Death of Rats

October 31, 2013

TRIGGER WARNING: Further down, this post includes the picture of a dead, semi-mummified rat. If you’re sensitive to this kind of thing, it might be wise not to scroll down, but rather stop reading this post right now…

Anyway, with Halloween approaching fast, I thought it might be appropriate to post something, er, seasonal – which made me remember a set of photos I took at the end of summer in my parents’ garden.

So, my dad and I were dismantling this stack of timber which had been an annoyance obstacle a scenic feature in the back of the garden for some fifteen years. As it turned out, lying untouched for such a long time had turned it into some sort of biotope for all kinds of insects and small animals. The most obvious being spiders: There were cobwebs everywhere, and some of them were so beautiful in the light of the afternoon sun that I just had to go and get my camera…

Then, as we had cleared away the upper layer of timber, it turned out that mice and perhaps other rodents had been using this space as their pantry-cum-dining-room. What we uncovered was a layer of timber covered entirely in empty, cracked nutshells.

Most of those were from walnuts which seemed only logical since the stack of timber was placed right underneath a walnut tree. However, there also were loads of almonds, and that is kind of strange since there is no almond tree in the garden, and it’s not a particularly common tree in our region anyway. So I still wonder: Does one of the neighbours actually have an almond tree in his/her garden or were those rather imported almonds that had been bought in the supermarket, stored in someone’s pantry and then taken away by those sly little mice?

But the biggest surprise came even further down the pile of timber. While some rodents must have had a regular feast going on there with all those nuts, some were not quite so fortunate: Among the timber we found the remains of two dead rats, and it seems that the poor creatures must have gotten stuck in the pile somehow and slowly starved to death or something…

One of them was in such a state of decay that I won’t bother you with its picture. But the other was surprisingly well-preserved, in a semi-mummified state:

Now, once you got past the Ack! and Yuck! and Gross!, let me ask you: Doesn’t that fella look exactly as you’d imagine the Death of Rats from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld?!

Earlier this year, when I wrote a series of posts about My ancestors’ books, I left out one particular book, i.e. Das Buch der Erfindungen, Gewerbe und Industrien [The book of inventions, crafts and industries] published in 1895. Despite its title, this is actually not a single book but a 9-volume encyclopedia:

It’s quite fancy and beautifully bound, so you may be wondering why I didn’t include it among my ancestors’ books in the first place. The reason for this is twofold: First, I’m not sure how long this encyclopedia has actually been in my family. It used to be in my late grandfather’s office, but no one knows whether it was an heirlom from his side of the family or whether he simply acquired it second hand as a decoration piece for his office.

Second, I was saving it for Christmas… This is due to a folded piece of paper that I found tucked in among the last pages of volume 9:

Once unfolded, this piece of paper turned out to be an old letter to the Christkind – as some of you will know, in Austria (and other parts of Central Europe) it’s the Christkind [Christ child] himself who brings all the Christmas gifts rather than outsourcing this task to a specialist like Santa Claus. Anyway, here’s the letter…

… and here’s a transcription of what it says:

Liebes Gristkind. // Ich bitte dich. // Ich wünsche mir ein Latschka, einen Regenschirm einen Muff ein Gleid und eine Schürtze und Haarmaschen.

[Dear Christ child. // I beg you. // I wish for a latschka, an umbrella a muff a dress and an apron and hair bows.]

As mentioned above, I’m not sure about the encyclopedia’s provenance so I have no idea who wrote that letter all those years ago. What is apparent, though, from the listed items is that it must have been written by a woman or a girl (or, of course, by the only cross-dresser in the village). Also, judging by the handwriting, I’d say it most likely dates to the early 20th century. And from certain orthographic peculiarities (i.e. Gristkind and Gleid instead of Christkind and Kleid) we may deduce that it was indeed written in the eastern part of Austria where we don’t really distinguish between “g” and “k” when speaking.

The one question that remains unsolved is “What’s a Latschka?” For all I know, this word doesn’t exist neither in proper German nor in our regional dialect. My best guess is that it’s a malaproprism of the Czech word látka which means cloth – both in the sense of fabric and of kerchief or scarf. This may seem far-fetched, but at the times of the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire quite a lot of Czech and Hungarian words were abosrbed into Austrian German. And, of course, a cloth or scarf would fit in perfectly with the other items listed in that old letter to the Christkind…