Written by Chrystyna on 02 Aug, 2000
Dornbirn is by no means a small mountain village. If you got that impression, I beg forgiveness. But Bregenzerwald is just a short slingshot over the northwestern mountains, and there you have your pick as to which is Heidi’s neighborhood. (By the way, everyone is…Read More
Dornbirn is by no means a small mountain village. If you got that impression, I beg forgiveness. But Bregenzerwald is just a short slingshot over the northwestern mountains, and there you have your pick as to which is Heidi’s neighborhood. (By the way, everyone is welcome to visit. So many of you have written that your fantasies were to be Heidi. Mine were to be Grizzly Adams. So the men who wrote about their Heidi fettishes should not feel in the least bit embarrassed). One Sunday, Oliver and I took a short drive to Bregenzerwald after he introduced me to the local, fast-food specialty: Leberkase. It’s gourmet Spam on a fresh bun. But, that’s a whole ‘nother subject. Bregenzerwald is valleys and mountain tops of Alpine homes. Huge churches -- still the centerpiece of each place, sharing popularity only with the Gasthofs -- and delightful, tiny chapels stuck in the middle of nowhere begged entrance. On a more weather-pleasant Sunday, we’re going to squeeze into a mass at one of the teeny churches and then step next door to the Gasthof for Kasspatzle -- cheesy noodles.
We happened on one of those sudden chapels during our drive. Oliver and I stopped to peak inside and were invited in by a kind-looking Christ. I thought, “Nice eyes,” and stopped to have a chat, taking my place at the small kneeler and wishing for a lighter to light His candles. Like Martha Stewart, someone here believes in making the candles look as though they have been used. It does make the place seem more homey. We left Bregenzerwald with the promise to come back: Oliver knows someone with a summer cottage including its own chapel along a solitary path. We’re working on slating in a weekend there. (Read Postcard No. 3)
The mountain scenery is a real tear-jerker here. I am naturally at home among these peaks and all of their water resources. Although there is no other place like it on earth (and that’s how I feel about every place I go), it does remind me of places I have been. In Montana one year, my brother and I dreamt of a huge waterslide which would take us down one of the massive mountains. The Austrians are way ahead of us. Bregenzerwald has the longest track in the world, and though it’s not a waterslide, it is a sledding track for summer. Just another place we will have to return.
On a Tuesday night, I went west about four kilometers to Hohenems with Margit (Oliver’s biz partner’s wife) to see a play. Unbelievable talent -- because that was all I could really focus on since I can’t understand most of the German. It was a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, done for adults, with huge adult puppets. Simply hysterical. Afterwards, we went for wine at one of the neatest Gasthofs I’ve ever been too. It’s obviously set up for the theater folk and includes a cozy dungeon of a bar downstairs (it really is cozy) with costumes, torches, neat sculpture and artsy crowd.
This little venture was good for me, because one of my anxieties in moving to Dornbirn is to make sure I have enough pies in which to stick my fingers. If there is a theater, I will volunteer to help out; there are a number of universities nearby and tutoring in English is another option (as is tutoring the number of young children in the summer whose parents want me to teach them). There are bookstores and cafes in which I could work; and since I started creating in the kitchen, my idea of a combo bookstore-cafe is being slightly fast-forwarded. If I can find a local partner who would be interested, I would love to be the person in charge of the menu, the cooking, the creativity, the ambiance and hospitality while my partner would know that aspect as well as bookkeeping and marketing. One aspect of the marketing would be that we would be the only place not serving schnitzle and Goulash. The partnership also has another bonus: it would work out so that I could still leave for a month at a time to travel (with and without Oli). But, that is still way in the future...future...future...hear the echo?
Friday: I hit a plateau. This learning German thing was a do or die situation and today I was forced to 'do'. I spent the whole day with Traudle, Oliver's mom, shopping and getting the house ready for Canadian guests. But that is beside the…Read More
Friday: I hit a plateau. This learning German thing was a do or die situation and today I was forced to 'do'. I spent the whole day with Traudle, Oliver's mom, shopping and getting the house ready for Canadian guests. But that is beside the point. My victory today was getting over the hump. I was forced to give myself more credit than I thought; I have really learned a lot of German despite the lack of official classes. It can be done.
