Going Back or The City of our Dreams or, Simply, Vienna

I was offline while visiting the city of my childhood, Vienna, and introducing my own children to the delights of Wiener Schnitzel (received with enthusiasm), Sachertorte (even more enthusiasm) and Apfelstrudel (less so). There were fewer old classmates at the school anniversary than I expected, but it was nevertheless exciting to be back. Missed flight on the way out, additional expenses, lack of internet access, endless construction sites and tired feet (which led to complaining children) did not dampen my ardour. I’ve written about my love for Vienna before, which even extends to its crime fiction.

Palais Kinsky in Vienna

And yet… I was reminded how difficult it is to recreate the city that once meant so much to you. That city is lost forever, no matter how hard you try to fit the sparkling fragments together. Here is something I wrote a while back about it. 

I started musing how my whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them.   I love exploring new places but I also like settling in, making those places my own, getting that intimate connection with them that can only come from repetition and routine.  When it’s time to move on, I am excited about the new adventures I will have, but I am also sad to leave a certain part of myself behind.  With each encounter with a different country and culture, I become richer in experience, but somehow also poorer when I leave.  Does anybody else feel like that?

My son taking a picture of the balcony from which Hitler spoke to the cheering masses, 15th March 1938.

It’s difficult to explain – but it’s like my soul has been bereft to a certain extent.  I keep the experience locked up somewhere tight within and remember it with such delight from time to time.  But the experience is unrepeatable.  Even if I go back with the best of good intentions to that country, it will never feel the same again.  If you go back as a tourist to a country where you were once resident, it can be exhilarating as long as you don’t think about it too closely.  Or you can feel shut out, a stranger once more.  It will certainly never again feel like home.

Hazy view of Vienna from the hills.

I was very lucky a few years ago to return for a couple of months to Vienna in almost exactly the same conditions I had lived there before during my childhood.  I stayed with a friend who had known me since I was three, she lived just a few streets down from where I had grown up.  Vienna itself is a city that changes subtly rather than rapidly, so I found myself remembering even the tram routes and little shops.  I met up with old friends and slipped easily into dialect.  And yet… I am not that same person, I am not the same age, I do not have that same attitude and innocence.  Vienna was lovely, welcoming, filled with nostalgia for me…   All the externals were right, but it was no longer home.

My corner of paradise, the Vienna Woods and the 3 hills: Cobenzl, Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg.

People do ask me:  ‘Don’t you feel bad about having no place to call home?’ and I often laugh it off, saying: ‘But I feel at home anywhere!’  And I certainly do believe that and consider myself very fortunate to have been able to call so many beautiful places home.  (Also, any place that is home becomes beautiful, even if it didn’t look so promising to start off with.)

To quote the old drinking song: ‘O Du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin…’ (Oh, poor Augustin, everything’s gone!)

But sometimes I do wonder if, by leaving little chunks of my heart in so many different places, I will end up in smithereens.  And why I couldn’t  spend more time in those places where I have been happiest.

What place do you call home?  Do you feel you can repeat your experience of living in a certain place, or is it best to just wallow in unfulfilled nostalgia?

Friday Fun: A Place We Once Called Home

This is something I wrote a long time ago, on a very different blog.

My whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them.   I love exploring new places but I also like settling in, making those places my own, getting that intimate connection with them that can only come from repetition and routine.  When it’s time to move on, I am excited about the new adventures I will have, but I am also sad to leave a certain part of myself behind.  With each encounter with a different country and culture, I become richer in experience, but somehow also poorer when I leave. 

It’s difficult to explain – but it’s like my soul has been bereft to a certain extent.  I keep the experience locked up somewhere tight within and remember it with such delight from time to time.  But the experience is unrepeatable.  Even if I go back to that country, it will never feel the same again.  If you go back as a tourist to a country where you were once resident, it can be exhilarating as long as you don’t think about it too closely.  Or you can feel shut out, a stranger once more.  It will certainly never again feel like home.

Last week, I had the opportunity to return to our village in France and took some pictures to try and describe the charm of the location (bearing in mind that these pictures do not cover all the seasons, only a sunny day in February).

Our home in France for 4 1/2 years.
Our home in France for 4 1/2 years, complete with climbing tree for Zoe cat.
Our close from the main road.
Our close from the main road.
The field we passed on our walk to school, often full of ponys grazing.
The field we passed on our walk to school, often full of ponys grazing.
The orchard where we could pick plums, apples, pears and quince.
The orchard where we could pick plums, apples, pears and quince.
'We live in the countryside,' my boys used to tell visitors, 'You will smell a lot of natural fertiliser.'
‘We live in the countryside,’ my boys used to tell visitors, ‘You will smell a lot of natural fertiliser.’
The view facing the other way, towards the Alps.
The view facing the other way, towards the Alps.

