“…We’re going to do Austrian things,” said lovely Elisabeth in her lovely finger-cymbal voice. This is what that means:
It means you get in a car with your sweet Austrian mother who speaks only German, and a couple of buddies (that’s Michael and that’s me), and you drive up the side of a mountain. And you see a whole lot of this.
And you pretend you’re not impressed, but that’s asinine, of course you’re impressed, but you keep driving, giggling all the while at the American girl in the back seat hanging her head out of the window like a golden retriever.
And maybe you stop half way up the mountain because there are cows in the road and they always have the right of way, everyone in Austria knows that.
For cows? No, God no.
But if you’re the American girl who sucks at mushroom-hunting, eventually you give up because the Austrians have found a bunch already and there are a million other wondrous things calling at you to stare and blink and shake your head. And so you do that instead.
Mossy things are calling you…
…You can’t stop taking pictures, because everything you’re seeing is something you’ve never seen with your actual eyes before and you simply cannot believe something so beautiful actually exists for real…
And then, in one magical moment, when maybe you weren’t really looking at all, you stumble upon a beautiful, hearty, wholly-edible (if partially eaten) mushroom. And you gasp and squeal cut it down with your little knife, and then point at it while taking a picture to officially claim it as yours.
And then you run off and pee in the woods, STRAIGHT ONTO THE GROUND(!), because you can’t hold it any longer, and this is what you do when you’re Austrian and you’re picking mushrooms. And everyone matches the intensity and vigor of their previous mushroom-related celebration with a new PEE-related one, and you – you’re so, so, so proud of yourself for baring your ass in the woods and peeing on the ground 20 feet from a car full of strangers in Austria. And also for finding an edible mushroom.
And if you think that’s everything dear Elisabeth meant when she said “Austrian things,” well then you are a fool, because there’s so, so much more.
Day 2, Part 2 of the Best 2 Days Anyone’s Ever Had in the History of the World:
If you live in Austria, you might have cows.
What do you do with these cows? I’m actually not sure – make cheese maybe, or field recordings of muuhing*… I’m 100% certain you do not kill them, because Austrians are nice, all of them, and killing an adorable cow is on the list of things Austrians definitely don’t do.
* “Muuhing” is German for “mooing.” I’m not shitting you, that’s for real.
But I do know this, because it was told to me by a really smart group of Austrians: If you own cows, and you live in Austria, those cows like to climb mountains sometimes. They will climb right up your mountain and you won’t know what they’re doing up there unless you go check it out for yourself. So in the olden days, before cars and other things that can get you up a mountain to check on your cows, you had to walk. And once you got to the top, you probably didn’t want to come down right away because it’s exhausting to walk up a mountain (this, we have previously learned). So you built a little hut, on the top of your mountain, so you can stay there for a while to hang out with your sweet little cows. Maybe your hut looks like this:
So on Day 2, Part 2 of the Best 2 Days Anyone’s Ever Had in the History of the World, Elisabeth and her Mom and her friend Michael who flies off mountains, took me up to their hut to celebrate the success of our mushroom-hunting.
Day 2, Part 3 of the Best 2 Days Anyone’s Ever Had in the History of the World (The final chapter)
When I was a little girl, I hated food. Seriously hated it. I would sit at the table, full plate of food in front of me, for hours and hours and hours, until long after my sisters had gone to bed, willing my will to hold out longer than my Mom’s. It never did, and I always had to eat whatever she had made, which in hindsight was perfectly fine, probably good, even, but at the time – to me – it might as well have been scabs on a plate. I would NOT. EAT.
Unless my Mom made the one meal that could not be refused by any sane human being. A perfect orgy of carbs and salt and overly-antinbiotic’d bird-bits known in the South as Chicken & Dumplings. I could eat Chicken & Dumplings any time, any day, any quantity. It was my desert island food.
Every year for my birthday, I would ask my Mom to make Chicken & Dumplings and she would, because she loves me and wanted to make me happy.
Since I moved away, I forgot about how much I loved Chicken & Dumplings. They don’t really make them in New York, not the right way, and I’m never in Texas on my birthday for my Mom to make them for me. The gooey, doughy, creamy goodness of Chicken & Dumplings has since been replaced by things I never thought I’d eat or never knew existed – sushi, Indian food, and the like – things that maybe I like as much, but which don’t have that “heart” part that foods-made-by-your-Mom-on-your-birthday inherently have. And so I haven’t had a good serving of Chicken & Dumplings in years.
But then a few days ago in Austria, in a sweet little hobbit house in Bad Mittendorf… dear, sweet, lovely Michael and Elisabeth and Elisabeth’s Mom took the big bag of mushrooms we picked together on the mountain that afternoon, and unknowingly made an enormous pot of my desert-island-please-Mom-make-this-on-my-birthday food, just two days before my birthday.
We sat and ate together, in the little hobbit hut, with grandmas and dads and dogs who just had puppies an hour before. And me, the American girl who had no reason or right to be there. And after we chopped and cleaned and mashed and boiled and stewed, we scooped spoonfuls of gooey, doughy, creamy, mushroomy goodness into our gobs like fat, happy, rolly-polly babies. And even though I understood 3% of the conversation floating across the table, it didn’t matter because I was floating above it. In the company of these strangers, slathered in their gooey generosity, I felt as happy and at home and as goddamn lucky as anyone ever has in the history of the world.
And finally, as Elisabeth’s sweet mother turned to me before turning in, and – holding my hand in both of hers – said in perfect, measured, possibly-practiced English, “We had fun with you today,” I pushed pause on that moment, and breathed in a deep and enormous gasp of Austria – with its mountains and its cows and its mushrooms… its schnapps and coffee shops and unnatural flying… I memorized the mountain hut and the hobbit hut and the beautiful, musical words I couldn’t understand… and all the sweet, sweet Michaels and Elisabeths and Elisabeth’s Moms…
And I swallowed every ounce of it whole, so it will fill my belly on every birthday in every year and in every moment in between, for the rest of my small, wonderful, magnificent days.