May 10, 2010

Travels with Jeff

I have heard for years about the unrepentant anti-Semitism of the Viennese, so Jeff and I were prepared to be on the "down-low" on our trip, despite traveling during Passover. What I wasn't prepared for, in both Vienna and Prague, was the enlightened attitude towards disabled people. As my Prague ex-pat friend (also Jewish) explains, "Even skinheads here assist blind people across the street and lift wheelchairs into the tram."
Everywhere we went, it seemed, Jeff was offered an unpublished discount. I believe the cashier at Křivoklát castle was asking, "Child?" indicating Jeff. "No, sixteen," I told her, pointing at the posted admission prices. Even so, she charged the "under-12" price for him. I came prepared with euros for our community Seder attendance, but despite being "post-Bar Mitzvah," the synagogue treasurer asked half-price for Jeff.

The Seder at Or Chadash was lovely, although long. The Rabbi led the service in Hebrew, followed by explanations in both German and English. I allowed Jeff to amuse himself with his Yu-Gi-Oh cards and toy horses. We were seated with a Viennese family with younger twin boys, who had lived in Boston for many years. I was growing more embarrassed by the minute as Jeff distracted the boys from the proceedings with his toys. At long last, I leaned over to the boys' mother in hopes of explaining our circumstances. She waved her hand immediately as if to say that no explanation was needed. (I found out later, she is a psychiatrist. She must have figured things out as soon as we sat down.)

There is a bit of a trick to traveling with Jeff in unfamiliar places. Unlike here, I don't have the advantage of casing the joint ahead of time. Who knows what objects of desire will hurl themselves in Jeff's path? I have come to steer us to the other side of the street if a hobby shop or toy store looms into view. However, a quaint, little music store in Vienna seemed like a safe bet. We had passed it several times while it was closed and when Jeff said he wanted to look for a gift for his guitar teacher, I acquiesced. To my dismay, Jeff immediately honed in on a display of miniature instruments. I confess they were adorable, but I explained to Jeff that even the smallest violin would use up all his spending money for the whole trip and then some. Just as I was considering how to maneuver Jeff towards the exit, the proprietress came over to assist us. "How much for the big one, or this one, or this tiny one?" Jeff was saying, unlikely to be deterred. But I heard a snippet of German between the woman and her husband that sounded like, " . . .the little one that's broken" and moments later she was pressing a tiny violin in a miniature case into Jeff's grateful hand. That four-inch fiddle turned out to be the most treasured souvenir of our visit to Vienna.

I have learned over the years, through bitter experience, to make our needs known. It's now instinct to insist on aisle seats on the airplane, a booth at restaurants, and to make note of closest exit in public places. What an extraordinary relief to be accommodated without having to ask.


JfS in IL said...

I am glad the trip , in this regard, was a success!!!

Delphine7461 said...

beautifully amazing wasn't it how people just sort of nodded and then quietly offered up "help" -- well written, as always.. and so happy that your adventure was so successful.