Up the down escalator at the United Nations

Back in the day, when I was broadcasting on WOR in New York and had a studio at the United Nations, September then as now was a very busy month because the opening of the General Assembly  attracted the vast majority of world leaders. Only a funeral of a major fellow leader could garner as big an attendance, funerals of minor leaders not so much.This is when they exchanged recipes for succession, aggression, and other leadership titbits.

During this period only a few of us were given the buttons that allowed us unfettered access to the delegates floor while the sessions were going on, and I was one of the few.

My live broadcast was at 4:30 every weekday afternoon so on this day, back then, I settled into a seat while the leaders of the world were making their statements from the podium.

When I saw that the time had come to leave, to make my broadcast, I stood and headed for the way out.

First some geography. The delegates’ entrance to the United Nations was a lobby, a staircase that no one ever took, and two very narrow escalators, one going up and the other going down.

As I left, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban went to the podium to speak and I didn’t notice that the entire Russian delegation also stood, but to leave the assembly hall in protest. My mind was on what I was going to say on the air so I didn’t notice the crowd around me as we got on to the down escalator. I noticed the man in front of me looked familiar (and he had a mole on his neck) and the man behind me also looked familiar and there I was walking out to the United Nations with the Russian delegation. Premier Kosygin was in front and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. was behind me and they were escorting me out with them

Did I say that all the cameras and photographers and TV stations et al were gathered at the foot of the escalator waiting to take pictures of the Russian exodus in protest at the Israeli Foreign Minister speaking.

My first thought was if my mother sees this on television that’s the end of a great relationship, so I turned around, stumbling over the very hefty ambassador, and pushed my way back up the down moving escalator until I got to the top.

And then went down the steps.

These were the days when Kurt Waldheim of Austria was Secretary General and also was when I made my first visit to Vienna.

The tourist authority there was a little shocked when I asked to be introduced to Simon Wiesenthal, couldn’t understand why, and I did have a lovely informal chat with the great man. I remember asking him why, after all that he had gone through, he decided to live in Austria and his answer was ,’this is a democracy now, why shouldn’t I live here?”

During the war, Austria was about 30% of the Nazi empire and contributed over 50% of the war criminals, none of whom were ever prosecuted..

Vienna is charming. If you are a citizen of Vienna you can rent an apartment at the Hofburg Palace but you must pull your shades up at a certain time every day and lower them at a certain time every night, to maintain uniformity,

The boiled beef is a wonderful national dish and there are 100 different sauces for the dish. And St. Stefan’s square is magnificent.

After some municipal hesitation and for quite a few years now there is a sign pointing to Sigmund Freud’s house and if you go inside there is a wonderful little film showing him and his family in the garden of their house in which you are sitting.

About Kurt Waldheim, he went back to Austria, ran for President, his war atrocity background came out and he lost, and the last time I saw him  he was walking along with his wife on a side street in Vienna, he with his Homburg still firmly planted on his head and his wife wearing a beautiful fur coat.

I smiled as we passed, he did not.

But all about Vienna can be summed up when I was walking back to my hotel on a quiet sunny afternoon, alone on the street, and I heard the sound of angels all around me. I felt, for one glorious moment, that if this is what it meant to leave the earth, it couldn’t be all bad. As I continued to walk up the slight hill, the music became more intense and when I looked up I saw that I was walking beside a church and that I was listening to the voices of the Vienna Boys Choir rehearsing for the next day’s mass.

Couldn’t be better, and yes, I did attend mass that next day.

About the Author
Sandy Lesberg was in broadcasting for 20 years in New York, mostly on WOR. He wrote 40 books, was consultant to several airlines, credit card companies and international hotel groups, is the founding director of Master Chefs Institute, President of the Center for World Hunger Control, and was founding director of the first International Chocolate festival, now in its tenth year. Sandy was the first American writer in liberated East Jerusalem -- he stayed at American Colony hotel. He lived 20 years in Europe and Africa before returning to U.S.