In 20 years very little changed.
That’s not quite what I meant. A lot of very little things changed, but no one big thing changed. Those first few months were like landing on a foreign planet – those things we think are universal to being Westerners are fewer than we think. Most of the time we think that Western culture is quite homogenous. Dad showed me otherwise.
Tobogganing – that’s a thing! The joy of the snow and then stamping into Gasthaus Grasl for a drink and much needed warmth. Dad would have something dark and fiery that nestled like dragon’s blood in the light of the fireplace. Already a cultural artefact not quite the same as a pub in Australia – a Gasthaus (guest house) where you could get a drink or eat a well cooked home style meal. But a child could visit on their own and I often did. A set of locals and one table for socialising, the Stammtisch where the villagers could sit together, should sit together, play cards, talk, remember, connect. Our village had at least 7 of these places, and a population of only about three thousand people. Now there are only four left, and one, my favourite one Grasl, is more a restaurant than a casual meeting place. So in twenty years the internet, recession, fear and hardship robbed those people of that facet of culture. Yet one villager opened a new Gasthaus and was rewarded with good patronage. The family visited after I reset Dad’s electric wheelchair. It was his first
The bonfire night, Krampus and St. Nicolas come to spread joy and fear in equal measure for little children who look at the dressed up figures of the demon and the demigod and believe. Fireworks were wet off around the village green, people everywhere, talking, laughing as the snow sparkled as it fell. An age old tradition and story, a magical experience for a kid who had only known the scorching Australian sun for Christmas since being a toddler. Twenty years later and this morning I read about how people now wear the Krampus masks and run around and assault people, vandalise property. I know that this occurred before, but I also see how people stay inside, afraid of the things that were always there, and lose the things that were worth keeping.
Fairs, winter markets, marches through snow choked village street, maypoles in the square and the competition between the villages to steal the other towns pole. Dances and music, xenophobia at the Turkish migrants, music and dance, wooden floors polished by a thousand twirling feet and walls suffused with song and laughter. Twenty years later and I notice the rubbish in the streets, the field, the forest. Twenty years later and the streets are mostly empty and I hope. I hope it’s that everyone is on holiday, abroad, in the mountains, anywhere. I hope that people are not staying indoors, because they’ve lost that spirit of the village. It took a village to show me all that culture – no, it too a loving mother and father to show it to me.
What if no one wants to keep what we all saw, what we all lived? Our culture is changed, but what might we lose? Would I trade what we have now in the world for a simpler time, a time where we had real connections in place of interest connections? And really what use is my nostalgia alone, why aren’t I learning there now, being a part of that illusory old culture that I long for now? How else will I find what remains of my father unless I can travel back in time, to the light and heat of laughter and fire buffering a hundred inches of snow, the joy of visiting, the stories that stretched from the jousting lawn of a fortress through a valley to a man I miss so much.