Where I live in the number one city, there is rarely peace. If next door neighbour’s loathsome little Hund is not reminding the street every five minutes during daylight hours that it can bark, then the neighours but one are in their garden speaking as if everyone in the family is hard of hearing (which they might be). To make matters worse, they also have a wee bastard of a canine which sounds like it is ejaculating thirty times a day (which it might be). And then there are the children. Being children but with a tendency to bellow even in the most of benign interactions. That said, if you heard the parents you would understand why. Their incessant discourse is a cacophonic jumble delivered in tones designed for the nose and executed with the speed of a badly oiled washing machine set to spin cycle. It is a discourse of impending Armageddon (which it might be) although I can’t be sure because the language is incomprehensible. Like a mix between someone talking backwards to the Alien doing an impression of a disagreeable, toothless crone. But whatever they are muttering, it doesn’t bode well. It could either be whinging, argument or conflict. But I think mostly whinging and conflict.
The weather does not help. Unless it is raining, snowing, very windy or below 10 degrees, both sets of tonal troublemakers are fence side primed and ready. Polluting the environment with their exaggerated sense of social ambivalence. Pissing the world off and all the delicate living things that inhabit it nearby. Rendering the shared local space joyless and bereft of calm. And I wonder what I have really done to deserve this? Well, there are a hundred things, but surely my atonement was complete when I made that pact with my mate Satan to move to the number one city in return for the acquiescence of my conscience.
Yet I really should love this time of year as the contours of summer take shape. It allows a return to domestic horticulture which is the pursuit I find most consequential after ensuring my children reach adulthood intact and meeting friends for beer and laughter. But because of the incessant noise I have begun to take issue with my immediate outdoors. So much so that I have even pondered what it might be like to live – gulp – in the country. Of course, I won’t. I have been there. And it would mean exchanging Vienna and its life quality for something less certain. Furthermore, people know all your business. Faced with another noise polluter, it would be almost impossible to conceal the fact that it was me with the industrial bull-horn and the speakers set up with the sounds of a werewolf. And so any move outside of the city to play a banjo and vote Conservative is about as likely as my generously proportioned German sausage eating archenemy next door developing a sudden interest in getting off his globulous arse to take his hairy creature for a walk (I am talking about his dog).
Life quality is a nebulous subject inescapably rooted in context. Here I am writing about an annoying dog when a billion people in the world have no food. This abject unfairness of this fact does not elude me. And it is existentially shaming to think that there have been moments in the past year that it might have. Yet the construct of life quality and all its assumed facets (civic institutions which function) is nothing, at least in passing moments, when faced by the divisiveness of a poorly adjusted git intent on societal mischief. And remember there is a certain class of dog owner who seemingly excels in creating discord because that is what they do. But to resist the path of introspection takes discipline, maturity and the constant reminder that there really is a bigger canvas that demands our attention. So what can you do?
In dog relations there are, broadly speaking, three things. Firstly, speak to the offending neighbour and reach a compromise. It is possible that you will receive a sympathetic ear. But given such owners allow a nuisance dog to impinge so blatantly on neighbourhood serenity in the first place, then there is probably more chance of getting sense out of the guy who travels the Vienna public transport system dressed as a naval officer, swigging red wine.
Secondly, you can fight back. This then becomes a war of attrition. The dog barks, you bark. The dog barks, you blow a whistle. The dog barks you pull out your specially adapted sonic taser and wake up the next district. Such an approach is perfectly fair but escalation is guaranteed and the outcome unpredictable. And worse you feel like an impotent, irrational freak. Succumbing to your dark desires to inflict discomfort but instead a realisation you are at best an angrier imitation of the James Hunt next door. Which leaves one true path. You must seek enlightenment from Buddha.
I am not sure if Buddha ever visited Vienna. No wait, that’s not true. There used to be a bar named after him. In any case, I am not sure modern Wien would suit him. I don’t like to characterise a group of people with cheap generalizations and it is not the fault of the Hungarian diaspora that they blame everyone but themselves for their woes, but patience is not a strong facet of the Viennese character. The reason for this, I believe, is that most are smokers or ex-smokers which means in spite of the laid back attitude to life, everyone is always on edge. In short, Buddha would have his work cut out.
Then again, there is a chap I know quite well in Vienna who radiates calm and serenity, a state I assume is attributable to many years studying the art of Zen. He once told me that the best way to fight, is not to fight although as I pointed out, he does have a black belt in full contact karate so he would say that (I am highly trained in covert, strategic ironing). Changing the behaviour of people is largely impossible, he reassured me (this came from a person who had been a management consultant). It is a waste of “Chi” ( energy) and you are simply better off changing your own situation or changing how you perceive the situation (don’t worry readers, all of these conversations took place sober). In other words, don’t get angry, don’t even get even, just accept, move on or shift your threshold of tolerance (and I suppose the “good life”).
So if you hate your boss, leave your job, learn to love him or take his job. If you hate your city, leave, become empowered and change it, or frame it with a different set of perceptions which allow you to focus on what is important, and then appreciate it once more. It is not an act of repression of the instinct, rather acceptance and letting go. It is not a climb down in any sense but a climb up. It is not assuming the crushing reality of defeat rather a chance for intellectual and personal liberation – victories in every sense. A small dog is a menace but as Buddha would say, “Leave it, Bobby, ee ain’t facking worth it!”
And tolerance is our buzzword. Especially In the week that same sex lights appeared on some Vienna pedestrian crossings. A sixty-three thousand Euro experiment in promoting respect for all human constellations and an attempt to reduce jaywalking (according to the Green Party behind the project). This is political spin in all its glory but what a marketing coup for Vienna given the media coverage. In any case, regular devotees of the captial of camp – this and next week – will know that the locals are famous for waiting for the green man (it’s always a man) even when there is no traffic. This is cited in every list about “How to be Viennese” (the usual recycled apocryphal observations belying little original thought). Of course, it is and it isn’t true. But I have seen offenders stepping out into the road and then bundled into the back of a government van by a secretive snatch squad known as Schwarzüberquerenpolizei (SÜP). Punishment is then swift and retributive as blindfolded wrongdoers are then strapped to a tram track whilst parties of schoolchildren hurl abuse and mouldy asparagus (pumpkin in autumn) as a tram thunders closer. I have applied for the job as Hauptkommissar but a small indiscretion on a train about twenty years ago and a brush with the long arm of the law seemingly invalidated my application. The curse of youthful high jinks and all-day drinking and a warning to you all.
Anyway, the weather has turned and my inner peace has regained some of its more youthful balance. Rain is promised. And wind. And some more rain. But, yes, of course! It is the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert in Schönbrunn. It rains every year. Every single steaming sodden year.
© RJ Barratt 2015