Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Salzburg, 16.7.03: Duck Strength and High Summer Drought

Entekraft: that’s the word that popped into my mind as I awoke this morning. Why on earth? I do seem to recall that I thought I heard a duck flying overhead, but why Duck Strength? The games the mind plays when unfettered. If I could only harness some of that capriciousness and creativity for “everyday.”

Tielsch, Ancestral Pyramid, speaking of Austria after World War I: “This much-too-little country, cut off from the economic resources of the monarchy, cut off from Hungarian grain, from Czech coal, from Croatian hay-farming, from the Adriatic harbors, how should it continue to exist, this dwarf of a nation with the hydrocephalic head of the erstwhile capital, the imperial city of Vienna? One had been used to thinking in giant dimensions, the change-over to smaller proportions came too suddenly and was difficult” (135).

Precisely. “The hydrocephalic head of the erstwhile capital, the imperial city of Vienna”: that captures what I felt in Vienna, without being able to articulate. It’s a city where so much now seems purely ornamental, and an outré, over-the-top ornamentality with no real function in the world that came into being in the 20th century. The monuments are so grand, the earnest K and K slogans, so blowsy and self-serving.

And what seemed maddening to me, the Viennese don’t seem to recognize that they inhabit an ornamental city. That they live, many of them, by the tourist trade, and yet don’t have the grace and dignity to admit that and be kind to strangers.

Praguers, at least, are frank about that. They relish being ornamental, making the stranger welcome. Granted, our experiences were colored by being at a wonderful b and b in Prague and a lousy hotel in Vienna. But it was the people who made the difference. We met too many snarling Viennese. What did Jochem call it, the Viennese Schmarren or Schnarren?

Tielsch goes on to describe the incredible poverty Vienna experienced after World War I (and I recall Ilse F. telling us similar stories about the post-World War II period). But Praguers, too, have known suffering and privation, and more recently. She says, “It was a TIME OF GREAT POVERTY, says my father, and especially hard for the inhabitants of the city of one million, the former imperial capital that no longer had a function, that was too big for the country grown so small” (136).

(By the pond): Animals never cease to fascinate, with their distinct personalities, languages we only faintly divine, reasons for behaving as they do. With their Duck Strength.

As we walked over, a woman walking a beautiful large red-brown dog through the hayfield. I don’t know the breed, but it looked much like a German shepherd. Very alert expression, shrewd, intelligent eyes.

It was walking her. That was clear, that it thought this. It went in a perfectly straight line ahead of her and to her right in the hayfield as she walked the path.

Then it saw what seemed to be a brown water or food dish in the hay. Had, of course, to investigate, so it diverged from its straight line. That meant it also got a wisp of dry hay on its nose, so that, when it stopped in a moment to mark (my food dish), it had one ludicrous whisker of gray-green hay hanging down its nose.

It looked me full in the face—he did—and dared me to laugh. This was a dog full of dignity and used to commanding respect.

I don’t think I’ve written about the little tabby cat I’ve twice encountered on the hayfield paths. Twice in the same day, going and coming. As we walked over, it padded out of the yet-to-be-mown hay (mouse heaven) and allowed me, with gravity and composure, to pet it.

Later, as we walked home, same thing all over again. I wondered if the cat spoke German. If so, it was very cool and gracious about allowing me to speak English and rub its head between the ears.

What if people greeted each other that way? I think I’d rather like it.

Duck strength. I’d better apply some of it to the paper now. I’m becoming part duck, sitting here by the pond and observing. I’m learning to think and speak a new language. And as Rilke says, for every new language we learn, we develop a new soul—not a bad thing for a writer to have several of.

Reminds me of a ficus we saw this morning in the guest house. At some point, someone very carefully plaited its trunks (or is it more than one tree?) into an intricate design like Italian majolica baskets. I’ve seen plaited ficus before, but never one like this, where multiple trunks enclose an open space. It’s a dance, too, in its own way, every bit as much as the dance of the birds.

Tielsch (p. 158) says that the avenues of cherry trees we saw (and of other trees) in Moravia were planted to enable people to see where the roads ran in snowy weather. Baden also has these rows of fruit trees. Does that mean it’s equally snowy in winter in Baden?

The little cat about which I wrote earlier today: there it was again as we walked to the hotel to pick up our picnic lunch (das Picnic, the hotel lady corrected us). It was coming out of a house we’ve admired along the path from the hotel to the Schloss. It’s in the country lane leading to the hayfield, alongside which a stream flows.