Sunday: Dachau Concentration Camp. There is nothing that I could say about Dachau that is new, not cliche, nor shocking. It was draining. Once or twice we cracked horrible jokes in order to get through it. The photos and the blown-up oversized letters in the museum part were most interesting and thank God we had Oliver there to translate for us. It would not have been half as informative if he hadn't been there. What was interesting and which resulted from our visit there was our discussion with Billa, Colin and Aysha about the future of world wars. Would we fight? How would WE react if we were suddenly shipped to a prison or extermination camp? Now there were surprises! The answers were shocking and really gave us an insight as to how little we trust our governments, our politicians, how little patriotism we seem to have. And how little faith we have in our strengths and spirits. Oliver -- of all us -- was the only one who said he would volunteer to fight for his country.
Tuesday: Oliver and I had not had an evening to ourselves in a long time. Though we tried for tonight, something came up and I was therefore prepared to spend another night entertaining myself. HOwever, after lunch, Oliver called to announce that I should be at the company at quarter to six in the evening, to bring a sweater, and a camera. I therefore assumed he had a surprise for me and that indeed we were going to have a night out together. When I arrived at his place, I WAS surprised. I was to have an evening with Hubert, Oliver's business partner. 'We share everything,' Oliver joked. Hubert explained, 'We're going to go see the sights! I will show you Vorarlberg..:' Never mind that I have seen quite a lot of Vorarlberg -- the county in which we live. But, it was a gorgeous evening, and a diversion was welcome. What I did not expect was a thrilling fly in a glider! Hubert has had his pilot's license for twenty-some years. We flew over Lake Constance/Bodensee, and then over Germany and back into Austria over the Alps. About a half hour from the airfield, Hubert turned off the engine and we glided over Dornbirn and Hohenems. I had a digital camera with me and will send you the photos of the Alps in which we live. Extraordinary night!
Saturday, again: I have been waiting all week, impatiently, for my real surprise from Oliver. He had announced it to me on Tuesday night after I returned from that glorious flight. 'This weekend, don't make any plans. Pack your bags; something posh for Saturday night and something comfortable for Sunday.' Wooo-hoooO! I thought! A romantic weekend away from dust, construction, architectural talks, housebuilding, and... the Parents!
'By the way,' Oliver added, his back already turned to me. 'Mom is coming with us.'
OK, no big deal. She is sweet and kind and not the stereotypical mother-in-law type. We would somehow manage.
On Friday, I got the worse news. 'What do you mean I didn't tell you Hubert and Margit are coming? I told mom...'
I raised both eyebrows, the sign of danger. 'And...?'
He gave me his sheepish grin. 'Their kids.'
Now, Marion and Simon are great, but once again, this was not my idea of a nice surprise... but, I was going to wait and see.
So.. here it was. We all drove together to South Tyrol. When you think of Italy, you probably don't think of the German-speaking part. South Tyrol used to belong to Austria until Hitler kindly gave it over to Mussolini and gave the people living in that region an option: Get off your farms (and we're not paying a shilling for them) and move to Vorarlberg where we have already built flats for you and have jobs building highways, or stay where you are and stop speaking German forever and ever. As of this date, you are all Italians. You must speak Italian and German will not be taught in schools. As a matter of fact, it is forbidden.
South Tyrol is a valley at the border of the Dolomites -- the Italian Alps. It is one of the most gorgeous parts of the surrounding mountainous districts. Castles and towers everywhere you look. Mountains like ghosts appearing out of the clouds. You suddenly find yourself surrounded by some very high peaks and dramatic landscapes.
We came to a large lake which was formed by flooding a former village. At the edge of one of the shores, the old church tower still pokes out, its clock forever stuck on a single hour. Underneath the lake remain the ruins of the old village. If I wasn't clausterphobic and afraid of drowning, I would dive there in a heartbeat to explore. By the way, the villagers were duly warned of the plan to create the lake for electrical power needs. They had to simply move to higher ground and start from scratch. Nice politicians, huh?
