Alles Waltzer

Since beginning this journey I’ve been fortunate to visit pivotal capitals in world history: Rome, London, Sarajevo and now, Vienna. Pictured above is the Hofburg Imperial Palace, which served as the setting for this year’s International Atomic Energy Association’s annual formal ball. I do not exactly know how, but SAIS has managed to be invited to this event for a few years now. After a few months of planning, and some waltz lessons mixed in with our Waltz lectures, we loaded up a few buses and made a late night trek from Bologna to Vienna.

The great palace. A seat of power, and apparently a venue for a formal ball.

According to one of my professors, after Napoleon escaped Elba island in 1815 and made his triumphant return to France, the leaders of the great European powers, who were all in Vienna for a reason I cannot recall, met in one of the large rooms here. Thoroughly hung over from the night before, they discussed what to do about the impending threat to relative European stability and peace. Almost two centuries later, we arrived to add to the palace’s legacy, for good or ill.

Prior to the formal event, we attended a cocktail reception at an art gallery, mugged for pictures and repeatedly ooh’d and ahh’d over the suits and gowns we managed to put together on a student’s budget. With a bit of liquid courage in our systems, we made our way to the palace to rub elbows with the good and the great, or at least bump into some very well-dressed people on the ballroom dance floor.

The main ballroom was packed wall-to-wall with tuxedoes and gowns. We did our best to make our classmates-turned-waltz-instructors proud but it was very hard to gauge success given the crampt quarters. Exploring other corners of the sprawling palace, we stumbled upon room after room, each with its own musical entertainment. I saw a jazz trio in one room and live bands in another. It didn’t take long before we found that the basement (or what felt like one) was the dance party. It was a quick downward spiral from there.

Obviously there was much more to see in Vienna. Prior to the ball, I spent the day with some classmates exploring a museum dedicated to the history of globes (you’d be amazed at how complex a history that really is), and a museum dedicated to Esperanto, the short lived universal language. (There is a deeper story there involving a play that I will save for another time.)

The day after, once cleared the cobwebs and our ears stopped ringing, we explored more of the city, it’s museums and attractions. We even went ice skating at a pop-up outdoor market and enjoyed hot coffee and pastries in a corner café. For those of you in Chicago who will recognize it, I took a coffee at one of the original Julius Meinl locations. I raised my cup to the Windy City.

Like Venice, the whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind. This entire experience took place in just over 48 hours. We left Bologna at 9pm on Friday night, arrived in Vienna at 8am the next day, attended the ball that night, stayed out until daybreak on Sunday, explored the city, boarded the buses at 9pm Sunday night, and were back at our place of departure by 8am this morning. I’m exhausted, trying to read about international alliances while tapping my fingers in three-four time.