I was out doing yard work while listening to some music on my iPhone when today’s selection came around, and immediately I was transported to another place and another, very nearly forgotten, Sunday morning. Ever have that happen?
It was 1981 and I’m pretty sure that it was May 25, the Sunday before Memorial Day, which provided a much cherished “two day weekend” away from the Negev Airbase Constructors and especially away from the QC Lab. A friend and I had slept out under the stars in a meadow near Tiberius, overlooking the Sea of Galilee and were making the two-hour journey back to her home in Ramat Aviv, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
I had to dig through a few old photo albums to figure out exactly what kind of car we rented that day and as best I can figure it was a boxy Peugeot 305 “four door saloon” known to clutch grinders everywhere for its “durable gearbox.” Unfortunately the photos also testify to a ridiculous look sported by yours truly, which included a scraggly beard and a khaki tembel (bucket) hat. Add in a pair of teardrop sunglasses and a pipe (these were pipe smoking days) and you have a general idea of what drew the attention of those in the “deuce and a half” army truck ahead of us.
You see, while my friend slept in the passenger seat I became entranced by a cassette of Strauss waltzes. Perhaps it was the music, perhaps the nicotine from the pipe tobacco, most likely it was simply because it was a beautiful morning in that bucolic, green, northern countryside and I was happy to be alive.
But I distinctly recall “grooving” to the music, slightly swaying along with the steering wheel…back and forth…and taking great pleasure in the moment…and then slowly becoming aware of the truckload of laughing Israeli soldiers lifting up the back canvas to get a good look at…me, the silly swaying driver with a pipe in his mouth.
Chalk it up to An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314 (aka The Blue Danube), composed in 1866 by Johann Strauss II, a paean to Europe’s second longest river (after the Volga) that flows majestically for nearly 1,800 miles through ten countries (and four capital cities: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade).
Recognized as one of the great classical pieces it was only marginally successful when first performed at an 1867 concert of the Vienna Men’s Choral Association. But by the time Strauss’s stepdaughter asked Johannes Brahms for his autograph a number of years later the great composer wrote down the first few bars of The Blue Danube and added “Leider nicht von Johannes Brahms” (“Alas! Not by Johannes Brahms”). The world had caught up.
As for my friend and me, we made it. I’d ordered some (lace-up) roller skates through the Spiegel Catalogue and once back in Ramat Aviv we went roller-skating. It was a great time, and a great time of life… goofy hat, shadow and all.