Part one of the surprise was located on these shores: We were going to see Nabucco -- the Italian opera set in Babylon. The show was held in an outdoor tent and I tell you, with that dramatic setting outside, it was quite magical. Afterwards, and this is going to sound strange, there was some sort of weird Italian medieval act going on. Large bonfires in wrought iron balls burned and mythological beasts danced. They were strapped into those long sticks upon which you stand... I can't -- for the life of me -- remember what it was called. And the music was reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. I know there is an official name to this dance form and it dates back to pagan times, but I don't know what it is.
We stayed at the Panorama in Mals, a typical South Tyrolean styled chalet. Our view was of the valley below, castles and abbeys, and huge mountains. We got to bed very, very late (I think it was four) and awoke very, very early to start castle hopping and village walking. I saw those beasts I was describing earlier, painted on one of the castle walls.
Monday: The Spielfest. Bregenz, which is located on Lake Constance, has an on-water stage. Each summer, an enormous production is cast there. This year it is 'The Masquenball.'
It's in English.
***** The first of June was a holiday. Oliver wasn’t sure which holiday, only that everything was closed. I think the Austrian’s have a secret weather meter built into their genes. Everyone knew that it would rain for five days straight and that the First…Read More
***** The first of June was a holiday. Oliver wasn’t sure which holiday, only that everything was closed. I think the Austrian’s have a secret weather meter built into their genes. Everyone knew that it would rain for five days straight and that the First would be the first gorgeous day. Therefore, the government called a national holiday -- a JUST BECAUSE holiday. And everyone was mandated to go for a hike or a bike ride. That’s what it seemed like. But we asked and discovered that the reason for the holiday was a Biblical one: “It’s the day that Christ actually goes to heaven,” Oliver translated. “Isn’t that Easter, dear,” I asked preplexed. “That was two months ago.” “No,” Oliver replied, without missing a beat. “He came back, remember? He rose from the grave on Easter, but then he spent a couple of months visiting friends and putting on a couple more shows.” Were we talking about Elvis or were we living out the joke about the three Buddhists who try to get into heaven. (If you haven’t heard that one, it’s a classic! Ask me and I will send it to you.) In either case, we had a whole day together. Our destination was Brand near the Swiss border and we had yet another perfect day in Paradise amid wooden mountain huts spotted throughout the very narrow valley. Waterfalls, some deeply etched, others falling from cliffs and causing sunny mists to spring from the treetops, seemed to bring the greenery down with them from the tip-tops. I would kill to have a hut here some day; some place where I can just get away and write for days at a time...but from what stress would I be running? None. It would just be a minor change in scenery from the busy, boisterous, main house. The mountain walls were illuminated by the shorter green hills. Snowfields still marbleized the granite faces which were cut into tidal wave patterns by Glaciers long ago. We drove to Lunesee where the old and lazy can take a cable car. Oliver and I have years before we hit that peak. As long as our legs will carry us, we hike. So, we started up the trail by climbing up a snowridge about a meter and a half high. And guess which shoes I was wearing... Before we set out, I had told Oliver that we should stop and get some water; we had only an empty plastic bottle with us. He smiled at me, a little puzzled and said, “Honey, there is plenty of water on the trail.” What kind of a trail was this, anyway? I didn’t want some man-made, restaurants-along-the-way mountain hike; I wanted wild nature. We were slipping and sliding in the snow, our way up was steep and long. But, it was a brilliant blue, sunny and warm day. I had always wanted to climb snowfields in a summer tanktop and there I was, doing exactly that, burning the bejeezus out of my skin -- though, at the time, unknowingly. Oliver and I stopped often, because the blue of the sky was really worth looking at and because we would suddenly feel our lungs collapsing. At one point, we got under the shadow of the mountain before us and when we looked up, a small bush was burning at the very top. Small, white puffs of mist or seeds were floating above it like stars. The sun was directly behind it and illuminated it into a fascinating spectacle of fiery illusion. Then, Oliver pointed to a small waterfall at the top of a ridge. “There’s our water supply.” Now, folks, call me naive, but my first reaction was, “Pollution? Is this no cause for concern?” I mean, when I read “spring water” on a bottle of water, I think, “Nice marketing ploy. Certainly it goes through a commercial filtering process.” But, Oliver was serious and nearly laughed at my pollution