Lessons from the road
“Quick! Don’t look!” Those were the words I mistakenly said to my girls, when driving alongside a river in Austria. What I meant to say was “quick, turn your heads,” but the better comment was to have kept quiet.
You see, while most Europeans are immune to nudity, not even registering a piece of uncovered flesh, us Americans are much more sensitive to those things, and thus, the necessity for writing this blog. It was this singular river-journey that I learned how to handle the unexpected with grace and a bit of education, perhaps saving another parent from making the mistake.
The hottest day
That’s where it started. On a day trip down the 56 south of Vienna, return it was over 100 degrees, the July heat practically killing the car’s air conditioning. On a lark, we went to Gloggnitz in lower Austria and started following a few motorcyclists and locals who seemed to know where they were going (we are adventurous that way). The straight road curved as the scenery changed from concrete to lush trees, the uphill climb cooling the air. We rolled down the tinted windows to get a better look and lo! There it was. A whole line if bar butts, four in a row, and male.
I uttered the now famous line, which made both girls (then 6 and 10) lean out the window. “Mom, is that a butt?” My six-year old asked. “What happened to their bathing suits?” My older daughter went silent, her shock registering in the fixed stare one has when going by a car accident.
Luckily, the rational me kicked in (as opposed to the mom-me).
“It’s Europe,” I replied. “They do this here.”
“But Mom,” my oldest started. “There are more people on the river.” I looked. “Yep, and some are even wearing bathing suits.”
It was then that Rog and I had the quiet moment parent’s share when the truth table has been pulled out. We were either going to live the European experience or eliminate half the things we could possibly see.
“We’ll do our best,” Rog said in an undertone.
“No naked men,” was my threshold. And with that, we continued up the river until we saw a place where the men were clothed, but not all of the women.
The invisible man
Kids are interesting. If you don’t make a big deal out of something, they forget it even exists. So it was that we parked the car, quickly changed roadside when it was clear, then made our way down to path. The Alpine water was freezing, the water crystal clear, and the other visitors rare. Yet a few women were topless, but they were mom’s who had clearly breastfed their young children and struck us as pragmatic instead of exhibitionistic. It was very hot: why wear more clothes than one had to?
The kids looked once, more out of interest, then moved on. It simply was a part of life, a part of nature, exactly how it should be.
The return trip
It was a good thing perspectives had changed, because two hours later we were driving back in to town.
“Mom,” my ten-year-old says from the back. “I just saw a man’s penis. Two, actually.” I can’t help myself. I look out the window. Sure enough, we were passing the spot on the river from whence we’d come, and two of the four men was now on their backs, sunning themselves.” The image was gone in the blink of an eye, my husband’s hand on my leg gripping with humor and angst combined.
“Yep,” I said. “Everyone needs to get a tan.”
“I guess,” my daughter said, already looking down at her book. “What’s for dinner?”
We did our best to shield the girl from egregious displays of nudity, but honestly, it wasn’t an issue. The rest of the trip, three weeks’ worth, were free of comments or looks about what saw, or rather, didn’t see. They came, played and were focused on having fun and the beauty around them, exactly as it should be.