After a cool, overcast week punctuated by thunderstorms and cloud bursts, it’s a sunny, calm and mild morning on Katzenstraße. I was up early to feed Jimi, the elderly cat of our neighbours, who are on holiday. He followed me, wobbling slightly as he does these days, into the gentle warmth of the early sun. Now, from the kitchen window in our first-floor apartment, I can see the brown-green fishing pond, which lies behind the houses across the street from us. No wind ruffles its smooth surface, which reflects the grey-green foliage of the trees that line the bank.
It’s a little after nine, yet the street is quiet still. A few walkers pace the path round the pond, their Nordic poles—very popular here—rhythmically marking their stride. A cyclist, red shirt flashing through the interstices between the houses, rolls by. The expanse of garden below the window is quiet; the blackbirds have settled into midsummer silence. Only a few birds chatter in the tall trees of the wood beside us.
In this quiet of this Saturday morning, I’m put in mind of our neighbourhood in California, in a mid-century development in the Newbury Park area of Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles and several thousand miles from Salzburg. How many thousand miles? I wondered yesterday but neglected to look it up.
I recall Saturday mornings in Newbury Park, especially summer Saturday mornings. The sun blazes on wide roads that meet, mostly, in orderly squared-off intersections. I had never realised how wide are the neat asphalts streets in that suburban neighbourhood until I moved to Europe. Katzenstraße, for instance, isn’t as wide as our driveway in California.
At half-past nine on a July Saturday morning in Newbury Park, the sun glares off the asphalt pavement of those wide streets and glints off the chrome and glass and metallic paint of the cars that are beginning to fill them. The early-morning (first light!) garage sales are well under way, with shoppers peaking about now, as the temperature creeps toward 90. (That’s about 30, for you in Europe.) Women pick up old crockery and examine the undersides of faded chairs; men pick through piles of books or yard tools or the detritus of a home office, watched with studied reserve by those eager to unload the goods. Car doors slam and an engine starts and another car joins the stream cruising the street.
Mockingbirds chatter their loud, complex calls, elaborate as blackbirds’ song if not as musical. The shouts of the Little League coaches and parents fill the air in the field behind our house, occasionally drowned out by the roar of gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Noise, as well as swelling heat, seeps through windows, inching under and around our blinds, which remain drawn against the sun. All the same, harsh light creeps along walls and floors, slashing the shadows. The neighbourhood is wide awake, and, no matter how late one or another of us would like to sleep, the sound of its routines breach our walls.
Lying in the coolness of the bedroom this morning, here on quiet Katzenstraße, I saw in my mind’s eye, as in a Google satellite view, the old neighbourhood. As if I hovered overhead, I saw the streets in their modified grid, block after regular block of broad, squat houses with low-peaked, pale tiled roofs. Illuminated by the relentless Southern California light, each was surrounded by concrete and grass, patios of paving stone, sprawling pink Queen Elizabeth roses, lilac agapanthus and brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea. I saw the shimmer rise from the streets and, from high above, looked at people moving about, doll-like, in the glare of the morning. A few joggers braved the heat, groceries were loaded into the back of SUVs, a man, body sleek and tanned, dove into the crystalline blue of a swimming pool. It seemed, for a few minutes, as clear and as immediate as if I were there.
It’s been four years now since I left our home there; I haven’t been back. The quiet neighbourhood where Katzenstraße is located looks very different. The heat does not, at least this summer, shimmer as it rises from asphalt. Time rushes on; what we left in California, then later in Ireland, is remote, the images dreamlike.
But every so often, like dreams, they return, and I inhabit briefly that strange half world of memory made vivid by imagination.
Even this posting is fuelled by imagination. It has been three weeks since the bright July morning I began writing it. Time again has been compressed. Mornings spent in German classes, pressing work and a slow-to-heal back injury have kept me from posting here. So on this rainy August afternoon, I am compelled to try to recall what it was I had recalled, filling in the gaps with imagination.
Imagination is sometimes the stuff of life.