Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Wood

Wednesday, Agnes, the relocation specialist, drove us to five different rental possibilities. From the comfort of our house in Ireland, we had ticked boxes on a form outlining our requirements, indicating their relative importance on a 0 to 2 scale. Our answers were, of course, limited by our complete ignorance of what houses are like in Salzburg, what the cost of living is or the net amount of the check each month, as well as of other of unknowns and variables. And, as it happens, move-in costs are enormous. In addition to rent, there is a deposit amounting to, generally, two or three months’ rent as well as a broker’s commission of another two months’ rent plus 20% VAT. Who has €5,000 or €6,000, over and above rent, lying around, liquid and accessible? Not us – we just finished furnishing one house and building a garage. It’s one more thing on the overwhelming list of things we’ll have to work out.

Among our requirements for a flat, ranking high is enough space for a bedroom and a spare plus at least one additional room that can be a dedicated (or nearly dedicated) office. Another essential is accessibility to the city centre by bus. We intend only to have one car, and I will rely on the bus and my bicycle to get around while my husband is at the office. And we want to be able have a meal and drinks of an evening out and get home by bus. Ideally, the flat itself with be within walking distance of the city centre, but we realise that may not be possible. Salzburg is a tourist-oriented city, and rents reflect this.

Of the properties we looked at Wednesday, only one really met these requirements, and it was, though spacious and close to the centre, a uninspiring place with cramped and depressing bathrooms. It’s going to be hard to let go of the pleasant, light-filled house in Ireland, designed and built to meet our specific needs. We tramped through the flats on offer, trying to remain positive and open to the possibilities, working out costs in our heads, with growing disillusionment. Three-year leases are standard here, and with the move-in costs so high, one doesn’t lightly take on just anything with the expectation of moving in a few months’ time.

One place, the least likely of all, did capture our imagination, though. We reached it after driving what seemed a long way from the city centre, and then down a narrow lane on the edge of town. The flat takes up the top floor of what was a single family house built probably 30 or 40 years ago, sitting on the edge of a small wood. Through a dark, wood-carved door, we entered a anteroom with a large mirror set into a wood carved frame, which turned out to conceal the electrical panel. We stood briefly in the stairwell tiled, walls and floors, with the deep red marble I think of as porphyry, a fragmentary and possibly inaccurate detail residual from my days as an art history major. Up the stairs and onto a landing, also red tiled, we passed through another wood-carved doorway and found ourselves in an entry panelled, walls and ceiling, with still more hand-carved wood. It seems wood carving had been the hobby – perhaps even the obsession – of the man who had raised his family in the house. Throughout the flat, surfaces are panelled with intricately carved wood, the walls accented in places with gilt light fixtures, giving the impression that one has entered one of the lesser corridors of Versailles.

Off the entrance is a large room with pale timber floors and white plaster crown moulding – popularly called coving in Ireland – with a central medallion. A large window fills the room’s west-facing wall and opens onto a balcony overlooking what seemed a rather shabby garden, all of which belongs to the flat. (The downstairs flat has its own garden on another side of the house.) The balcony turns 90 degrees to run along the hall off which the bedrooms and a bathroom lie. This window-lined hall creates a south-facing gallery, which would be a pleasant place to sit in the sun on a winter’s day. More carved wood panels line its ceiling, these ornamented by carved and painted roundels about a foot in diameter, one of the crescent moon and a star, another of the sun.

The bathroom off this corridor is spacious and tiled with grey-and-white marble. One wall is fitted with cupboards enclosed by more carved wood panels. One of the bedrooms has a fitted wardrobe with doors upholstered in faded pink-and-white chintz set into carved frames. A second toilet off the flat’s entrance is tiled with more red marble and wood panels, making an elegant if slightly claustrophobic WC.

Of the five places we saw, including a single-family house by a creek in a Salzburg suburb, this is the only one that fires our imagination. But in the moment, it feels isolated, far from the city centre, at the end of what seems a scruffy neighbourhood. A funky neighbourhood, in fact. And, says Himself, we might be haunted by the ghost of the man who lovingly carved all that wood.

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