In Memoriam: Henry Ingwersen

For those of you who really know me, you know how over-educated I am. I have three degrees: a BA in Anthropology, a BA in Art History, and a Master of Library and Information Science. Lots of education, lots of student loans I’m still paying, but a head crammed full of stuff.

What you may not know is that I seriously considered getting an MFA in Creative Writing after I finished my BA in Art History. But at the time, in my early twenties, I did not have the requisite portfolio nor the maturity to complete such a program. Library school was a much more practical option, so that’s what I did.

But I never forgot about the MFA. It’s always been sitting in the back of my head, but I had too much student debt and no money to pay for more school. Until now, that is. Let me tell you a little story about how we now are solvent and have the money to pay for school.

My husband, Kosta, used to work at the library too. (I met him on my first day of work here in January of 2005, but that’s a story for another day.) He had been working for the library about a year when I came in. And in that year he had met a patron named Henry. Henry was a cranky old WWII vet that took a shine to Kosta because my husband knows his history and the classics (i.e. Greek history). He once invited him out to dinner and that became a weekly occurrence for the two bachelors.

They kept up their weekly dinners for ten years, even after I came into the picture. Except when we were on vacation, every Thursday night would find Henry and Kosta at Perkins, or the Olive Garden, or the Clock.

Henry had lots of fascinating stories. He was a pilot in WWII and flew P38’s over New Guinea. He was awarded a bronze star. He was a career army man who was stationed all over the world: Paris and Gibraltar and Reykjavik and Beirut. He even did a tour in Vietnam because he had been stationed in Duluth and wanted out. (Well, it does get a bit cold in the winters.)

Henry was married once, briefly in the 1950s but after his divorce was a confirmed bachelor. He loved Danish design and liked to draw and work with wood. He was highly intelligent.

But he was also a mean old cuss. I went to dinner with them a couple of times. He would curse at babies crying in restaurants, complain about everything from the food to the music, and would leave a $2 tip if he was feeling generous. Kosta always put down more cash when Henry was walking out.

But Kosta kept going out with the old man. Henry didn’t have many friends and was rather alone in the world. So when about 8 years into their friendship he asked my husband to be the executor to his will, Kosta agreed. Henry did have two living sisters, but they were far away and both nearly as old (Henry was about 89 at this point.)

When Kosta agreed, Henry said this next: “By the way, I’m giving you my condo.”

Kosta protested. Surely it should go to his family? Didn’t he have nieces or nephews who might want it? But Henry was adamant. He said, “No! I don’t like those sons of bitches.”) Alrighty, then.

So Kosta was written into the will.

Henry died of lung cancer that spread to his brain. It was swift and I don’t think he suffered monstrously. He had fallen at home and had been taken to the hospital and later rehab. He knew he was dying and didn’t want the treatment. But we saw him suffering in the nursing home and got him out of there–he could afford round-the-clock nursing care so we did that for him and he died peacefully in his own home.

Which now belongs to us.

We’ve been living there for a year and a half. You can’t believe what it means to not have a rent or mortgage payment. We paid down our credit cards. And now, when I’m thinking of a career change, suddenly, magically, I am able to work towards it.

As hard as Henry was to like, I will be forever grateful to him for this gift. The place might be a little rundown (the kitchen and bathrooms are still 1979 original) but by God, it is ours. And it doesn’t even freak me out that he died in the very same room where we now sleep. I think he went peacefully, knowing that he had been on the earth 91 years and it was his time to go.

Thanks, Hank, for the gift. It keeps on making our lives easier in new ways and I have a sense of relief that I will never be homeless. That’s no small thing during this pandemic when so many are out of work and unable to pay rent. I am damn grateful every day to you.

Vienna, Day 2

Last night we went to a concert at the Karlskirche to hear Mozart’s Requiem. The tickets were Kosta’s birthday present, and we were both excited.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

Not a shabby place for a concert.

 

The music was outstanding and the choir amazing. The only bad thing about the concert was the wooden pews specially designed for back torture to keep you from falling asleep in church. Kosta was as transported as I’ve ever seen him.

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Interior of the Karlskirche

This morning started with breakfast at the hotel, which was wonderful and Austrian: meats and cheeses, fresh rolls, boiled eggs, and coffee with hot milk. It was delicious.

We decided to go to Schonnbrun  (the summer palace of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Emperors), which is about 6 km outside of town. Fortunately, there is an U-Bahnn stop right there. I was checking these details at the front desk when Kosta found me. He couldn’t find his driver’s license or his credit card. In a panic, we rushed back to the room and tore everything apart looking for them. We were trying to rack our brains, was there anyone who bumped into him the day before?  Was he pickpocketed?

I was just about to call the credit card company to cancel his card when the bastard put his hand in his pants pocket and drew out the very cards we were seeking. I wanted to throttle him, my heart was pounding in the back of my throat. At least all turned out well… my husband may be an asshat, but a sweet one.