The house is big and square, 3-storied, set back into the hillside and painted yellow, as are many in this area, with white trim. It has shutters, also common here, and a balcony.

Most of all, I like the garden. Along the laneway as a screen beyond the old iron fence and past a swath of grass is a row of shrubs, althea, hydrangea, lilac, others I can’t name. There’s also an apple tree. These all have some non-fussy ground cover at their feet.

Gardens in general are never fussy here. It’s not the English cottage-garden tradition. They’re pleasant enough, a mix of shrubs, flowers, and grass, but never tended to as though they’re priorities. I’ve seen only one garden with any plants not replicated in others. It was the one with the mauve astilbes, and had hostas as well.

Steve has laughed all day that I believed Frau Hilbert’s (as it turns out our hotel lady is called) statement that it would rain this evening. But as I look south and west, I see lots of haze on the horizon, not the beautiful light of previous evenings.

And as I write this, I hear on CNN that fierce storms are battering Bordeaux and the heat wave across Europe (Frankfurt is 34, Vienna 32) is causing economic problems in London, terrible drought in northern Italy, and the closing down of the Matterhorn due to melting of permafrost. Things here are very dry and in need of rain. I’m dripping sweat as I sit by the window and write. It was so hot, Steve and I walked only little and then slowly in the afternoon, collapsing at a café where he had beer and I lemon ice.

A hawk high overhead, first I’ve seen. It’s twice hovered over the hayfield (where the farmer did rake and gather his hay), suddenly stopping and flittering its wings frantically. It is spotting a mouse, I wonder? We did see one tiny mouse lying on the path that leads up along the mountain into town. It looked so sad there, and I felt so bad not to help it into the woods. I suspected it was hurt, and would surely be overrun by one of those aggressive Austrian bikers. But you never know what microbe you’ll encounter when you touch a mouse.

Yes, the whole southern and western half of the sky now shrouded in cloud. I think I even smell rain. I hope Steve takes on e of the many umbrellas that are beside all the doors at the Schloss and his residence building.

Interesting: Ilse Tielsch’s mother was named Valerie and called Valli for short. My grandmother never admitted to being more than plain Vallie. Aunt Helen says her real name was Valora. I suspect it was Valerie, and she was called Vallie as a nickname.

The translator of the Tielsch book uses the phrase shilly-shallying, which I haven’t heard in a long time. Sounds like something my mother and her sisters might have said. Where does it come from, I wonder?

I wrote earlier that the rain was coming from the south and west. I’m mistaken. It’s from the southeast. I had the mountains by which I reckon south confused. The ones to the far southeast are now shrouded in dark clouds and wind picking up. I do hope Steve makes it back here before the storm breaks. He looked so tired and pained by his hip when he left. Lightning now. I’m worried.

Now thunder. May angels accompany Steve as he walks back, make his footing secure, guide and protect him, with his shot hip that gives such pain and trouble. Now comes the rain.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Salzburg, 15.7.03: Wild Astilbe and Monastic Cellars

At my lake bench again. Again, the clear early morning reflection of the mountains in the lake. For the first time, swans swimming in the middle of the lake rather than hovering on shore—two together, one (the drake?) straggling behind. So serene, the way they move, and with such seeming certitude of their majesty. You’d never think, looking at them, they could be capable of such viciousness.


We walked around the lake this morning. The Schloss from the other side is impressive, as our hotel manager told us this morning. But the shoreline is depressingly dirty, littered with paper, cigarette butts, spent matches. One not-too-friendly shirtless man fishing. Gave us that head-lowered, eyes appraising from below look some men cultivate to signal aggression—a very animal look, one rooted in the testosterone-laden days of scrimmaging for raw deer haunches. It’s actually funny, in this day and age.

Men: what to do with them (us)? We encountered one of us out jogging, mid-50s, one of those military-type billed caps down over his eyes. The cap, the jogging, screamed American.

As we approached, another appraising, cool look. Jaws working, but no sound. Steve tells me a somebody M. from D.C. who spoke the first day at the seminar, singularly unimpressive.

These men. They rule the earth, or think they do. From the outside, life seems so easy for them. They form a network spanning the globe, getting their own men to the inside, keeping the rest at bay.

