When the movie A Brief Vacation, Vittorio de Sica’s last film, came out in 1973, my friends and I all fantasized about being the heroine. Clara escapes her bleak and stressful life as the mother of three small children by going to a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Italian Alps. While there, she has a passionate love affair. When she is cured, will she return to the drudgery of her former life?
As a young mother of two kids under age three at that time, I fantasized about the ideal way to get away from the demands of little kids without guilt or shame – get sick but not too sick to enjoy the brief vacation. My friends and I also shared the belief that Clara returned to her children and her former life in the end. That’s what we would have done. We just needed to get away from it all for a bit.
I have just returned from my own brief vacation. At my age, there is a different set of worries and demands (grandmother of 8, daughter of a 90-year-old mother in rehab for a broken hip, and encore career as a blogger). But like the heroine of my young motherhood, I needed a break from the reality of my everyday life. In case you are wondering, I took this trip with my husband of 46 years and did not have a hot affair. And by the last day, I felt both renewed and exhausted and welcomed returning to “normal.”
So here I am back at the keyboard, jet lagged and up since 2:30 a.m. and reflecting on our whirlwind tour of Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. I saw enough palaces and learned enough about the Hapsburgs to make Downton Abbey look kind of shabby. I saw churches so ornate they took my breath away. I walked miles and miles on cobblestone streets and we took almost 800 photos, which are now haunting me as I contemplate what to do with them once I download them to my computer.
The surprising part of the trip was not all of the amazing sights that I expected to see. It was stepping out of my regular life to see a part of the world I rarely thought about other than in world history classes. It was learning about the ongoing chaos and strife in this region as boundary lines between countries shifted constantly, stranding people in new countries that did not reflect their heritage.
We arrived in Budapest on the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb. I knew from my history books that this started WWI, but I had no sense of what life had been like in this region under the rule of the Hapsburgs. Nor did I really understand how dominant the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been. I guess most of the history I learned focused on the good old US of A.
It was also amazing to gain a new understanding what it meant to the Hungarians, Austrians, and Czechs to be part of the Soviet Union from the end of World War II through 1989. Although I lived through the era of the Iron Curtain and fear of communism, I had only a vague sense of what it meant outside of America. My main memory of that era was hiding under my desk for drills meant to protect us in case of nuclear bombs (LOL).
Our tour guides shared how they felt growing up under Soviet control. Stripped of their heritage, customs, religion, and freedom, they led a colorless existence in which every aspect of their lives was controlled by the State. In all three countries, they shared their joy and pride in being able to return to their traditions after being liberated from communist control.
Gaining new perspectives and seeing buildings that dated back to the 9th century was incredible. Listening to the music, seeing the art, marveling at the architecture, and learning about the cultures of these cities was an amazing escape from the demands of daily life at home. But unlike the movie heroine Clara, who was ambivalent about returning after her brief vacation at the TB sanatorium, I was ready to come home. Despite my jet lag and lack of sleep, I am happy to be back.
It took a brief vacation to show me that what I wanted to escape from is also what I wanted most to get back. Just wish I could have returned a la Dorothy and her ruby slippers. Getting away was wonderful but there’s no place like home.
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