Sunday, August 12, 2012

Uwe's Garden of Wonder

This morning, before heading off to the Währingerstrasse apartment for last minute wall repair, painting and cleaning, I wandered through the garden of our new place.  Last week I described it as Uwe’s garden of wonder, and it truly is that.

I described it to a former editor of mine back in the States a few weeks back in an email and he accused me of writing fiction.   He made a comment to the effect that if half of what I told him was true then it must be an unusual, special place.

I do write fiction on occasion, but it is properly labeled as such.  So for Steve’s benefit (you know who you are), here is a tour of the garden and our new apartment.  Let me do this in order, because I’m not sure which parts Steve didn’t believe.

First, before we get to the garden, I want to introduce the plant in our living room.   It is a rubber tree that Uwe, our landlord, told us dates back to just after WW II, when his father rescued it from somewhere.  That makes it more than 60 years old and, as I told Steve, it stretches across our living room ceiling.
The Rubber Tree

Our main responsibility as tenants is keeping the tree alive.  We must water it twice a week, each time using half the water in a container Uwe has provided.  When the container is empty, we set it outside the door and Uwe refills it with water from his rain barrel, which sits out back by the tomatoes, roses and the fig tree in the garden of wonder.

We have a small sitting/TV room off our bedroom, and off the sitting room is a modest balcony.  For the moment it provides us an outdoor place to dry clothes (remember, there are almost no dryers in Austria), but once we’re settled, it will be a pleasant place to just sit and be.

The Balcony
 Behind the house is a rocked in area with box turtles … at least I think they are box turtles.  A bunch of them live there … how many seems to be a point of contention between Uwe and his wife, so he only admits to five or so.  I think the “or so” could double or triple the number.  They’re hard to count because they have shelters they go into, and, of course, once you’ve seen one turtle . . 
Box Turtle Breakfast

So, after the turtles, you head down what Uwe believes is a path.  I’m not so sure, but I think he cut it with the machete he has in his Land Rover (that’s fiction).  As you push through the branches, past the tomato plants, you hear the hum of bees.

The Path 
The Hives
There are three human-made bee hives in the garden.  Uwe just reduced them in size for the coming winter, but normally there are 70,000 bees or more in each.  He gets honey four times a year, and as we’ve already received a jar as a welcome present, we can attest to its delicious taste.

Farther down that path are two ponds, both filled with European pond turtles.  They are also hard to count because as soon as you approach they dive into the pond.  But the number is assuredly higher than five.
European Pond Turtles

Past the ponds, is the large chicken coop with a half dozen or so exotically colored chickens.   Alas, the rooster that has entertained us is now gone after there were complaints about the rooster crowing at all hours of the day in the middle of the city.  Legal action was threatened and Uwe had to give the rooster to his brother, who owns a farm outside of town.  “I lost my cock,” a distraught Uwe said (not fiction). I kept a straight face.

The Chickens
Turn left at the chicken coop and then left again to head back toward the house and you arrive at a bust of Uwe’s great grandfather (we think), who was the last accountant for the last emperor.  The bust was somewhere important, but Uwe absconded with it and moved it to the garden.  His great grandfather looks like he was a nice guy.

Great Grandfather

The garden has fig trees, but the figs aren’t doing well because of a late frost last spring.  There is also an apple tree and I’m sure many more wonders that we haven’t yet discovered.

Our new street is called Sternwartestrasse, which translates to “Observatory Street” because just up the hill is the University of Vienna observatory, from which one can look through telescopes and see stars … if you have an appointment.  We’re working on that. 

Our Gated Entry
We have a gate to get into our place, so we are feeling very upscale … but we discovered you need keys to get out, as well as in, and I think that says something about Vienna, but I’m not sure what.

We also have a little door that opens in the wall over the kitchen sink so you can see out into the street (see top picture).  It is a way to spy on your neighbors.  That’s Viennese, too. (Actually, it’s so that we can see guests arrive, so we can press the magic button that opens the gate.)

I expect a full apology from Steve.