And they have so many accomplices at gatherings like this. Steve tells me a Dr. W., Hong Kong-born but American-educated, spoke yesterday and predicted a future out of H.G. Wells. By the early 21st century, only a tiny proportion of folks (but who?) will do the work to sustain the rest of us (we assume, of course, that we’ll be the sustained and not the sustainers).

Steve and others asked critical questions: if this will be true in the future, isn’t it true even now that we have ample resources to go around? And isn’t your projection based on the assumption that we’ll conquer disease and there’ll be no epidemics? With AIDS, is that not counter-intuitive?

Steve says W. shrugged the questions off. They didn’t even count. He actually said science will conquer AIDS and other diseases. Others—from Serbia, India—persisted in asking, but W. ignored them. In this very American, very macho, enclave formed by the Mellon Foundation in Salzburg, such questions may not be asked. It’s as if ghosts were asking them.

Not only that, but a woman from Virginia and a man from California teamed up and attacked the nay-sayers. The California man, who works with ETS or some testing service, got onto the need of U.S. colleges to screen foreign students: Ausländer aus! The Serbia woman asked how you’d identify the threatening ones.

I should have thought we have more than enough endemic violence in America to worry about. Every year, we ourselves, we Americans, kill more of each other wantonly, with handguns, than 9/11 did, I daresay.

Our focus is all wrong. Religion ought to refocus us, but institutionally, it seems only to mirror the world of macho male pseudo power. I saw on BBC news yesterday that Rev. John has removed himself from consideration as a bishop in England. Rowan Williams was talking, and I didn’t get the gist, whether he was relieved or saying the kerfuffle over John exposes how far from the gospels some of us are.

In such a world, a relief to think about astilbe. It is wild astilbe I’ve been seeing in that boggy meadow, I now realize. I saw some cultivated astilbe in a garden yesterday, and the leaves are the same. The wild is white, whereas the cultivated was mauve and its flowers much larger.

Tielsch, Ancestral Pyramid: “Whatever we are began a long time before us. We can live for a longish time as if there were no past, as if the present and the future were alone important, but the past catches up with us” (81). (A significant passage, one I need to photocopy in its entirety.)

A flock of ducks now swimming to the shore, just past the large tree to the east of me. The lead duck, a sentry, larger, evidently a drake, gingerly webfoots his way up the incline and looks carefully around. Another outrider sentry, also a drake, I believe, guards the west flank and stares at me. Are they more worried about humans, dogs, or cats?

They’re now across the lawn almost at the little porch of the guest residence. They’re picking away at the lawn. Looks as if it may have been mown yesterday, but if so, not while I was on the bench. What do they harvest—insects? Seeds? Are they hoping to find crumbs from folks who’ve had coffee here?

Now the ducks are completely gone. Can’t see them anywhere. They for sure didn’t re-enter the water at the point where they left it. They did seem to take notice when a group across the lake began to honk furiously. That is, one of the sentries stood stock still and lifted his head as high as it could be lifted.

Have they made their way inside somehow? I hear a honk that seems to come from inside the guesthouse, and thought I heard a scream in there a moment ago. Will there be gebratene Ente and knödels for supper?

No, there they go into the water, lead duck honking. Is he calling to the others across the lake, or calling his flock, which looks smaller, all in a straight line following him? Now they’re in flock mode again.

My question about gebratene Ente: what does it mean to be a young Austrian today? In Vienna, younger people told us twice they’re vegetarian. How self-consciously do younger Austrians adopt the cultural patterns of their heritage?

Specifically, what do they think of and how do they relate to the church? People in habits everywhere, many of them young; fresh flowers in front of the wayside shrines; people praying in churches or listening to the office at the Benedictine chapel, actually participating in it at the Franciscan church: does this mean Austrian youth are flocking to church and ardently Catholic?

I haven’t been here long enough to know, but somehow I think not. To me, at a feeling level, it feels as if the church acts as a kind of check on the culture, making it more conservative than, say, German culture. But it doesn’t feel as if the church compels the involvement of large numbers of youth in a more than formal, superficial way.

Sitting in the beautiful little green park across from St. Erhard’s church now. I discovered it a few days ago. It’s gloriously shady in this hot, dry weather, and has a wonderful view of the church across the street with its red, black, and gold clock about to strike 4, and its Corinthian columns. The apartment building next to the church is also pleasant, gray to match the trim on the church, with window boxes of various-hued geraniums.

An old lady in a straw hat sits on the bench to my left staring at the clock tower and talking to herself. Upwind, unfortunately, is a dark-haired pony-tailed man smoking.