‘Tis the Season to be Cosy

A smoggy, sunless day today.

So indulge me… Allow me to curl up in a well-travelled vintage room, with lots of books, armchairs, plaid blankets and plenty of cushions. An open fire and a mulled wine would be optional, but deliciously thoughtful.

www.domainehome.com
http://www.domainehome.com
www.freshome.com
http://www.freshome.com
www.freshome.com
http://www.freshome.com

A cosy bedroom would not come amiss, even if it were designed with teenagers in mind…

www.decoist.com
http://www.decoist.com

But, for the ultimate retreat, while there is still snow in the mountains, I would like to hide up in this Swiss eco-pod hut in Flims and do nothing but read and write.

www.inhabitat.com
http://www.inhabitat.com

Running Home

P1010699The mountains are closing in today.

On a clear day, just after a drop in temperature, they open up as endless as your life seems in childhood. On a day like this, when clouds display a full arsenal of grays, when rain is announced every few minutes, the mountains seem closer.  Too close.  They press against you, crush you, lock you in. You begin to understand the danger of the Alps. Ominous is a word created for that brief silence before the storm breaks.

So you start running. Mud, pebbles, asphalt: the terrain varies and so do your steps. What you cannot get used to is the running between borders.  After a lifetime of being punished for your nationality, of not being allowed in or out of countries, it is such a thrill to be able to weave your way in and out of France and Switzerland. A grey, moss-covered border stone dating from the 1870s is your only witness.

You moved to the area unwillingly the first time round. You had to give up a good job, family and friends, a good-sized house in the process of being slowly renovated, the language of your comfort. The children were fully dependent on you that first time, each day was a struggle with unfamiliarity. You couldn’t wait to get back ‘home’.

MountainsBut home had moved on, as had you. You found yourself struggling to fit in. You were still the alien, perhaps even more so with your new-found love for croissants and small coffees. You missed the extreme landscapes, the seasons. You remembered breathing in air so fresh that it rushed straight to your lungs in unadulterated delight.

Life has a way of playing with your emotions. Just when you are settled in again, when you have arranged your memories in a neatly labelled box to be put up in the attic, it is time to resurrect them.  You are going back to the space on the border for a second time. But this time it’s all different again. The children are older, your French is better. You continue working, but you are determined to make each minute in this wonderful location count. You are not going to leave this area again, regretting all that you didn’t do and see.

Home is a word you have bandied about far too often in your existence. You’ve believed you were at home in many places, with many people, but have you ever fully understood it? 

GrapesCould this be home now? You hardly dare to hope.

Yet there is a lilt in your peasant soul as you run through the fields, worrying about the harvest. 

The peaks and valleys, now green and pleasant, now eerily bare, mirror your own innerscapes. You surprise yourself with the sudden onset of storms, but you recognise a twin spirit.

If you weren’t so marked by years of taunting, you might almost think you are communing with nature.

Whether this is home or not, this is the best of you. Use this time wisely. Write it all down.

Born Out of Place

English: W. Somerset Maugham early in his career.
English: W. Somerset Maugham early in his career. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

W. Somerset Maugham has a beautiful quote, which I think describes so well the feelings of us global nomads, who are never fully at home anywhere, but also easily at home anywhere.

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.  Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage.  They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among they only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves…  Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs.  Her is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest.

And here are two more quotes about that exquisite tension between ‘home is where your heart is’ and ‘but my heart is in several places at once’.

I feel like I’ve never had a home.  I feel related to that country, to this country, and yet I don’t know exactly where I fit in… There’s always this kind of nostalgia for a place, a place where you can reckon with yourself. (Sam Shepard)

The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not to be questioned. (Maya Angelou)

Perhaps that is why I enjoy fiction set in different locations so much. I’m exploring potential homes.

You Can Never Go Home

Landscape from planeIn the country where my tongue

should feel limber,

my mind goes slurry.

I hear the gasps between words,

feel the teeth in the smiles.

 

In the land of sensuous beauty,

I spy abandon, breathe in decay.

I opt for potholes while above

a sky of such wonder

casts up its blue tablecloth of hospitality,

flecked with golden smudges.

A generous hostess.

I groan in over-fed wantonness.

 

potholesIn the soft arms of my mother land

I detect only flab.

Since when did cynicism poison my well and render

my cattle so sick?

