Pile Of Horse Droppings
18th century Vienna was the resplendent imperial capital of an empire, but with the collapse of the Habsburg dynasty, it was reduced to being the capital city of Austria. Imperial or not, Vienna retains its grandeur with the Stephansdom Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture at its center, and the numerous Baroque mansions that dominate the streets around it. Modern day Vienna has allowed cars, buses and taxis into its center, but on the narrow cobblestone streets, the fiakers, horse-drawn open carriages still reign.
Vienna is perfect for romance, and what can be more romantic than a ride in a fiaker. For tourists with lots of euros to spare, the fiaker will take you around the city center, out to the circular boulevard of the Ringstrasse, and back to the city center through the Schweizertor, the 16th century entrance to the Hofburg Palace.
A fiaker is driven by a bowler-hatted coachman, and drawn by two very magnificent horses. Unlike vehicles that run on petrol, horses eat and drink, and everyone knows what eventually happens to hay and water.
The cobblestone streets of Vienna are littered with horse droppings, but to the credit of the city government, they are not there for very long. A man on a motorized vehicle goes around scooping up the horse droppings. And every morning, a water truck hoses down the streets. The city government is well aware of what eventually happens to water drank by horses.
The Vienna International School was not exactly what M had imagined. She was having great difficulty making friends. And I was getting increasingly impatient with the lack of progress in the social department.
I was determined to speed things up.
M and I walked a great deal around the inner city, and we invariably encountered horse droppings. On the way home from from school, after a particularly difficult day for her, M had the most forlorn expression on her face.
Convinced that all she had to do was try harder, I suggested a couple of my very own bright ideas.
Mommy: What about sitting next to someone you know during lunch?
M: You have to wait to be invited.
Mommy: What about inviting someone to watch a movie this weekend?
M: I don’t know anyone well enough.
I lost my temper. And I started talking about horse droppings.
Mommy: Look, M. You were walking without looking, and you find yourself in a pile of horse droppings. Your two feet smack into a pile of horse droppings. I doubt you want to stay there forever. You either take a step forward, or take a step backward. Which is it going to be? You have to make up your mind!
M started to cry.
Mommy: And crying is not going to help.
I realized that she did not step into the horse droppings on her own. We put her there. My husband and I.
The next day, I was in school talking to the British Head of Year. And I recall the conversation going along these lines.
Mommy: I’d like to know what programs you have in place for new students.
Head of Year: Well, we ask everyone to help them get used to life in VIS.
Mommy: Can you be more specific?
Head of Year: The students take turns showing the new students into their classes.
Mommy: What about small get-togethers for the new students?
Head of Year: We don’t really do that.
Mommy: I guess I have to organize my own get-togethers.
Head of Year: I guess so.
No one was going to scoop M out of the pile of horse droppings. No one but me.
A couple of weeks after our arrival in Vienna, my husband was asked to go to New York to help with the UN’s Millenium Summit. We were still living in an apartment hotel out of our suitcases, and under ordinary circumstances, I would have gone ballistic.
But these were no ordinary circumstances.
M came home that day with the news that she had a conversation of more than one sentence with another girl who was not Nicey, the other new student.
M wore a white T-shirt to school that day. The T-shirt had the Gap logo prominently stamped on it. In big blue letters. The girl liked her T-shirt, and asked M where she got it. Unlike Tokyo, Vienna had no Gap stores, and for teenagers, it is so cool to be wearing what is not available locally.
I gladly packed my husband’s suitcase for his trip to New York, and as soon as he was on the plane crossing the Atlantic, I was shopping for M’s Gap clothes on the Internet. I was going to have them all delivered to his hotel. And M was going to have longer conversations with more girls.
I was also shopping for party games. I was going to show everyone how to throw a party.
My husband came back from New York with a suitcase full of Gap jeans and T-shirts. Every single one of them with the Gap logo.
If the world were perfect, we would have had a happy ending courtesy of the Gap logo.
But we do not live in a perfect world. We eventually had our happy ending, but I doubt that we paid for it with a credit card.
A month or so later, M did get herself out of the pile of horse droppings. By taking a step forward, not backward.