As 4 approaches, Talking Lady is leaning back on the bench and clutching it with both hands. Maybe the clanging bells hold some portentous significance for her.

By the apartment building is another, green plastered (pastel) with white trim and a very shiny new copper roof, catching the rays of brilliant sun and as brilliantly throwing them into the street.

We’ve had a long afternoon—Steve’s free afternoon. A walk back behind town along the ridge (Mönchbergstrasse?) leading to the Altstadt, then lunch at an undistinguished and rather dirty restaurant. We both had Tagestellers—I noodles and ham, Steve bratwurst and sauerkraut. Steve drank beer, I Gespritzter. My noodles were fatty, but nicely prepared, with fried onion and fresh chopped marjoram, an herb Austrians use often.

Then a walk to a Buchhandlung we’d seen in the Altstadt, where I bought Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I remember it being recommended in a “High Profile” interview in the Democrat-Gazette by that woman in D.C.—something Norwood?—whose distinguished Southern art collection was on display at the Arkansas Museum of Art. It’s where I first saw and loved that Virginia artist Eldridge Bagley. Her father, I seem to recall, was once a senator.

After that, ices on one of the old streets in the heart of the Altstadt. Steve had Heidelbeer, which was good, and I an awful pistachio. Heidelbeeren, it turns out, are bilberries. But what’s a bilberry? Our hotel lady says like a blueberry, but not quite the same. A huckleberry, then, of some sort?

Speaking of semantic distinctions, I find what I’ve been calling a lake at Leopoldskron is actually a pond, Leopoldskron Weiher. If so, it’s a darned large pond.

After the ices, a tour of the museum of modern art, which turns out to be quite a disappointment after Vienna. The ground floor was closed—new exhibit being installed—and the whole thing seems to be an extension of the Rupertinum.

Still, on the top two floors was a decent enough exhibit of Nolde and other German expressionists. Only trouble, we’d seen much of this at the Altona Museum and Barlach Haus in Hamburg, though there was a Barlach engraving I’d never seen. Didn’t even know he did engravings.

And now back. A very hot day, and the hotel lady says supposed to be hotter tomorrow, with storms by evening. She says the weather has been more extreme—very hot and dry, followed by fiercer storms—in recent years.

Oh, clean forgot. We stepped into St. Peter’s church, a mishmash of styles dominated by Italianate Baroque, and discovered it’s the Stiftkirche for the oldest Benedictine monastery in the German-speaking world, founded in the 7th century.

As we left, we noticed a Keller for the monastery. Turned out to be a wonderful little patio restaurant noted for its wine since the 9th century. We had cappuccino and apple strudel with vanilla ice cream, a very pleasant respite in the heat of the day. Looking up from the patio, you see right overhead the mountain with the women’s monastery and the Festung: church, abbey, and restaurant are all built right against the mountain. Benedictus montes, Bernadus valles, amavit.

Same hayfield, same mountains I watched last night through the window at this hour. And yet not the same. The light I saw then, the angle of sun against earth, the wind ruffling leaves in trees: all are different, subtly but decisively so. You can never recapture a moment….

You can only hope for other moments, ones beautiful, moving, soft, stirring—above all, full of meaning. This is certainly a moment. The mountains are again as though illuminated by soft light from within.

But it’s not the same moment as yesterday. For one thing, the unfamiliarity of what I saw then is more familiar now, even if slightly so, and I am slightly less wonderstruck.

That hay: we smelled it into the night. It was, as Steve predicted, very dry by noon today, though the hayfields were wet with heavy dew as we walked to the Schloss early in the morning. The farmer was mowing another field, and as Steve pointed out, the tires of his hay-cutting machine were glistening with the dew.

Yet the hay that had blown or been strewn onto the path by the machine that spreads it out was entirely dry by noon. It crunched beneath our feet as we walked on it. If rain’s in the forecast, I’d have thought the farmer would be gathering it in now. But not so. Maybe tomorrow before the evening storms….

Gathering in: an image and phrase I like, one with deep religious overtones for me. Bringing in the sheaves…. That book with a title something like Gathering Home, a first novel by an Alabama writer, Vicki Covington?: I gave it to my mother, and she told me she’d read and been moved by it. A point of contact in those awful years when I thought mind could never leap to mind across the chasm that divided us….

