Every February during semester break we take off for 4 days by my husband’s godmother/aunt and uncle in Tyrol. This has been a tradition for going on 16 years. My husband goes cross-country skiing in the mornings and then takes the girls skiing or snowboarding in the afternoons. I take longs walks with the aunt and her dog(s) after which she whips up a delicious dinner. In the evenings there is usually a round or two of Level 8. Various cousins show up at some point. There is usually an afternoon at the movie theater too and an evening sledding party. These rituals feel like old friends we revisit each year. But there is one other experience that I look forward to even more. Waking up the first morning here, putting on my borrowed bathrobe, opening up the door to the terrace, stepping outside, and . . .
Right at this time of year way back in 1987, my then-not-yet husband was living here and working as a ski instructor. I was just finishing up my 10 month stay in Southeast Asia and on my way back home with a stopover in Austria to see friends – one of whom was him. He suggested I fly to a place near here. He would pick me up; we could stay in Tyrol for a few days and then drive back to Graz together. So that is what I decided to do.
I had spent the vast majority of my time in Asia working in crowded, noisy and polluted megacities. I traveled back to Europe on a Hell Flight 747, spending 23 hours rather than the scheduled 18 in a crowded, noisy and polluted airplane. My seat neighbor was a young Swiss guy coming home from his sex vacation in Thailand who decided to pass the time by telling me in graphic detail about his time there. During a fueling stop in Saudi Arabia, we ended up standing for 5 hours on the tarmac with the air conditioning off and no one serving water or drinks. My neighbor finally grabbed a passing flight attendant and demanded orange juice. When it came, he drank some and offered me the rest. He waited until after I finished it, before pointing to a sore on his lip and asking me if I thought it might be herpes. When we finally landed in Munich I was completely whacked out. I piled my suitcases on a trolley and followed the crowd toward customs. They all veered off either left or right to one of the two long lines, but I just kept going straight toward the double exit doors between them. No one stopped me. I was free.
My husband was there and we set off for Tyrol. Sometime during that hour drive, we pretty much decided to give a relationship a second try. (The first one began with an already pre-determined expiration date.) I don’t remember much about the first evening there – my aunt still says that never in her life has she seen a person more exhausted. What I remember was the first morning.
I woke up early after about 11 straight hours of sleep under a featherbed in clean white sheets. I put on my borrowed bathrobe, opened up the door to the terrace, stepped outside, and . . .
There was heaven.
The crisp clean air instead of exhaust fumes. The snow covered mountains instead of ugly tall buildings plastered with advertisements. Trees instead of signposts and traffic lights. Near silence replacing the constant honking and engine noise. The tens of thousands of people brushing past me each day . . . all gone. The feeling was glorious and intense and I have never forgotten it.