Tag : austria
Tag : austria
I remember my grandmother in details.
A warm, saturated light falling in broad streams through her milky bathroom window,. The silhouettes of trees, dust particles floating through the room. The kitchen door left ajar, just a bit, so I could slip in. The once white, now greyish woolen carpet bent up in one corner. Plastic peeled off the rims of the kitchenette.
Tiny oval picture frames in the hallway, in a crepuscular light, photos of her dead. The view from the window onto thuja, the black and green fir trees, apple trees, poplars, with the silver undersides of their leaves gleaming in the wind.
Red shingle roofs and rudimental hills.
It smelled of dust, and cakes, and old grease.
I hear her high pitched laughter on the phone. An old phone with a dial plate it was, moss green, the black wire twisted. Hear her step, the floor creaking underneath her slippers. The soft skin of her cheeks, fine hair, and eyeglass lenses as thick as the glass from which I drank raspberry syrup. Crystalline streaks on the bottom.
Her strong arms and fingers clinging to the doorknob as she reached the front door.
The white space in the message emphasized the words, the missing letters intensified their weight, made it impossible for me to understand.
My breath caught involuntarily. I could not handle the tremor in my shoulders, nor the feeling of nausea that rose from my stomach all of a sudden. My legs turned into jelly and my vision went blind. All of a sudden there was a hole in my body, which would not close. Which might never close. I looked out of the window and saw nothing but walls and a grey sky above the city.
I remember her hand wiping the kitchenette.
Her broad fingers, and dry skin. Working class hands like my father’s.
Her upper body turning, her head tilting to the side, and then she said something in this high pitched voice.
I have never lost anybody, at least not without intention.
Nobody ever ceased being, ceased breathing in my surrounding.
When she slept on the sofa, she held her hands folded. On her chest, slowly rising and falling, and her mouth slightly opened. A soft whistle escaped her narrow colorless lips. I sneaked up on her and observed her. Tickled her soles. Or just sat next to her on the sofa, counting its yellow and blue streaks. Dry flowers on the table, cacti on the windowsill, and tiny souvenirs on the television set: seashells, a glass turtle, and crossword puzzles.
I am waiting in front of a glass wall, behind which a November sky is waiting for rain to fall. This city is grimmer than its reputation, but only in Winter.
They call us; boarding has started and I think of the woman at the check-in, who cried secretly behind her sunglasses, pulling herself together, moving one step at a time, cautiously. And how much I wished for sunglasses and someone to hold me.
Grandmother had tiny brown wings attached to her glasses, which she pulled down, when the sun blinded her. An entomologist she was with these glasses. A white haired entomologist, although she killed every fly she could find. The kitchen floor was covered in heaps of chitin.
She was not a friendly woman, neither to me nor to others. Neither to useful animals, nor to useful people. She liked little children and grandchildren, little animals and cats, her cat as well, but never caress anyone too much, never love too much.
It might be derived from her history or her character. Maybe she loved and I didn’t understand her. Some build a gazebo for their loved ones, others write love letters. Maybe I didn’t understand her love language. Maybe there was no reason I never felt loved, by her or the others.
The members of this family love each other with sweets. With ice cream and desserts, spiked on pastry forks, caught in spoons. It is not my way of loving; this is why I left when age permitted me to. Even now I feel sick. Maybe because I’m flying back. It doesn’t agree with me, having to go back.
The taste on this plane is one of boredom, of plastic and dust.
People are bored. Nobody considers it special anymore to enter a plane but me, I have always been cheerful about the aisles, the small windows, the seatbelt. And only today I can hardly hold myself together.
A stewardess clad in red hurries through the aisles, people turn to look at her. She is counting the passengers, simultaneously closing the overhead bins, double pace. Then the plane takes off and I feel the adrenaline rising in my body and notice the first raindrops on the window.
They move slowly across the oval shaped Plexiglas, vibrating, transparent lines, one after the other. Before I can spot them they disappear, and others emerge. They float by without touching me; they do not stop dropping and dripping. As long as there are atmospheres and atoms, they will trickle past me.
The seat holds me: a soft plastic shell in the cabin, safe atmosphere in which I cannot touch any drops nor hold any one.
The drop moves slowly down, inside and outside, on the outer layer of the plane, on the inner layer of my body. I cannot do anything about it. I cannot stop crying. It overcomes me without warning. I feel a pull and feel sick and see the grey runway disappear, see the city disappear. A streak, one after the other.
Maybe she floated by like these drops.
Maybe her atoms, before dissolving, dripped past me.
The news came in an email.
Just minutes before, a photo from Tobi, a meadow covered in white frost, winter is coming, it said, bisou from the village.
And then an email from my mother.
Grandmother is dead, she wrote. No grief, no pain put into words, no greeting.
Not even a sad emoticon.
The funeral will be held next Friday, said the following line. And I booked a flight.
I am waiting at the baggage belt. It turns, curving, a gentle buzz in the background. I search for something, something to hold on to, a sign, a sound, a human that I can glue my gaze onto. The blue colour of the monitor flickers. Doors swing open, continuously, intervals of opening and closing. People in uniforms enter and leave, walk past. Faces which have become familiar in the hour I spent with them, I will have forgotten in a few minutes.
The sun draws lines, squares and rectangles on the stone floor. No suitcases to be seen, only the whizz of the baggage belt to be heard, rustling and snuffling and coughing, a loud hoot and then the first black suitcase falls out of a black hole.
And then the sun disappears behind a thundercloud.
It is the time of the year in which the clouds accumulate snow, to let it fall from their cloud bellies, cold and ice, onto people and villages, until the whole country has become an entity of snow. Here they love snow, this white substance, which I dread, because it always also brings darkness.
My grandmother’s eyes were steel blue like the clouds behind the window and they could make my heart stop.
She is dead, I wrote, grandma is dead.
He sent a blank message. Then nothing, for a long time. Then one with three dots. Late at night he called.
I am sorry, Tobi said. And I answered, after a long break, in which I suppressed a sob, until I couldn’t take the pain in my throat any longer: I can’t remember if I told her that I am sorry.
