“When the past is recaptured by the imagination, breath is put back into life.”
- Margaret Duras
Occasionally the Business Guy catches me staring at small things. By small, I mean things that don’t take up a lot of space in the general landscape: not necessarily small in size, but perceived overall as insignificant, therefore not worthy of much space in one’s focus. When the BG asks what I’m looking at, I’m not always able to supply a reasonable answer. Such was the case on a recent Sunday morning:
“Um, an egg-cup. It’s got a brown egg in it.”
Sounds unimpressive, but if the light is hitting it from a certain angle, and it’s the Gmunden ceramic egg-cup I bought last time I visited Vienna, and the egg has lovely speckles at one end and not the other, then I figure it’s worth catching the details and drawing out the story behind it.
Once upon a time, many years ago, I lived for a year in that most beautiful of European cities, Vienna. For a serious music student, this was mecca. At least twice a week I attended the opera, an orchestral concert, a recital, or the weekly organ concert at St Stephens Cathedral. I learned to speak German, and although I didn’t pay too much attention to the specifics of grammar (those word endings, jeez!), I could get around and make myself understood well enough to attend the Musik Hochschule. It took little effort to take in the art and history, as it kind of absorbed through the skin just by walking along the Ringstrasse. It was a fantastic and in some ways difficult year. But mostly it was fantastic.
We lived in a rented apartment in the district of Meidling, where I learned dialect from the kindly shop owners, and in winter I conversed with chestnut vendors who kept warm by their heated oil drums on street corners. I could never resist the sweet, nutty fragrance emanating from those drums, and always purchased a handful of perfect chestnuts, split down the middle and wrapped hot in a paper cone. The vendors and I chatted in our equally fractured German, joking and laughing, and their uninhibited wide smiles under handlebar moustaches provided a lovely contrast to the grimness of the Viennese winter.
Our furnished apartment included old and well-used ceramic dishes, an Austrian specialty from the town of Gmunden. I loved the hand-painted aqua swirls on stern white glaze, which added a touch of whimsy to the meal.
In recent years I’ve returned to Vienna to visit old friends and re-learn the city, which, with its sophisticated environmental policies, is cleaner and even more beautiful than it was those years ago. The music and art and history remain as vivid and spectacular as ever, and over time I’ve come to appreciate the finer details of Austrian culture.
What hasn’t much changed is the Flohmarkt, a weekly antiques and collectibles flea market where on a recent visit I came across six Gmunden salad plates. Nothing would do but I had to bring them home, so I purchased them for a song and packed them in my carry-on bag. At a department store I found a new Gmunden egg-cup, and nothing would do but… Well.
Which accounts for my gazing at an egg-cup on a recent Sunday morning.
There’s a story behind everything. Sometimes you just have to slow down and wait for it to make itself known.