Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE
Location: Vienna, Austria
In Vienna, people don’t wish each other a Happy New Year. Instead they say, “Guten Rutsch,” which can be roughly translated as Happy Sliding (into the new year). After a strange and anxiety induced 2020, “sliding” does sound more fitting than a power walk into the new year. So far, 2021 feels a bit like a careful slide down a slippery slope, reminding me of my first ski-trip ever, several years ago.
I had suggested to go skiing for Markus’s birthday. Although Markus was a professional skier and ski coach in a previous life, Indy and I had never skied before. It sounded like a fun family trip. I imagined the hills being alive with the sound of music, the smell of hot chocolate milk, and enjoyable runs down soft blankets of snow. Yes, I was in my end-thirties which is approximately 479 years old in ski-years and not exactly the perfect age to start skiing, but what was the worst that could happen? I had raced horses through forests and across sandy beaches. Bareback. I had given birth. I could handle two skis.
Or so I thought. Truth is, the skis handled my every movement. And not in a good way. On skis, all of my senses and my hand-eye coordination seemed out of sync. That’s why, at one point, I found myself staring into the abyss. Okay. Maybe it was me staring into a big pile of snow at the top of a beginner’s slope in St. Moritz, but for all I knew I was about to ski straight into the bottomless pit of Hell. For the last fifteen minutes I had tried to convince myself that being able to ski is an advantage. It came in handy for James Bond. And who knows when I would find myself in a situation where I would have to escape an evil scientist’s lair on top of an Alp? Yet, I couldn’t help but ponder, wasn’t it a scientific fact that the higher you went, the less gravity pulled on you? And who said that I couldn’t roll down this mountain at 11 kilometers per second, escape Earth’s gravitational pull, and float into space to never be seen again? I feared that my chances of getting down in one piece were zero to none. A fear that wasn’t completely irrational, taking in consideration that my ski track record up until that moment was short and disastrous: I had gotten myself stuck on the magic carpet (it had to be stopped, and Markus had to lift me up to get me off), I had hit my head on one of the poles of the baby course’s little practice gates, and I had skied into Indy (who turned out to be a natural skier and loved his ski classes) before crashing into a small fence that was supposed to prevent skiers like me from falling off the slope. Indy still likes to remind me that I almost killed him (as I write this sentence, I feel the icy stare of his future therapist).
While facing the abyss, I heard my inner voice. Some inner voices exude the wisdom of the ages, some are kind and comforting, mine sounds like an angry Edna Mode. This time I heard her shout,“Whaddaya think you gonna do ‘ere? Build an igloo?” She had a point. I can hardly build a snowman, let alone an igloo. To live in. Forever. Or at least until summer, whereafter I could walk down.
So, the only reason that I write this post from behind a desk and not from behind an ice block on a mountain top, is that due to a serious lack of igloo building skills, I had to ski down. Markus (who has the patience of a Saint) skied in front of me (backwards) and happily stated that I was going to be just fine. Marriage is based on trust, but in this moment I didn’t trust a word he said. I closed my eyes and pushed forward in cramped snowplough position while mumbling, “Left-knee, right-knee, left-knee, right-knee,” and I miraculously made it down without falling. As I stood at the bottom of the slope, I heard my inner Edna say, “Well, Snowflake, that was the most hypnotically boring journey down, but ya made it. And look, there’s coffee.” Bless the little coffee truck in the Engadine Valley.
I never became a comfortable skier, but after several more ski classes and ski runs, I’m more in control of my skis, and I can make it out of the chair lift without falling (or hyperventilating). I’m still sliding awkwardly slow, and I am still reluctant to really trust gravity. Deep down, I doubt if gravity will keep me on a mountain or if there is a small but real chance to just fly off, straight into the valley, like a Wile E. Coyote on skis. I guess you could say that I have grown into an Engadiner Nusskuchen and coffee kind of skier, enjoying the fresh air, blue skies, and the sound of crisp snow while I really, really, really slowly ski down following the smell of coffee and kuchen from the coffee truck at the bottom of the slope.
This January, I do as I ski. I take a deep breath and carefully push away. I might not know what is coming next, whether it is a hurdle, an avalanche, or a beautiful sunset (after 2020, nothing really surprises me anymore…), but I do know that on my slide down 2021, I will enjoy the fresh air, blue skies, smell of coffee, and sounds of family laughter when we watch a movie or play a board game.
In the cold days and weeks ahead, I happily let the cozy in! No matter where the road might lead us, board games, hot chocolate, books, and movies sound like the perfect start of a sliding down the 2021 slope. Edna might even agree.
Happy sliding! May you stay warm and cozy.