concern. But, somebody please tell me, where in America -- accessible by car the way this place was -- we can dip our bottles into a stream and drink it without having to put those tablets in. Please tell me. Because I would love to be wrong about telling Oliver that such a thing simply does not exist in the U.S. But, there I was, filling up the water bottle from a little rivulet in a bed of rocks and it was OH SO GOOD!!! Whether it was the joy of finding a natural resource or because it was really the best water I’d ever had, I can’t tell you. And it doesn’t matter. We sat on the some boulders, never in a hurry to get anywhere. I pondered the fact that I have not felt homesick. I’ve been gone almost two months, and not once has the typical disoriented feeling hit me. Usually, by this time, I would have been gripped by the panicky feeling, “Where am I? How did I get here? Where is everyone?” Oliver commented that perhaps it is because I AM home. Quite possible. Though the going has not been easy. For the first two weeks, I felt exhausted. First a week in Italy, with culture shock and language shock. Then, back to Dornbirn for more culture and language shock. Oliver is the only one here who is fluent in English, except for a cousin-in-law and his biz partner’s wife, but I see them very little. However, after three weeks of being submersed in German, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself returning to mass at a nearby church last Sunday and, this time, being able to follow along. It’s progress. Our climb continued upwards over the mountain stream, and though this is a touristic spot, the view is no less engaging and wild. We reached the ridge and below us, gleaming a Mediterranean-blue was Lunesee (Moon Lake). In front of us, if we climbed a bit higher to the seemingly short peaks, we could straddle the Swiss and Austrian border between our legs. I thought that was a rather empowering and sensual idea. Instead, and nearer to us, I spotted a hilltop of green jutting over the lake and told Oliver we would head that way. When we reached it, I felt as though I had stepped into that scene from Sound of Music again. THE HILLS ARE ALIVE.....!! I remembered a rhyme, “Little Boy Blue...” at the sight of real bluebells (which I’ve never seen before and which are absolutely stunning when clustered with the white Edelweiss, fuschia and yellow unknown flowers and bright, neon green grass). This was a cow pasture with petrified pies creating a mosaic on the ground, but the cows won’t arrive for at least a few weeks. Oliver and I found our own boulders upon which we catnapped and sunned. When I awoke, I jaunted to the edge of the short cliff above the lake and scared a couple of partridges, or something like that. They were some sort of pheasant-like wild fowl...I have yet to look them up. I knew I was burnt; my face felt taut and hot. Once again, we had forgotten our hats, so it was time to hit the Gasthof located on the other side of the lake. On the terrace, we had some beers and cheese sandwiches topped with a fluffy, decadent apple pastry. Yes, I am getting fat. Quite happily, I might add. Oliver is following right behind me. Actually, we keep quite physically fit... most of the time. My fear is that one day we will wake up and the scales will have tipped out of our favor. Our climb down was a little exciting, but nothing like the Munro incident. We chatted all the way, laughing about shared stories, and thinking about how we were going to finally be able to use the whirlpool that night. It had been installed, it was ready to go, even if the rest of the bathroom still sported -- as it does this very moment -- a Roman Ruin look. But, the night of the whirlpool is a whole different and hysterical story. Suffice it to say, the drive out of Brand was moving. It was as if I was driving out of a fairy tale book, but never quite leaving it completely, because – after all -- it’s just a short drive from...well, home. Close
The Alpen Buchen turned out to be a family dairy farm and we had arrived in time to watch the procession of cows and goats headed in for the milking. This was rather exciting and entertaining considering there were a couple of dairy cows who…Read More
The Alpen Buchen turned out to be a family dairy farm and we had arrived in time to watch the procession of cows and goats headed in for the milking. This was rather exciting and entertaining considering there were a couple of dairy cows who seemed rather amorous with one another. I guess that kind of thing happens all over the world. Apparently, Oliver thinks sex changes are not uncommon among other mammals either. We became rather friendly with the family members, especially the adult daughter –Silvia – and we returned on Monday evening on their invitation in order to help milk the goats. It was going to be a fun, hands-on experience, and during Oliver’s short tenure, hand on a goat’s teet, he asked Silvia, „The ones with the beards... are they female as well?“
(I have to be fair here. I have asked a lot of stupid questions since I arrived as well, but I am the writer and I get to choose what goes into these things.)
