A boyfriend and I once attended a three-day wedding in Krems, Austria during the summer solstice. It took place at the groom’s father’s castle. One of the events of the weekend was a masquerade ball; we dressed in costumes rented from the Vienna Opera and were treated to a waltz lesson in the ballroom by a relative who was in the Vienna Ballet, followed by a spectacular fireworks display in the central courtyard.
The ceremony itself was moved from the courtyard to a hayloft because of inclement weather. The couple took their vows accompanied by the steady beat of the rain and a view of thick mist hovering over the neighboring vineyard. It was the fruit of that vineyard’s labor that filled our glasses all weekend.
But this is not a story about celebratory feasts, or the last-minute decision to empty our bank account and fly halfway around the world for a party. This is a story about figs.
On the day of the masquerade ball, my boyfriend and I decided to go into Vienna. Having been with English speakers all weekend, it did not occur to us until we exited Wien Westbahnhof that we were alone in a foreign country and had no idea even how to ask someone what to do next. But somehow we managed, because I remember marveling at the Klimts in the Belvedere Gallery; St. Stephen’s Cathedral seemed so dark and severe, perhaps in protest of its seemingly whimsical roof tile design; we ate enormous wurstel sandwiches while riding on a Ferris wheel in an amusement park. A helpful man who smelled like onions showed us how to use the subway’s ticket machine.
We were pressed for time as we returned to the train station, and hurried past a woman selling figs. She was ancient and seemed to blend into the concrete wall behind her, but the figs were fresh and an unimaginable shade of green in the late afternoon light.
Just as we were about to get on the train my boyfriend stopped and said, “Wait. Those figs.” He was off like a shot, and returned holding a bag of figs above his head in triumph just as the conductor’s final whistle blew.
All the seats on the train were taken, but the vestibule was spacious, empty and had a large window. We sat on the floor and as the city gave way to suburbs and then fields and pastures, we ate those figs and talked about the things we’d done that day. Sometimes we were quiet and looked out the window at Austria passing by.
The fruit was still warm from the sun, and as delicious as you are imagining right now. But they were more than just their smell, or their taste, or their remarkable color. I quite clearly remember thinking: “This is what traveling tastes like.”