How did love grow so shallow that mere breezes

can topple the ship of my faith?

 

I don’t believe  they care much about my grimace,

or ruefully take in my artful sneers.

They live each day anew, alight

in flames I can no longer name.

I shiver unburnt.

And in the thirst

for life of my people I am humbled

out of the girth of my own navel.

Holiday Haikus

Snowy landscapeSilver mother-tongue:

winter nights are still too short

to share you with friends.

 

If you must pass too:

let the murmur of the snow

be your only guide.

 

Our Falcon-hut

hugs its icy green mantle

closer to its heart.

 

Shrill squawks of delight

our boys, your boys: who can tell?

Bundled-up snowmen.

 

If laughter ceases,

what is left? Bring more mulled wine!

Games room rings with us.

 

Inside the prison,

outside of the storm,

I am laughing.

 

Finding Myself

Who enters the day with tongue too curious?

What enters the mind in bewilderment’s sway?

Head-first the plunge

into waters unplumbed:

do I know myself? No more!

No more

I say.

Thin peel by thin

I unwrap the onion

of my soul too shivery

of a layer too deep.

I choose to believe

I will it to be

the rawness

making me cry.

And what would you say,

what would you whisper,

what would you shout

if you could?

If you woke each day in love

without fear

in a cocoon some call home.

 

Not sure I am doing this properly, but I am trying to link this to the OpenLinkNight at virtual pub dVersePoets, a rather amazing website and initiative which enables me to read poems by some of the most interesting voices that the online world has to offer.

 

They Keep Me Here

They keep me here,

those lips puckered up for good night kisses,

the tooth fairy duties,

odd chuckle in the night.

 

They keep me sane,

those questions about fairness, children who have

nothing, polar bears drowning,

how drains and bridges work.

 

They wash away anger

with silly puns and toilet jokes,

songs half-remembered,

the la-la shrieked out loud.

 

They ground me.

Clip my wings.

Imprison me with love.

Know not what they do.

Nor ever will.

I swear.

Kindred Spirits

One of the pleasures of dedicating myself to writing (once more) is that I am rediscovering old friends whom I haven’t seen in years, and whose creative talents have matured like good wine.  Our lives have taken such different paths, we are scattered all over the world, we may struggle with small talk and yet…

Our love of words unites us: in some ways, we are perhaps closer now, sharing the best of of our thoughts, than we were when we were living together side by side.

Let me introduce you to just three of these.  First, Paul Doru Mugur, a friend from high school, the only one who kept pushing me (sometimes ruthlessly) to write.  Here is a beautiful and rich essay of his about time, published in an online journal which he co-edits. He also translates Romanian poetry into English, has published several volumes of short stories and poetry, and is generally very active in the arts world – all while holding down a demanding job as a physician in New York.

Secondly, I have a niece who used to pull my hair as a baby, but whom I have barely seen since. She is now all grown-up, has just graduated from university, writes searing prose in Romanian and occasionally in English.  We barely speak to each other at the big family reunions, but have grown close through our online love of writing.  A facet of ourselves well-hidden from the rest of the family.  Here is a poem in English, but I think her real talent lies in flash fiction or polemical pieces.  Here is a lovely example called Tutus and Cigarettes.

Finally, a friend from university who writes like an angel.  Her blog House of Happy has made me just that: profoundly happy.  I think she has a direct window into my heart and head at times. Here is one of my favourite recent entries. I wanted to reblog it, but our different platforms means I will cut and paste instead (oddly appropriate for this poem):

The Game

Get some paper
Chop it up into small squares (a hundred freckles-wide by exactly four snails)
Retrieve bits of your life and write down trigger-words on the shell-and-freckle paper: trigger words are those words that drag behind them large, live memories, the type you can still see, feel, count, smell (but not always spell…); the kind that roll off the shelf, jump out of the bottle and burn your eyes.
Put them all in a hat, shake well.
Watch them settle inside, now still but still whispering their burnished secrets, a lake of life inside a hat.
Go fishing.
Clutch the trigger word you caught tightly inside your fist.
(eat it up if you must – chew well, swallow carefully; this may be helpful but remains entirely optional)
In any case, hold that word, smell it, consume it or, better still, let it consume you.
Then write about it. Write as if your next breath depended on it.
Prose, verse, a picture, anything that would help you understand
why your heart still roars
although your life, bruised burden
and time itself
stand still.

Oh, all right then, here is a terrible picture from those days, to counteract all these lovely words!  And no, I’m not sharing which one of the wild-haired people was me!