Now I smell the hay. Wind must be just right or, as I pointed out to Steve, the increasing humidity of evening brings smells out. New Orleans is never so redolent (and foetid) as on a hot summer’s night—a hot muggy summer’s night.

That evanescent evening-breeze smell of new-mown hay and thoughts of a tiny spark of connection with my mother not too long before she died: the most I can hope for in my life is that there have been sparks of connection that have meant something to others. From my side, the spark with my mother via that book seems so dim, an evanescent flash. But perhaps it meant more to her. And from God’s-eye view, who knows what any such spark might mean?

Is this what ultimately pushes one to write—the need to coax such sparks out of the dailyness of one’s (and others’) existence? I can’t think of a better reason, really.

Whatever bird flies over at night as sun sets (and why do I expect them to have American or British names and identities—meadowlark? purple martin?) makes a shrill, unpleasant cry, very high-pitched and monotonal. It’s not the meadowlark of fable. I can’t recall if purple martins sound this way. I do faintly remember that one evening when C.J. McNaspy had us take him, late in his life, to the Lake Pontchartrain bridge to see the martins nest at night. They arrived by the thousands and (seeming) tens of thousands. He enjoyed it so. I didn’t appreciate it, and feel guilty. I was so wrapped up in the aftermath of the Belmont Abbey experience. C.J. had recommended us to Fr. Placid and knew him personally.

What a poor friend I’ve been to so many people. I ought to have valued those final moments with C.J. more. It may well be the last time I saw him. Was this the trip we made when Bruce B. died? If so, it was our last trip to New Orleans, and I was, of course, also much engaged with taking care of my mother, though she wasn’t with us the evening we went to the causeway, of that I’m sure.

I ought to have been more attentive. Seeing Steve (who’s now at a cookout for the seminar) sleep this afternoon, I realized how little I do to give him bodily comfort, and how much he does for me. I’m a selfish sod—don’t know the American expression that gets it quite so apt as the Brits do.

The mountains now gray-purple in their go-to-sleep clothes. Light is waning. I hope Steve’s walk back will be safe. There are crossings, bicyclists, and he may drink wine or beer. May the angels accompany him as he wends his way back. And may I be a person of larger heart, more depth, more penetrating vision, and less self concern (above all).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Salzburg, 14.7.03: Mozart and Berghorn

Back at the Schloss again, watching BBC news. Another soldier killed in Iraq, and more evidence that Bush lied about nuclear weapons in Iraq. It all feels very distant. I feel removed. But, then, I did so even before we left. I feel like a helpless bystander watching a story unfold seeing the inevitable horror, unable to do anything.


Steve read last night that the Schloss was inhabited in the 16th century (or 17th?) by a bishop who persecuted the Protestants of Salzburg. He had himself painted as a cardinal, because he evidently expected to be elevated to that auspicious office. But he was apparently extreme even for the counter-Reformation papacy, and was never made cardinal.

And then the Nazi history of this place, the expulsion of its Jewish owners the Reinhards: as the Indian man I met yesterday said, who knows what dark things occurred here?

Joy and pleasure are as evanescent as the clouds above the mountains. Or is it that, in history, things seek a nimbus, and those mountains keep trying to form one as fast as the winds blow it away?

Quotation from Ilse Tielsch, The Ancestral Pyramid (trans. David Scrase [Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 2001]): “I am standing in my own past, I think, and I tell myself that if I want to continue to follow the trail of those who lived before me and learn more about them, then I may not leave anyone out, may not jump over them” (36).

Desultory thoughts as day wanes: I can see “my” mountains from the bedroom window at our hotel (7:30 P.M.). They’re bathed, a word I choose very particularly, in Western light. No feature except their outline stands out in the beautiful sky, which is like heaven’s lining become pearl, white and shining, the land beneath it all imbued with gold. It helps, perhaps, that I have on my reading glasses—landscape al Greco—since they permit me to see clearly only about three feet in advance of my face.

Still, the evening light here is amazing. It doesn’t fade and mute to dusk as in the American South. It remains clear and strong up to nightfall, but becomes more and more gold as it becomes horizontal. This light goes wondrously well with the soft pastel colors of Austrian buildings. The house I’m looking at now is a square four-story solidly build one, painted soft yellow with white trim. A pretty wrought-iron balcony is off what I assume is a bedroom on the top story, with two French doors opening onto it. Above that, a gable with a triangular capital mirrored by two triangular side pieces surrounding a window with a round arch.

