Home is a memory. Even the smell of something can remind you of "home". It can immediately flood you with a pleasant feeling which you associate with home, however it may look.
I am a mixture. My mother is Spanish, my father Austrian. They live in Spain, where I was born. Today I live in Vienna, Austria.
The first memories I have of my childhood are marked by strong contrasts. They are divided between my maternal grandparents' house in the Canary Islands, Spain, and my grandmother's house in Vienna, Austria.
The house of my Spanish grandparents in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was located at the end of a beach (in La Puntilla, Playa de Las Canteras) on a narrow lava field by the sea.
There you could feel the power of the ocean, which was crashing against the rocks again and again, and through erosion had created a landscape of bizarre shapes.
It was the place where I played in my childhood, observed by my maternal grandfather or my father, because it was the place where they both went fishing in their spare time. My task was to mix small pieces of bread with the heads of shrimps, left over from a fish dish, with sea water into a spherical paste. This paste then served as bait for the fish we wanted to catch. Meanwhile, my Spanish grandfather, Leonardo, kept telling his stories about the shooting of the film Moby Dick (by John Ford and starring Gregory Peck), which had taken place just off the coast. He had worked with my uncle Genaro on the film, partly because he, my grandfather, had some knowledge of English while working in the harbour. So he could help the film team to communicate with the locals who took part in the shooting.
This black lava field in front of the sea, which tasted of fish and salt and smelled of seaweed, was a dangerous and at the same time fantastic place for me. Dangerous because the surf and the many pointed stones made it an unsafe place for a child. And fantastic, because - while my father and grandfather were fishing - I was practically forced to spend hours alone with what I saw in front of me. And in these forms bizarrely shaped by the lava, I imagined landscapes in miniature form: Mountains and valleys, lakes and lagoons. Distant worlds that I wanted to travel to, that existed only in my head and thus became a playground and stage for countless adventures for me.
The other house, that of my paternal grandparents in Vienna (and in this case the term "apartment" would rather apply), was located in an old and classical building typical of Vienna. My grandfather had died a long time ago, I had never seen him, and my father almost never. He was at least 30 years older than my grandmother. The reason for the age difference was probably the war - at that time there were more women than men. The apartment was like a museum of what my grandfather was. It contained small paintings, photos, letters and documents.
The apartment was like a museum of what my grandfather was. It contained small paintings, photos, letters and documents.
My grandmother had carefully collected and arranged everything, including the first photo of my grandfather as a baby, and also that of my great-grandparents (taken in a studio in Mariahilferstrasse, in 1878!). But there were also more photos, love letters to his first wife and endless scores for operettas. My grandfather, a civil servant, who praised himself as a friend of Arnold Schönberg, wrote - under a pseudonym - scores for small performances and played the piano himself in coffee houses in his spare time. The documents in my grandmother's apartment resembled a journey through the history of Vienna from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century with a certain bohemian touch.
Although I spent my whole childhood with my parents on the islands, my father often took me to Austria to spend time with my grandmother in Vienna. There I had the opportunity to get to know a culture which, although different, had a lot in common with the Spanish culture, and so my grandmother explained it to me.
The famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna was the most visible and most famous example. Or the Habsburgs, who ruled them both in Austria and in Spain. Or the church convent founded by Spanish monks in the 9th district. The monks wore black cowls, and therefore there was once a Schwarzspanierkirche, literally meaning "Black Spanish Church" and then later a Schwarzspanierstrasse ("Black Spanish Street"). There was even a dessert which I knew and which could be seen in certain pastry shops: "Spanish Wind" was the name which, according to my Austrian grandmother, was an old name for what we know today as French, Swiss or Italian meringue or meringue. In Spain they are called Suspiros (sighs), and with my Spanish grandmother we had often bought them at the doors of a monastery, because, as I learned later, these kinds of desserts were traditionally prepared by nuns or monks. Who knows if the Spanish monks living in Vienna could be the reason in Austria that the meringues were also known as "Spanish Wind". Or maybe just because you need an oven as hot as a Spanish summer to prepare them.
Who knows if the Spanish monks living in Vienna could be the reason in Austria that the meringues were also known as "Spanish Wind"
One of the things I loved to do with my Austrian grandmother was to spend a few days in the summer house that my aunts - Aunt Mitzi and Aunt Wally had. The house was near the Hohe Wand Mountain, not too far from Vienna. In front of the house there was a meadow and a vegetable garden, which at times served as a pantry. Behind the house there was something else that fascinated me: a forest. There I went for walks with my grandmother and my aunts to collect mushrooms (parasols). I was not allowed to touch them because some of them, which looked very similar, were poisonous. So to pass the time, I collected the fir cones that had fallen from the trees. I took them to Spain because they reminded me of the walks and the smell of the forest.