But I don’t know what I am sorry for.
Maybe that I never understood her way of loving me. Tobi loved me before we both knew what this means.
I visited my grandmother on Saturdays.
On Sundays the others came, her children and their children, whom I didn’t like. I didn’t know how to talk with them, even when I was a child they seemed grotesque to me. Their red faces and fleshy hands, that took too much from the meat, the cakes, the bodies they touched. From everything they took too much, and talked and drank too much.
I brought Tobi as a present, because my grandmother loved him more than me, at least this is what I believed. Tobi, with whom I grew up, who was more of a brother to me than my sister. We were gang members, cops and robbers, dragon slayers, passing trials together, later confidants, lovers, and then the closest two could be.
He said that he went to see her, after I had gone away.
My grandmother was his home, just like his grandfather, and the village, in which we lost our innocence, first to each other and now, by her death.
He was the last one to see her.
Death is nothing you reckon with.
There were no signs, he said.
Although I am sure she knew. She knew this day would be her chance. Her chance to vanish, because nobody would have let her go, neither Tobi, nor me, nor the others.
The ambulance tried all they could, he said. There had been enough time to come back. To say goodbye.
I bear her name, and even so, she did not come back, to say goodbye.
The train is leaving the station, drifting past half naked trees, earth walls, fortified by concrete blocks and iron nets. Houses, chocolate sprinkles on a green cake, bulky dark balconies, carports and garages, yolk-colored, white and grey.
Her house is located at the end of the village, skew-whiff, its shingle roof porous, but impervious and steadfast, in the face of people’s moods, withstanding any weather.
It lies hidden, behind thuja, on the back of a four-cornered farm. A house for the exiled, the elders, who are not of use anymore, but not to give up, to be taken care of, who don’t have to do anything, but still do everything.
There was not one day she didn’t work.
In fall, she disemboweled hare and deer and cut the game, cooked the beetroot, which colored her hands blood-red. In spring she boiled down nettle to spinach and in Summer turned the strawberries, cherries and gooseberries to jelly, juice and marmalade. And blended sugar, cream, butter and flour to cake dough, year in and year out.
In the darkness of her basement the jars stood in lines, with smeared surfaces, blackened from the dust and dankness: wrinkled apricots in their juice, pears in schnapps and elderberry stew. Nuts in bags, walnuts, which my sister Agnes and I collected, and sometimes Tobi helped, too.
Green skins, and brown nuts, which we collected in nets. In the attic, between lemon balm, thyme, chamomile and sage these nuts dried, between calendula pedals, which she boiled with butter oil to make ointment with it. And hypericum, which she prepared to soothe aching joints.
In bags we carried these nuts down the stairs, dried and loose, on the back of the house, and put them in grandmother’s freezer, which was well filled, with cutlet meat and pork belly, sausages, farmer’s bread and rolls, frozen butter in packages, raspberries, cake crusts, strudel dough and dumplings. With the provisions in this house one could have survived a war.
On Saturdays mother sent me over to her house, so I did not get in the way, the ways were barred these days and the floors were wet. Doors were shut with brooms, in a pervasive smell of vinegar cleaner. My mother knew I was of no use before I’d ever been to school.
Grandmother’s doorframe was just so high that the women of the family could enter without bumping their heads. Only the vine had to be brushed aside, frail twigs on both sides, the oak wood patterned by wormholes.
I climbed the stairs after passing through the hallway, in which it was dark and smelled of mothballs, the stiff bristles of the carpet under my feet.
Grandmother expected me without taking further notice, one hand in the pouch of her apron, where she squeezed a piece of cloth. In front of her, black filter coffee in a mug with darkened seam, and bread and butter on a tiny wooden plate. The table covered in cumin seed.
A piece of brioche was set aside for me in front of the window, along with a mug of malt coffee, tart and sweet, and a piece of marzipan, which she cut off the big roll.
Each time she would do three pages of crossword puzzles and then clean the table, and I followed her, to fluff up the bedding, and hang the laundry and do all the other things that had to be done.
I sought out her kitchen on other days, too, for in this place I could watch the dust particles in the rays of the sun, I didn’t have to do any homework, I didn’t feel out of place. In this place I could steal away, without being punished, sit in the hay, where it smelled of Summer and warmth, without anyone wanting to find me.
I could sneak over to the farm and touch the cows’ muzzles, which were moist, and the cows would sway their heads this way and that way, and lick my hand with their coarse tongues. A smell of tripe and fermented milk around me, and cats sleeping in the shade of tumbrils, brown colored with black and white patches.
Tri-colored cats, they call them.
Fluky cats, Tobi said.
Newt-like they looked, barely naked, their eyes still not opened. The kitten I found on the dunghill, of which grandmother said there were too many. This is why she threw them onto the eggshells, the rotten lettuce, the things even the pigs wouldn’t eat. And I closed my eyes, when I walked past them, until fresh cow dung covered their twisted, tiny bodies, and drank the fresh milk myself, which I had stolen for them. Which tasted of grease and Sunday mornings.
Like snow, Tobi said, it looked, the cloth they used to cover her body.
Like the first snow of the year, which never stays.
Which only covers the tips of the blades of grass, the molehills, a tender blanket of cold white on her body.
She was still warm, Tobi said. Up to the chin they covered her, and I couldn’t help but think they should dress her.
And my father hit the wall with his fist, he said, so hard, the plaster gushed down from the ceiling.
I have never seen your father cry, Tobi said, this time was not different.
They all came. Her daughters, and their husbands, and their children gathered in her chamber, stood around her, remained silent, muted, and also those who get drunk on the weekends and don’t have anything else in mind, came.
Nobody knew what to do for there was nothing that could have been done.
Nothing to embellish, nothing to drink to, nothing that could have been improved with sweets, a cream slice, an Americano, cream, a chocolate cake or a filled doughnut.
Unlike before, unlike other times, when they gathered and instead of talking, just loaded bigger pieces on their plates, pouring even more vanilla sauce on their strudel, topping up their brandy glasses. The recipe didn’t work anymore. This time their silence could not be ignored.