The evening light catches the yellow on the house’s walls, lifting and illuminating some patches, throwing others into shadows cast by the ornate and intricate detailed corner moldings of the house. Behind the houses, the light catches the fresh-mown hay, turning it to a gold with hues matching those in the yellow paint, but intermixed with light green.

Salzburg in summer is a city made for evening. Steve and I took a walk about two hours ago and had coffee and strudel (he) or florentiner (I) at a bakery across from the Kajetaner church, on its platz. Wonderful time to sit out. The bakery had only a solitary table and two chairs outside, so we were its exclusive patrons. No need to put up with others chattering and gawking around us as we enjoyed our coffee and pastries.

The chairs were good, honest, plain, sturdy oak, unlike the mesh and steel or aluminum most cafes use, which sling you back into an almost supine position, the preferred position, apparently, of haughty Eurogawkers. Immediately prior to reaching it, we’d stopped at a gallery, nameless on its stamp, at #40 in the Kaigasse, and bought a painting. It’s a mixed-medium (charcoal and watercolor) of a church with two spires and what seems to be a rainbow or storm in the sky beside the church.

I like it. It’s dark, not one of the prettified tourist pictures of the Dom or other Salzburg churches. The gallery owner, who clearly wanted us to buy it, called it mystical, and I think the word fits.

It was expensive—180 euros—though she claimed she gave us a deal, telling us it had been priced (painted 2001) at 500 Schillings, which translates to more than 180 euros. The artist, she told us, is a Macedonian who now lives in Salzburg. His name’s on the back of the painting, Nivolu Toplev, as well as I can read it.

More desultory thoughts: the lady at Nonnberg the other day was wrong about the German name for sycamore. It’s not Platane, as she said. Regina and Helga thought she was wrong, and turned to be precisely right. Platane is the plane tree I’m told you can find in Marseille and southern France, and which I can’t imagine.

Sycamore, the German dictionary tells me, is Berghorn—mountain maple, in the German mind. (Is a sycamore a form of maple?)

Thinking back to Regina and Helga: I’m sure I heard them say “an” for “und,” and “na” for “nay”—how do you spell that alternate German word for nein? I don’t find it under any spelling in our dictionary.

I also notice that that women in Salzburg speak at a much higher pitch than Helga and Regina, who speak very much down in the throat. All the women I recall from Jöhlingen seemed to be deep-voiced, while these Austrian women speak much more musically, like flutes. The city of Mozart, the city of flute-speaking women.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Salzburg, 13.7.03: Alpine Lakes and Borage

I suddenly realize the mountain is reflected in the lake, something I haven’t noticed before. This is the earliest we’ve been here, so that may be a trick of the morning light which vanishes as the day goes on. In any case, it’s beautiful. By afternoon, you see only green lake. Now, there’s a mirror with mountain and blue sky, white clouds tinged with pink floating in it.

Two brave swans have detached themselves from the others and are floating with seeming effortlessness and majestic dignity to the east across the middle of the lake. As if in parody or Napoleonesque competition two ducks are doing the same, but east to west. Thoreau had it right with Walden: small lake or pond is an entire world. I can’t stop watching and writing.

Just interrupted by a very nice man, Indian, who teaches economics at a small college 45 miles south of Roanoke—Fairham, if I heard correctly. He seemed to have a peaceful and sweet spirit, told me he’s a photographer and fascinated by the mountains. As he approached, a bevy of ducks arrived, expecting a handout. Alas, we’re breadless. But oh! Not so! Steve put half a loaf of bread in my bag. But things are so tightly controlled here, I don’t dare feed the ducks. There may be an Ordnung, as there is for everything. Die erste Bürgerpflicht ist Ordnung—an earnest and pompous German saying the Czechs love to ridicule.

With the wind rising and more clouds, the clear reflection of the mountain has been dispelled. It’s now just a shadow hovering in the lake.

So it is with thought: clear one moment, troubled and fragmented the next. The mind is an amazing thing, the way it moves from point to point along a chain of associations very hidden from us. It’s fascinating.

Yesterday, I saw growing in the swampy area that’s a nature reserve of some sort near here a flower whose name I can never recall. I have more and more difficulty in this regard. I know the name, and know that I know it. But I can’t grab the elusive silver fish that I can just see, now and again, flashing through the deepest pools of my mind.

What helps, I find, is to let associations—no matter how far-fetched—lead me there. I did that the other day as I wrote about something blue as a borage flower. Maddeningly, couldn’t identify the plant, couldn’t call its name.

