Sketching Austria: Marble top tables and magic in a Viennese coffeehouse.
“He who prays and sings in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness…through him the sparks which have fallen will be uplifted.”
– Annie Dillard
It’s a Monday afternoon in Vienna, Austria, and I am sat at a marble-topped table, sketching my fifth café in this city – Café Leopold Hawelka, named after its beloved owner who passed away in 2011. I finished my Wiener melange hours ago, literally, but the two waiters – a pair of bow-tied men named Michel and Morris – don’t seem to mind that my sketchbook and I have stuck around for so long.
The fact that it’s acceptable to linger for hours in a Viennese café was one of the things I loved most when first learning about the city’s famed coffeehouse culture. But there were other traditions I discovered as well: the marble top tables, the daily newspapers bound in wooden poles, and the little silver trays each coffee is served on, always with an accompanying glass of water.
This attention to detail is what I found so mesmerizing about the tea ceremony in Japan – the way that something as common as a cup of tea (or in Vienna’s case, coffee) is made almost sacred, transformed simply by giving it a little more time and care.
It’s also an idea that Annie Dillard discusses at the end of her book, For the Time Being. Quoting Martin Buber, she writes:
“Here and now, presumably, an ordinary person would approach with a holy and compassionate intention the bank and post office, the car pool, the God-help-us television, the retirement account, the car, desk, phone, and keys…‘He who prays and sings in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness…and in holiness reflects upon his business, through him the sparks which have fallen will be uplifted, and the worlds which have fallen will be delivered and renewed.’”
Seeking the holy in the everyday – the magic in the material, you might say – is what has kept me in Vienna longer than I expected to be: lingering in café after café, feeding my new addiction to Wiener melanges on silver trays, and reveling in routines made reverent.
I have a feeling Mr. Hawelka wouldn’t mind either.
Travel sketch postcards:
Don’t forget I’m sending one reader a watercolor postcard after each new sketch story is posted. All you have to do is leave a comment on a post, and by the time the *next* sketch story is up, I’ll choose a random winner from those who have commented – big congrats to Hannah for winning the latest postcard!