My mother arrived in Europe in time for my birthday. Three days in and she’d already filled the photo memory on her phone twice, laughed at every sign that said ‘einfahrt’ (and in particular at a ticket that said ‘uberfahrt’) and made up German sounding words to use in every possible situation e.g. lets-zen go-zen for a coffee-zen. You’ll be thrilled to know she’s also used this tactic to further enhance the German language e.g. danke-zen and bitte-zen. Only my mother could combine practicing her zen with making bold attempts at speaking one of the worlds harshest languages.
This aside, she certainly takes everything as it comes, is excited by the smallest wonder, is extremely generous and loves to engage anything that moves in conversation. All in all, it was the beginning of an entertaining three weeks.
Our first night in the town of Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut region of the Austrian Alps was a night of birthday celebration at the most Austrian and ‘gemutlich’ place we could find – Wein Attwenger. A wooden framed, orange-yellow guesthouse across the river from the small town centre.
The dining room was of wooden paneling, curtains were tied back at each small window and flowers decorated the shelves. Our table in the corner was romantically set up with a candle, napkins shaped as roses and and polished oversized cutlery. This was not the last time I would find myself in a perfectly romantic setting for two…with mum. (Quin had by this point escaped to the Czech Republic, reappearing two weeks later at the predetermined meet point loaded up with a backpack of second-hand military paraphernalia).
We started with a celebratory wine at which mum said ‘cheerzen’. In case you’re wondering this is not the official German translation of cheers.
We shared a salad of rocket, lettuce, poached pear, chunks of blue cheese, cranberries and walnuts. The most notable thing was the symmetry that had been employed to construct the salad, it seemed even the leaves of rocket had been strategically placed according to height and tone. Mum practiced her zen by listing off each ingredient as she chewed.
For a main mum had locally caught fish, poached with potatoes and some saucezen. I shovelled in a red rice dish full of grilled veg and what my granny would call ‘beans in their long state’ and what I would call bloody delicious.
The waitress, wearing a long traditional dress (who we decided is the Austrian version of Amelie) made sure we had an excellent evening. This included much entertainment derived from her ability to drop every butter knife she collected. It also prompted us all to exchange a long series of personal waitressing blunders we’d made. The time she spilt an entire glass of red wine down a ladies front matched the time I’d dropped half a plate of ravioli bolognese into a ladies open handbag – until she said she spilt a second glass the next night down the front of the exact same lady. I promptly made sure all wine was drained before her return.
We joked about ordering more food just to draw out the feast in our perfectly cosy corner. Then as if by magic, Austrian Amelie appeared with a filled crepe and two forks (but no butter knives as they were all on the floor). What an end to a lovely evening; the fresh blankety crepe crammed with apricot icecream and one hell of a brainfreeze – and all finished just in time to avoid Mum singing Happy Birthdayzen.