Wet wool - mittens drying draped on radiators.
Ice in the air, which smells like snow.
Snow glittering all around. In sun, in twilight under lamps.
Riding around the lake in, yes, a one-horse open sleigh.
Around this lake, to be precise:
This is Lake Bled, in Slovenia, in what used to be Yugoslavia. In what used to be the country where I was born.
It's a foreign country now, but I still remember it - the winters we spent there, in that winter wonderland - the snow heaped high - the sleigh rides around the lake - the climb up to the castle high on its rocky crag above the lake, where they fixed an illuminated sign during the season that wished everyone below a happy [whatever year it was turning].
We used to stay at The Grand Hotel Toplice, a truly grand place that deserved its name, with its fabulous Lake Salon with picture windows facing the lake and usually a trio of musicians playing discreet elegant lounge music in the background (drums, bass, keyboards) and its old-fashioned portraits that lined the walls and followed you wherever you went with those eerie painted eyes. It had a staircase with a metal railing which notoriously gave me static shocks, to the point of visible blue-white arcs that would span the space between the rail and my fingertip before I ever touched it. It had a lakefront presence with direct access to the lake, which was frozen, the lake on which I took some of my first gliding skating steps when I was a child.
I remember coming in from skating outings, skates slung over our shoulders tied together by their laces (I owned a pair of cute white figure skates...) and noses and cheeks pink from the crisp air and the exercise, and then we'd stop at a tea shop in town and lay our wet woollen hats and gloves on the radiator to dry out while we ordered hot lemon tea or hot chocolate and sat by windows and watched the winter nights draw in, and laugh,, and chatter, and fall in love with winter and with glitter and with snow and with crispness and with hot drinks on a cold winter evening by the fireside.
I remember the snow crunching underfoot, and the delicious heady sense of glory and danger when I was on the lake (I WAS WALKING ON WATER!) and the endless paraphernalia of hats and scarves and gloves and fuzzy boots (I even remember the pair of boots I had back then, a pair I loved loved loved to bits, literally...) I remember the bright low moon, huge and golden in the clear winter sky, and the slathering of vivid stars that lay scattered all around it. And the old castle watching over it all. And the bells from the sleighs, sometimes close by as one whispered past on snowy roads on smooth runners and sometimes far away, distant like fairy dreams, sleighs on their way around the lake. I remember sitting back in those sleighs, buried in coats and gloves and scarves and then blankets and rugs over that, practically invisible, stuffed back into the seat, breathless at the beauty around me. I remember the lights coming on in the twilight, and the glitter of frost on the snow.
And you wonder why I love this season. It was planted in me long ago, in a place now far away and probably lost to me. I will never be that carefree child again, skating as the daylight faded on a lake out of a fairy tale.
I didn't know that's what I was doing, that I was storing up memories to last me a lifetime, but I remember - the scents and the tastes and the sounds and the textures of it, and the soft silence of white snow falling gently over it all.
The magic winters of long ago.