Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Checking Joy of Cooking last night for a pancake recipe, pancakes being the traditional Irish dinner the night before Ash Wednesday (traditional because the eggs, butter and sugar had to be consumed before the privations of Lent), I noticed a recipe for Austrian pancakes, Nockerln. The authors note: ‘In Salzburg, when we were last there. . . .’ In the 20 years I’ve owned the book, I doubt I'd ever noticed the recipe, awareness narrowly focussed always on the more familiar. In fact, until recently little about Austria had caught my attention. As European states go, for myriad reasons, it’s hard to overlook France or Germany, Spain or Italy, but Austria always sat on the edge of my consciousness, tucked away, the Alps perhaps too lofty to scale.

So, weeks ago, when we became aware of the possibility of moving to Austria, I started looking at history books and online maps, refreshing my knowledge of the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire, trying to understand how Austria fit into European history and geography. I realised how little I had ever thought or knew about Central or Eastern Europe. What’s remarkable is how different the map looks with the Atlantic and Ireland repositioned on the far western edge of the page and Turkey and the Middle East framing the eastern edge. Europe suddenly expanded, unreeling on the other side of the Alps, rolling away down the great plains of Hungary, passing mountain ranges and boggy ground I couldn’t have located months ago, rushing headlong toward the vast steppes of Russia and the Black Sea.

This week, in Ireland, though, I’m working through the checklist of things to be organised before the move, mostly involving paperwork and following through with bureaucracies: US tax returns (2009), Irish tax refunds (2008), filing receipts for the reimbursement for medical bills, and more. My husband is receiving, signing, scanning, and resending contracts and other documents. There are emails and phone conversations about shipping, temporary housing as well as renting a place in Salzburg.

There is another checklist, though, an interior one, directing my attention to sensation. The black roof tiles frosted as white as the rime-covered rough grass in the morning’s first light. One rabbit chasing another in the dim early light, dark form after dark form bounding through uneven tangles of wild grass. The tiny bold robin, head cocked, waiting two feet away as I scatter the day’s seed.

My mother-in-law’s dog, Sally, arriving first thing from next door to race through the house, claws clattering, eager to make sure we’re both here, before tearing out the back door and up the field. The sharp shard of yellow light striking the wall by the kitchen as the sun finally mounts the tall hedge to the east. The stab of light through the skylight, cutting a tilted square of brightness on the pale hall wall, warming the chill. The stark bare skeleton of an ash, branches and truck stripped to the bone by crows, rising from the hedge opposite my window, its spear-like upper branches scraping the sky.

These and more go into the album of the mind.

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