pocket: picked

I had a feeling it was no longer with me when I left the house the other day, jean jacket in tow. My suspicions were confirmed an hour later at the till of the Liquor Barn, where my selection of ice-cold micro-brewed IPAs were beginning to sweat on the counter.

My previous wallet was much more of a tome. Three panels of soft green leather and two snap mounts provided it room to swell with receipts or tighten up around a new cash withdrawal. This new wallet is tiny – more of a card sleeve, really, though it does have space for a few crisp bills, my driver’s license and Aeroplan card. Jen at U.N. Luggage recommended it to me prior to this trip, citing the interior aluminum casing, which prevents my signal-emitting easy pay/pay pass/tap & go/wave pay credit cards from blabbing my info to any passers-by with a card reader and a pirate’s sensibility. Airports, train stations, markets – all the places I was once advised to watch out for pickpockets – are now favored haunts for a new generation of thieves, cyber-savvy pickpockets who work invisibly and whose 16-digit loot is distilled from the mash of crashing wireless signals that crowd busy places. The old wallet on a string trick doesn’t work anymore. Now, I pulse with wifi and radio waves. My appendages are receptor and emission.

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I searched again, this time thinking like a kid. Toy boxes, drawers, bags, cupboards and shoes each revealed nothing. My sister brought the girls back over to the house and promised them a treat if they could find my little Secrid. Fifteen seconds and one overturned couch pillow later, my wallet – cards and waves intact – was returned, and the little villains rewarded with kisses.

brick forest

factory of roots overplay a ruined foundation: black cavities yawn underfoot, rotten bricks edged in moss, buttercups strangle up toward a mess of cedar lace and maple boughs.

a hedge of fence and chain link barbs guard the metamorphosis of decay. my wrist, bloody from the scrape of climbing. moaning next door, a neighborhood of cows: the heat of 3pm.

we have been here before, stamped our names into soft clay, carried armfuls of bricks from the wall to the rubble, let them succumb to cedar groves, tree cotton, and the gentle claws of moss

knowing that when we return all depressions of our alphabet will have worn to miniature bowls and labyrinthine canals across the surface of this hard-baked ground, and all will seem subtly green, and soft, and buried.

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the fascination with from

Salzburg. Hail rips through the clouds and ricochets through the crack of the window, bouncing across the kitchen floor. I sit in the middle of the room, windows before and behind, waiting for the pot to boil, waiting for my body to settle into this place.

The sadness is greater here than it was in Scotland, since the break was so recent and under such unfortunate circumstances. Karl, my grandfather, moved here as a barber in 1935, and met and his wife-to-be, Emma, shortly after. Daughter of a tailor, sister to four sisters and three brothers, Emma worked in the dim light of the family home under the direction of her difficult father making jackets for the German army. They were Catholics, not Jews, which made them poor and safe. For young Karl and Emma, the future held hope and promise, a chance to move beyond the poverty of their upbringings. The German takeover of Austria meant that Karl was obliged to join the Nazi army, postponing their plans to marry. He was sent to the front line in Russia, where the fleas ate at his skin and no effect of layering his Fall-issue uniform could keep his body from freezing in the long winter of the war. He said he aimed to miss. He shot until he was shot in the arm, then in the ankle. I wonder if his arm was in motion at the time, waving the slow, white flag of surrender as the bullet passed clean through. A channel flooded with blood and carried him away, finally, from the front line that never advanced past Stalingrad. But when it was over and done and Karl had returned home to Emma, not even the joyful event of their first daughter could instill hope in him again, the refuse of the war too thick in his mind. Always, there was another enemy around the corner to take it all away anew. He was a frightened man, never sure of his decisions, and it was Australia first that promised to relieve his post-war anxiety, then later, Canada, the shore of Vancouver.