The Alpen Buchen overlooks the valley and sits at the toes of a large mountain; its pastures are lush and steep. We could see our house and the chapel from where we stood on the terrace, as well as the river and an enormous waterfall diving from granite cliffs. Oliver took the liberty of ordering glasses of cow's milk and goat's milk and I was a little hesitant at first. The problem is that I don't like anything but ice cold skim milk, and I was afraid this would be warm and thick, like drinking butter. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the cool cow's milk and the even colder and more refreshing goat's milk. Then, Silvia offered us a glass of fresh cow's milk straight from the milking can. This one I let Oliver drink after having a sip. It was way too warm for me.
As I said, Silvia invited us to return the next day for a full-blown tour and some hands-on experience. Oliver was more than happy to do so because with our milk we had ordered an apricot torte over which we simply melted. We would do anything to have a repeat of that experience. But before Monday rolled around, we still had Sunday night...
Unlike the rest of Bregenzerwald, Oli and I don't turn in at the first sign of dusk. We watched the cows come home, sometimes right through our patch of garden, and heard them stamping and tinkling in the barn across from us. When the cows came home is when we began our day. We packed up a rucksack and a bag full of firewood, pullovers, blanket, and headed down to the river for a bonfire and some wurst cooking. We threw our beers into an icy pool, built a lovely fire, and I taught Oliver that the best way to eat weiners is to burn the bejeezus out of them. Our tummies full, we nestled into one another after feeding the fire some more, and watched the sky never grow dark. It was an eerie light, silohuetting the dark, puffy clouds which had floated above us. In the distance, we heard rumbling and saw the occasional flash of lightning, but it was so far away we didn't worry about it...at first. When a gale swept over the river, we thought it better to douse out the fire and head for the hills. No sooner had we climbed out of the woods, the wind quieted down. Oliver was disappointed.
'I want it to storm,' he moped.
I agreed. A good summer storm, tucked away in a rustic home under goose feather comforters was a soothing, comfortable idea. Instead, we hauled out candles and a bottle of wine onto the picnic table and made the best effort to recreate the mood from the bonfire while waiting for the storm to really arrive. Just as we decided to retire, the first big drops splattered on our foreheads, and we dashed upstairs to dive under the covers and feel the rain spray into our window.
'Tomorrow, if this clears up,' said I, 'we should get up really early and go skinny dipping with the sunrise.'
'Hmmmm...' mumbled Oliver, sleepily. 'Sounds good. What time?'
'Like six-thirty,' I suggested casually.
More clearly this time, I heard him say, 'Please God! Please let it rain all day tomorrow. Afterall, I DID go to church today!'
God heard Oliver's prayer because when I woke up at six to watch the farmer herding his cows out to pasture, the fog had barely lifted over Dos. The sunrise, normally seen by this time, was a no-show. Instead, the fog made everything seem confined and smaller. The neighbor across the gorge seemed mighty close suddenly, his goats and sheep larger. Oliver agreed with my observation because the first thing he said when he looked out the window was, 'Did someone build a house across from us overnight?'
We spent a lazy, overcast day indoors, taking an old-fashioned sponge bath in the kitchen rather than a skinny dip in the river. At five in the afternoon, we finally dragged our butts outside and walked back to the Alpen Buchen where Silvia greeted us with her mother and the rest of the family clan. We were given the statistics, with which I will not bore you because I think it is one of those situations where it is a lot more interesting to hear when you actually see the process. However, I WILL gear you for your next cocktail party with one bit of trivia: To make one kilo of that wonderful, stinky farmer's cheese, it takes 10 liters of milk. There you go!