From now on, there is a before and an after.
From now on, she will only exist in our memory, Tobi said.
We talked about the smell of her bed, her old squeaking bed, of starch and detergent and cologne it smelled. And how we lay in it, when we were children, and hid underneath her blanket.
And I cried, on the phone, and for seconds, all he could hear was my sobbing.
Later that night I thought we should have bottled it, her smell, in phials, and keep it in a room without light, so we could taste it later.
I tried to remember her bedroom, her pillow, where she stowed away her book. The angle at which she left her slippers beside the bed, the drawer she had opened last and the nightgown she wore.
When I asked Tobi why he had gone back to her house, why he went there, he wrote: Because I feel at home there.
Because there were no borders for us, neither when we were children nor after that, neither in her house nor on his parent’s farm, our homes were many.
Let’s go there together, he wrote, I will wait for you at the train station.
It is always Tobi, who picks me up. My parents say that I am late, for everything, my whole life I have been late, even at birth.
I count the red lines on the seat in front of me. Eleven up to my right knee, the material thick cotton or plastic, seamed in threads, like the thread that links me to my family. It never breaks, no matter how far I go.
I left my parent’s house for the first time when I was five years old.
If I left by my own choice or was made to leave, I do not know.
I packed my mother’s old doctor bag, which became my travel bag, and moved behind the chestnut tree in the driveway.
Every year I went further, up to the poplar trees at the creek, where it was cool and smelled of mud and moss, behind the nettles and the privet thickets. As far as the old willow trees on the edge of the fields I went, where I could still see the garden and my mother. Behind grandmother’s house I went, and then to the hillside, in which the foxes dwelled.
They ground herbs, baked cakes and brushed the concrete in front of their houses, but neither mother nor grandmother came to get me.
When I then returned, mother sent me to my room or to other places, many days I spent sitting at my desk, waiting in the pantry, with the lights on or in the dark, as the case may have been. My mother’s favorite punishment was detention. I received it for minor or major offenses, its length I could read in the wrinkles of her forehead or the ones around her mouth.
I asked myself if this made me take to my heels, or if it is something inherent in someone, as it was inherent in my grandmother to be bitter.
I recognise him from afar, with his back towards me, standing there, a scraggy figure with brown curls, hands in his pockets, ragged shoes with holes, he will wear them until they fall off his feet. His gaze is looking for me among those who flee downstairs, into the warmth, to get away from the cold rails. It won’t be just in my head, it will be reality, as soon as we see each other.
My heart is beating, when it sees him, is still speeding up, after all these years. Its rhythm calms me down for a moment, like his hand, touching my face. We hold on to each other. People hasten by. I bury my face into his shawl, in his smell of skin and sweat and old wool. The train is long gone as we finally start walking. I have to keep up, always have to keep up with him, have to take two steps, where Tobi takes one.
The first words we speak in the car.
It smells of stale cigarette smoke in here, his grandfather’s smoke, who took us to the corner-shop with it, to buy jelly snakes and fizzy powder. The smoke is hiding in the cord fabric, the plastic, the dashboard, now covered in little manga figurines and plastic flowers, golden kitsch and waving cats.
I can hardly speak without sobbing. Tears are stifling. He starts the car, it coughs and whirrs, and I am looking at his long thin fingers, sitting on the steering wheel calmly. Fine hair on his knuckles, his skin is light, still carrying a faded, gleaming summer. A burn mark on his middle finger, from when we used to light up balloons, and hot rubber seeped onto our hands. I carry the same scar, on the other hand.
I know every single cut and scratch on Tobi’s body. The white hairs in his beard, first laugh lines around his eyes, cat’s gold in the green of his eyes, under these bristly brows.
Only grandmother called him by his full name. Tobias, she said, and tousled his hair, when we showed up in her kitchen, or slipped ice cups into his pockets, because she knew these were his favourites, and let us walk off, without assigning us with work.
His parents’ farm was our kingdom: innumerable rooms, which we adopted as our own: old granaries and repositories, garages, pig, cow and horse barns, a hayloft, which stretched over two lengths of the building, abandoned storehouses, whose floors were covered in a dust layer as thick as a finger, the dust dispersed so densely, we could hardly breathe. The timber floorboards in the hayloft were full of holes, we balanced past them, always carrying a fear of falling, of tumbling down six meters onto the floor. Must cellars, fruit cellars, wood cellars there were, secret connections between living room, grandfather’s room and hallway, stairs which led to barred iron doors, windows which led to nowhere.
His parents’ farm was between my parents’ house and my grandmother’s, I could have walked past it, if I had wanted to, but most of the time I turned right after the old wooden barn, past the old ad cards of newspapers and milking machines, and the old pear tree, ran through the courtyard, ducked down, and rushed out on the other side.
Sometimes we ate lunch there, his grandfather, Tobi and me. Ate what grandmother had cooked, everyday she cooked there. Tobi and I would stay with Emil, whose room was a treasure box for us, filigree umbrellas of silk paper, a globe on the windowsill, world maps from different eras, leather bound, little wooden dolls, and crystals, which painted rainbow colours onto the wall when you held them towards the sun.
With Emil we drank malt coffee from tiny porcelain cups and ate peppermint candy with chocolate core, until we got a stomach ache, in this all-consuming smell of cigarettes, which was moving through the rooms.
Emil gifted me seashells, which he had collected on beaches in the south. Behind the Alps, he said. Together with dried blossoms and maple leaves, with wooden pieces that looked like animals and little messages, which Tobi and I had written each other, I glued those seashells on a wooden board and gave it to grandmother, because in my parents’ house there was no space for it. The order in their house corresponded to their ways of thinking: things were archived, numbered and labelled, cleared out, sorted out and given away, everything was given away except for the things I saved from the trash.
Tobi spoke about those who cleared out grandmother’s house, who removed things of value, and I asked myself, whereabouts they removed them, and for what reason.
My seashell piece, I said. Do you think they found it?