I could see it in my mind’s eye, taste it, feel its fuzz on the tongue, appreciate the cool cucumbery aroma it gives to a glass of lemonade. My mind began with cucumber, and then moved along a path of herbs starting with c—coriander, cardamom, chervil.

But that didn’t do it. I had to let the process lie fallow, or, better, go underground. And that’s where it becomes mysterious. How is it that, when we seem not to be thinking about something we want to retrieve inside our minds, but we nevertheless are thinking, we eventually reach the end of the chain and find the link we’re seeking?

I don’t know. I know only that I eventually emerged with the word borage. But I did so by pretending not to seek it, even as I knew that some part of my mind was madly whirring away to sort vast stores of information and retrieve the word.

It’s something like not looking at a cat. If you watch their eyes and stare rudely, they’ll snub you. They divulge the mystery of their being on their own terms, if at all.

The name I sought today was astilbe, by the way. And for some reason it came much more easily. I don’t know why this is a name I block, but I do, almost always. And yet it’s a flower I love. If it’s native to Alpine bogs, then it’s no wonder that it’s so hard to grow in the American South, whose hot, humid climate must put any Alpine plant to the test.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Salzburg, 12.7.03: Italian Baroque and Radlers

Sitting at the window in our hotel room, 9:30 A.M., looking at the dark blue and white mountaintops in the distance, under a mostly cloudy sky that still has lots of blue in it. High in the sky, birds—larks?—swoop and circle.

