The Blue Danube

December 17th, 2008

I lived within sight of the Danube River for a long time, mostly in Budapest and Belgrade. 

This powerful, historic river slices through the heart of Europe, from its source in Germany, through Austria, between Slovakia and Hungary, then straight south through Hungary, between Serbia and Croatia, through Serbia, between Serbia and Romania, and east between Romania and Bulgaria until it finally ends its journey in a huge delta on the Romanian coast of the Black Sea.

I’ve seen the Danube in all of these countries.  I vividly remember a hot, sunny day in July 1999, waiting on the bank of the river on the Romanian side for a ferry to take us across to Bulgaria.  We were five people in a convoy of three vehicles, waiting with many other cars, trucks, and buses.  We were sucking on oranges bought from a roadside vendor and trying as best we could to escape the heat.

People got out of several buses and milled around, some of them going down to the river bank to wade, wash their faces, and generally try to cool off.  We opened the doors on my car and cranked up the Rolling Stones, just to help everyone get their minds off the heat.  Most people ignored it, but a few seemed to remember the Stones, and smiled.

We were lined up first to get on the ferry because we had just missed the last one.  After we waited about three hours, the ferry arrived, and we saw to our dismay that we had been waiting at the wrong place.  We were no longer first in line!  But then a few Romanian police officers showed up and escorted us onto the ferry first.  Maybe they were Stones fans, or maybe they just took pity on us.

I’ve rarely seen the Danube when it appeared to be blue.  Mostly it’s a light brown, sometimes with a tinge of green.  The bluest I ever saw it was on another hot, sunny summer day, this time in Serbia, near the city of Novi Sad.  I was standing on a hill, looking at a bridge in the distance destroyed in 1999 by NATO bombing.  The Danube made a broad, wide sweep through the wooded hills just below where I stood,  and it was sparkling blue and beautiful in the bright sunlight.  People were enjoying the water and the sun on a beach across the river.

I guess it doesn’t matter whether the Danube is really blue. Sometimes it isn’t so much what a thing actually looks like as how it should look, and a blue Danube is more beautiful than a brown one.  I suspect Herr Strauss understood that.

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