The Passing of Old Europe
It was a passing reference in Robert Musil’s novel The Man without Qualities to ‘the oracular casting of lead that fate performs with us’ that jogged my memory. When I was a child, on New Year’s Eve, we would melt small lead ingots in a spoon over a candle flame, and drop the silvery liquid into a jug of water. The shape it assumed as it fell, hissing and steaming into the future, was said to predict what the coming year held in store. It is an old German tradition that my father, a refugee from the Third Reich, upheld.