Three Bridges Across Europe
By Julia Lesel
When I was 21, a lone female backpacker, I passed through Salzburg, Rome, and Vienna. At one bridge in each city, I took out a notebook and started writing a little sketch of what I observed going on around me in that moment, as a sort of dreamy way to entomb the memories of these places and times, and in some way, my mindset as a young person alone wandering in a distant land.
Salzburg, July 11
The air is perfect, and I walk in shorts. From the inner Altstadt, old city, I cross the street towards the bridge, passing a covered bus stop that borders the Salzburg river, across from a food truck stating “Salzburger Wieners”. An older man, disheveled, probably drunk, sporting a gray beard, shouts at the people waiting at the bus stop in German, but I cannot hear what about. A mother and her child, and two unaffiliated men back up towards the locked down truck, uneasy with the situation.
I leave the scene to get to the middle of the long bridge, and look out over a great darkening sky. The bridge is covered in small “love locks”, most of which are red. I hear more shouting and look back at the bus station to witness another man confronting the drunken man. He points to his chest with four fingers from each hand, “Mein Geld!!!…. MEINE Geld!! [My Money!]” He accentuates the “mine” part.
A girl, about nine, with two adults, passes me the other way, declaring, “I want to skip the whole way, auntie and uncle!” in an Indian accent. She races passed, to the start of the bridge, starts the process again, just to deliver her wish. Ah, children, living for joy! The aunt and uncle continue walking at their normal pace, but she soon surpasses them, only to skip around them circles with the excess energy.
I turn and stare into the rock-laden border between the water lapping at the grassy bank. The sky is marbled, cloudy, the water shining bright from nearby buildings, and air smelling fresh. Many languages pass me, and I love it. Interestingly, the English speakers, British and American accents alike, are the loudest speakers.
Halfway across the bridge, I stop to read some names on the red locks. To my shock, its my name on the lock! “Julia and Jürgen”. I’m wondering what the probability of drawing my own name was. Next one I spot one, Julia and Andrew. And then… Julia and Peter. Lots of Julia’s out there, I guess. And clearly, they are people worth the passion required to etch onto a lock. I only hope they are not the same individual. That would be awkward.
Rome July 27
I stand on a very wide bridge facing the Castello del Saint Angelo, in Rome. This looming building, an ancient Papal fortress. It’s blazing hot, but a soft breeze drifting over me makes it bearable. The air is sweet with baked bread.
Giant statues of marble angels, tall and feminine, line the bridge and serve as guardians of the fortress. A seagull has made himself at home on one of their heads, and the angel seems to be smirking with displeasure about it. At her feet, a dozen white daisies creep up from cracks in the stone. Life finds a way.
A pack of Italian teens pass, one of them points to a statue and declares that it is missing two fingers.
I note that they are right: The angel with the seagull nesting on her head is indeed missing the middle two fingers. It’s like she’s rocking out. Good to know some Italian for that helpful tidbit. I have learned the basics of many languages, and I feel like an international spy out in the world, unassuming, overhearing all.
The seagull now rises to its feet and stands regally atop her head. He’s got dark gray plumage and a black beak, staring out in the direction of the Vatican with a solemn expression on his face. He has the pride of a hawk.
Vienna, July 17
It’s warm even at golden hour, as the sun begins to set. I come upon a bridge in a park overpass, the air smells like greenery, and decay coming from below the bridge. This bridge is made of a series of intricate wooden panels, and looks newly renovated. Yet there is far too much graffiti, which makes my heart sink. White walls carved with ornate columns attempt to add a fancy note as it flanks the riverbank, yet the paint job takes away from it, with awkward blue vases standing on the archways. It’s way overdone, trying too hard to be fancy, but perhaps fits with the image of Vienna. At least there is ivy, creeping over like melted ice-cream.
On lower level, by the river bank, some teens are tossing trash around, they hurl a muddy umbrella into the water. Howls of laughter ensue, and I spot a black puppy, running in circles around them and also partakes in the trash mess.
I turn away to look at a spider. More interesting. He dangles from a lime green light pole on the bridge, at the center of a round orb web, the web two feet in diameter. Hundreds of tiny insects lay dead throughout it. I whirl my head around as I suddenly become aware of hundreds of swarming insects infesting the air around my head, squinting from the setting sun in my face. I feel like a blind giant trying to swat away helicopters to no avail.
I think is time to leave this bridge.