There are two ways up the two tall spires of St Stephen's Cathedral - on one side, ancient staircases numbering something like 700 steps for free. On the other, an escalator costing 10 euros each. My younger brother, in a burst of defiant teenage anarchism, decided to take the stairs. He got the exercise while my parents and I, drained after a day at the Belvedere and with more money than youthful energy, squeezed into a tiny circular elevator. We did so with another couple and a cheery Austrian elevator monitor, whose entire, literal job was to stand in the elevator and press the button up and down, letting group after group of tourists up to the observation deck.
It's been 3 months. I don't recall his face anymore. What I do remember are the small details - he had a ponytail and a blue T-shirt with a lanyard, he kept his walkie-talkie and a drink bottle in the tiny ledge running around the ceiling of the tiny round elevator, and he was genuinely cheerful as he ushered us to squeeze closer.
In the one or two minutes we spent between all shuffling awkwardly into the space and waiting for the elevator to close, and the journey up, he managed to make an elevator of strangers laugh, with wry observations about the close quarters. Again, I don't remember his words, but I remember the feeling he gave us, a bright spot to the day in the most unexpected of places.
It truly made me wonder, as I looked out from the top of the Cathedral, and across and down at the incredible view of Vienna. A big and burly guy squeezed into a tiny space and having to do the exact same thing for hours on end. I would have excused even the surliest of frowns, the rudest and curtest of words.
And yet he had chosen to smile.
"I have a great spot for lunch breaks," he said.
He most certainly did, even if it is caged in quite heavily. And, to be fair, I suppose if I spent my days transporting curious, mostly neutral tourists up to one of the highest points in Vienna and got to see their awed, smiling faces when they got back into the elevator to go down, I might be smiling a lot too.
A little perspective has that effect, I suppose.
St Stephen's Cathedral itself is every inch the stately European church you imagined, replete with stained glass-filtered light, the smell of incense and flickers of candlelight, and the low murmur of voices and shuffling feet that only seems to magnify how many people can fit inside at once. Inside is a microcosm of every single tourist stereotype you can think of but - most notably - the phones outstretched, screens shining like stars. Bemoan 21st Century cliches all you'd like - but this is our reality and there are some times when I can get a good photo out of it.
It opens out into Stephansplatz, the epicentre of Vienna's tourist lifein summer. As you round the side of the church, the smell of horses hits you like a wave - there's something they don't put on the tourist pamphlets though I don't mind the smell too much - and the full ridiculous intricacy of the stone carvings begins to be apparent. Next life aspiration: to have myself carved to the side of an ancient European church. And grow a magnificent moustache and beard combination.
It's perhaps the most cliche and overused word from the entire Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, but the strongest sonder I feel is when I'm a tourist with a camera, people-watching in a crowded public space. I watch people walk by with their myriad of languages and attires, and my camera captures a tiny clue for me to take back and ponder over, during my editing. How many photos have we been a part of? Where in the world are our faces stored? Long after we're gone, we may still exist - unknowingly - in the background of someone else's life and there's something I find kind of beautiful about that.
We walked towards Karlsplatz along a wide street, swathed in blindingly white buildings on either side and walked past your typical violinist duo, then an accordion player, drummers, opera singers, and one guy playing a sick electric guitar riff....on a broom.
I have it on video. It will be coming soon.