“Vienna & My Valentine”

The healthy days: from Germany to ball in Vienna, Austria …

It was late on a Friday morning and I was sitting at my work station taking big gulps of my morning cup of Joe. There wasn’t much work to be done, and I was feeling restless, adventurous, and romantic all at the same time. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Valentine’s Day was approaching, but I felt compelled to capitalize on the opportunity to celebrate my relationship against a European backdrop.

The idea was to devise an over-the-top weekend that had all the fixings of a quixotic adventure. But it had to be where two hearts could waltz within the confines of a splendidly romantic estuary. Where the cold could be ignored by the presence of picturesque scenery and imperial treasures. And where harmony sounds like Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. Quite simply, it had to be a Viennese ball and other assorted treats in Vienna, Austria.

I had my sights set on the Johann Strauss Ball at the Kursalon Wien in Vienna. Like most of my discoveries, it happened on Mozilla Firefox after too much German coffee and ample downtime.

“I’d like to take you somewhere for Valentine’s Day, honey,” I whispered to my wife, Kathleen, on the phone as I stood in the corner of the second floor hallway at work with my cell phone pressed to my ear. “I found something online that I think would be nice. We could get all dressed up for it and—”

“Sweetie, what are you talking about?”

“I’m going take you to a ball in Vienna,” I said.

With my intentions of waltzing in Austria with that special someone in my life on what is the most manufactured holiday back in America, I was sure to become one of the world’s great romantics. Not only that, but I’d have some recourse if ever I stumbled into a phase in my relationship where I became the victim of anti-romantic accusations. Wowing my lady by dancing with the grace of a swan and the confidence of a lion in a magnificent, historic building in Vienna, Austria, was going to be something I could use for a lifetime. “Remember that time in Vienna—on Valentine’s Day?” I could say. Would there be a better, more effective way to soften the heart?

Needless to say, she graciously accepted and we soon found ourselves among Vienna’s bitter cold winter air, the city streets exuding elegance and regality. We’d go on to visit all the noteworthy tourist sites, too, in part during the peak of a charming snowfall: the masterful Stephansdom, the outstanding Schloss Belvedere, and the glorious Schloss Schönbrunn. We’d also drink plenty of coffee and indulge in rich, tasty cake as part of our afternoon desert, and affectionately tackle two large Schnitzels at a popular touristy restaurant.

The presence of horse-drawn carriages, the spectacular opera houses, and the ever-present, magnificent architecture captured our attention in the most sophisticated of manners. The mood was set for what would be our very first visit to an official Viennese ball. We would presumably feel like a prince and princess in some of our finest attire. And I never thought I’d say this, but the thought of structured dancing amongst a bunch of European snobs sounded delightful.

I donned a dark suit with a white pinstripe shirt and a solid black tie; she wore a maroon gown with a soft pattern that complimented her beautifully coiffed brown hair. The color of my shoes was a slight mismatch to the rest of my clothing, but they felt comfortable. Kathleen’s shoes had quite the opposite effect, but she looked so darn pretty that even she didn’t mind the possibility of getting foot blisters as an even tradeoff. We took a taxi from our hotel to the event and were almost instantly enchanted by the grand atmosphere: luxurious chandeliers, a handful of young men and women sporting Mozart inspired costumes, and impeccably dressed patrons in dapper tuxedos and elegant ball gowns. As we made our way up and down the stairs and through the different Italian renaissance-like ballrooms, we couldn’t get in more than a few words to each other without cameras flashing in every direction. With a harmonious mixture of a glass of red for him and a glass of white for her, we made the rounds and got acquainted with the place like it was our job. Then she said it. And it just about ruined my mojo and took me off my game.

“Let’s go upstairs, babe, so we can get in one of those lessons for the Waltz. You’ve never done it before.”

“Huh!” I said. Surely I could figure out the Viennese Waltz on my own. I was savvy enough to get us to a ball in Vienna … on Valentine’s Day. Mimicking a few steps from Christoph the Casanova out of the corner of my eye on the dance floor wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t need to stoop to the lowly level of some beginner and put my reputation of being a natural at risk.

“Come on, babe. Let’s go.” Kathleen grabbed my hand as I stood there nearly frozen in fear.

“No need to start sweating now,” I thought.

Through much begging and pleading on my part, we chose the spot closest to the corner of the dance floor. Extremely anxious for some reason, I loudly announced, “Gimme a second, honey,” and weirdly turned around, bent down and started adjusting my shoe laces, which were already in perfectly-tied knots. “There,” I said, despite having done nothing of benefit. As I rose back up to a fully erect standing position, the music started. Perfekt. I turned and faced Kathleen. She had an excited look on her face, one that said, “I can’t believe my man is going to do the Waltz with me. This is so romantic.But there was one problem: the limited space. The dance floor area was so crowded with other couples that it was going to be difficult for me to find my range.

Kathleen quickly motioned for us to switch positions so my back would be to the dance floor, and then I gently yet firmly placed my right hand beneath her shoulder blade, while my left arm was extended along the line of the dance and holding her right. My feet were in the proper position, just under shoulder width apart, with my left foot slightly between her feet.

“Schritt, schnell, schnell, Schritt, schnell, schnell, Schritt, schnell, schnell … Drehen, drehen, drehen, drehen … Schritt, schnell, schnell, Schritt schnell schnell," the instructor was saying. I was off to a great start. Kathleen’s smile was getting bigger by the second. But then things changed. “Wait, my feet are all screwed up.” I was quickly becoming a disaster. I landed on her toes every other step and she was getting increasingly pissed off as a result. It didn’t help that I had a beat red face and was sweating like a newly-indicted Ponzi scam artist.

“Are you serious? What is wrong with you!” she said.

“I don’t know. My legs feel like lead.” She pinched my arm out of frustration.

We continued to move and made it look like we were doing the Viennese Waltz, but after a few more missteps and accidentally bumping into our extremely poised and good-looking neighborhoods for the second time, she had had enough. After throwing out an abrupt “fuck” and a “shit,” she was now doing the leading. I became the woman. It couldn’t get any worse. I sucked at the Waltz.

A few more minutes of embarrassment and I made a sneaky proposition:

“Let’s go get a drink and take a break for a bit. I promise we’ll go back out there and I’ll do it right.”

“Okay,” she said, thankfully. The only thing missing from the scenario was a slap across the face and a drink poured over my head.

Perhaps another glass of wine was all I needed. Or maybe it was being relieved from the pressure of having to perform under such scrutiny and instruction, among a bunch of experts posed as amateurs, which is the way I saw it. I had the basic steps down; Kathleen was more understanding over her second glass of wine, even elaborating on what I needed to do. We were comfortably chatting away like old friends. We even changed scenery for a bit, went to a couple of the other floors, and I gave her a romantic kiss on one of the beautifully decorated staircases. I don’t know what it was, but when I went back out there on the dance floor later on in the night, I was a different guy. I actually performed quite well.

“You’ve got potential, babe,” she said.

“Thanks, I feel much more relaxed now,” I told her. I was doing the leading this time, with an expression of contentment on my face and the lady I felt proud to be doing the Viennese Waltz with. I think she felt proud too, ‘cause I could see it in her face.

The ball was bustling that evening. It was at full capacity. But there was a moment, when we were out there on the dance floor for the second time—it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We were being swept away by the magic of Vienna on that cold February night. And it was a most romantic time in our lives.

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