We went back to the Austrian Alps and it was the same as it was last time, ending our hike on an old chair lift, coming down the valley with the sound of cowbells and accordion music drifting up, back to the beer tent where they were climbing up on tables and falling off. Meeting Eberhard’s ex-girlfriend’s grandson Benny (23), him offering us a spliff by the river, stepping out of the beer tent and everyone at the table turning to watch, leaning against a handmade fence and then breaking it, paranoid about getting caught. Re-entering the tent with Eberhard’s friends Willi and Elsbeth (77 and 78) and their friends, all of them at least 60, most with mustaches, one of them (Heinz) glomming on to me with scraps of German I can’t make out, not understanding a thing: he hands me a cup of schnapps and gestures, take a drink and pass it around: and then it’s like I’m implicated in some scheme with a woman who’s wearing a Tyrolean dress with a bodice that’s pressing her breasts up: Heinz cups his own chest and smiles, shouts for her, points at me, signals for her, come over. But she looks road worn, a bit like Iggy Pop, with sad eyes and many lines in her face, a spiky, early ’80s hairdo—so I turn my back but they won’t stop poking at me and shouting, laughing, slapping me on the back: jokes about fresh milk and nearby mountain peaks, big “titties.” It goes on and on like this, the music and the toasts. Then Heinz grabs a biker girl and gestures for her to sit down with me on the other side of the table to see if we like each other, but she’s clearly with another man and they’ve been dancing and smoking and drinking the whole time: and I keep pointing to my wedding ring but he doesn’t understand, or pretends not to. She has a biker jacket with the brand Triumph on it that says Size Really Does Matter.
Back at the farmhouse later we take a drink and walk up the hill to watch more of the meteors, lying on our backs on the road—me, Brad and Benny—but each time I see one I say look, and they miss it. And when a car comes, we just roll off the side of the road onto the grass: and when we get home later Benny has to lie down on the bench and then Eberhard takes him home to make sure he gets to bed OK. We invited him to Prague with us but maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
We spent five days in Austria like that, eating wursts and pickled vegetables with too much bread, the mustard that comes out of toothpaste tubes they call senf. And up high in the mountains, I recognize some of the mountain rescue guys from last time who are there handing out free schnapps for donation, the black tea drink they make with rum I can’t drink, small cans of beer and Fanta, dried sausages, seeded rolls.
Down at the alpine hut, at the end of the hike before you take the lift down to the beer tent there’s another biergarten: it’s the one where we met my mom the last time we were there and Lily was with us too, just 10 years old…she’d gotten wrapped up with the Austrian farm boy whose parents own the hut (he glommed onto her and wouldn’t let go)…and I see him again three years later now playing the accordion, almost as tall as some of the old guys, chatting it up with them. And on the way down the sound of the cowbells is so clean and musical I have to record it with my phone. It’s the same as it was the last time, and the next.
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