Every Easter Sunday, my family flocks to my mother’s house on the hilltop in Styria. Hidden eggs and Easter baskets magically appear under trees and bushes, to be found by the youngest. And then a hearty Osterjause is spread out for all those who might have need of something more that what the Easter Bunny has to offer.
Every Easter Sunday, that is, except this one.
This year, we stayed apart.
As parcels from the Austrian post hurried along the roads and through the streets to deliver the goods blessed and beloved – the colorful eggs, the consecrated meat, Osterpinze (a sweet, white roll, between a brioche and a hot cross bun) and, of course, Styrian Kren (grated horseradish). This year, as they arrived right at our flats and houses, we pondered how to spend this most unusual of Easter Sundays.
So today, I found myself in the Prater, the vast 1,500 acre (6 million m2) park in Vienna’s 2nd district. Under the canopy of a green tree, on a picnic blanket – and, of course, meters away from everybody else – I set up a Skype video call for my family.
As we called, chatted, laughed and teased, we ate our Styrian Osterjause. I heard, one after another, what wonders the Easter Bunny had brought to my nieces and nephews (you see, he’s still out and about – no movement restrictions for Master Hare!).
And around me, the Viennese Prater came alive.
A family of two parents, a girl and a boy played a game of croquet under the trees. “Don’t you cheat!” and “No phone now, today’s Easter and who knows whether the Easter Bunny will bring you something!” implores the father – the surprise certainly waiting at home.
A jogger runs by, sits down and calls his grandma. “Hallo Omi,” he says, and a conversation begins, with every word sounding all-too familiar to me. “Do you drink enough?”, “Yes, I also work from home now.”, “Can you hear me?!”, “No, Omi, don’t say that, we’ll see each other soon enough again – in May or so, I’m sure. You can do this!” and “I’ll call you again, soon.”
My niece tells us about her first bike with a gearbox (“How on earth did the Easter Bunny carry this big thing if it doesn’t even fit in daddy’s car?”), her younger brother found a fire dinosaur. My colored eggs break open also without an egg fight.
A couple starts playing badminton – very badly, but with verve – and a girl with dreadlocks leaned against a tree plays Oh, Baby, Baby it’s A Wild World on the guitar (and how she plays!).
A young man tries his luck on the Slackline – no danger, he’s really professional – as people cycle past, or throw a volleyball in small groups of two or three.
My other nephew proudly presents his new magnet game. “It’s very difficult!” he says. Can he do it? “Jaaaa!” His sister eats ice cream from, well, not quite a stick, more a self-made ice cream tube. Her older brother proudly presents a magic trick to all of us on the video call (the magic wand came from the Easter Bunny too, obviously).
Picnic blankets wave in the wind – perhaps the same wind that lets the badminton birdie sail into the upper echelons of a tree. Then, after heroic efforts to bring the birdie down, the badminton racket is also stuck in the tree. And the girlfriend of the unlucky hero is torn between faintly disguised amusement and sincere efforts to help her partner win the match with the tree – even if it means risking the second racket.
The guitar player moves on to Hit the Road, Jack.
Something my next-blanket neighbor – albeit 10 meters away – can probably sympathize with: A mum with a book and sleeping baby next to her, she seems not too keen on my occasionally quite loud Easter conversations on Skype. I move my blanket. My older niece and nephew also got also something from the Easter Bunny – “far too much,” they say, dutifully. Clothes, money, other things. It’s time for dessert.
A little dog can’t find her “Frauerl.” My mum offers her kitchen and sideboard to all of us for free, as she will soon refurbish two rooms in the hilltop house. I finish eating bread, eggs, meat and Kren and (to merge the Styrian with the Viennese) go for Mannerschnitten for dessert.
My partner, calling from his garden in Czechia, explains Passover and the rules of Czech quarantine (excuse me, “14-days self-isolation”). The badminton birdie and both rackets are back down to earth again, with only marginal damage.
The guitar players strums on, now Wind of Change. The one that got the birdie stuck in the trees or the one that helped bring it down?
Everyone is here.
A little boy runs around in Spiderman socks and with a mask over the eyes. A woman in a hijab snaps a picture of her family as they walk toward the shade. An Asian couple stretches out to take a nap. A little girl playing football with her dad shouts something I don’t catch, and I realize they are speaking Hungarian. A young woman with a helicopter hat muses about the upcoming – this year quite different – school-leaving exams (Matura).
A bumblebee flies from flower to flower.
And just as my brother starts to cook spaghetti and paella – not very Easterly, granted, but we can all totally see him as a master chef on YouTube, we tease – the guitar player starts in on Sweet Dreams are Made of This. My family and I start goodbye-ing.
It’s been a very different Easter Sunday: We stayed apart, yes. but we also came together – as a family.
As I walk home, the church bells ring.