May 1 has been a while ago, but with an annual activity in a not-prominent but interesting place, I’m still thinking of the little at-home-making adventuring I did around that time.
Not likely a place/organization that many non-Austrians have heard of, Arche Noah (which translates as Noah’s Ark) in Schiltern, Lower Austria, is basically our version of a Native Seeds/Search.
In a former palatial garden, part of the Schloss Schiltern castle grounds, the organization originally founded in 1989 by Nancy Arrowsmith works to preserve and promote heirloom plant varieties; my contact with them goes back almost two decades thanks to my interest in ethnobotany, agri-cultural diversity, and especially chile peppers. (Visit www.chilicult.com to learn more about that.)
It is not only this organization and their work – and the whole theme of (food) plant diversity that surrounds us, is typical for different places, yet has been so normal that its disappearance and increasing uniformity often goes unnoticed – that is interesting for our purposes here, for the work of making oneself at home.
Arche Noah provides many points of insight into food and nutrition and the realities of eating and flavor, but the area where they are located is also interesting.
In fact, I find it all the more interesting for its relative seclusion and for how far out of the way it is.
For me personally, actually like for many more-or-less locals, further interest is added through the regularity of my visits.
Every May 1, Arche Noah does a plant sale, and whenever I am in-country, I go there to help out with chile pepper sales and advice. So, there’s always this one event to mark early spring, to return to familiar sights and see them in a different light, just as conditions happen to be different.
Last year, for example, May 1 was already pretty warm, while this year had us suffer frost.
I was outside anyways, starting the bivy season sleeping beside the chile peppers ;)
On the way, there is a lot to see and think about, as long as you are a person with their mind open for questions and their eyes open for new impressions and insights:
On the way, the first stop is Langenlois, a small town known for the wine being produced there.
It’s an interesting place, pretty, with many old farmer and burgher (and mainly, it seems, vintner) houses, and a history reaching back to the Middle Ages – which is all the more reason to wonder about the economics of such places, then and now.
From there, whether you drive or (preferably, I find, but then I’m not going there to pick up plants) walk along the Loisbach creek and the hiking/mountain biking trails beside it.
Much deeper into the valley, almost at the turn over the hill to Schiltern (and onto Austrian long-distance hiking trail 06, the Mariazeller Weg), you move past the path up to the Kronsegg Castle Ruins.
It’s quite well preserved, down to traces of paintings in its chapel; both of its towers can now be climbed and provide a great view of the castle and its surroundings and out further.
And, it’s the perfect place for yet deeper puzzlement over how we’re supposedly so much more capable and powerful now, thanks to high-tech… Just imagine trying to build a place like that today.
You’d need so much money, much of the material might well have to come by helicopter, even just the food for the workers would have to come from far-away.
Meanwhile, when the castle was built in the 12th/13th century, you can be sure the workers weren’t fed with pasta from Italy, let alone apples from Argentina.
Yet, it worked.
In Schiltern itself, there is another place (besides the castle/palace) that fascinates me in the way it points to such connections: Right next to Schiltern’s beautiful little chapel is a house which, obviously given the signs, used to be a little village spice grocer’s.
Nowadays, you go to the supermarket and you find lots of relatively cheap (and sometimes, all too cheap) spices from around the world.
So many, in fact, that we’ve lost all sense of their value.
It’s not that long ago, however, that most spices were still among the “colonial goods” that were utterly special, not an everyday addition to foods, shaken over them however an individual pleases.
More on that, though, over at www.chilicult.com