Needless to say, anyone who knows me well enough, knows I went crazy over the animals. I adopted a little calf who kept nudging my elbow and begged to have her chin and jowls scratched. She would rest her head heavily against my arm or press up against my chest, groaning with pleasure. When I asked Oliver if we could take her home, he said that I was right... it was what we needed at the flat. For a moment, I was elated because I thought he was being serious.
It was a lovely, fun evening and when we walked back to the Hutte, we were remorseful about having to leave. I have been reminding Oliver how lucky he is to live here in this area (Mellau is a mere half hour and world away) and at the beginning of the weekend he had responded with, 'I know it's beautiful, but I can't get as excited about it as you.' However, after we left, he concluded that he had a new appreciation for this place. It is a lot of work, it is a hard life, but the beauty and the simplicity of it... it's awesome. However, I am grateful that my parents never indulged my wishes when I was young. I used to resent being a city girl, but now I see it's like other people's kids: Nice to play with but glad to go home without 'em.
We did stay the night, deciding to get up at dawn so that Oliver could be at work on time. When we stepped out of the house on Tuesday morning, we caught the red glowing face of the mountain to the west, breathed in the misty air, could nearly touch the foggy skirt which topped the trees across the gorge, and sipped one last sip of spring water. It was the first time we beat the cows out.
Last Tuesday morning, I returned from a four-day weekend with Oliver in Mellau, Dos. It is an Alpine village in Bregenzerwald – a whole region of valleys and villages surrounded and isolated by green mountains. Hubert Hefel – Oliver’s business partner – kind of grew…Read More
Last Tuesday morning, I returned from a four-day weekend with Oliver in Mellau, Dos. It is an Alpine village in Bregenzerwald – a whole region of valleys and villages surrounded and isolated by green mountains. Hubert Hefel – Oliver’s business partner – kind of grew up there, though the Hefel Hutte was more of a boarding and backpacker’s house then. It neighbors next to one other now-holiday home with a second house located across the narrow trail and occupied by a weathered dairy farmer. The Hutte is enormous and rustic: wooden with green-painted shutters, two huge long Gasthof-style dining tables in one room, and an enormous kitchen in which I simply danced with ecstasy because I was going to be cooking in it. We had solar powered generators along with gas stove and three wood-burning stoves from three different eras. It was just Oliver and I. We had our choice of eight bedrooms, but chose one in the southeastern corner, opening out to the gushing river below us and the constant running of spring water in the trough (where we washed, where the farmer washed, where the cows drank, where we drank and where our beer and wine were kept cold). To the east, the road led past green pastures and hills with mountain peaks peeking above them. The trail could be taken all the way to the village via the forest. To the west were the rough and tumble alpine mountains and more meadows, where only a few snowfields remained.. The river running through the gorge to the south and below us was turbulent and icy blue-gray. It has hacked away at the granite bedrock since the first thaw and I doubt it will slow down except to freeze instantly in late November when Old Man Winter waves his wand. Fir trees added texture and contrast to the pastures, and in the dark – when we arrived on Friday night – we were greeted with the chiming bells from a herd of goats and sheep across the river. After Hubert and his children made sure we were settled in, Oliver and I sat before the open window in the "dining hall", candles all around, and just listened. "Can you hear the bells?" he asked me. They would chime the entire weekend endlessly. "Yeah", I said smiling. Suddenly we heard a succession of tinkling from one bell, like the rhythm of a bouncing ball. Oliver and I looked at each other. "That one just rolled down the mountain..." In the mornings, we wok to the Austrian-Alpine alarm clock: the passing of our neighbor’s cow herd on its way to pasture. We would just take a peek out the window to watch them, then it was back to bed for at least three more hours. Coffee at the picnic table outside sustained with fresh bread, cold cuts, cheese and fruit. Then, back inside to cook lunch: On Saturday, I baked an orange-barbecued chicken for five hours in the oven on low heat; by the time we returned from a walk in the village, we could have safely eaten the bones as well. Cooking in Austria has been quite fun and challenging. The local grocery store, Spar, has been renamed by me to Sparse. On