Updated: May 25, 2020
During World War II, Betty Smith published her famous novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The book was distributed to American troops overseas to help boost morale. It was so popular, they did multiple runs of the novel. Thousands of soldiers wrote to Betty, thanking her for the happiness it brought them. The coming of age novel reminded them of home and of their childhood. It reconnected them to a world they missed.
There is great power in the written word. It can be an escape or a shared human experience. It can save us from our own thoughts.
It is with this in mind, that I share this scene from my upcoming book with you. It is a day of travel, in a different time. It is a scene I planned to cut out because nothing substantial happens, in fact, I wrote it off as a bit of a bore. However, when I re-read it this week, it tugged at my heart.
What got to me was the beauty of its simplicity. It was the everyday interactions that happen when traveling that I took for granted, the ones that were so common it wasn’t worth discussing: Getting on a train, listening to a foreign language, planning activities and interacting with strangers. Now I appreciate everything about it. I want to wade in it.
Let’s escape together onto a train to Vienna…
We enter our bright and cheery train cabin, surprised by the semi-private accommodations. We were expecting the typical tightly placed row-upon-row of seats the four of us would have to squeeze into. The primary colors of the cabin's walls, benches and tables stack on top and beside each other like the wooden blocks from a child’s toy box.
Roland says “Hi” and we both wave to the mother and daughter we are sharing the cabin with.
Our ten-year old daughter tosses her backpack on a bench and lies stomach down and feet in the air. She flops into position in such a familiar way that you would have thought it was her bed back home in Canada. She grabs her book and without a word or a glance at us, immerses herself into it. She is relaxing into the constant changes that travel brings.
My husband, Roland and I heave the suitcases into the corner and exhale audibly as we offload our backpacks onto the bench beside them. I wipe the hair off my damp forehead and rearrange my disheveled shirt before turning my attention to our eight month-old son, Kymani.
I unbuckle the safety harnesses of his stroller and pick him up, stealing a kiss before plopping his sturdy, chubby body on a receiving blanket on the floor. I give him a plastic giraffe to occupy his hands and inevitably, his mouth. Kymani sucks and chews at the giraffe, letting it sooth his aching gums that are irritated by the two teeth trying to break through. His gaze is focused on the small TV in front of him playing a German translated version of The Princess and the Frog.
The young girl across from us rounds her shoulders and kicks her legs timidly while looking up at her mom with her impossibly blue eyes. Her soft yellow hair moves with the same ease as leaves swaying in a summer breeze. Her mom smiles, waves her hand and softly says a few words I don’t understand. The girl shoots her arms out in excitement, hops off the bench and moves towards the TV. Her energy shifts as she approaches, looking at us and Kymani for reassurance that she can join the fun.
“Bitte, bitte,” I say with an exaggerated smile and a gesture of my hand to welcome her over. I smile at the mom and then back at the girl.
She cautiously sits down beside Kymani, watching him carefully. He doesn’t acknowledge her presence, eyes glued to the screen.
The girl tilts her head and angles herself slightly in front of him. “Halo,” she says in her thick German accent. She gives him a small wave and a light touch on his shoulder. When she receives no response from Kymani, but the zombie-like glare of a child in front of cartoons, she looks at me. I smile and shrug as if to say kids will be kids but my German is non-existent, so that’s the most I am able to offer. She smiles quickly and turns her attention to the screen.
The train jolts and a barely audible high pitch screech fills the air as we are propelled forward. I glance out the window as the concrete platform of the station disappears slowly. Goodbye Prague.
I swipe my phone open and find the travel itinerary I had been working on for our upcoming week in Vienna. I want to use these couple hours wisely and nail down our plans.
“I absolutely need to go to the Belvedere museum to see the famous Klimt painting The Kiss.” I say to Roland and Josephine scrolling through my list.
“Josephine,” I say, urging her away from her book. “Is anything I mentioned at the station of interest to you?”
“umm… yeah, the Spanish horse show and natural history museum sound pretty cool.” she says looking up at me momentarily before re-attaching herself to her book.
“ok, sounds good.” I turn to my husband, “Roland?”
“I remember when I came here in my early twenties, the Palace blew me away. We should go there for sure.”
The decision to include Vienna in our travels was heavily influenced by Roland’s memories of this city, which sounded like the workings of a beautiful dream. The former glory of the Austrian Empire is exhibited in the pristine, intricate buildings; every piece of architecture looks fit for nobility. The city is old-money through-and-through, with an air of sophistication.
I am so excited to explore!