When we were invited to take waltzing lessons, we were all in–even before the idea of going to Vienna for a ball was part of the equation. It was SO much fun! We were four couples for eight weeks or so, and we learned the waltz and the foxtrot. Waltzing is a lot harder than it looks, particularly for someone like me who is woefully out of shape. If you are doing it right, you have to stand really straight. You need to keep your elbows up. And you need to keep moving around the room! That was our biggest concern, how to keep moving. As it turns out, we did not need to worry.
We had been told the ball began at 9PM and we would meet in the lobby at 8:45 to walk to the Hofburg Palace. We were napping, reading, just hanging out in our hotel room when we got a text from Kevin. “Can you meet in the lobby at 8?” This was in less than half an hour. Neither of us had showered. “Sure,” we answered. Because what else could we do? I used some of Justin’s hair gel, tried to cover my nasty sun blisters with foundation, and put on my shiny ballgown. We were in the lobby at 8.
The rules for the ball are really strict. Men had to wear black tie, or Austrian military uniform. Not a blue tie, or a paisley tie. Black. I saw only one man who broke this standard, he was wearing a long intricately embroidered coat, it looked Indian to me, and it was astonishing. Despite the monochromatic dress code, the men looked amazing, particularly those in our party!
Women must wear floor length dresses. And this is not a suggestion. When one of us was coming down in the hotel elevator, a woman got on who had been refused admission. She was going to change into a longer dress and head back.
The ball/not waltz was not at all what we expected.
We walked from out hotel to the Hofburg Palace. Built in the 13th century, the palace was the home to the Hofburg Dynasty, and now is the official office and residence of the president of Austria. (The Chancellor is really the one with the power, but that’s a history lesson for another day.) Walking in was such an exciting moment: We were surrounded by a crowd of beautifully dressed people; just inside, a display of cakes and pastries had been set up from the hundreds of participating coffee houses. Young men at each step handed us decorated fans. We proceeded up the grand staircase, trying not to step on our dresses–or anyone else’s.
I have never seen such gorgeous gowns in my life, not even on an Academy Awards red carpet. And we got to see a lot of them up close as we walked through the halls, past the main ballroom, past the next smaller ballroom and the next and the next until we finally found our table, in a small corner room. There was a screen, the size of the tv you probably have at home, set up in one corner on which we could watch the festivities live streamed from the main ballroom.
There were menus on the table and one waitress. We soon discovered that the cost of our ticket, $150 each, covered our seats (not complaining–it was more than some folks had! I saw even more gorgeous gowns as they walked through our room). Our dreams of limitless eating and drinking from tables laden with Viennese specialties died an expensive-wedge-of-brie-or-wurst death. Our dreams of waltzing were soon to join them.
Oh, there was dancing. Like at a wedding. To a wedding-like band. With 4,000 of your closest friends. But alas there was no waltzing.
An addendum to the Cafe Pruckel story:
The beautiful Viennese sisters told us that they had always looked up to America as the shining beacon of hope and democracy–but that was over. They said they felt better knowing that only a minority of Americans support *potus, and that, as with Brexit, the vote was stolen, unduly influenced by malicious lies and propaganda. As we stood to leave, they said how very glad they were that they chose to sit at our table, that they had been drawn to us. They could not figure out how to translate “magnet.” I may have shed a couple of tears.
Next, somewhere in a dumpster in Zurich and why it has taken me seven days to finish this post.