Austrian Problems

I woke up at 4am this morning.  Driven to the sink, for a glass of water and a moist slice of carrot cake that I’d made the day before.  Under all the cream cheese icing, and its glinting tent of aluminium foil, the cake had sweated into itself, and was more delicious than I remembered.

The bloody birds had woken me up.  I’d left the window open, so the whistle of the jasmine scented springtime air would send me to sleep.  The breeze chilled the room just enough for me to tighten the doona around my shoulders.  

But I didn't count on the birds.  All different kinds, twittering and singing a hundred different songs, one after the other.  Each waited it’s turn before singing with all its might.  With each song the melody grew more complex, more sonorous, more gleeful.  I guessed these birds were competing in a Birds of Austria idol contest.  It was as magical as it was annoying.  And by 5am I’d had it with the audacious birds.  I slammed the window shut, put my earbuds in, and played an album of relaxing rain sounds. 

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Everything is green.  Too green.  Like an overfiltered instagram picture.  Too much lux, or vignette where it isn’t needed.  Trees thicken where bare twigs once stood.  Right before my eyes.  Every day my 7 minute walk to the train station resembles something more like a jungle tour.  Under  low hanging vines, by mossy tree trunks, across the knobbly roots of finely buttressed giants, where nothing much else grows, because the light can’t reach the forest floor.  When I see Heilengstadt station in the distance I remember where I am again.  And the forest recedes into the distance, sprawling, without warning, through the sunlit day.

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I went to to Milan one weekend.  It only took one hour by plane, I’d barely settled in and opened the book, and my ears were popping.  I spent four nights there.  Milan is ugly from the outside, but beautiful from the inside, if you know the people who keep the keys to the locked courtyards, and can tell all the old stories, as though they’re real and they might genuinely know the people involved.  It’s a beautiful place, if you know someone who embodies the Italian theatre, that is half the reason you travel to Italy in the first place.  I had enough Negronis and pizzas to feel home in the Italian way.  Warm, and gluttonous, because I couldn’t help but eat and drink with the unnecessary frenzy of a greedy tourist, who’s not sure whether they’ll be back.

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I’ve been to Salzburg three times.  It’s the Austrian state that happily blends in with Bavaria.  The border between the two is murky.  There’s a small town that I stay in, on a lake.  All the houses in the town, big and small, are built in the old way.  With broad, gently sloping roofs, to encourage the snow to stay put over winter and insulate the houses.  Wooden flower boxes sit below every window and sprout bold spring blooms.  Little hearts are carved all through the wood like wishes.  The house I stay in is big and old.  The floors have a parquetry finish, and I cross them like stepping stones along a river.  There is a copper chandelier in the centre of the lounge room.  It is warmed by a big fireplace, and decorated with photos from a lot of travels that I did not go on, taken during the years before I was born.  Everything about the house heralds a sense of occasion.  Its furniture, and the memories that lay musty in old cupboards, whose keys hang tantalisingly in their holes, for most anyone to open.  The windows bare straight down onto the lake.  A sauceress which is sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes green and at night, silver black, like an expensive car.  She urges you to jump on in, even when it is much too cold. The lake’s beauty is so great, that sometimes it feels lonely.  An endless immortal thing, ever staying put.

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There are bakeries on every street corner.  Warm hearths bursting with crunchy rolls and creamy cakes decorated with shiny berries glazed with sugar.  I go to the bakery often, and pick my wares like a kid at the milkbar, wisely selecting how best to use the $2 I stole out of my mum’s purse.  After I’ve filled a bag with a button loaf of dense sourdough, 6 brotchen topped with different sorts of seeds and grains, a tart, a croissant or two, depending on how they smile at me from behind the window, and two brezn, if there are any left, or they bothered to make them that morning.  With a pregnant bag full of presents rustling among the paper bags I take a coffee, and sit near the window, because I can’t bare to leave the scent of freshly baked bread right away.  I order a sweet treat, and I don’t mind that it dusts my face, because alone, on my stool, facing no one, and knowing no one in the area, I realise this mess is the pleasure of eating.  I lick my fingers, one to eight, and get up to leave, satisfied.

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For dinner, sometimes we walk to a Heurigen.  It’s a little restaurant adjacent to a winery.  There are lots of wineries, even in the city of Vienna.  They squeeze vines in anywhere they can.  I run alongside them when I go jogging in the morning and say ‘Servus’ to the old ladies with dogs, other young joggers like me, and the red-nosed drunk man who sits on the bench with a beer and a newspaper, so it doesn’t seem like he’s truly let himself go.