the other hand, it has forced me to be creative and I have become quite adept at creating dressings for salads, pastas, and fruits. I wanted to learn more, and the idea of perhaps trying something authentically Austrian crossed my mind while Oliver and I were sitting, watching the scenery outside our dining hall window. "Oli, how do you make Goulash?" "Well", my cohort said thoughtfully, and I waited expectantly for the genetically ingrained recipe to be revealed to me. "First, you have a big pot". He created such an imaginary pot with his arms. "Then, you put a whole bunch of things into that pot". He dumped imaginary things into the imaginary pot. "Stir it and POOF! Goulash!" Never mind. What was I to expect from a man who considers gourmet cooking to be a drained packet of Ramen Noodles and the accompanying seasoning? Despite the fact that our cooking skills are NOT something we have in common, Oliver and I share a number of common interests. Drinking is one of them; lounging around is another. We never drink heavily... in fact, when his Finnish friends came down to visit us this last weekend, Oliver and I were terrified of having to keep up. We somehow managed, because in Mellau, we decided we had to practice, in anticipation of the Finnish friends' visit. So we might have cracked open a beer or a bottle of wine after breakfast. Then we would proceed with the rest of the day’s activities. We read. We talked. We played. We napped. We talked a lot about going on a hike into the mountains, but seemed awfully comfortable on the little cot in the dining hall, cuddled up next to one another in our fluffy, white robes, and reading to one another. Then, we would get up and eat some more. Drink some more. Clean up the kitchen, get motivated to go outside, and then we would go play. Our second venture beyond the immediate vicinity of the house was to go to church on Sunday. I was thrilled to see women and men in traditional mountain dress. Even the children were from a different era, to me: the girls in long skirts and aprons, the boys in delicate woolen vests. There was a brass band in church too, the men all wearing bright green knickered hose and vests, white socks and shirts and red bowed ties. The hats – you have seen them –think Boy Scouts. The women were in green, plaid long skirts, with emerald green aprons and vests, and white blouses. Some of the women had their hair fancifully braided while others topped their heads with paper sailboat-shaped wool hats. The band marched throughout the village after church and Oliver and I followed the procession until we found a Gasthof which we liked. At 10:30 in the morning, I was having a hard time downing a beer, but somehow managed... even faster than Oliver. It seemed easier, the day before, to start at 10:45. It is mainly men who partake in this Sunday ritual; the women (or so Oliver says, but maybe he was just trying to push my buttons) are usually on their way home to cook the meal, though the children stay with their fathers or uncles at the Gasthof. However, if those women would just talk with me, I would give them my chicken recipe and they could join their sweethearts on the terrace, and still return home to a fine meal. That or microwaved wurst would be my suggestion. Yes siree, if they were me. Sunday afternoon was another unproductive, relaxing day. After church and after our meal, we napped. We seem to do this vacationing-holiday thing the same no matter where we go. Oliver and I had basically the same routine when we were in Italy... exhausted by the amount of effort it took to have coffee, lay on the beach and enjoy a four-course lunch with wine, we would crash in the afternoon for a couple of hours to begin our day after five. On the Sunday in Mellau, however, we managed to venture out much earlier... at four. We meandered into the wild and came upon an Alpen Buchen which advertised that it also served food and beer. Perfect. After all, we had been walking for at least a half hour! Close
When I was really young, I longed for a place where I could have a horse in the city. I presented my parents with a plan on how we were going to feed, take care of, and shelter one in the teeny-tiny yard of our…Read More
