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Evenings Under Chestnut Trees (This I Will Miss 4)

Summer! Mosquitoes, heat, and thunder storms (and fans instead of air conditioning). I am a summer person and have always loved staying in Vienna during the hot months. The city has a lot to offer: swimming in its public aquatic centers, cycling in the Prater, hikes across the hills and mountains to the south, sailing on Lake Neusiedl, afternoon excursions to the little wineries, the Heurigen, which sell simple home made fare and cool, refreshing spritzers - and evenings spent outdoors, in the backyards of restaurants, under chestnut trees.

Chestnut trees - actually horse chestnuts - are ubiquitous in Vienna. They grow to 100 feet tall and blossom in May with long, upright panicles which are white or, more unusually, an old fashioned reddish rose color. The leaves are broad and divided, and in July soft, spiky burrs are already well visible. In the fall, when the leaves turn yellow, then brown, the burrs will crack open, revealing a shiny brown fruit. As children we used to collect these conkers and turn them into little animal creatures with toothpicks for legs. We knew not to eat the fruit. It is toxic.

In L.A. I have occasionally found trees that are similar, probably California Buckeyes. The leaves are different, more waxy, more pointed, but the fruit looks the same, and when my daughter was younger she too learned how to make conker animals. The California Buckeye is much smaller than the horse-chestnut, rendering it unsuitable for the backyards of restaurants. But then - how many restaurants with backyards are there?

Picture: the back yard of Gasthof Waldtzeile, a very good restaurant in Vienna's 13th district

Comments

Lorraine Seal said…
Thanks for this, Christina. I love the chestnut trees in Vienna, in Munich, and the ones that hang over the River Suir in Cahir, our hometown in Ireland: The pink-white flowers in the spring, their generous shade in the summer, and the way they reflect their bronze on the dark river beneath in the fall.

I think you're right: I don't remember them in Southern California. I do recall them in Salt Lake City, though.

I enjoyed your word picture.
Thank you, Lorraine. Shame on me but Irleand is one of the many, many countries I yet have to visit. When I go there I'll keep an eye out for the chestnut trees.

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