Some of the gabled villas in the Cottageviertel that are in estate agent parlance “sanierungsbedürftig” have a touch of the haunted house about them that is far more real than any Prater attraction can hope to be, including Madame Tussaud’s, which I am informed now sports a waxwork of Andreas Gabalier, the bad boy of the Austrian Volksmusik and Schlager scene, and famous also for refusing to sing the new gender-neutral version of the Austrian national anthem. However, the Cottageviertel seems to be a very quiet place for halloween.
On a quick trip to Billa yesterday (of course avoiding being seen with only a small carrier bag by my neighbour and going very early in the morning, well early for a man of leisure who had binge-watched half a series of “The Crown” on Netflix (I am a new convert!)), I noticed that the sweets for “trick or treating” were lined up prominently next to the till and that the cashier was giving me the look as though “I can’t believe that you aren’t buying any!” until I panic bought a selection of sweets. Neurolinguistic programming by telepathy?
My wife was off to the cabaret with a friend, and not fancying it, I thought a night in watching a film would be in order. And in overgrown schoolboy rebellion, I had a bag of sweets and all that Netflix could throw at me, as well as a rather nice bottle of red to go with the curry that was in the slow cooker for most of the day. Last year a couple of little fairies fluffed their “Süßes! Sonst gibt’s Saures!” as I opened the door and were already in tears as their mothers sheepishly had to tell them not to take too many chocolates from the tin we had prepared.
This year the doorbell didn’t ring once – or at least not in the early evening. The only disturbance was due to there being a party two houses down, with a steady procession of costumed party-goers in high spirits marching past, some swigging from cans and disposing of them in our hedge, in the early evening and then some rowdy singing ones looking the worse for wear buzzing the doorbells on the gate in the small hours. This morning, a steady stream of cars was heading up the Hartäckerstrasse towards the Döblinger Friedhof, as Viennese go and visit the family grave, and light another windproof candle.
My wife’s family have been more pragmatic about it, and we head over to my sister-in-law, collecting an elderly aunt from her apartment out of the edge of the 16th district and ensuring that her fridge/freezer is well stocked, and ensuring that a hearty lunch and surfeit of cake is enjoyed by all. Family news is caught up on, and then usually as an aside, usually as the group is about to disperse, we discuss who will head up to which graveyard to tend which graves in the coming few days, and check whether the graves are paid up for the coming years. It’s not that we don’t care, but more a case of sitting around being gloomy and maudlin doesn’t really achieve anything. And besides, when you have had a few rogues and chancers in the family, humour is probably the best way to approach the situation. As a non-Viennese, and also someone who does not do things purely for the sake of keeping up appearances, I learned early on that family piety is frequently done for show and with excess. Fortunately, the bulk buying of grave candles, buying flowers on another day than 1st November is not frowned upon by my in-laws, and grave tending is kept to an expedient minimum while not appearing to be disrespectful.