Saturdays in Graz. Laden with basket-carting old women and lads with linen sacks, dashing off for a gentle peruse through the massive farmer’s markets sprinkled throughout the city. One finds hoards of moseyers, meandering throughout the sunny streets, ducking into shops and emerging with sticky fingers and the remains of freshly baked sticky cinnamon buns, diets be damned.
I don’t find myself in Graz on a Saturday very often, and so whenever I do happen to join the moseyers, I’m always quite shocked at the enthusiasm of the Saturday atmosphere.
Yesterday, following a morning of a really capital jaunt along the trails of the mountain Plabutsch, I took up my own burlap bag and joined the ranks of the stroller-pushing family men and the riding-boot clad lasses at the farmer’s market.
It’s a well-choreographed dance; the Austrians seem to know exactly how to maneuver the rows and rows of tables offering freshly baked bread, locally grown Styrian winter vegetables, christmas cookies, beautifully decorated pine wreaths, and homemade Austrian schnapps.
They seem to know exactly how much time to spend choosing the right bundle of kale, what increments of coins they should present to the vendor for ¼ kilo of carrots, how much conversation is too much.
Unfortunately I was the awkward last-minute-addition to the dance, and was doing more of a hip-hop freestyle instead of the previously agreed upon waltz. No matter; soon I picked my way home, armed with a half loaf of freshly baked Brauenbrot (“brown bread”), local Styrian Waldhonig (forest honey), and a bundle of locally grown assorted Gemüse (veggies).
The only three items written upon my “Saturday to-do’s” were: 1. Nice long trail run (check) 2. Farmer’s market (check) and 3. Create the most magical dinner possible (scheduled for much later in the day, quite obviously).
Having done all that I already planned and it being only noon, I figured I might meander back home, snuggled up with a cup of green ginger Tazo tea and finish my book or something pleasant and Saturday-esque.
Muah. So much wrong.
On my route home I pass a Friday-to-Sunday flea market, housed in this large, rather dimly lit warehouse, filled to the brim with brightly colored oil paintings, stacks of china tea cups, racks of shoulder-pad clad jackets and books with titles such as, “How to Survive the Impending Nuclear Attack” and “The Proper Way to Maintain an Afro”.
My first weekend in Graz I danced around this magical treasure trove, retreating home armed with a few beautiful 1977 calendar posters, but I hadn’t been back since.
As I passed the building, I saw through the windows a large gathering of people. Curious, I tip-toed closer to the window, making eye contact with an older gentleman who then promptly burned a fair number of calories motioning for me to come inside and join.
My curiosity heightened, I entered through the squeaky automatic door towards the gesturing 80-year-old man with the whitest hair I have ever seen, who then begin to speak very rapid, very throaty Styrian German, absolutely none of which I was able to comprehend.
With a nervous giggle, I squeaked: “Auf Englisch, bitte?” In English, please?
This to which the kind gentleman gave a booming chuckle, patted me on the shoulder and replied, “Ohhh, jaaaaa auf Englisch!”
Then proceeded an explanation, half in a less-Styrian German and half in broken English about the raffle auction that was taking place. He told me that one buys 12 tickets for 10 euros with a very strong possibility of leaving the auction laden with treasures, and that his gift to me would be one of his numbers.
Grün achtundfünfzig. Green 58.
I stayed at the flea market for the next two hours, hooting and hollaring alongside my new 75+ year-old friends to whom my new pal Herbert introduced me. None of whom spoke that much English, save this absolutely capital old gentlemen who spoke 13 languages fluently. He was in the German construction business and spent 35 years traveling through the world working on sites, living for a few years each in Morocco, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Nepal, Canada, and numerous other places.
I met Cynthie, who has an extreme passion for faux-fur hats (she showed me all of her pictures).
I met Ronald, a short very wrinkled old gent who shared his “traditional Styrian pastry” with me.
Herbert introduced me to Julia, a beautiful, rather round 60 year old woman of whom Herbert called “his American beauty” because of her size (Herb was giggling the whole time, but Julia did not look as pleased).
Carla was an ancient Spainish Austrian with a talent for the accordion; she graced our ears with a few tunes all of to which Herbert sang and danced along.
Green 58 did not get called; however, two of Herbert’s other numbers did.
“Ich give you Geschenk!” I give you present! He squeaked excitedly, as he loaded an entire set of crystal plates into my arms and a large hand-carved angel centerpiece. Baffled, I thanked him heartily.
He promptly took them back from my arms and sprang away to the other side of the market, returning with a very brightly colored 70s backpack into which he loaded my “presents”.
“Ich set deinen Geshenk hier, ja?” He said eagerly.
Herbert told me of his travels with his wife to New York and of her flawless English. I told him of my skirting off to Italy and Bosnia and the Czech Republic, not caring that my German was broken and grammatically less-than-correct.
At the conclusion of the raffle auction, I thanked my new friends heartily with great smiles and firm handshakes, thanked Herbert for everything–to which he replied, “You tell your parents you have new boyfriend!”–and staggered back home, laden with this new neon plastic backpack.
I think this qualifies Herbert to be my sugar daddy.
The entire day was a reinforcement of my love for the elderly; for those who maintain an excitement for living and a long resume of life experiences to show for it. To those with youthful energy oscillating up and out of 80-year-old wrinkled bodies. To those with a lack of self-consciousness and a plethora of smiles.
I realized how universal a well-placed smile is.
How eager people are to hear my broken German, because at least I’m interested enough in communicating with them.
How miraculous things happen when one actively runs out of plans and doesn’t say no.
Herbert. Cynthie. Ronald. Julia. Carla.
If you ever read this, please know that you are the grandest of souls. I have learned a plethora of love and life from you, and that your energy is more enthusiastic than mine is most days. Thank you for letting me butcher the German language into your ears, thank you for replying in methodical and slow Styrian German back.
Peace and Blessings,