For one person at least, yesterday was a very special day: the unknown woman, who I only saw briefly when I was passing by the school here, celebrated her sixteenth birthday. As on any other day she would have prepared herself for school: perhaps rushed having awoken too late, or enjoyed the warmth of her bed or too long; perhaps leisurely, choosing her clothes and light make-up with care and attention. She would have perhaps eaten toast for breakfast, or fresh bread rolls from the local bakery, a glass of milk or fruit juice, perhaps a yogurt. The bus would have collected her and brought her to the school building, as it does every day, and she would have been greeted with kisses and hugs from her friends. The first congratulations outside the immediate family, perhaps an invitation to the birthday party over the weekend or plans to meet up at the five day long funfair which had its opening evening last night.
The school day would have run its course much the same as usual and then, at twelve or one, she would have made her way back to the main bus stop to travel home again. At the bus stop, as the rain began to fall heavily from over clouded skies, her friends celebrated this milestone in her young life in the traditional manner.
I don’t know a great deal about the traditions in Germany yet, but this one incident has sparked my interest. There are several milestones: sixteen; eighteen; twenty-one; thirty; forty; fifty; sixty; one hundred. They all have different meanings and are based upon what has happened in a person’s life. The first three, the fiftieth and the one hundredth birthday are clear, the other two celebrated days revolve around whether a person has married or not. I have seen several posters – massive format with photographs and descriptions set up on the roadside – announcing that so and so has reached their thirtieth or fortieth year and must now, because they are not married, undergo some form of punishment. Usually this is cleaning car windows, or brushing the paving stones in front of the town hall or local monument. Everything is lighthearted and followed by, or in the middle of, a party with the closest of friends.
For the sixteen year old woman at the school yesterday, the tradition says that her friends must send her home in a completely different condition than the one she came to school in. She is trapped briefly and smothered in flour.
Not quite as severe as my small illustration suggests, at least she can keep her clothes on!
The rain, for those who took part in this ceremony, was merely an added bonus. She was unable to escape from the downpour and would have been covered in a mass of wet, sticky flour: clinging to her clothes; her hair; her school satchel. The flour would have gone everywhere: dressed up as young women do these days she had a low-cut shirt on, and this was, along with her head, the main target of attention. I am sure that you get the picture…
What has the title of this post to do with my story so far? This has to do with another German tradition or saying which has come into widespread use recently. Sixteen Sixty-one is the description for a woman one sees from behind or from a distance. You can see that she is finely dressed; her clothes complement her wonderful figure and she walks with a certain self-assured stride only the young, with their new found sexuality can achieve.
You can picture her in your mind, I am sure. Her figure, her dress sense, the style of her movements, the fluidity: this is a beautiful woman you want to get to know, you want to see and admire. This, the vision from afar, is the sixteen.
And then you close in: you hurry to see more of her; you want to get in front and look back at her; you want to admire her from close-up and, perhaps, speak to her. You feel your desires awakening for this beautiful young woman.
And then you are in front of her and look back: all is not what it may have seemed. The beauty is still there, she is, indeed, an impressive looking woman, but she falls in the category Sixty-one now. She is far older than you might have originally imagined, and your interest, based on age prejudices, wanes.
This is the German 1661.
I’ve taken Audrey Hepburn as my pictorial example here because she is one of my idols. She falls into the 1661 category perfectly, with her figure, her charm, everything. I will never tire of looking at, desiring Audrey, young or old.
Love & Kisses, Viki.