He shrugged his shoulders.
I don’t think anyone knows what to do with it.
We reach for each other’s hand, automatically and without thinking. Cold and clammy are our hands. I close my eyes, sink into the seat, sink deeper, because with Tobi I can be this way: still.
The driveway is covered by a leafy carpet, the chestnut tree has lost all its leaves. He lets the car roll on, pulling the break, and we halt with a sudden movement, ten meters before the door.
My parents’ house looks small, if you drive past it.
It sits on a street which meanders through the village, alongside a stream, on whose sides houses are strewn like dice on a playing field. Its walls are white, and the shingles overgrown by moss. Like a toad it sits at the end of a driveway, ducking, fitting in its surrounding, between birches and walnut trees, privet thickets and thuja.
In its interior, one loses oneself in corners and corridors.
Sliding doors are hiding behind wooden panels, bookshelves growing out of rooms and crocheted curtains waiting in niches to be drawn. It is a labyrinth, outside as inside, might swell from one moment to the next, or shrink and change its size, in a game of light and shade.
In June, the green of mother’s orchids is glowing, the sky closes in on the windows and the garden becomes an extension of every room. Yet the darkening of a summer’s thunderstorm suffices, and the walls close in, and a dusty, mouldy smell rises in the air, taking one’s breath.
The game of light and shade changes by the hour in this house, it lives by its own rhythm. When I was a child, suspicion took hold of me that it changed with mother’s moods, just as her cheerfulness would change into eeriness from one second to the next, the frames and borders in the house would do the same.
I climb the stairs slowly, close the door, and wait in the twilight, peel off my jacket and put my bag in the wardrobe. I have been away long enough to forget about the wind chimes in the anteroom, where corridors and floors meet. Only the one who knows can go round them, no one else can come or leave unnoticed. It jingles and jangles. The noise of a starting motor mingles with its sound and the crunching of pebbles. It is dark and quiet. Nobody is home. I wait until the only sound left is the ticking of the clock.
On the table in the kitchen sits a bowl with apples and oranges, reading glasses, my grandmother’s lace doily, the tissue which my mother uses to wipe the sweat off her face, since she’s in menopause. A piece of paper lies on the table, a telephone number on it and the word mortician.
Mild light chimes into the living room, makes the dark furniture look small. I lay down on the carpet and breathe in its smell, examine the picture on the wall, my sister and I. With a rigid gaze we are waiting for the photographer to push the button, braided and vested, in quilling, wearing the same dress. In the centre an image of us with our parents, in a golden frame, father-mother-children, next to it mother as a girl and when she was pregnant with me. A photo of father in a boiler suit, Tobi’s relatives in their farm’s courtyard, in the centre his grandfather Emil in front of a hay wagon, in suit and tie, taller than my father, taller than any man I knew.
Tobi’s grandfather had time.
He had time for the cat, whom no one ever gave a name, to pet her when she appeared in his room and lay down at his feet, when he was sitting on his daybed, reading. He had time to watch the garden, for hours, writing down a line or two. He had time to spread the butter on bread deliberately, for long walks he had time, and excursions to the Danube and into the Bohemian Forest, for movie nights and board games, when it was wet outside and too cold. He had time for us, and especially for Tobi. I believe that Emil was Tobi’s saviour, if anyone can be someone’s saviour.
Emil mastered idleness like nobody could, this sweet idleness, in which thoughts gather, this pause between inhale and exhale, which reveals that one is alive. He understood more about life than we could fathom, was a magician of time, at least until his world lost its magic.
His angular face, framed by a crown of curls, laugh lines like ditches around his eyes, his bristly brows. His gaze, brown like the poplar trees. The checked shirt, which he wore daily, with suspenders, his shovel-like hands in his trousers’ pockets, which always dangled from his hips a bit neglectfully. Brown clogs on his feet, which he towed over concrete and plastic.
We noticed in details that he changed.
His mouth all of a sudden didn’t speak clear words any more, and his smile was afflicted, and sometimes his lips trembled, as if he wanted to say something, but couldn’t. In his walk we recognised it, which carried him to the kitchen and back to his room and no further, and eventually nowhere. Motionless he stayed on his sofa, like Tobi’s mother, they sat and didn’t move. His suitcase collected dust, his car began to rust, and eventually he couldn’t wash himself anymore. Grandmother did it and we helped her, supported him, held his arms, it needed both of our strength.
We didn’t understand what had happened to him, but it was highly visible; he wouldn’t come back. Stroke, my mother explained and we tried to understand what this word meant. When he died, I was seven and Tobi eight.
When he died, we looked at his dead body, which they had laid out on the daybed in his room, under the Chinese umbrella, which cast a red shimmer on his face and let us believe he was still alive, and a fly crawled into his nostril and didn’t come back.
Tobi didn’t cry that day, and also his father did not, nobody in this family cried for Emil.
I sit down in the winged chair with the flower pattern, let myself sink into it deeply and close my eyes, listen to the silence in these rooms, floating like an invisible ribbon.
Nothing moves, neither in front of the window nor in the house, no bird, no cat, nothing moves in the scrawny branches, as if all of life has left the village. Though it is just resting, the plants coated by a fine white layer, like sugar powder.
Softly the palm leaves move above the heating. It smells of Christmas, barely noticeable, the air is flickering above the windowsill, but it isn’t warm.
The silence is so dense it hurts in one’s ears.
When we were children, we jumped up and down the stairs to the first floor, taking three steps at once. The wallpaper with the pink flowers in the anteroom is greasy from the hands of the people who went up there. One could easily slip on the old red carpet, the new rugs are pastel green and glued to the old wood with sticky tape.
By the stairs one reaches my parents’ bedroom, next to my sister’s, connected by a narrow door, locked with a small key, which has been lost. I envied Agnes for this access to our parents, which I never had, my room is on the other end of the corridor.
You have no business being here, my mother used to say, you have no business in our bedroom, and I was wondering what business we could have had there, and if we might have found a fortune in it.
I went in when they were at work.
