Posted by: Nazausgraben | July 18, 2009

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS (Part the First)


The day has turned balmy…not surprising for late July, but remarkable considering that we have been experiencing two weeks of an almost steady downpour. It’s some of the oddest weather we’ve seen in any July, replete with walls of rain, meatball-sized hail (what a picturesque metaphor!) falling so quickly that some streets in other parts of the Tirol required snow shoveling and the 3,000 meter peaks are now covered with real Summer snow! 

Pinswang’s farmers have been especially discouraged by this ‘sau-wetter’; it’s time to be cutting and drying the grass for consumption by the village cows. The constant wet has kept this evolution from taking place, and now the grass has started to turn an ugly moldy brown. In such a state, even when dry, the grass loses much of its nutritional value and, although edible, does not yield the desired results. Still, there are some tractors in the fields, their scythe-like-blades toppling the foot-high blades in wide swathes. Helpers (usually family members or friends), follow the tractor, piling the beheaded  flowers and grass into orderly lines that will be later scooped up and stored away.

The rest of us remain inside, listening to the boringly bleak and consistent weather reports of wechselhaft (changing) weather patterns and watching the skies as the warm and cold fronts make their ponderous ways up our valley.

Still, on this lovely day, the sun has deigned to show itself in unbridled grandeur, bathing the Tirol (and most of Austria) in much sought-after warmth. The sky is a bright neon azure and a few bands of wandering mists gather about to worship the surrounding peaks. This is the signal that all of Pinswang must get out of their homes to glance up at the bright stranger occupying our sky.

On such a day as this, when a light breeze causes the lower halves of lacy kitchen curtains to waft in and out of windows and the wild flower-laden tall grasses to produce a faint soothing rustle, when the tolling of the afternoon Ulrichskirche bells signal the passing lazy hours, when friends gather to sit under the house overhangs, on terrasses or balconies to pass a bottle of red from the Burgenland and toast the literal quiet between the storms, then that is when the Tirolean summer is at its best.

Pinswanger Sommer

 For Susi and me, this glorious day means ignoring the overgrown bushes and trees surrounding our house, forgetting about the window shutters requiring a new layer of paint, casting aside any notions of cleaning the basement. What we want…what we really need is to get out of doors and take a long walk along the via Claudia Augustus…the ancient Roman Road.

The via Claudia was first created more than two millennia ago. It courses northward from the Adriatic via the Po Valley, through the Alpine regions into the Tirol, Bavaria and up to the Danube River (marking the northern-most border of the Roman Empire). Since 15 B.C., the via Claudia as been a route of commerce and conquest. It has accommodated legions of warriors and tradesmen, supplying, defending and expanding the reach and influence of Rome.

The Pinswang branch of the via Claudia (really, nothing more than a thin dust and grass country path) stretches east-west at the base of the northern front range that also defines the border between the Austrian Tirol and Germany’s Bavaria. The western end of the road is marked by an inn, the Gutshof zum Schluxen (There are two excellent inns in Pinswang; Gutshof zum Schluxen in Unterpinswang and Gasthof Säuling in Oberpinswang. Both are rightly internationally lauded for outstanding food and very comfortable accommodations). Headed eastward and after passing a medieval mountain cave fortress (Schloß im Loch) and even more ancient Celtic ruins , the via Claudia exits Pinswang near the Ulrichskirche via a shallow cut in the mountain most appropriately called Der Kratzer (the cut).

Opening our front door and walking out of the property gate directly onto the via Claudia, we shake the cabin fever from our souls. With the mountain to our left and colorful wild flower fields stretching off to the other side of the valley on our right, we head off, trodding in the ancient footsteps as well as in some rather recent hoofprints. It’s not the professional soldierism of Roman troops that offers us any angst. Rather, the greatest threat facing Susi and me at the moment are the ‘landmines’ that litter the area.

Let me explain. Each day not long after the crack of dawn, the village’s many cows are released from their stalls. They spend their days walking the via Claudia, munching grass and depositing copious amounts of…well…digested grass and anything else one can find in their rather complex digestive systems. The result is that these splendid givers of delicious fresh Tirolean milk  loll away the hours eating, digesting and excreting, and doing so everywhere that such a creature can on and alongside  the Roman Road. Thus, one finds oneself hopping, jumping and otherwise tiptoeing ones way desperately hoping to avoid landing in the fly-infested steamy detritous so strategically planted along the via Claudia.

IMG_3487

 This is normally not a problem, that is, unless one returns home after a journey lasting into the late evening hours, after the deep purple has turned to an all encompassing pitch. Sans a high-powered searchlight to illuminate the way, intrepid travelers braving the Road at this time are very likely to fall foul of a not quite desiccated landmine. ‘Tis an unsightly and distasteful evolution that follows, as the distraught victim must employ the grassy wash and wipe technique to clean ones shoes. Still, the time and energy devoted to this is normally for naught, as the tint and odor will frustratingly remain for some time thereafter, forevermarking the otherwise colorful rugs of the Gasthaus or home and causing a knowing raising of eyebrows by decidely unhappy hosts.

Such is life in the country; such is this wonderful life in Pinswang.

(to be continued)

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Responses

  1. Andy,
    Your writing skill is absolutely wonderful. I can picture everything you describe, even to the smells! We want to visit in all the seasons–walking this road in the hills in the middle of summer sounds fabulous, but we know the Tyrol is picturesque in winter as well. We may just have to make more than one trip…..;0)

    • Dearest Friends, you will always be most welcome..no matter what the season!!!


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