It’s been snowing in Salzburg for a couple of weeks now. The Sunday he was here on his own, while I was still in Tipperary, my husband explored the large park across from the hotel, sending pictures of an acres-wide expanse of unblemished white ringed by dark-green trees. I’d hoped I’d be able to see it myself, and, sure enough, the mountain just beyond our window is spread white between grey-green trees. It looks as if one could ski down its face. It snowed all afternoon Saturday, and we sat watching from the expanse of windows in the wide, empty common area outside our room as it fell on the street and passing cars and car park and window ledge. But it’s warm enough that the flakes dissolved, building leaving only a few inches of white covering roofs and ground.
The hotel into which we’re settled, for the short term, is a pleasant one on the Alpenstrasse with a bright, colourful interior. It’s not far from my husband’s office, to which he commutes in a rented car. Buses toward the city centre pass every five minutes, stopping at the corner next to the hotel, more convenient, I’d say, than driving. Yesterday after writing in the morning, I did some errands for my husband, including taking the bus to a shoe shop I’d discovered, just a few stops along, to pick him up new shoes, his attention these days being focussed on coming up to speed at work. Then, on a whim, thinking to see the snow fall on the Dom and surrounding churches and the Festung and narrow streets, I continued north to the Altstadt.
The bus set me down on the far side of the Salzach near the pedestrian bridge, the Mozartsteg. Swirling snow gave the afternoon a dusk-like feeling. People walked heads down or under umbrellas. I dawdled crossing the bridge, stopping to look down into the shallow blue-green waves. It seemed as though I could see stones on the river bottom. A thin layer of slush covered the bridge so I trod carefully, stepping on the raised metal cleats to keep my footing. On the opposite shore, a man stopped his bicycle as we waited for the light to cross. He wore a plastic or nylon cape that covered his shoulders and body as well as the handlebars and most of his bike. It made sense; I had been wondering how people used bikes as transport in wet weather.
The Festung on its mountain and the domes and steeples of the churches below were shrouded in the dim grey light and thickly falling snow. The narrow streets and shop windows, although still festooned with shining colours, were dimmer through the mist. One shop window was filled – entirely filled – with painted Easter eggs. I’d seen it before, the first night of my first visit to the Altstadt, but it had been closed. Inside, painted eggs, real blown hens’ eggs, were displayed by the dozens, resting in 48-count egg flats and 12-egg cartons, hung by ribbons from small bare branches, painted in scores of different patterns and colours. It’s a minor industry here, where Easter is taken very seriously. Under the low stone-ribbed groin vaults of the ancient building, fully the first half of the large shop was filled with eggs and other Easter decorations. (The back half of the shop, fronting on another street, was filled with Christmas decorations.) A few of the eggs were goose eggs, painted and cut in filigreed patterns; there were a few candles and other twee tchotchkes, as well, but the variety of eggs was overwhelming. A mother and her serious-faced daughter, about 8 years old, moved among them, carefully examining eggs and putting them into an egg carton.
Outside again, I wandered, aimless, growing colder. My feet especially were feeling the cold rising from the slushy pavement. And – curse of middle age – I needed to pee. Stopping at the entrance of the stately Hotel Altstadt, I considered going in. Perhaps I could find the toilet; maybe I would stop for a coffee – ein grosser brauner, as I’ve learned to say. It would be nice to get in from the cold.
As I hesitated, the door opened and out came a woman, a bustling woman in black. From a leather bag hung over her arm peered a toffee-coloured dog the size of a handkerchief. She was a woman of a certain age, of woman of substance, with the heft of wealth, wearing a black coat of Persian lamb with fur collar. A dome-shaped black fur hat nested over a full silver bob; wide black earrings set with diamantes hung from her ears. Fumbling with a small camera with hands encased in soft black leather, she addressed me in musical French-accented English, a charming voice. A friendly voice.
‘I had to come out to take a picture of my dog. She’s never seen the snow.’
The dog, a solemn-looking miniature terrier with a red ribbon tied in the fur that flopped over her face, looked at me, incurious.
‘How old is she?’ I asked, which seemed relevant in the circumstance.
She was precise. ‘Seventeen months.’
‘And what’s her name?’
‘Her name is Louise.’
I felt entitled by this familiarity to reach out and scratch the dog’s tiny head. Neither the woman in black nor Louise objected. The woman still fumbled with her camera.
‘Would you like me to take your picture with Louise?’
She was pleased with the suggestion, and we looked up to see, just across from us, a low dark doorway with a shallow pointed arch, the perfect frame, capturing the atmosphere of the street and setting off the falling snow before it. As they posed in front of it, dull light illuminated woman and dog, while soft fluffy flakes drifted in front of them. I took one picture, exclaiming at how lovely they looked, then another, capturing the woman’s bright smile. They were good pictures.
We stood a minute after admiring them as people hurried past us. ‘Are you staying here?’, she asked.
I hesitated. How nice to be able to claim the stately hotel as mine, to pretend to be at home and warm in its rich comforts. A frisson of regret flashed through me as I groped for a suitable explanation.
‘No,’ I said. ‘We’ve just moved here from Ireland. To live.’
Do I speak German? No? I’ll have to learn, I said.
What language do I speak?
‘Only English. And you?’, I asked. ‘You’re French?’
‘Where are you live?’
‘Monaco.’ Which seemed somehow perfect.
Then we said ‘Au revoir’, and she disappeared into the door of the Hotel Altstadt, and I walked on, still aimless, wandering in the cold, feeling it was now impossible to slip unnoticed inside the grand hotel just to use the toilet.