Every year around this time, when the days grow shorter, the nights grow colder, and the lush green ocean of leaves swaying in the summer breeze, turns into a succulent kaleidoscope of color, exploding into reds, oranges, yellows, and browns—and it’s once again time for me to get the winter tires ready for the coming traffic mess—Mrs. Casual makes it a point to remind me (repeatedly) that it's not only her birthDAY coming up at the end of the month, but rather that it is her birthMONTH, ALL month, and she intends to celebrate it that way. Yes, you read that right, four weeks of cakes with candles, presents with bows, and all manner of goodies in honor of having made it one year closer to death.
Now some of you may find the mention of the word death a bit surprising, jarring, or, perhaps, even scary; particularly when discussing the happy occasion of a loved one's birthday. And you would be well within your right to feel that way. Birthdays are, more often than not, associated with, well…birth; which, by definition, is the opposite of death. But then again, let not the fact that I have lived in New York City for an undisclosed number of decades, obfuscate the simple truth that I was born and raised in the city of Vienna—a place in the heart of Europe, known for its chocolaty treats, 150 varieties of coffee, and an age-old morbid fascination with anything having to do with death. As any good Viennese citizen knows from very early on in life, birth is merely the beginning of the end.
This is why, in the old country, we have found a number of ways to put a less threatening spin on this whole death & dying thing. This, of course, doesn’t change the reality of death, its terminal pain and sadness, its finality and unpleasantly bitter aftertaste (for the living; the dead, on average, don’t care too much about it, one way or another)—but it puts a nice coat of sugar on top. And if there’s one thing the Viennese like, it’s to sugarcoat just about anything that isn’t already pure confectionery.
Keeping in that spirit—of adding a sweet glaze to anything bitter and sad—there are a number of phrases used in the beautiful city of Vienna, which describe the act of handing over one's membership card in the club of the living and calling it a day for the rest of eternity, but somehow make it seem like it's just another day of you and your sweetheart floating along the gently swaying Danube in a rose-colored rowboat on a sunny summer’s day, sipping fragrant wine and munching on freshly baked Topfengolatschen (a traditional pastry and personal favorite of mine). Here are but a few translations of some of these verbal sugar coatings:
- To stretch your slippers
- To give up the spoon
- To put on a wooden pajama
- To look at the potatoes from underneath
- To check if the cover fits (That's the coffin cover we're talking about)
- To take a ride on the 71 (The 71 is the tram that leads to one of Vienna's major cemeteries. This is the Viennese version of crossing the river Styx.)
As I'm sure you can tell, Viennese is a wonderfully inventive language, and the creative ways the Viennese have come up with, to describing the last moments in a person’s life, without actually describing the last moments in a person’s life, are to be commended. Nonetheless, it is still death we're talking about. I therefore restate my point that every birthday we celebrate, is, in actuality, just another One-Year-Closer-to-Death day.
Coming back to Mrs. Casual and yours truly, it is one of our annual traditions on this particular day, for me to grab my camera and a couple of snazzy lenses, for her to make sure her hair is the right color and her lips are just the right shade of red—which usually ends up with her insisting she needs to run to Sephora to grab three lipsticks, 2 different mascaras, a color-neutral foundation, and a new bottle of perfume (although I suspect the perfume has not much to do with the photo-shoot!)—and for us to venture into the wild, colorful world that is Autumn in Upstate New York.
So said, so done...And, dare I say it, the pictures seem to be getting better year by year. Could there be a correlation between getting closer to death and looking better against a backdrop of blurry blobs of colorful leaves? I'll leave it to more learned folks to figure this one out. All I can say is, the pictures came out beautifully, and I'm glad to report that neither the missus nor I are, as of yet, passengers on the 71.
Happy One-Year-Closer-to-Death Day, Babe! Hope you like the pictures…