Fantastic Beasts and Where I’ve Found Them: Field Guide

Date: December 27, 2013

Location: Hallstatt, Austria

Weather: Winter

Hallstatt is a fairytale town nestled against the snow peaked Austrian Alps. The sharply curved cobbled paths and heavy wooden cottages wink at their own reflection in the icy lake that abuts the town. We discover that Hallstatt is idyllic to the point of “well, naturally” because every aspect, down to the minute detail, elicits this expression. Every moment feels like scripted bliss.

Observe a pair of swans glide majestically across the glassy surface of the lake while you sip on rich, strong beer, “well, naturally.” Inhale freshly caught fish aroma that is quaint and not at all strong enough to make you gag as you wander the docks, “well, naturally.” Listen to carolers, as they stroll the square in thick green cloaks, swinging kerosene lamps, sing traditional Austrian folk songs in perfect pitch “well, naturally.”

Such is the town of Hallstatt, magically predictable. Or so was the experience until we met Oh Shit, the local Alpaca. Oh Shit, named for the communal exclamation upon first sight, stood high on a grassy outcropping above our heads as we wandered the Hallstatt’s side streets.  Chocolate brown with a strikingly fuzzy profile against the ordinary house beside him, Oh Shit walked in blatant juxtaposition to his surroundings. He spared us the smallest of glances, deemed our presence unimpressive and continued with his grazing. We, however, were rooted to the spot. Our bodies unable to process the presence of an Peruvian Alpaca in this Austrian tourist village.

“Well, naturally” was not uttered again in Hallstatt.

Notable discoveries: Passing Austrians were not shocked by the alpaca. Not a single one.


Date: May 25, 2014

Location: Boeing 787 Dreamliner Bound for Warsaw

Weather: N/A

Lola is a Rottweiler. She is all teeth and legs and paws and teeth. Her jaw snaps decisively at the treat offered to her and I immediately recognize that jaw’s ability to snap me decisively in half if the opportunity arose. Lola sits beside me on the blandly patterned blue seat while our flight departs American soil to cruise through clouded heights. Our nine-hour journey from Chicago to Warsaw begins.

Her owner Varkony (incidentally a Calvin Alumni ’84), a middle-aged architect with steel colored mop hair and severe mutton chops, mentions offhandedly that Lola is “gentle as can be” even “angelic.” I think he was about to say more, but that gentle, angelic Lola, all teeth and legs and paws and teeth, leapt onto his lap before he could. Varkony took several moments to recover his breath and by then the moment had passed.

As it happens, Lola and I came to an understanding. The following nine hours saw us negotiate the limited space, floor and chairs, into manageable sleeping arrangements. Our mediations were amicable and straightforward though I find it unnecessary to mention who slept where.

Notable Discoveries: Under chair life preservers are bulkier than the safety videos lead the public to believe.

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