I Can Hear the City
by Jennifer Cornick
It is always a nice day for this walk, even when it’s raining or cold. There are so many stories to tell on this walk. Big ones and small ones. I start from just outside my apartment. I know, it’s where I start every walk but this one is my favourite of all of them, and so, I shall start it from my favourite place: home.
I turn the first corner and peek into the shoe repair shop run by a bent over Belarussian man. Sometimes I can see him through all the keys, shoe shine, and laces working at one of the machines. The only language we have in common in German. Mine is broken and useless and he tries to fix it every time he sees me. Much like the shoes he repairs for me. I wave if I can see him. He usually waves back.
The street is tree lined and not busy despite the bus which runs up and down it every ten minutes or the taxi stand near the corner. The tops of the neoclassical and rococo buildings sail above the verdant green leaves, ornaments and figureheads stuccoed onto every possible surface. Women dressed in yardages of flowing silk, the faces of saints, and cherubs look down at me, through the foliage, as I walk. It is a bit like a fleet of sailing ships on a pleasant green sea, and I am a small fish passing by. Rising far above these pleasant, ornamental yachts are masses of concrete in the park. Their grey facades like a menacing warcraft carrier. These were machines of war once. The Flakturm. The setting for Hitler’s pearl; the noose of Vienna. Now these ones are the city’s art storage and children play in their shadows.
Cross the street. Careful not to get hit by the bus. Where I used to live bus and pedestrian accidents happened all the time. Into a smaller park. A much smaller, much sunnier park. This is where a woman, dressed in the latest designer clothing, digs through the charity clothing bin, every day. Around the corner and up the street, past my hyper local soap factory. They make a soap scented like the river for which this city is famous. It smells like kelp, algae, and too much sunscreen. Past the restaurant which only serves bread and wine on holidays.
Take a quick look across the street and down a tiny alley way to see the man in the wheel chair with the gravelly robot voice who tells all passersby his leg is missing. Sometimes he is at the mall at the end of the street. Sometimes he is outside of the organic grocery store. Once, in the summer, he accidentally saw my underwear when my skirt blew up because of a blast from a subway air vent. He waves at me when he sees me now.
Down the unremarkable high street, but you go slightly faster because it is downhill. Past the mall and over the bridge where four giant white troll noses stand sentinel. They are supposed to be lemur heads, according to the famous artist who installed them. His gravestone in the central cemetery is a pink twisted tube which looks like a worm. He also said art was in part the conversation between the viewer and the art, the artist standing outside. So, I imagine the conversation I might have with these pieces. I say hello to the troll noses and tell them I only think they are troll noses because they are on a bridge, which is a logical place to find them. Then I think the artist is likely laughing at me and the rest of the city because he managed to convince them to put these statues on the bridge and let him have a giant worm as a headstone.
Past the park, across the street, past the theatre where I only ever go to see David Sedaris. Past the strip club and the Catholic mission with a picture of the pope outside. The new pope not the old pope. The streets are twisty and quiet. Often requiring you to take a sharp turn at a fountain or you will find your route blocked off by an unexpected baroque church. I navigate almost exclusively by the tallest church spire which means I miss some of the smaller ones as I try to get into the city center.
The crowd of people is there. And only right there. I push through the people gawking at the large attraction to see something smaller. A glass case on the side of an expensive jeweler holding a nail tree. According to tradition, driving an iron nail into the tree brought good luck. I just like looking at the nails from across the centuries. There are some from the twelfth century all the way to the fifteenth century. The tree likely died then, from being mostly nails and very little cellulose.
Up through the second square, attached to the first. This used to be the church yard, the town cemetery, a plague ditch, and a hotbed of prostitution. The nymphs, as they were called, parading their own wares outside the shops. There is a costly linen shop which, according to reports makes the bed sheets for the crowned heads of Europe. On the sign for the shop there is a picture of a girl in an old-fashioned dress, I like to think she is one of the nymphs.
Turn left at the fanciest grocery store I have ever seen. Down to the Roman ruins. I look down into the pit filled with old bricks and people’s change. There is a sign which tells me part of the ruin is an underfloor heating system. I wish I had underfloor heating. I hate wearing slippers.
Down the street, past the city home of one of history’s most notorious murderers; the woman who forms at least a third of all vampire legends, at least the good ones. They say the first murders occurred in the house. Likely, those were performed by a doctor offering blood-based medical treatments. Which were the height of science in the fifteenth century. I read about it in a book last week. The same book also told me Pope Innocent the VIII had three youths completely drained of blood throughout July of 1492, to stave off death. He died on July 25, 1492. The book also said he likely drank breast milk, straight from the source, to preserve his vitality.
Back through the twisting winding streets and out to the road one emperor paid more for than a war. Back through the park. Past the statue of Schumann, who always reminds me of Schubert and then I think of Brahms who slept with Clara Schubert when Franz was locked away in a mental health sanitorium. Franz took his own life after he was released, not because of the man who wrote the lullaby I listened to as a toddler but because of the voices he heard, constantly.
Past the statue Bruckner, the man who only proposed marriage to teenage girls because they were most likely to be virgins. He said they were less likely to be carrying syphilis. Which, I learned recently, a lot of people had back then. Including the doctors who worked at the maternity hospital in the city. I was reading a book about Semmelweiss, the doctor in Vienna who pioneered handwashing to prevent mothers and infants from dying in hospitals and horrifying anonymous insult campaigns to affect change, they say he likely had syphilis from delivering so many women who also had the disease. He died in a mental health sanitorium, from sepsis.
Over a different bridge and under different art. Up the street where a more famous composer lived when he wrote a song which we all know. There is a plaque with flags. There is another plaque on the other side of this building. It is an ornately carved portrait and he was a professor. There are no flags though, so he is not as important.
Past the offices of Robert Galoshes, private detective. I wish I had a problem which required solving by a private detective. Past the various shop fronts which never seem to be open.
The two funeral homes across the street from each other mean I am almost home. Up to my corner and I wave at the Turkish man who runs the kebab stand. I see him every day but I do not know his name. We had one conversation, once, when I bought fries there. I marvel briefly at the bar, which is nearby and never open, because it has a sign saying it will be open tonight. Then I turn the corner and head back to my favourite place: home.