I have a special fondness for Austria, although I have only been there once, a very long time ago. A lifetime ago.
It was Christmastime. What I remember is the frigid, fresh air. The bright red trolleys that ringed Vienna. The decadence of my first Sachertorte. Arriving in Salzburg, I was engulfed by the heady scent of evergreens. Sleigh bells jingled from the harnesses of horses clip clopping through the cobbled streets, drawing sleighs and carriages behind them. The image and music of Mozart was everywhere. I will never forget the look of wonder and delight on my children's faces as we wandered through the city's outdoor holiday market.
For a boy of six, there was the added joy of throwing snowballs. For a girl of eight, the indignity of slipping and falling on the ice. For me, the fleeting moments of having them close.
Magical as Christmastime is in Austria, there is so much more to this graceful, alpine country. Anita, an Austrian journalist I met at the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat, kindly agreed to round out the story. A passionate freelance journalist for German speaking newspapers, magazines, and online sites, Anita is also a book author and creative writing trainer. She was born in the Klagenfurt, Austria. Anita lives in Schiefling (near the Wörthersee and Keutschacher See) with her boyfriend and her cat, Buffy. In her free time, Anita likes to walk in nature with her family dog, Rambo.
My Conversation with Anita
Please look out a window in your home and describe what you see.
I see a really blue sky, a big birch tree, green grass, and a big hedge that has begun to change its leaves to soft autumn colors. In the distance, I can see the peaks of the mountains called Karwanken, that we share with the Italians and Slovenians.
What is your favorite time of year in Austria?
Autumn. The time between seasons, when everything is changing and it is a little quieter, slower, and more colorful.
What is the most surprising or special thing about where you live?
The landscape and the silence. I love the Austrian lakes, especially the color of the Wörthersee.
Who or what inspires you?
Nature, animals, people, new places, water, pictures. There are so many.
What is something I would find in Austria that I could not find anywhere else?
Alpine traditions, the traditional clothes, and the passion for food. Especially in Carinthia, there is good, healthy and regional food without chemicals and genetic techniques. A few months ago, our region priced out as the first "Slow Food Destination in the World." There is a reason for it. The food is handmade by farmers, no mass-products. The farmers sell their food directly to the people or offer their products on the market or the supermarket.
If I came to your house for dinner, what typical Austrian meal would you prepare?
We have many traditional dishes. Maybe you know Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte from Vienna. But in the South, the kitchen is also inspired by the Mediterranean, the mountains, and the lakes.
If you came to my house, you have to try Kasnudel. This are ravioli, filled with cheese, herbs, potato, and a special kind of mint. It is topped with warm butter and served with a green salad. You will love it. As a dessert you get coffee and a Reindling, a kind of nut cake with raisins and sugar. Or, if you don't have much time, you will get a Brettljausn. It is baked and served on a wooden plank with black bread, cheese, dried sausages and pickled vegetables.
What brings you joy?
The beauty of the world, the power of nature, and the smile from the people I love.
What frightens you?
Is there a myth or stereotype about Austrians that you would like to correct?
Yes. We don´t sing all the time and don´t wear a dirndl like the Von Trapp family. The dirndl is very popular, but mostly worn on special events like Thanksgiving (we called it Erntedank).
What do you do for entertainment?
Make day trips to go hiking, swimming, biking, cross country skiing, ice skating, or just walk around. Venice is only three hours away from Austria by car, the same distance as Vienna to Munich.
What makes you proud to be an Austrian?
It is the place, in the middle of Europe, with a strong history that is influenced by so many different cultures. The beauty of the landscape, although it´s not a big country. The language with the strong, warm dialect. It´s a small place with a big heart.
What does your country do well? What do you wish it did better?
We have very good education systems and a really good social and health system. You don´t have to be afraid if you get ill or old. You get help when you have no job or children, as well.
But I miss some human solutions to handle the refugees and integration, and child care places especially in the countryside. When you live in the countryside like me, you have to have a car because the public bus and train system is only good in the big cities.
What is your opinion of the United States and Chicago?
Some people have prejudices about the U.S. One is the superficiality. It is said that finding friendship is not easy and that there is less historic culture.
But that isn't true.
I was several times in the U.S., from Alaska, California, Texas, the South, Florida, to New York. I have never had the experiences people talk about. I found the people to be friendly and helpful. I met lovely people and and still have a connection with them. There is an historic culture, but maybe it's a little different than in Europe. But isn't it boring, if we are all the same?
I love the variety of the country and that traveling around is so easy.
Chicago is on my list. I hear it is a windy but nice town.
What do you want the world to know about Austria?
That it is a very safe, warm place in the heart of Europe with rich culture and traditions. Also, Austrians are not the same as Germans. We speak the same language, but Austrians have a strong dialect and want to be independent.
Never, never say to an Austrian person that they are German.
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