We did take the U-Bahn out to Schonnbrun finally, and by the time we got there the lines to get into the palace were very long (over an hour wait), so we just walked the palace gardens instead and it was a delightful way to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon. It was still cloudy and a bit drippy from the storm from the night before, but it didn’t really rain in earnest.  We saw the Crown Prince Garden, the “Roman Ruin,” the Obelisk fountain, and we made the trek up to the top of the hill to the Gloriette, which has a spectacular view of all Vienna from the top.

Neptune fountain

Neptune fountain

 

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

Schonnbrun Palace and all of Vienna at our feet.

 

Kosta and the labyrinth.

Kosta and the labyrinth.

After we took a turn in the labyrinth we headed back to town. We spent part of the afternoon partaking in a great Viennese tradition: afternoon coffee. We went to the famous Sacher Cafe at the Sacher hotel and had Einspänner coffees (espresso topped with whipped cream) and the supremely chocolate Sacher torte. It was delightful–ritzy without being intimidating, and touristy, but we are tourists, so who cares?

Cafe Sacher

Cafe Sacher

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

Sacher torte: chocolate cake with apricot jam filling, chocolate ganache, and, of course, whipped cream.

 

Einspaenner Kaffe.

Einspaenner Kaffe.

We then found our way back to St. Stephen’s cathedral and took the guided tour of the crypt, which was hella awesome. No pictures were allowed, but we did see the urns which held the internal organs of generations of Hapsburg emperors, a mass grave of plague victims, and an ossurary–a room of stacked bones of hundreds of years of Viennese citizens. It was creepy and glorious, and I am so glad we did it. We were the last ones out.

St. Stephen's Cathedra

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Our "crypt keeper" guide at the end of the tour.

Our “crypt keeper” guide at the end of the tour.

We rested a bit back at the hotel before we went in search of beers and dinner. The beers we had at the 1516 Brewing Company, along with some very peppery beef jerky. Then we wandered the back streets until we came upon an adorable restaurant/cafe called Frauenhuber. We had an authentic dinner (Schweinschnitzel for me and Beef cutlet with onions for Kosta) followed by Mozart Kaffe (coffee with a chocolate-marzipan liqueur and whipped cream). To. Die. For. The cucumbers in my mixed salad tasted just how my grandmother used to make them : with vinegar, onion, and sugar.

1516 Brewing Company

1516 Brewing Company

Cafe Frauenhuber

Cafe Frauenhuber

Mozart Kaffe

Mozart Kaffe

When we were presented with the check we were given a small brochure that talked about the restaurant. Apparently we walked ass backwards into the oldest coffee house in Vienna, where both Mozart and Beethoven had performed! Very exciting for my music-nut husband.

After dinner we had a stroll through the twilight, enjoying the delicious breeze and gazing in shop windows. It was a perfect day. Tomorrow, we leave early, pick up a rental car at the airport, and drive cross county to Salzburg. More pictures soon!

Vienna

So. The one thing Austrians don’t believe in is air conditioning.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world but living in Florida has left me living at a specific standard of comfort. It wasn’t terrible. It was warm today, and we do have a fan in our hotel room so sleeping was comfortable. But Lord, the Hofburg Palace was hot today. I nearly perished from the lack of water.

Our day started this morning with breakfast of coffee and apfel strudel on the Stephensplatz. From there the first major site we hit was the cemetery. Might be strange for some of you, but my husband had a very big X to cross off on his “Burial Bucket List”: Johannes Brahms.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

The cemetery was full of decomposing composers: Ludwig von Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert, just to name a few. But my husband’s favorite has always been Brahms. We bought flowers to leave at his grave and it was lovely.

Afterwards we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and walked around the city center. The sun was starting to heat up and as we passed a store selling Omega watches we saw this sign:

Omega Museum

Omega Museum. Excuse the drunk expression. He wasn’t. Really.

It wasn’t a big museum, but it did have displays of Omega watches from the past, including the ones that went to the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Well, and they had air conditioning. It was a neat little place. But since we didn’t have between €3000-25,000 to drop on a watch, we left empty-handed.

In the afternoon we went to the Hofburg Palace and saw the Royal Apartments and the Sissi Museum. Sissi, in case you didn’t know, was the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1800s. She was reportedly beautiful, sweet, and adored by her people. This was where I nearly passed out from the heat in those close rooms. Had I been wearing a corset necessary to fit into her ball gowns, I most definitely would have done so.

Afterwards we wandered. And as we were wandering by the Michaelskirchke we heard organ music coming from within. So we popped inside the blessedly cool interior and had a free music concert as the organist practiced. It was lovely.

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

Beyond that we just wandered. We wandered into a small shop that sold prints of watercolors of Vienna and bought two. The shop owner and her husband painted them themselves. Even though it was early, we found dinner:

Smoked salmons and scalloped potatoes for me.

Smoked salmon and scalloped potatoes for me.

 

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

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And beer for us both.

Walking back to the hotel, we saw this guy playing a fucking broom:

I don't know how he managed it, but he was good.

I don’t know how he managed it, but he was good.

Tonight: Mozart’s Requiem at the Karlskirche. Tomorrow? Who can say…