When I was really young, I longed for a place where I could have a horse in the city. I presented my parents with a plan on how we were going to feed, take care of, and shelter one in the teeny-tiny yard of our duplex: It would mow the grass for the neighbors, I would -- of course -- ride it to school and the corner grocery store. My friends would be charged for the privilege of riding Dusty or Blackie; and said horse would sleep in the tool shed after we sold the push lawnmower. Had I known about Dornbirn I could have made it easier on everyone -- and saved the tears -- if I simply suggested that we move to western Austria. Dornbirn: This is where I have cows and gnomes living next door; where I wake up and step out onto the balcony of the Wehinger family house and the 'home' mountain looms to my left. To the west, I can see the Swiss Alps. Goose-down bedspreads and pillows are aired out in the sun; the wash is hung to dry there too. The air is scented with the anticipation of brighter, warmer blooms. This is where you can go skiing or mountain biking in the morning in the middle of summer, and dive into a clean river or lake in the afternoon. This is where we bike until four a.m. after having several bottles of wine and sausages in front of a bonfire with friends and partners. This is where the nights chime with the distinct sound of cowbells. The families build their houses next to one another on property inherited eons ago. There are fields and meadows, alpine streams and rivers all cupped in the hands of mountains. This is where family is still one, supportive unit; everyone goes to church on Sundays and meets at the Gasthofs for beers afterwards while lingering over large, midday meals. This is where I spend my mornings writing, waiting for Oliver to come home for the main meal of the day -- an hour and half lunch. The whole family is expected at the table, and that sometimes includes visiting aunts and uncles who fill this city as well. Papa Wehinger cooks and now that I am here, we take turns. At night, except on weekends, we fend for ourselves but as a voracious meat eater, I am in heaven with a huge variety of dried sausages, cheeses and of course a hefty stock of red Italian wines (Italy is a mere two hours away and my fellow bon vivant makes certain to always bring back salami and wine from his business trips there). This is where Oliver gently reprimands me for always trying to make things more complicated. I am learning, happily, to stop doing that. Dornbirn: This is where I am surrounded by high mountain villages, cows in the fields, sheep in the grass, that kind of thing. People still wear traditional get-up. Everyone acknowledges each other. It's either Gruss Got (which I like, because it means, Greet God and makes me feel like a goddess when I am addressed this way) or Heil! We kiss each other on the cheeks in greeting and when saying good-bye. This is where I still ignore politics, because we can find controversy anywhere... And like the mosquitoes, the mountains seem to high to allow that kind of annoyance into this valley. This is where, each afternoon, someone new is visiting on the terrace downstairs: godparents, nephews, cousins, nieces, daughter-in-laws, grandsons and sons, brothers, colleagues and business partners. This is where the pace is relaxed but not in the least unambitious. This is where I have yet to get lost. I have plenty of time and enjoy being close to home. There is no rush. It's refreshing to be doing laundry or cooking, or just writing from my balcony, which is A-framed and has a mountain view as well as the view of Oliver's brother's new house. Today, I spent time biking and relaxing in the natural wonders of a small stream. I practice my German on all the non-English speaking people in the family, which is everyone(Oliver is the only one in his family who speaks fluent English). This is where mountain village life is still hard and old friends die at the young age of 60. Where the eccentric but loveable neighbor -- Herr Siegfried -- wanders into the house at any time of the day to watch TV with Papa Wehinger and to tease me with his limited English vocabulary. This is where I have found the words, 'So lasst sich's leben!' --This is the good life!-- most appropriate. This is where I leave Oliver notes on his door each day derived from all the new phrases I am learning in order to communicate to him what I need. I make most of them up, like: Deine Mutter denkst Ich esse nicht weil Ich vermisse Dich; Sie machtig richtig. Your mother thinks I don't eat because I miss you; she might be right. It doesn't matter that it isn't grammatically correct; it only matters that I am trying. This is where I am going to be living for a while. I have a library card for my use. I have plans to travel with Oliver, to start looking for work, to finally ride horses in a city. If you are getting the impression that I am content and happy, you are quite right. Dornbirn will be home base for my writing for as long as it is feasible. I have ordered things to be shipped to me and more closet space is being made for me. There is slight anticipation in the air as Oliver turns to me to help with the renovation of the most awesome bathroom in the world (with plans to renovate the rest of his flat, including an enormous kitchen). Only time will tell, or as Oliver says, 'There are no absolutes. Only God knows.' In the meantime, I have no desire to be saved from the fall. Good morning, from Western Austria. Close