I realized today that it’s been more than a year since I visited Salzburg last January, so I better get my act together and post pictures now if I’m ever going to. I think I put off Innsbruck and Salzburg for so long because they were just so fraught. How do I properly explain what I experienced while there? I was constantly in almost painful awe of the city’s beauty, and I was overjoyed just to roam the wintry streets, sit in the cozy cafes, and gawk at the baroque opulence. But I also kept getting caught up in angry rumination about how Austria could stand to face a little more of its ugly past. And then I’d get whiplashed by doubts and start obsessively googling for evidence both to justify and to counter my resentment. The whole thing was mentally exhausting.
But that’s just me. As I said in my Innsbruck post, if you don’t have relatives who died in the Holocaust, you should definitely visit Austria. It’s gorgeous! Let me show you…
I recently returned from two months in Oregon, where I was helping my sister and brother-in-law with childcare for their two young daughters, my beloved nieces. My role was to fill pandemic-era gaps: to watch ten month-old Alice (who under normal circumstances would have been in daycare) when both her parents were in virtual meetings, to help keep five year-old Mabel focused during remote kindergarten (this proved to be impossible), to make some snacks and meals, and to help around the house. Beyond this, there was another role that I hadn’t anticipated, but which turned out to be one of the most important: to be a playmate to Mabel, whose in-person time with kids her own age had been reduced to almost nothing.
To clarify: I had expected to do a lot of playing with Mabel, who is one of the most imaginative, creative people I’ve ever met. But it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have to do all of that playing on her level. During normal visits with my nieces and nephew, I play with them in age-appropriate ways — I let them lead and I follow, to the best of my ability. During this visit, though, it became clear that Mabel needed me to shed my adulthood and play with her as though I were actually a five year-old. The more time I spent with her, attempting to shape-shift, the more I realized that it was a question of language — or rather, of the uses to which we put language.