The wrought-iron white bed, the quilted beige cover, square ornamented pillows which reminded me of the Viennese confectionary my mother would eat secretly while watching TV. Above the bed a holy Mary, I wished mother would have tilted her head likewise and closed her eyes, on us, on me.
I don’t know when I lost the feeling that my parents love me, maybe I never knew it. Maybe I imagined it, just as one believes all their life they spell a word correctly, until they realize they have been wrong all along.
That my parents must love each other I understood by looking at the only photo in their bedroom: mother in a white bouffant dress, with puffed sleeves and a backcombed hairdo, father behind her, one hand on her hip. I often tried to imagine their wedding, the moment in which they said Yes, tried to imagine my parents as happy people, when they were young, my age, I never could.
Next to their bed are two bedside tables, symmetrically placed, with lion feet and golden ornaments. In my mother’s I found her grandmother’s wedding rings, in my father’s his grandfather’s pipe and a picture of his parents.
My father always knew when I had been in their bedroom, to this day I don’t know how he found out. He punished me with my mother’s wooden spoon. One of these spoons broke on my hand, another on my sister’s leg. When he had chased us through the house, I sneaked into Agnes’ bed, crawled under her blanket, close to her warm body, even though I knew she didn’t like it, I recognised it by the way she turned over.
In front of my parents’ bedroom there is a terrace, on which you can hear the village’s sounds more intensely than anywhere else, at least that is what Tobi says. The blackbirds’ naggings, the rustling in the walnut tree, the buzz of the tractors in the fields, the hammering, the lawnmowers, the chicken and sheep. Every sound is amplified and clear, as if you only have to give space to the things, so they can unfold.
On this terrace we watched the flight of the buzzard in August, in the glimmering air above the cornfield, and heard the wing beat of the pigeons, who bickered at the roof rail and lost their feathers, only for us to find them. Nobody knew how clear the stars were up there at a new moon, when no light was found in the night, not even Agnes. Nobody saw the last sunray of a day on grandmother’s roof, or the long shade, just before the sun set behind the hill, but us.
© Marianne Jungmaier // translated by Marianne Jungmaier, 2015
This is the transaltion of the first chapters of the novel “The Cake Protocol” (Das Tortenprotokoll).
Release Date: August 17th, 2015
The German version of this book is published by Kremayr & Scheriau, Wien. All rights reserved.
On Vimeo, you can watch my diploma film, a short documentary.
How do we define the spaces we live in?
What do they mean to us – and what happens to them, when the people who inhabited them, are no more?
In “The Extent of Land” we follow an Austrian farmer on a walk throughout his property. Wide open spaces – that are only alive in his memory. The extent of his land, so prosperous, yet so forlorn.
Austrian German with subtitles (english)
Director: Marie Jung (Marianne Jungmaier)
39 hours between East and West
The crescent moon doesn’t give much light tonight. Only a handful of stars blink and twinkle above the coconut trees. But the air is warm. Like every night.
A few revellers stumbled by, on their way home. It was not quiet, where we stood, but it came as close to silence as it could. The sounds of the birds, mopeds, tuck-tucks, of hammering, knocking and footsteps were less frequent around midnight. Dogs barked and howled as usual. There was a rustle here and there, a cat appeared on a wall, crouching down, looking at me. It was just an ordinary night in Varkala.
As we drove off, the taxi slowly turning on the corner, I looked back.
Sanjay stood there, next to his moped, upholding his hand. Smile on his face. Maybe there was melancholy in his eyes. Maybe it was my own. I waved back, and he disappeared.
In town the shop windows are locked up with metal panels. Tatters of newspaper on the sidewalk, broken plastic bottles on the street. Dogs stroll around, stop and look at the taxi. At this time the streets belong to them.
Sanjay made me cry. How not to cry, when someone is looking at you in sincerity, not saying a word, but eyes speaking out loud. I couldn’t help it. It just burst out. Reminded me of a song.
And a hand to hold your throat, to stifle that crying choke.
That’s what it felt like. Crying choke.
I keep my countenance. As I always do, except for those rare moments of weakness. I perfected it. I just pretend that things are not happening.
We drive by my favourite supermarket. The auditorium. The roundabout with the golden statue and the Communist flag. We leave the dark shade of the underpass behind. The fish-market, whose smell made me sick. The other supermarket where they sell everything. Even maple syrup and capers, you know.
The taxi blinks, turns and I don’t know the streets anymore. I try hard, but I cannot recognize anything. I lean back and feel the head wind in my face. It’s getting chilly. I put on my scarf, over the head, like an old woman. Although I am sweating in my woollen Ali-Baba-pants, my long-sleeved shirt. The irony is, I know I will be freezing in these clothes. When I get off the plane in Europe.
I look around. In the corner of my eye a huge backpack, Greg sleeping in the front seat. He must be really tired, to sleep in the front seat of an Indian taxi. A crackle of plastic makes me jump.
“Sorry?” Petros looks at me, from behind the backpack, cigarette in his hand. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Thank God you ask, I’d give my right arm for a smoke.”
We remain silent while sucking our cigarettes, watching the landscape, the night flying by. Now and then we exchange a few words. They trickle down like the little brooks on the cliff, quickly oozing away in fatigue.
“How often have you been in Varkala?” – “Ten times.” – “Will you come back next year?” – “Om namah shivaya.”
I met Greg and Petros twenty minutes ago. Jake knocked at my door while I was uploading music to my Ipod, for the journey. Asked me if I wanted to share a taxi to the airport. With friends of his friend Michael, the mandolin player. Why not. I like that Petros is as silent as me. I just want to let my thoughts run free.
It is 2 am. Hundreds of people in front of the airport. We enter the brand-new building, which has the shape of a UFO. We check-in. Petros and I start looking for a smoker’s room, but first we have to get through security check. The woman in khaki, with a scary something that looks like a machine-gun on her waist, asks me to open my hand luggage. Because her colleague wrote two words on my nametag. I have to take out everything. Do they think I have explosive substances in my notebook? My level of tolerance is going down. I know a grim look is spreading over my face. I feel ostracised. One lighter.