Karl Thüringer is gone now from this world, having passed slowly after the death of his DSC00583Emma. But he brought me here, years ago, and showed me the way the city unfolds from the stones of the Mönchsberg, how it’s avenues pass like arteries through the buildings of the old city, how the beer foams up to its one-litre lip, how to shop, how to sit, how to enjoy einen kaffee. Looking around, I am again pestered by this question of why?,  the maternal echoing the paternal of weeks ago. Why? presses hardest when there is something yet attractive on the left end of the migration. Salzburg is a quaint, small city, full of friendly people and surrounded by a haven of mountains. It contributes a unique expression to the Austrian façade, and has it’s own dialect and sensibilities. It is not Vienna, not Germany, it is itself, a place rich in music, fashion, celebration and the great outdoors. Why leave?

I find myself suddenly bored with this line of questioning. What is the fascination with nationality in the first place? What is it about the past that begs to be inhabited (in some small part) by our memory? Why do we North Americans continually iterate our ancestry, as if by rote we’ll be able to claim the particularities of the culture of our ancestors? Who cares? Why does it matter? Why is it not enough to be from Winnipeg? Why must I be from Winnipeg-Abbotsford-Vancouver-Austria-Scotland?

In a time where experience and perspective collaborate to render everything meaningless, one must wear the khaki shorts and headlamp of discovery and mine a personal context from the lands of the past, where a hazy record or incomplete history may be found, claimed and registered as simultaneously mysterious and sure in one museum stroke. The other option is to simply be from the colony, which is to live with guilt, whether or not your forebears are directly responsible for the atrocities of land appropriation and cultural rape that characterize Canada, and which are still perfectly visible in many cities and towns, including Winnipeg. To be from Winnipeg is to hide one’s gaze under a wide-brimmed hat. It is to pretend the land only surfaced from the deep blue sea moments before the European ships meant to disembark. Conversely, to be from the motherland of continental Europe or the British Isles is to have these atrocities drowned in the waves of distance, to maintain ground, to maintain ground. To shrug. To stay at home. To move on in much the same manner as before. Perhaps we claim a motherland to assuage the guilt. To be misplaced, rather than than the displacers. Yet surely the motherland bears its own guilt, and there is no escape from it, like there was no escape from anxiety for Karl. When seen from a grand scale, from has its repercussions, and the reality of our time is that people move around, making the f-word even more commonplace.

There is more to the day than a fierce and moody storm. Out the window, the clouds have moved on past this Alpine hamlet and the hail blankets the ground like Spring snow. At the least, there are forts. Small homes that play with the temporary nature of dwelling, even of nation. I can say I have lived above the underground diversion in a nest of cogs and gears, and under a canopy of textile clouds on the promenade of Franz-Josef Strasse for the amount of time it takes to say I am here. And I guess for these intents and purposes, that is enough.

how to admire your own shoes

How to admire your own shoes in public: lower your gaze and knit a pensive brow. People will think you are full of deep thoughts, maybe even ramping up to genius. Walk with purpose so that your soles have a chance to sing. Pumps go well with the acoustics of the underground parkade and leather-soled shoes ring like a parade of angels in a room of marble. Admire your purse with a light swing into your peripheral view, or let it perch on the table next to your notebook and soak in its slouching acquiescence. But try to admire your own backpack, and the task becomes trickier. The sideways glance at reflective store windows only provides a bulky profile view, and let’s be honest, the ever-so-slight giraffing that tends to happen to your neck when toting a pack full of books or groceries. Convincing someone else to carry your bag for awhile is a good way to sneak a quality peek, though there’s always a touch of guilt that goes along with the favour, which taints the admiration just a little bit.

I had the fortune of encountering my aunts & uncles bag on the back of a woman in Salzburg the other day, which was IMG_0171such a delight I would have followed her if we hadn’t already been heading the same direction. The great thing about this approach to admiration is that as long as you are careful to not be seen, you can ogle guilt-free, sans giraffe, for as long as you’d like. This is exactly what I did on the bridge approaching Linzergasse, on the tail of the slim, leather pack with the push button clasps hidden so cleverly under its old school buckles.

