After my recollections of September, my former magazine delighted me by publishing my memories of snow in their latest issue. I translated it in English, fascinated with the process once more. The two texts are similar; they both have the same trunk, yet all the little branches coming out of it are different, giving each text a distinct meaning, atmosphere, and focus. Another piece of evidence for me that writing in two languages involves two “persons” or better yet, two personalities, as my inner writer/writers relays/relay on specific knowledge, mentality, and tradition connected to the language used at that moment.
Here is the English version.
Every time I said I liked snow, people would give me a strange look.
The snow of my childhood was deep and heavy. The sled pulled by one of the adult family members would bounce off the frozen bumps, while my four-year-old self, bundled up in thick blankets, would shriek in delight and try to catch snowflakes with my tongue. A quick note: part of the country where I was born lies on the bottom of the ancient Pannonian Sea that existed up until a million years ago. Now it’s as flat as Saskatchewan so sledding has always required three elements: the sled, its child passenger, and someone who would drag it.
I still can hear the sound of wooden shovels in the early morning and the muffled clanging of the old streetcar. I can recollect the narrow path on the sidewalk framed with the walls of snow so high that it would obscure smaller kids. Only the pompoms on their caps would be visible and moving. The city was wrapped in a soft, white cloak, sleepy and slow. The air was slightly bitter from chimney smoke, and our kitchen smelled of burning wood, black tea, and apple fritters.
When I was seven, my family moved to the mountain region of my country. From my typical Central European birthplace with strong Catholic roots, we settled in a village near a big city, where my parents, both teachers, had gotten their jobs. In many ways, the new city was shockingly exciting and exotic. Its predominantly Islamic heritage was a result of 500 years of Ottoman rule. At the same time, it preserved a significant Orthodox Christian tradition and developed a specific and cautious yet enduring brand of Catholicism, encouraged in the 19th century by the new sovereign, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This incredible and—then—harmonious amalgam would soon ignite my curiosity and deep appreciation for Islamic and Eastern Orthodox cultures.
Everything else was different: the climate, the dialect, the food, the mentality, the architecture… The sounds and smells, the landscape. No more endless plains where your sight couldn’t rest. Whenever you turned, there were hills, cliffs, pikes, ridges, slopes. The air was sharp and cool. The rivers, unlike the mighty, slow, and murky Danube and Drava, were clear, noisy, and rushing. The forests were not the hectares upon hectares of centuries-old oaks but the dark green expanses of spruce, pine, and beech. It was love at first sight; this corner of the world became my spiritual homeland and I couldn’t love it more.
During winter, there were blankets of snow. That snow had almost a transcendental quality: it was whiter and it shimmered; it was pristine and sweet. (I can vouch for that for I kept eating it). It was so pliable that it could be effortlessly molded into anything our imagination conjured.
Sledding became a completely new experience. The sled used here was a small, bullet-fast one-seater. From the top of one of the countless elevations, we would zoom down head first to the bottom. More often than not, we would end up half-buried in the snow.
Later, when we moved to the city, like little Heidi I would mourn the loss of my rural idyll, including the magnificent winter months. Everything had changed once more and the snow was no exception. There was less and less of it, and when it would snow, it stayed unspoiled only for a short time. Traffic, smog (which the city was infamous for), and hurried steps of countless pedestrians would quickly cover it with a grayish patina or melt it into slush.
I do remember one particular winter and the biggest snow of the decade. I was fifteen or sixteen, the time when children start their journey to adulthood. Snow, like a special gift from heaven, had started falling just around Christmas and hadn’t stopped for several days. Its slow, unwavering descent filled me with some soft sorrow wrought with even softer joy, as a premonition of all my future quests and wanderings, and temporary discoveries of joy and relief.
This strange melange of melancholy and delight would stay with me forever.
Fast forward many years ahead… For a long time, snow here in my adopted homeland was unlike what I remembered from my childhood. Powdery, dispersed in tiny dry and angry flakes, it would barely sprinkle the ground, leaving depressingly yellow-grey grass and brown trees uncovered. I was disheartened – I came to Canada believing there was plenty of snow (almost) everywhere. Yet, year after year, the only proper dump would happen in April or May.
That has changed, though. More abundant and less dry, it’s now more like what I think snow should be to be properly enjoyed.
When it’s snowing, I like to stay home, open the blinds and peek outside every now and then, just to make sure it’s still falling. And I wait for my old friend to come and sit with me—that feeling of subdued joy and hushed ache I know all too well. I don’t need to wait for long; it never disappoints.
Then I like to make a cup of black tea and grab a book from one of my beloved Russians that really knew how to write about winter.
And when I say, with a smile, that I love snow, people give me a strange look.
They have no idea…