I walk around to find my companions. The cold neon light is dazzling me. All of a sudden Petros appears by my side. A knowing smile. Our secret token. I think it says: I’ve been to Varkala. We stroll around, discovering the airport. Find our refuge, a small Chai shop. We sip it while waiting for Greg. The taste is sweet, milky. It is 2.30.
And then, after uncounted minutes, Greg appears, tall and shiny with his not very tanned skin, in a proper white T-Shirt and blue jeans. How come he looks so fresh. He tells us he could enter the security-check at the business class counter. His eyes sparkle, a smile playing around his mouth. “Because you’re American”, says Petros. We joke around, somewhat lost. We lose our words again. We sit down, in brand-new iron chairs. We try to be comfortable. Our flight is 45 minutes delayed. It is 3.30. Now and then a bubble of words bursts between the three of us. Now and then Petros and me go to the men’s toilet. To have a smoke.
I am so tired. Indians in uniforms, the cleaning staff, sit in front of a blaring flat-screen. They are all asleep. How can you sleep in all this noise.
At 4.30, a tinny voice states the boarding call. We walk over to the gate. Stampede. I am literally pushed into the aircraft. As I encounter my seat in the last row, there is an Indian man next to me. Brilliant. No sleep on this flight. Greg and Petros have their seats near me, but neither do they have more than one seat. To stretch out. Wait. Greg has two, of course. We conspire in the back of the plane. When I come back from the bathroom, Petros is sitting next to me. He smiles. My Indian neighbour has moved to his previous place.
I can feel the aircraft moving. Ready for take-off. I love this feeling, when it takes off. When I am pushed into my seat, gravity so heavy in every bone.
I look out of the window. Blue sky, slowly it is dawning. Blurry white clouds below. Nothing else to be seen. This is a night with no end and a morning with no tomorrow. Everything is merging.
I have lost track of time, already. I only know this flight is about four and a half hours. I wonder what time it is in Varkala, try to count the hours. What is everyone doing right now? What is happening? If it is seven am, Manu will still be asleep. If it is eight am, he and his staff will be in the kitchen. I see them preparing Uppuma and Chai. I see Guy in front of his little cottage, having breakfast, in the back of the garden, reading the newspaper, smoking a cigarette. I see Bo, getting ready for a yoga-class. She is wearing her green long-sleeve and leggings, her dark curls tied up to a knot. A tired look on her beautiful face.
Bing. The seat-belt sign is turned off. Stewardesses rushing to and fro. I bend my knees, put them on the rear side of the seat in front of me. Petros is dozing and Greg is sleeping, his chin on his breast. I take my Ipod out of my bag and turn it on, while watching the infinite blue, through this little oblong.
For every king there’s a crown, and every time I look around, I am the kin of infinite space.
I am a tired king. A zombie king. In infinite space, somewhere in the air, between Southern India and Dubai. A space without frontiers. Nothing to hold on to.
There is no use in staying in India. But where do I go to and what is this place to me?
I doze off. I am in a dreamlike state, images floating through my head. I see the balcony at Manu’s. A part of me is still there. It is tied to Manu’s Garden. Glued to its colourful painted walls, to the green branches of the coconut trees. As if I was connected to Varkala by the adhesive threads of a cobweb, connected by invisible suction cups. I see Pinky’s tremor, how her legs vellicate. I see Sujata, the woman working at Manu’s, with her mobile, sitting in the morning sun, texting to someone. The camera takes off, flies above Varkala North Cliff. Goes down in front of the last shop on the cliff, close-up from the blurred tattoo on the arm of the 13-year-old shop-wallah. I see the sky turning pink by the morning sun. I see dolphins, jumping out of the waves. I see the dogs sleeping on the beach.
A memento motion picture in my head. The soundtrack is composed by Bonnie Prince Billy.
There is a time to sing these sings, and a time to have them sung.
A time to bring the tune and a time to have it brung.
A twitch in my muscles wakes me from my dream. My mouth is dry. I clear my throat, stretch my arms, hit Petros by mistake. He shakes his head, like saying, never mind. He is reading a newspaper, his seat upright. I realize the descent has started already. Where has time gone. I must have been dozing for hours.
I wave at the stewardess. I am awestruck by the colour of her lipstick. Emirates-Red. I try not to stare at her lips, while asking about my connecting flight. She wears a thick layer of make-up. She reminds me of Delphine Seyrig in L’année dernière à Marienbad. I recall a dialogue in this film.
“I have never stayed so long anywhere.”
“Yes I know. I don’t care. For days and days. Why don’t you still want to remember anything?”
“You’re raving! I’m tired, leave me alone!”
“Miss?” She looks at me patiently. I nod. She says I’m allowed to get up early.
When the plane is in taxi modus, I grab my bag and give Petros and Greg a hug. I am grateful they were with me. I don’t know them, but they gave me a feeling of home. A feeling of consistency. And then I run off.
I have ten minutes until boarding closes. Ten minutes are enough for a big cappuccino. Lucky me, there is a Starbucks next to gate 231. I stumble down the escalator, try not to spill the precious light-brown liquid on my way. As I roll down, I see them gathering, waiting for boarding. European faces. I walk towards them. Then my steps slow down, come to a halt.
I hesitate. Something inside me shrinks. It is cold here, but it is not the temperature in this hall, that makes me shiver. There are no emotions. Nothing to hear in the sonic waves around me. I don’t know where to turn to. So I head for the bathroom. To brush my teeth. As I look around furtively, I realize I am the only hippy. There are five women around me, waiting to use the loo. They are queuing patiently, proper looking in their leather boots, high-heels, branded jeans, winter cloaks and make-up.
I look at myself in the mirror. I cannot see me. No mirrors in India. Slowly I start perceiving. And I see myself through their eyes. The colour of my hair is bleached. My eyebrows are not really plucked. My face hasn’t seen make-up for months. Eyes narrow, cheeks red. I have no deodorant with me. I don’t even have clean fingernails. My gypsy feet hidden in my only pair of socks. I spit out and dry my mouth with my scarf. Oh my, they have paper napkins here. Don’t use your scarf like in India.
