“The Locals”

It seems like a no-brainer to say that you haven’t really
visited a place if you don’t have at least 2 or 3 nice, long conversations with
someone who is from the place you are visiting. 
But I think it happens fairly often. 
There was a danger of this in Vienna — traveling alone I get much more introverted
than when I have a companion, and I nearly went a whole day without having a
conversation with anyone.  But by the end
of my visit I ended up having a bunch of interesting ones. 

There was the hipster in the subway station who had just
been to a Johnny Cash tribute concert (which I had attempted to attend but been
way too late, and which he said was pretty lame considering that the singers
couldn’t shake their Austrian accents – think “I Valk De Line”).  We started to get into some really
interesting stuff – what makes Austrians Austrian and all that – but I had to
get off the train.

There was Mali, the warm and articulate host of the
Judenplatz Museum, who told me all about the Jewish community in Vienna and why
she thought they were worse than the Germans. 

Then there is my bunkmate Peter on the sleeper car from
Vienna to Rome.  We talked for a long
time about the Austrian national character, history, and some politics.  (I’m telling you, ALL the Europeans dislike
Bush.  They think rationally over here.) 

The conversation turned to World War II, as it seems all
conversations about history and politics eventually do on this continent.  Peter’s father was sent to the Russian
front.  Peter’s grandfather was secretly
a Nazi, had been injured in WWI also fighting the Russians, died in a Russian
camp after he came down from the hills where all the people in their town in
Austria were hiding from the occupying Russians.  He wanted to see what they had done to his
house.  Peter’s mother, 16 at the time,
had barely escaped being raped by a Russian soldier when her 9-year-old cousin
stood in the soldier’s path and would not move.

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