My father spent long periods on sea and brought for me beautiful gifts of toys and dolls from far off lands, which I did not know about. He would narrate mesmerizing tales of people from cultures so different and wonderful. I related to my father’s tales the way I did to my mother’s—with awe and wonder. They were real for me. They are real for children, for the children do not distinguish between apparent-reality and inner-reality of the world from where all the magic of imagination cascades.
From his travels, my father brought another gift. It was his cooking recipes from different lands. He loved to cook food from different parts of the world. His recipes were exotic and his dishes exuded strong aroma. When I think of my father, there is always an association of aroma and taste of food and his apron-clad image in the kitchen. He brought condiments, herbs, and spices from those far away lands. I recall he would often make a salad with pumpkinseed oil. Pumpkin oil dressing for kidney bean salads is a specialty of the culinary culture of Styria. Father’s love for different cultures mixed with his love for his land; this was so as far as his interest in food was concerned.
Sometimes we would go out to a small town not far from home to buy provisions. One shop in particular I remember. A Turkish family ran it. The old proprietor was large and moustachioed; his two sons assisted him in the shop. Sometimes his wife would also come to the shop. She had a large scarf tied to her head. She had a daughter of my age. She would talk to me in German and with her mother in Turkish. I was awed that she could talk something I did not understand. I would be welcomed along with my parents. The old man would talk to me and offer some candy. He would talk to my father about his journeys. They would also talk about Turkey; my father had travelled to Turkey many times, was quite familiar with the culture of the country, its food, and especially famous Turkish kebabs. The old Turk came from the Mediterranean region of Turkey, which had a history from as early as eight century B.C. when Hittites civilization flourished in the region known for long as Asia Minor. It was during World War-I that his father fought alongside Germany and later settled in Austria. Sometimes Ahmed Bey –the old Turk would visit his relatives in Anatolian region. His ancestral village was not far from Side, which was a scenic port in ancient Pamphylia. He would tell my father how the whole region is replete with ancient ruins and its rich heritage over thousands of years of wonderful history. Sometimes he would play haunting Anatolian music. I really liked the music and especially the sound of string instrument called Balma. I wonder how even as exiles we bring rich cultural tradition and enrich other cultures. All through human history society and civilization was enriched through such intercourse.
I imbibed all the interactions between father and Ahmed Bey subconsciously. Later in life, they would fuel my interest in the lovely land and music of Turkey. Meanwhile I was happy to have such outings to the town, for they presented new vistas to my life and existence. After finishing shopping usually, we would dine in traditional inns known as Buchenshenken, relishing local delicacies of roast pork, smoked sausages, cheese, the special verhakert— minced meat and sausage spread, and the usual snitzels. While I inevitably had juice, my parents washed down the delicious dishes with schicher, the famous wine from Schilderland in western Styria.
Time flowed like the water in Mur. I am in Vienna, enjoying coffee with Elena in Café Central. I like to come here. It is the custom of the restaurant to serve brown nut cookies with coffee. This custom goes back to half a century. The building housing the Café has a long history, as is the case with all of Vienna. It is more than a hundred year old and served at different times as a warehouse and bank; the façade is beautiful and invites you to enter the building. Arches create dainty waves in the main hall of the restaurant, the ceiling is cupola shaped, and polished ornate pillars divide the space. Large windows admit Viennese daylight freely. From high ceiling hang lamps by long chains to be effective for customers to see each other in the soft light. Just as you enter, by the main door there is a reclining sculpture of a famous Viennese writer who fancied this restaurant and was a regular here. The owners installed his sculpture to make him a guest—through day and night. The writer is now permanently reclining in a chair by the entrance and appraises every visitor to the restaurant. It is so surrealistic that you may think some one real is in the chair. I also like the waiters here; they are handsome, suave and very polite. The one serving us has wide forehead and light, dreamy eyes. He could be a poet in the making and may be one day will have a sculpture dedicated to his memory. Some of the waiters can have with you discussion on latest in art, literature, opera and music. It is a city of culture-dreamers.