A woman washes her hands next to me. Golden rings and jewels on her fingers. I look at my odd rosewood necklace. The charm bracelet with little images of angels and Jesus on my wrist. Why do I fly to back again?
I don’t care where I come from, because I care. This is what my friend Daniel said. I just have to remember this, and detach from Austria. I am not Austria. I don’t have to identify with this country. I realize there is a fear in me. An absurd fear of having to stay there.
I pretend to rummage around in my bag. I turn on my mobile. The time is set for Varkala. I don’t know the time in Dubai nor the time in Europe. Nothing is tangible in this infinite space.
As I embark the plane, I cannot look at people. But then it happens, as I stumble along, looking for my seat’s number. Eyes meeting eyes. But nobody is smiling. Six hours. The couple sitting next to me, I cannot tell where they come from. They look American, but they speak a language I don’t know. On their itinerary I can see they have many more flights after this one. I smile at them. I want them to know I am happy to sit next to them. I am grateful they don’t speak German. And then, they smile back.
I stretch my legs and wait for the second take-off. There it is again, this feeling. The aircraft leaping into the air, taking my body with it. This I love. I look out, at the skyscrapers of Dubai. I remember this woman Kirsten I met in Shiva Garden. She works in Dubai. She said, the city has no soul.
When the seatbelt-signs are turned off, I take out my notebook. My thoughts are going high speed on memory lane. With no intention and no destination whatsoever. The last text I wrote comes to my mind. I remember how nervous I was when I put it online and how grateful I am that people appreciated it. Sentences come to my mind, I write them down in the order of their appearance.
“Continue avec ta vie comme tu fais. C’est ravissant.”
“There goes another day.”
“It’s all about keeping yourself open for everything.”
“All I wanted was for you to believe in me.”
“I believe every man should have a phase in his life where he sleeps with a lot of women and goes wild.” – “I think we should sleep with everyone we meet, when it is convenient.”
Time to destination 4:30. The screen in front of me shows me where we are going. Arabian Emirates. There is Baghdad. I wonder what it looks like down there. Where war is at hand. Turkey. Eastern Europe. Austria.
But I am actually nowhere. The only thing I know is, that one door to some previous life has been shut. I just realize it in this very moment. I cannot go back to be who I was before. I am someone else already. I close my eyes.
There’s a lap for resting head. There’s the only nesting bed.
There’s the souls to cry among. For the things that don’t get sung.
I can’t sleep. I am too tired to sleep. I get up and walk up and down the aisles. I enter a bathroom and close the door. There is nowhere else to go. I stay there for a while, looking at the bottles of soap and cream. The little slots with napkins. The basin, the collapsible door. I get out after ten minutes. Now I am brave enough to look around. To look into people’s faces. Most of them are pale. Tired. Bored. Sleepy. They don’t look back.
I sit down again, push my seat back. Legs outstretched, blanket up to the nose, earplugs. I peep to the left, my neighbour is watching a film I don’t know. His wife is writing in a tiny notebook. Time passes. I close my eyes again. I can feel sleep creeping up my spine, my arms, my legs. Finally.
So I’m down and so I’m out, but so are many others.
So I feel like trying to hide, my head beneath these covers.
A hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes. Emirates-lipstick.
“Miss, did you order Vegetarian?”
I nod and take the plate. Burnt mushrooms, an undefined green, soft something in a red spongy ball. I hope it doesn’t start moving. There is chocolate cake as well, and orange juice. I offer the cake and the juice to my neighbours. They shake their heads, but hey, they smile. The cutlery falls to the floor, then the napkin. I always feel like an elephant on a plane. To boot, I lose parts of the food between table and mouth. Not that there was a lot of space. But still. I spoon the jam and ask for black coffee. I wish I could have coffee and cigarettes now. My favourite breakfast and a great film. The White Stripes sitting at a small table, scratching, silent, smoking.
Two stewardesses with a fire extinguisher rush by, towards Business class. I imagine some old American woman, maybe from New York, sitting in her chair, lighting a cigarette. And then the plane would crash down. And like in Cast away, I would survive and would have to pull my teeth like Tom Hanks, with a piece of wood. Or maybe I would die. Would be ok. There is nothing to worry about. Dying is just like being born. Our essence is unconditional love. We cannot get lost. Life is in perfection already.
And with this thought, I am on autobahn again. I remember the scene when I said goodbye to Gopal and Vishnu. Gopal blessed me. He put his 69-year old skinny working man’s hands on my head and blessed me. I could feel it. I could actually feel his blessing. And I remember the sad look on his face, when I mumbled that I don’t know if I will come back. I remember how I felt tears rising, and how I ran off. All these goodbyes were so honest. How grateful I am.
I am hit by my neighbour’s elbow. I look up, the screen says we are above Black Sea now. I put the plate on the floor, open my seatbelt, sneak off to the back. There is this little window in the door, it has a lens. I peep through it. Snow-covered mountains. Montenegro, maybe.
The mountains look beautiful, yet not very appealing. I can feel the cold coming in from the plastic. Don’t sit here, says the sign. My joints hurt. I do some stretching. Take my arms back and clasp my hands. My muscles are stiff. As I bow down, I see the legs of the stewardess walking by. She has nicely shaped legs, petite ankles. But how does she manage to walk on heels all the time? As I get up, I see Ryan Gosling, Til Schweiger and Viola Davis on the screens. I see the little bearded man from the film “Up” on the nearest one. An Indian girl, sitting in front of it, has turned it on. Right now she looks at me with big eyes. I look back and smile. She doesn’t.
Life is like the seasons, after winter there comes spring.
So I keep this smile a while and see what tomorrow will bring.
I go back and I don’t know how, but the hours pass. I write a few lines, so there is no congestion on the autobahn in my head.
I will go back to my sister’s house. Wash my dirty clothes, my dirty face, have a good sleep and get over it. Sometimes you just have to take a nap and get over it.