As I tucked my phone/camera back into my pocket and let the unassuming model wander her own way, I thought about whether I’ve got any photos of my bag. Well, it turns out there are several, since it’s been my constant companion through the Icelandic and Canadian forts, and can be spotted a few places on this site, here and here. As for the shoes, I’m still sporting those ultra-practical black boots, and haven’t adopted the fake-genius posture in awhile, admiring others instead, and the ever-delightful array of their well-crafted accessories.

promenade

we will have prosecco with breakfast and squeeze oranges into a flute. shine our shoes and check the time, link a blue umbrella on one courteous arm: the storm is due for an hour past noon.DSC00603

clouds pucker and blow, pale lid on a painted tin: powdered sugar cookies with jam, crescent moons of nut flour dough, dumplings and strudel and brandy capped preserves, salted with diamonds and granulated silver.

walnuts float to the top of my kaffee. ice cream melts to a rich, white foam. a woman rides her bicycle until her hair turns blue, glides past the windows of the pastel shops: a glossary of handbags and shoes of fine leather, bouquet of clipped rococo and buttons stamped from brass. out and about with an eye on the weather.

underground diversion: cog and gear fort

sweet green of the Salzach seed rushes through canals in the Mönchsberg, past the restaurant linens and glass. combed and grated by a quarter-hour mechanism adorned in weeds and dove down.

two cooing lovers dust their wings, perched between near kissing apartments. the breast of the mountain encloses us here: moss, a few tendrillic limbs of ivy, the roaring lullaby of her streaming voice.

a trout wags its slow body against the ever flow. I sit and wait for the dinner guests to arrive, for the water to wear back its casing, for the gravity of leading things to undo and set us back like autumn watches.

press a little closer, one to the other and to her. the thunder is coming and soon the trout will tire. the iron gear turns again: whole diversion falling at the city’s feet, aglow with light sequestered.

entre place

I am whipping through the French countryside at 316 km/h on the second level of a TGV train bound for München with a slight headache from the boxed Bordeaux that brought me to the end of last night in Paris. Salzburg awaits me at the end of this jointed track and I remind my tongue the pronunciation of bitte, danke, ein bier, ja. The woman in the seat across the aisle one row ahead scrolls through blurry photos of Notre Dame on her giant Samsung. It is Sunday afternoon and the weekend is winding down. Germans return home from France with Perrier and macarons. A toddler bounces down the aisle with the Eiffel tower embroidered on his round, shirted belly and I watch for the border, overgrown now, I’m sure, and hatched with footpaths.

From this angle, there’s little difference between the two places. They share currency, a workforce, transportation networks, brand names and franchises. They both have a surprising number of green trees and valleys of puckered lush bush hidden between hills and small mountains. They both have vineyards and cute farm houses with new lambs frolicking in the fields outside. They have a likeness that changes ever so gradually, even at this speed. Yet the announcements repeat in three languages. English is the token given to ensure that everyone “else” can understand what is going on, everyone who lacks the entitlement to the land that goes along with knowing its tongue.

Like a good scotch, language needs time to work out the nuance of its fire, and this happens best is a barrel of isolation. Over the ages prior to our own, the earth was littered with such barrels. France and Germany–though neighbours–each developed their own unique flavour. When we learned how to fly, we also had to learn how to communicate with the distinct parts of ourselves. Esperanto was a nice idea–a blended language like a smooth Johnnie Walker–but with only a handful of native speakers and few others choosing to pick it up in their free time, it hasn’t risen to the fore as its inspired creator hoped. I’m not sure how English got the winning bid, though I imagine it had a lot to do with money and power, and little to do with equal representation.

Over the past month, I’ve had many conversations about language–all of them in English–with folks from Spain, Argentina, France, Ireland, Russia and Norway. Today, I wait through the German, then the French, before I am welcomed to have a drink at the bar in car fourteen. I am grateful, because I am thirsty and seven hours is a long time to spend on a train without a bit of a buzz. I spy again over the shoulder of the woman with the Samsung as the child with the Eiffel tower embroido-tattoo comes around for another pass. They are each taking something home with them, something to prove that they were elsewhere, even if elsewhere is looking more and more like here.