by Kung Fu Zu 8/1/15
It is good to be young, especially if you are healthy and have a little money. Such was my situation in the winter of 1973.
As my first semester in Vienna was coming to an end, my parents as well as an aunt and uncle flew into Austria to visit me. Vienna is an ideal city for tourism as it is full of history and culture. Most of the important historical monuments, as well as cultural institutions, are located in a compact area around the Ringstrasse. This is the circular road build on the ground where the old city wall once stood.
I was able to play tour guide, showing them the highlights of Vienna and its environs. I took them to Stephansdom, the gothic cathedral underneath which Mozart’s bones rest. We saw the Opera, the Kunst Historische’s Museum, (art history museum), and attended a concert at the Musikverein, the home of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra. We walked the streets of Old Vienna including Stephansplatz and the Graben, later stopping for a coffee and Sacher Torte at the famous hotel itself. One could imagine Holly Martins and Harry Lime lurking around the corner. We changed pace and ambiance by dining at the Donauturm, (the tallest tower in Austria) with friends I had made while studying in Vienna.
As I wanted to show my family something of the countryside, we rented a car and drove to Moedling, where we ate different wild animals, it being hunting season. Finally, we drove to Mayerling where the Crown Prince Rudolf and his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, died in a murder/suicide, the results of which were far-reaching. On the way back to Vienna, we drove through a country town and were lucky to see some of the locals in costume as Krampus (a devilish figure) and St. Nicholas. I cannot forget their reaction as we, clearly foreigners, stopped and got out of our car. Krampus had been making a racket trying to act fearsome, but the moment we pulled out our cameras, he stood up straight with pitchfork in hand, like a soldier “called to attention.” It was quite humorous and charming.
After Vienna, my parents were to fly to London. The day before they left, my father and I were talking together in my dorm room. He was clearly happy with the visit and impressed that I had been able to get on well enough to travel through Austria and interpret for them. Since this took place a few weeks before Christmas, he pulled out his wallet and gave me $400 as a Christmas present. I was very surprised, as $400 in 1973 was a lot of money. Obviously, my father was pleased with my progress in German. He knew a gift of cash would enable me to make the best use of my time in Europe by traveling. After all, it is not every day that a 20 year old is living and studying overseas. When this is the case, one must take the opportunity to see the world, because the chance may never come again.
With $400 in my pocket, I could now visit English friends I had met in Goettingen while studying German in that city. On the way to my friends, I could meet my parents again in London. These plans were confirmed and my parents were off the next day and few days later, so was I.
I took a flight to London and arrived at Gatwick, the older international airport serving London. From there I took a train to Victoria Station. I hailed a cab and told the driver, “Inn on The Park Hotel”. Off we went, and it took just a few minutes for us to arrive. The cab fare was only 50 pence (about US$1.20 at the time), which I thought rather small so I tipped the driver another 50 p. He expressed his thanks in a most fulsome manner.
The cab door was opened by a giant, who must have been at least 6”5” tall, who was sporting an enormous top hat. He offered to take my small case, but I demurred. He opened the hotel door for me and as I stepped in, I tipped him 50 p as well. Heh, I was rolling in dough. The doorman’s eyes lit up, he removed his top hat and thanked me almost as profusely as the taxi driver had. For the balance of my stay there, I never had to touch the front door. My top-hatted friend always beat me to it. I shudder to think what the reaction would be today, if I gave a 50p tip to a London hotel doorman.
I enquired at the front desk as to my parent’s room number. Having received it, I gave them a ring. Unfortunately, they were out, so I decided to sit in the lobby and watch the world go by. After all, it was rumored that Howard Hughes was staying in the top floor suite.
My curiosity was soon rewarded as in came Greer Garson. She walked over to the elevators not far from where I sat. I watched her as she stopped in front of an opened elevator searching through her purse for something. By the time she had found what she was looking for and started to enter the elevator, the door shut and almost got her nose. This surprised her and she jumped back slightly. As she did this she laughed and noticed I was watching her. She made a self-depreciating remark to me and I replied saying something, I believe, about being careful of one’s nose. She smiled and agreed with me.
We continued talking for a minute or two, until the next elevator arrived. As she entered, she said she had enjoyed talking to me and hoped I enjoyed my trip. I thanked her and returned the compliment.
It was a little ironic that I met Greer Garson in London, because she had married a rich oil man named Buddy Fogelson and they lived, at least part of the year, in my home town Dallas. There she and her husband were active in civic and philanthropic causes contributing large sums of money to, amongst other institutions, Presbyterian Hospital, which now has a Fogelson wing.
One often hears how rude and stuck up celebrities are, but I must say that each one I have ever met has been unfailingly polite and treated me with kindness. Of course, I met these celebrities many years ago and one suspects things might well have changed. • (895 views)