The remains of my belongings fill up a room in her cellar. My futon, my cupboards. Boxes over boxes with tableware, clothes, bed-sheets, blankets, pillows. Even a fridge, covered in butterfly stickers. Anything you need to make a flat cosy. Indian style, of course. I have some of the pink and orange wall paint left, if you need any.
I don’t need it. I want to travel lightly. There is a gap between who I was and who I am. I’m on a paper aeroplane, somewhere in-between.
There is so much to do when I go back. Finish the book by march. Talk about it with my mentor. Apply for scholarships. Edit a film. Maybe visit a friend in Estonia in April, go to Israel in May, to Northern Italy to this artist in residence place. Berlin, UK in July and Nice in August. By September, for my birthday, I want to be in Asia again. That means I have to write the book about India from May on. And get a publisher for the autobiography. And get a new tattoo in March. And do Yoga every day.
I look up. Time to destination 1:45. There is Austria’s outline on the screen. Vienna. Graz in the south. there is a town called Wachau. Well, this one doesn’t exist, dear Emirates. Salzburg. Where I loved and lived for many years. Long gone, a lifetime away.
Time to destination 30. World map on the screen. I see the countries the airline approaches. India. Next to it there are Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam.
I’ve been many places, maybe not as far as you.
So think I’ll stay a while and see, if some dreams come true.
As the plane is descending, it feels like this is happening to somebody else.
The machine rocks as the tyres touch the ground. I feel the weight pulling me forward. It slows down. Maybe I just keep going now, without thinking.
I watch the power lines, in the upper part of the window. They move in a rhythm, going astray, getting together again. In perfect tune with the train’s sound. Dudum dudum, dudum dudum. The woman opposite me, her face is pale, spotted, empty. She is tired, her eyes red. Her hair is randomly dyed, blonde. She holds on to her small backpack, as if it could fly away. She stares out of the window. I feel more homeless than ever before. As if I lost my identity in those colourless fields outstretching before my eyes. They are even greyer than in my memory.
I get off at Munich Ostbahnhof. I manage to get on the next train to main station. I climb stairs, up and down, my 27 kg backpack growing heavy on my shoulders. Pushing my knees down. No backpackers here. Only fancy Munich people. As I sit down, I read Munich-Vienna on the screen. Departure time 15:27.
I get myself another coffee and stare out of the window. I don’t really see anything. I just look. Everything is happening apace now, without my doing. I take my notebook and write. I lose sentences, write the wrong words, repeat myself. I start anew.
There isn’t much that I have learnt through all my foolish years.
Except that life keeps running in cycles. First there’s laughter, then those tears.
The train leaves. There is Germany, Bavaria. Soon there will be Austria. But there is no difference, really, borders are only in the head. These countries look very much the same. Tidy gardens behind carefully raised fences. Solid houses with unblemished, clean walls. Inside, there are dark, mind-numbing rooms. Rooms in which your breath is short, in which grandmothers’ clocks are still ticking.
I am so tired, I can feel fatigue in my staring.
When the train stops in Salzburg, I get up and go to first class. I appreciate this luxury, that I can use my journalist’s ID to sit in first class. I know, I don’t need it, but I want to have some peace. Maybe I am adjusting already.
We drive past my favourite lake, Wallersee. It’s surface is covered with light-blue ice. Everything frozen. Something makes me sad. I can feel it, when I look at the wan, ashen meadows, the dark-green fir forests. Big cars, rolling on solid streets. More houses. The gardens embellished.
The emptiness in this landscape is frightening. There is a regularity and tidiness in everything. But it is deserted. So rich, but forsaken by all good spirits. No people, no animals to be seen, no life. The reason is not the season.
People seem to be afraid. Now I know what my friend Daniel meant, when he visited me. He was so saddened by the atmosphere in this country and I didn’t understand. Because for me, this was normal. I feel tears on my cheeks and turn around, to look out of the window. No hearts beating in unison here.
How I wished to find my place in Austria. A home-base. I was searching for it for more than a year, maybe longer. I was desperately trying to find a little space for me. Now I realize, this country, it is not home to me. And as I write this down, I remember. I had the solution before. I just didn’t know.
Two weeks ago, Seneja asked me if I was going home now. I said, I am not going home, I am simply going to where I come from.
“Home is where my heart is”, I said, “and that means, home is where the people who I love, are. Like you, for instance.”
And Seneja, with her eight years of wisdom, replied: “Then your home is here.”
And I said, “Yes.”
I feel a bit shaky. My thoughts come to a standstill, somehow. I nestle down in my seat, listen to the constant sound of iron wheels on tracks. I look at the endless acres of rural Austria, a landscape I know so well. I feel my breath filling my lungs with air.
I know it’s almost funny but things can get worse than now.
So I keep on trying to sing, but please. Just don’t ask me now.
As I wake up in my sister’s guest room on the first day, I am shocked. I don’t know where I am. I look around, hold my breath. It is eerily quiet. I realize there is a pyjama on my body and I am buried under a thick blanket. I remember I dreamt of white dresses.
On the second day, I still don’t know where I am, as I wake up. I stare at the blanket, so strangely warm and thick. I look at the ceiling. Tears, because I simply want to go downstairs now, to say good morning and throw a smile at everyone. I remember I dreamt of being in India, and of putting an apple in the snow.
As I open my eyes on the third morning, I know where I am. I open my eyes and see my sister’s drawings on the wall. Beautifully crafted black and white paintings. I look at her cupboards, I see my postcards and little figurines I gave to her. In a picture frame there is a photo of her and me, when we were kids. She has her arm around my shoulder and we both seem to chuckle about something. As my gaze wanders, I notice a green plant on the shelf. I feel the softness of the silk pyjama she gave me, the comforting warmth of her blanket. I see a little note that has been slipped in underneath the door. I get up, kneel down and read it. Good morning sis, it says, wish you a wonderful day. Love you.
I remember my intention for India.
It was this: Take me to where love is needed.
Maybe it is still valid. So here I am.
© Marianne Jungmaier, Gumpolding 2012