Tuesday, May 08, 2007
When I think of spring, I think of birthdays (mine and those of friends), of the September holidays, of a slow, delicious warming up until the long, lazy days of a hot summer. When I was a child spring meant endings of things, the school year, wearing stuffy woolen jumpers, huddling around the gas heater. The older me was relieved at the end of studying with a hot water bottle on my lap, or paying exorbitant heating bills. Spring means the days get longer, no longer dark at six o'clock, the scarves are packed away and the city comes alive with festivals, celebrations (Jewish New Year), chairs in the sun, picnics in the park.
A spring in May seems right on paper - hence the Maypole dance I did in September when I was ten - but it feels wrong, wrong, wrong. The flowers come out, they are suddenly everywhere in all colours. There are hyacinths, tulips, magnolias, bluebells, daisies and everywhere there are daffodils. In German they are called Easter bells, because they bloom over Easter. There are tulips growing in gardens and on nature strips which I would pay good money for back home; they're lush pink, lipstick red, violent purple, vivid orange or canary yellow and perfectly formed. The trees blossom, and then, too quickly, start to grow back their leaves, the daffodils die, suddenly the air smells sweet and mild and the sky is full of jet streams. It's a brief, beautiful European spring and it feels a little like walking into a film of how spring is supposed to be.
Here, when the sun comes out and it's twenty degrees there's no waiting for next weekend. It's time to head to the park, with your portable barbecue, your array of outdoor games, a case of beer, your bikini and eight to twenty of your closest friends. If you're a homeowner with a garden it's time to lacquer your garden furniture, repaint the garage, remove your winter tyres and crack out the barbecue in the backyard. Time to go on cycling trips, to play tennis, soccer, to take the kids to the sandpit. In our case it's time to play Frisbee without getting wet feet, although trying to find a patch of grass to play it on is difficult. We can play until almost ten o'clock, because it's still light, and still find time for an ice cream on the way home. The best flavours here are of course the ones made with the rich, creamy milk they drink, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel, vanilla. For risk takers there's nutella, plum, egg liquor and miracle flavour (tastes like lollies).
As far as food goes, that's also seasonal. It's asparagus season, not the green but the white variation, the one that needs to be peeled before consumption. Last year my cousin was lovely enough to cook it for us, with butter and salt and ham for the meat-eaters. It's also strawberry season, which means a kilo of strawberries for an eighth of their winter price, sweet and fresh and delicious. Manuela maintains that these are the only two foodstuffs that still have a season here, but I think otherwise. To me, child of a Großstadt (big city), everything seems so seasonal here, and not just personal seasons but communal. People seem to know when it's time to eat beet, or which kind of potato is the best this year, when the canola fields are in bloom or when to buy tulips. There's flea markets every other weekend to get rid of the products of spring cleaning or acquire new objects to sell next year.
For me it's a new kind of spring. It doesn't have that sense of things ending, rather of something new and different, strangely out of whack with my inner seasons but nonetheless familiar. There are no insects on the grass when we picnic, no hole in the ozone layer to worry about, no sharks or dangerous jellyfish when we go to the beach. It's a bit like stepping into one of those European fairy tales I read as a child, or a book by Enid Blyton, or Anne of Green Gables. Nature with it's claws removed. I'm not sure if I should, but so far, I'm enjoying the fantasy.