It’s a well-trodden cliché that travel broadens the mind.
But cliché or not, it’s true. Nothing blows away the cobwebs of complacent thought more than an exotic location, immersion in an unfamiliar culture, and the babble of an unknown language.
Or unknown time.
It’s Vienna, 1892. I’m sitting in a street café with my best friend, the part-time evil genius, iDifficult; we’re having a late breakfast, possibly an early brunch. The smells of fresh bread, sweet pastries and hot coffee from our locale are intoxicating.
This why we arrived at 8am - the best of the food is always within a half hour of it emerging from the oven. It will be several hours before we’re trampling our shadows. And right now, our shadows are sitting as comfortably as us, just a few yards away.
We got lucky with the weather, I note, sipping an exquisite cup of joe as I contemplate my first snack. Ordering this delicious spread was awkward with minimal German skills, but I think the waitress quickly got the idea we were hungry. And mercifully, with us dressed in immaculate morning suits and top hats, we at least looked respectable enough to pay for our meal.
Oh, luck has nothing to do with it, replies ‘Difficult, fishing in his breast pocket. He produces an obsidian yoyo, frowns, and dips his hand again. Aha! He waves a small ornate brass device in my direction, which seems to be grafted onto a length of seaweed.
Indeed. He smiles absently and gives the yoyo a few expert twirls. Its surface sparkles eerily with the stars of deep space. Taking a bite from a deliciously crisp bread roll crammed with butter and strong, gently-melted cheese, I decide to change the subject.
So, do we have a plan? My friend considers this as he tucks into his first cake of the day. It has cream and chocolate and nuts, and looks like it could kill a diabetic at ten paces.
Well, there’s some terrific museums and parks here, he muses, gazing distractedly at something on the pavement, and of course we could drop by in Sigmund Freud... His voice trails off, his attention still focused on ground level.
I follow his gaze, and slowly stop chewing and talking.
On the slate paves fifteen feet away, our shadows are out of synch with us. Mine waves his hands in an animated fashion, while 'Difficult's seems to shout periodically and scratch his head a lot. We watch for thirty seconds as this tableau unfolds.
Good gravy, are they playing charades?
My friend cocks his head while his silhouetted counterpart stands to begin his turn. With his arms held wide, he spins ominously, before descending and unleashing some kind of explosion.
Yeah, and I think I'm doing Independence Day?
Do they normally do this when we’re sitting quietly? Other shadows seems to be slipping further away from their owners to join the game.
Perhaps. I’ve never noticed, but we’re usually so busy! His consideration deepens. When we’re least active, we tend to be in a dimly lit room, watching movies while eating pizza.
He’s right, the evidence is inconclusive.
There’s quite a gathering of shadows now, each tenuously attached to its caster. Our doubles are both seated again, watching the shade of an artist from somewhere to our left act out the name of an opera.
Oh hell, I’m hopeless on opera, mumbles ‘Difficult past as the last morsels of the cake. I drain my coffee and eye up what looks suspiciously like an amaretto über-éclair. I sniff it experimentally; no, the strong scent of cherries suggests kirsch liquer. I pop it down and reach for some applestrudel instead.
Oh, I think that fella over there got it! The silhouette of a foppish fella to our right jumps up, dragging the darkness of his male companion with him. The two stand and appear to whisper, plotting their mime.
A double mime? Interesting... ruminates the evil genius, picking up the cake I’ve just abandoned. Hey, is this an amaretto éclair?
I shake my head, and the words No, cherry, die on my lips as the charade begins. Turning to 'Difficult, I whisper, This is a bit camp. And where did they get the cowboy hats?
My friend shakes his head, and then suddenly chokes on his éclair. Spluttering cherry cream, he wipes his mouth and finally manages to squeak, Good grief, are they doing Brokeback Mountain?!
I laugh easily, and after watching for a few more seconds I shout Home on the Range! at the assembled shadows. I receive some odd looks from the café’s flesh-and-blood patrons, but both of the mimers point at me with one hand while touching their nose with the other - Correct, Sir!
Some of the other shades then stand and, producing more cowboy hats, join their companions for a stirring, silent, chorus-line rendition of the wild west tune. There is thunderous mute applause.
I pick up the coffee urn and smile at ‘Difficult.
More tea, Vicar?
Ten minutes later, our feast complete, we settle our bill in broken German and head away from the café. Our shadows detach themselves reluctantly from their lively silent party, and snap back into step with us.
Well, that was interesting, I understate, as we pass through the archway to the Grand Park. To my right, ‘Difficult strolls along, once again playing with his yoyo. He offers a reflective Hmmm as he takes it Round The World, narrowly missing my top hat and a nanny pushing a pram. She starts and says something surprised in German. He apologises with a frown and a raise of his hat, and she then giggles and scurries away.
You know, I offer, considering my friend’s many eccentricities, it’d be an missed opportunity to visit Vienna in 1892 and not pop by to see Freud.
My friend scratches his short beard as he considers this proposition. Does he speak English?
Oh, I expect so, I cough, But I’m sure he’d be fascinated to have you on his couch even if he doesn’t.
Well, I’d love to ask him about his mother.
We continue our stroll through the park as our shadows shorten.
Travel does broaden the mind.
But time travel broadens, tenderises, rolls and roasts it.
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2011