Monday, November 8, 2010

Katzenstrasse Autumn

Autumn has brought beauty and melancholy to Katzenstrasse. The wood at the end of the street is a tangle of brown trunks.  Through them, I can see the bronze litter of beech leaves carpeting the ground. Just in front of them, the leaves of the quince tree still shine bright yellow. A sweet gum tree blazes crimson and copper next to a slate grey roof. Beyond the bare trees, beyond the field to the south, the bulk of Untersberg, hidden all summer by a dense fence of towering trees, now can be seen blue on the horizon.

I’ve been turning over in my mind why these scenes are so moving. There is in the contrast of the bright warm colours laid against a background of neutral browns and cool blues and greys an emotional charge, like the striking of a minor chord, that moves in a particular way. Seen by the weak light of short days, the charge is potent.

It was late in the afternoon one day a week or so ago that I got off the bus at our stop, the last one on the route. The light was soft brown, as it is so often these days, filtered as it was through the veil of the trees, their slender twigs forming tracery like that of cathedral windows. Another woman had gotten off just steps ahead of me, and I followed her as she turned right at the corner. I lengthened my steps to keep up with her as we passed under gold of the beech leaves along the street. When she turn left at my turn, my curiosity was piqued. Usually I walk from the bus alone, for few come as far as my stop and fewer still head in the same direction as I do.

We approached the field; its strips of brown earth and alternating green lay under a light dusting of the morning's snow. In the middle distance, white steam from the Stiegl brewery smoke stack rose against a silver sky; Untersberg's bulk loomed blue-grey in the distance. When she turned right at the small wooden shrine that stands at the edge of the field I hurried after the woman. There are only a handful of houses lying in this direction; I didn’t want to lose sight of her. More and more it seemed the woman must be a neighbour of mine, yet I didn’t recognise her at all.

Her boot heels tapped the pavement, my own echoed hers. She passed the three houses on the right; she didn’t turn into the street on the left. When sheat last turned down Katzenstrasse, I quickened my steps even more, lest she disappear before I could see where she went.

At a gate about four houses along, she stopped and turned toward me. As I approached, she spoke to me, some friendly query, I supposed.

‘Es tut mir leid,’ I replied. ‘Ich spreche nur ein wenig Deutsch.’ It’s my standard reply, trotted out now in shops, on the bus, in the street, in doctor’s office: I speak only a little German.

I could see comprehension in her eyes as she nodded her head in the direction of our house at the end of the street. She knew who I was. Then, without a word, she turned away from me, into her gate, leaving me standing in the street.

Before she could go, I stuck out my hand. ‘Ich heisse Lorraine,’ I said, and she stopped long enough to take my hand and tell me her name. We managed to smile at one another, and parted then with some faint warmth between us. Still, it shook me a little. She is a woman near enough my age, not unlike me in dress or manner, and yet the barrier between us was as great as that.

Hands in my pockets, I continued under the thickening light toward our house at edge of the towering wood. Mona, the grey-and-white queen of Katzenstrasse, met me at my doorway. She ran lightly ahead of me up the red stone stairs and waited at the carved wooden door. Once inside, she jumped onto the cushioned bench in the kitchen and, purring, set about grooming her smooth, clean fur.

In the gloom of the autumn evening, it was good to have her company, someone to talk to.

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