In my second-to-last post, I let it slip that I had been to the opera. In Vienna. The Vienna State Opera. (Can you tell I am feeling pretty good about myself at this moment?) My mother-in-law (also known as “Omili”) had invited the whole family to performance of “L’Elisir D’Amore” (which is Italian for “The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano Donizetti. It is not one of those operas that make you wonder if there are worse things than death (think: Wagner) and it’s not one with an aria that can make a prostitute cry (ala “Pretty Woman”), but it was a nice, if somewhat shallow, story. It was basically “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” . . . with a little help from a bottle of cheap red wine. What made the opera a success was the wonderful singer/actors who not only clearly gave their all, but who all seemed like . . . realpeople. The kind you want to have a conversation or a beer with and tell them how good they are. The kind who let the audience know that the long and exuberant applause they are getting really means something to them.
And then there were the historic surroundings. The impressive building that is the Viennese Opera House – finished over 150 years ago – in which an uncountable number of famous opera singers and audience members had since . . . engaged. Unfortunately, I only had a minute to take a few shots of the entrance and hall – the boxes, the ceiling, the cool monitor in front of me,
and the empty seat next to me . . .
The one my mother-in-law should have been sitting in.
But she didn’t make it to the opera that night – thanks to an instant of incredible bad luck on the way there – one of those “simply in the wrong place at the wrong time” accidents. The kind where you spend hours afterwards obsessing . . . “if we had only not stopped to go to the bathroom . . .” or “if we had only chosen a different route to the park . . .” But we didn’t. We chose the subway. That required us to change trains and the transfer included two steep escalators with one long hallway between them. We never made it to the second one, because the first turned out to be “la scala mobile della sfortuna” (which is Italian for “The Escalator of Bad Luck”).
An extremely rotund little lady standing one step above Omili lost her balance and tumbled backward. Omili was catapulted awkwardly backward too – but, luckily, my husband was behind her to break the fall. Still – with two hip operations behind her, the situation was scary. And painful.
We all managed to get off the escalator and helped Omili to take some careful steps to the nearest . . . nothing! There were no benches anywhere to be seen. No elevators to the street level either. Just that long hallway leading to the next set of escalators, leading to the next platform for the next set of subway trains, which all were obviously no longer an option . . .
Supported by a child on either side, Omili put on a brave face as we started along one of the long hallways in search of assistance. We tried to assess the extent of her injury and thought it was a good sign that she could take steps. Then I saw a subway worker up ahead walking toward us. He stopped to talk to the rotund woman who had caused our misery. When I reached them, I asked if a wheelchair could be brought.
“Do I look like I am an EMT??” he asked me arrogantly.
We stood there and I stared at him as the rest of my family reached us. My sister-in-law had heard his answer and laid into him in a polite yet assertive way that awed me. He quickly became more helpful and called for an ambulance.
The next helpers to arrive were the police. Well, actually one policeman and one police woman. We were now standing at the bottom of the up-escalator to the next platform. We chatted for a minute or two about the accident. The policeman then decided to go up and wait for the ambulance while the policewoman took down our information. She asked for my mother-in-law’s name and address, and then . . . she seemed to have come to the end of her repertoire. There was a confused silence.
“So . . . are you enjoying your stay in Vienna?” she asked.
Despite her pain, Omili laughed a bit and admitted that she had had better visits.
We all stood there in an awkward silence. Luckily for the policewoman, the commuters coming down the escalator toward us helped her out. One after another they saw her, breathlessly approached, and then reported “There is a groper up there!!” Or, “There is a man up there grabbing young women!” Six or seven people did this in rapid succession.
The policewoman seemed a bit confused. She asked us if we thought she should go up there, seeing as how the emergency services were on the way. We assured her that it was probably the right thing to do. She left.
Four EMT’s arrived very shortly after that, but they also didn’t have a wheelchair with them. So two of them left to go get one and the other two stood around and engaged in small talk. In the meantime, the policewoman came back. It seemed her partner had things basically under control up there. Another awkward silence ensued. Now that help was here, maybe she should go back upstairs to her partner, she said. We agreed that it seemed like a good idea. She said goodbye to Omili and added, cheerily:
Things ended up working out about as well as could be hoped for. Omili was taken to the hospital and checked out. Nothing was broken to everyone’s relief. She opted to stay the night there and insisted that the rest of us still go to the opera as planned.
When freak accidents like this happen there are at least three ways to look at it.
1) You can say it was just simply dumb bad luck. Shit happens. Or . . .
2) You can look for some reason why it happened. What brought this on? Or . . .
3) You can look for some silver lining. Actually we were lucky because it could have been much worse . . .
I am torn between options 2 and 3.
On the one hand, take a close look at the first picture at the start of this post. It is the unused ticket – Seat 13 in Row 13. Isn’t that a sign?
On the other hand, what if the fat lady hadn’t tumbled and we had made it up that second escalator and on to the platform where the groper was standing? And what if he had seen us? Then again, one of the witnesses had said he was grabbing “young” girls – so we probably would have been safe. Thanks to Omili, we will never know.