For whom the bell tolls

Vienna has a lot of churches (the saying is that there is one for every day of the year).  And those churches have bells, and the bells are rung a lot.  It’s actually one of my favorite parts of living in Vienna — hearing those bells ring every day.  We’ve gotten accustomed to the regular schedule of church bells — many ring at noon every day, one nearby church rings at 5:45 each evening, another (a little further away) at 7:00.  And then, on Sundays and on the major church holidays, there are extra bells, before and after the church services.  (We’ve gotten so used to the “regular” schedule that I always notice when there are more than usual.)

And then, this evening, shortly after 7:00, the bells started — all over the city, from all of the churches — and they didn’t stop.  They kept ringing, and ringing.  After about 10 minutes, Jo and I noticed and commented.  About 10 minutes later, we figured out what they were celebrating — there must have been a new pope elected.  The bells in Vienna rang for over half an hour, celebrating the selection of the new pope.

Living in this city, where the music of the many church bells has become commonplace (if no less magical), it seems perfectly appropriate to have learned about the election of a new pope by hearing the bells chime with such enthusiasm.  The news spread from the Vatican to Vienna and then to the people by the sound of the bells.  It is a moment of my history here that I don’t think I will ever forget.

First prayer

It was cold here today — not cool, cold.  Our high was 14 Celcius, it varied between rainy and drizzly all day, and the wind went from a strong breeze to “Oh dear, what was that?!?”  If you had been plopped down in Vienna today, you would absolutely have believed it was April if that’s what you’d been told.  (I was thrilled, actually — I think it’s beautiful weather, and a real treat to have in July, especially after the heat we’ve had lately . . . but I think it may have been a bit too much for our fair-weather-dwelling houseguests.)

Today was, however, our first planned day of sightseeing with our visitors.  They arrived Friday, we did our “chores” yesterday, and today our plan was to see two of the most essential sights of Vienna:  St. Stephen’s and the Hofburg.  Well, it rained and it was cold.  We went anyway.

We went to St. Stephen’s.  We had planned to perhaps do a tour or climb one of the towers, but Dan’s parents weren’t really interesed in the tour and the weather didn’t make the climb in the tower sound too inviting, so we were just going to explore the cathedral on our own.  Of course, when we got there, the cathedreal wasn’t available to visit, but we still were able to wander around in the entry area and get to experience the beautiful church a bit.

It is amazing inside.  It’s huge, and beautiful, full of statues and stained glass.  It smells like incense and it’s just the right amount of dark and mysterious.  There are basins of holy water in the entrance and there are prayer candles in the nooks and alcoves — Benjamin was fascinated (as he was the first time we went, on Easter).  He really wanted to see the candles, so I took him to look.  He asked about them and I did my best to explain.  He asked if a prayer was like making a wish, and I told him that it was — that it was making a wish for good things to happen for people that you love, and that you tell it to God so that he can help you make it happen.  He wanted to make a wish, so we purchased a candle and lit it.  He wished for, “All the people that I love to be happy”.  (I am amazed by him — by his kindness and his understanding.)

And then he asked me if he could blow the candle out, and I had to explain the difference between a prayer candle and a birthday candle.  He seemed ok with it.

On the way home we walked past the Hofburg, through the Volksgarten, past the Parliament and the Rathaus and back to home, where we stayed for the rest of our rainy and cold afternoon.  To me, it was a lovely Sunday, but I’m not sure we did a very good job as hosts and tour guides.  That’s ok — we have 7 more days.

Church bells

One of the best things about where we live in Vienna is that we get to hear church bells ring every day.  They ring at noon and 5:45 p.m. every day, and then on the weekends they also ring just before 9:30 in the morning.  (I find the times themselves a little random, but I’m guessing it has something to do with church, and if I actually went, I’d probably know.)

We are within hearing distance of at least three sets of bells, maybe more — I’m not even sure which ones I’m hearing at which times.  I absolutely love to hear them, and I’ve already grown accustomed to telling the time by them.  The boys are usually down for their naps by the time the noon bells ring, and Dan gets home right after the bells ring in the evening.  On the weekends, if I hear the morning bells and I haven’t gotten myself in gear to get some things done, I’m probably running late.

Some days, my routine with the kids feels so familiar, it’s actually easy to forget how far from home I am.  No matter how wrapped up I get in my day, I hear the bells and I stop what I’m doing for a moment to listen.  Although I’m used to hearing them, I don’t take them for granted (yet).  They’re magical to me:  anachronistic and yet so perfectly appropriate, so much of Vienna.  It’s like snow on Christmas — it belongs, but its belonging doesn’t diminish your delight when you find it.