Sunday 5 September 2021

Abroad in the Season of Masks, Part 2


by Geri Lipschultz

Aperol Spritz

Here’s the story I did not write about our sudden gift of an excursion to Europe, a flight or flights, on tracks, both made for us and those which we’d chosen. Here’s the overflow, the negative space, the truth that came from the exhaust of a trip we didn’t ask for, yes, here’s the story I did not write, which is a list, an anti-story, not exactly a defiance of narrative but a moment, extended and vast but a segment, not a line, not even linear, upon which no craft can bestow beginning, middle, end…because we are hurtling forward, expansive in our or at least my ignorance of any sweet or sour premise/promise of narrative: here are observations that didn’t quite fit in and may never fit in but remain authentic, reportage at best: how grateful I was for those who were serving the public, who put up with us, in the trains and planes and hotels and restaurants, who put on that mask of civility, whether tired or scared or lonely, for example the young man, a member of the family who owns the Hawelka, a café well known in Vienna for gathering writers and artists and yes, celebrities, a café with serious history, and this smiling fellow greeted all the espresso drinkers and beer drinkers that drizzling Sunday morning, everyone at the outdoor tables, and he shared this with me, what the café had once been when the writers huddled together to keep warm, how one would speak and others would join in—in that very different time that was not this one—and I wondered where they were, those writers; I wondered what they would say about our time now; and yes, how could I honor the beauty of it all along with the—yes—guilt I felt for witnessing so much of this culture, this part of my/our planet even in its defiled state, along with the guilt I felt for not having had the time to review the intricacies, the background, the significance of the art and the architecture I would witness, neither the music; also I did not mention the various contrasts, including the terrific smell of sewage in Venice, nor how well dressed everybody there was; nor how I wore the same dress three times before washing it;  how though we on a very few occasions did walk into those stores, we could not bring ourselves to buy things—neither for ourselves nor anyone else; and how hard it was to catch the eye of others, except of course when they thought you were staring at them; just exactly how much on guard I really was, and why this was, which I suppose I didn’t mention because I’m still on guard, as we all are on guard; just how much in mourning I was, and similarly why this is, because I’m still in mourning, as we all are in mourning—as if we could capture all we lost; as if we could build again and blot it all out; but what is there to build again—but trust in each other and in our ability to love again and believe in the promise of our species when in fact our species has failed and is still failing and yet how we march on because there is no other choice; how sometimes I looked hard into the eyes of the masked children of fellow tourists, and how it seemed some of them caught my eye, too, how we smiled at each other, how I could feel my own lips in a smile, a smile no one could see, and how now I still feel the sorrow of that; how grateful I was for the umbrellas that shielded us from the rain when we were eating or drinking, because really I did not want to be inside any public dwelling eating or drinking without the mask—and how, walking around the next morning, I looked at those umbrellas in their folds drying out, as if they were exhausted, and I renewed my gratitude, though silently, for surely doing more than their share, more than they thought they’d ever have to do, for those rains were hard rains, they were incessant rains, they were killing rains, and I was thankful as well that we were not in those terrible rains; and between the rains and Covid, how the earth was trying to tell us something, and how we were not listening, especially in America we were not listening, and what was I to do, how could I change it, not to mention how loud it was when the machines cleaned the streets at 4 and 5 am daily in Salzburg, at least for the two nights we were there, and how the waves of sound bounced off the stone of the ground and the stone of the buildings and the stone of the mountains that were our witness, as my own ears and eyes and heart are witness—and how neither the mountains nor I can do much more than be

About the auhtor

Geri Lipschultz has published in New York Times, Ms., the Toast, Black Warrior Review, College English, The Rumpus, Pearson’s Literature: Introduction to Reading and Writing among others. She performed in her one-woman show produced in NYC by Woodie King, Jr. She teaches writing at Hunter College and BMCC. @alicebluegown1 





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