble dogs:
Eventually, I made my way back to the ADF offices to pick up my luggage — I’m so grateful to the staffers who offered to stay late so I could leave my bags there — and Ubered out to an airport hotel (my driver, Kevin, was a nice young guy who dreams of going to America to work, because he’s sick of being taxed to death, and driven nuts by Austrian bureaucracy). Now I have to figure out how I can pack my bags to get home the kids’ presents, as well as the honey, the apricot preserves, the chocolate, the books, and the DVDs that people I met along the way on these past nine days gave me. There is no greater gift than having renewed old friendships and made new ones. That, and to have been trusted by men and women who lived through some of the hardest days of the 20th century, to be a teller of their stories.
More later, when I have the time. For now, I’m going to approve comments and then go off to bed — gotta be up before daylight. I am eager to return to Vienna, when I have time to explore at length the city of Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth. Andy gave me a book that features facsimiles of Zweig’s handwritten letters. If you haven’t read Zweig’s 1940s memoir The World Of Yesterday, you’re in for a melancholy treat. And Roth’s novel of the decline and fall of the Habsburgs, The Radetzky March, is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I wish I had brought my copy to read on the long flight home.