My heart feels full, and I don’t know how to name the feeling it’s full of. Sadness at saying goodbye to the K.s is part of it. Partir, c’est mourir un peu….
It’s also the overlay of my dream life. Don’t recall much of it except that one dream occurred in my grandmother’s house and Simpson was in it, sleeping in Uncle Dub’s room. Sense of loss, then. I’m virtually alone. Something yesterday made me realize: I’ve always been receding from my family (or they from me?).
Those birds, so strange. They circle so high, and then suddenly all converge on the area over the trees outside the window, wheeling, wheeling, and playing, like planes in an airshow dancing a complicated dangerous minuet in the air. Then they’re as suddenly gone again, sometimes totally out of sight. Whatever they do, they do together—which adds to my sense of sadness at feeling alone. (And, Steve tells me, he dreamed his high school classmates were in a box from which he was excluded—so something must be in the air.)
Travelogue: what to say? Tired. Not sleeping well. It’s stuffy at night in the room. We have to close the windows because of the car noise—that is, I insist on it, though Steve could sleep through it. But the room traps the heat of day, and I toss and turn all night.
Also tired from the effort of speaking German non-stop with the K.s. Tired of not being in my own bed and house, with the comforts of home. What a myriad of things that term comprises, and you don’t know how important they are—you’re not even conscious of their existence—till they’re not there.
So, travelogue: what to say? Drove to St. Wolfgang. Beautiful pastoral countryside, small villages. The trip on the lake wonderful; though the English tour information that followed the German was made ludicrous by being in a high, affected very Oxonian voice with a heavy German overlay. All ludicrously formal and fruity in the English sense of that term.
After our return and a too-brief Pause, which I very much needed because of the fatigue and because I had gotten very sun-burned, we climbed and climbed to the Festung over the city. The view was wonderful, but the heat and dust a bit much.
Then down to the Altstadt where we had coffee and apple strudel (I just a bite of Steve’s, something Bridget Jones might note in her diary) at a café across from the Mozart house, and then Abendbrot at a nearby restaurant (Sternbrau). Helga had Leberknödel soup, Regina some dish whose name I didn’t get—butter mixed with mashed camembert, paprika, onion, and served with thin sliced white radish—and Jochem a cheese and fruit plate.
I think Steve and I rather shocked them by having a hot supper. Regina said, “Oh, I can eat a warm meal only once a day!” And perhaps in this weather she’s right, but nothing cold seemed to appeal, so I had bratwurst with sauerkraut and potatoes, and needed the kraut. Steve had Maultaschen (but a dialect name—Tascherl?) stuffed with Steinpilz and served in a spinach cream sauce. We shared our dishes and had a good meal.
We also had beer (Steve, Jochem, and Regina), a Radler (Helga) and a Gespritzter (me). We ended with a glass of Williamsbirne. As Regina said—or was it Helga, I think?—the K.s miss no occasion to celebrate, and always with wine and schnapps.
Since I don’t have to work quite so hard to understand, I heard more nuances of the K.s’ dialect yesterday. “Ist sie?” is not “Isht sie?” but “Ish sie?” And many words have the final vowel clipped off: die Kirche is die Kirk. Bitte is Bidde. When Regina and Helga talk, there’s an up and down rhythm and intonation, a bit like cows mooing, since it’s deep-voiced. And when all three talk together, it’s almost as incomprehensible as Bayerisch, with lots of elisions and slushy sounds to make the words impossible for me to pick out.
Sitting on the bench overlooking the small lake at Schloss Leopold. Across the lake, seemingly just beyond the fringe of trees bordering the lake but clearly much further off, is the same mountain I see from the hotel window, now even more imposing. It’s two mountains, really, folded together, one more horizontal against the horizon but running to a peak behind the other peak, which is sharp and angular, bending to the side.
As I watch the mountains (and watch is the right word: they’ve not merely still and silent), a duck swims across the lake to join another under weeping willows on the other side. It’s brown with iridescent patches. It leaves a long straight line in the water behind it, which seems to linger longer than one would expect. A beautiful place, very still, the silence broken only by teens fishing and shouting on the other shore, and by the insistent creaking of a baby now making its way towards me in the wake of its mama.
Yep, she’s spotted me. The baby remains with the drake. They’ve both found a limb to perch on in the water, and are carefully grooming themselves, back to back and oblivious to each other. They’re ominous-looking as they swim towards you—like a cobra lifting its head. They’re all black with a white vertical stripe from beak tip to head peak. You can’t even see their eyes. Only when he’s out of the water do I see that the duckling has a white breast.
Now a whole flotilla of the brown ducks. They’re clearly curious about me. But they don’t want to approach, as the mama did, and are hovering together offshore, politely pretending not to stare.
No. It’s not a straight line that they leave, but a V, of course. One is paddling madly across now in front of me, and I can see the V clearly. The angle of the other swimming duck hid one leg of the V from me and appeared to create a straight line.
Something I forgot to mention about St. Wolfgang: Steve told me the sign in front of the church said its pastor criticized the Nazis, saying National Socialism was incompatible with Catholicism. He was imprisoned in Dachau five years for saying this.
The church was impressive, with an elaborate Baroque altar (heavy black marble, gilded angels) in the middle and a Gothic altar with painted panels in front. The pews were dark carved wood with huge ledges on the back all out of one log, rough-hewn and polished from centuries of use, abetted no doubt by beeswax. They had bronze name tags from the pew rental days (or is it still going on there?).
We also saw the Salzburg cathedral yesterday—very elaborate. Italian Baroque with rather severe classical lines and accents among the elaborately carved wreaths and other frou frou. It has all recently been cleaned, making it light and airy—and it’s designed architecturally to lead the eye up to the high windows crowning it all—but also a little austere. That is, more austere than German and Austrian Baroque usually is, and without all the cloying gilding, pastel colors, and cherubs. It’s more like a Roman temple Christianized.
Lunch/dinner over and done with. Only place we could find open (Samstag ist Ruhetag for many Austrians) was very expensive, and not a soul in it, unless the old lady at a table by herself was a patron. I ordered something I hoped was fish—Seeteufel medallions—with Spargelstrudel and verschiedene Gemüse.
Turned out to be delicious—fish fillets or steaks in a butter sauce slightly flavored with ginger. The asparagus was wonderful and very rich—strudel dough (but a soft one)—with white asparagus and hollandaise sauce. Along the plate surrounding all of this were fresh sautéed sugar snap peas and strips of baby zucchini sautéed with herbs of Provence.
Very close. Needs to rain. Dark clouds lowering over the mountains from the west, with a constant breeze from west and north, but no rain thus far today. Steve is complaining of sweating heavily in his long-sleeved shirt. I worry about him. He worries about me, and so it goes: the dance of human relationships. I seem to hear thunder in the distance periodically.
Far off at the top of the mountain, we’ve seen the skylift go up and down (forgot to say we’re back at the small lake at Schloss Leopold)—or, rather, down then back up. When I first saw it descending, I thought it as a huge bird spreading its wings and falling down on the air currents. Then I realized it was going too slowly to be a bird.
Yes, thunder most certainly and a drop in temperature suddenly. Rain would be welcome.
Struggling to begin work on my Lilly essay. Steve now at his seminar and I in his room. Had a brief nap and feel logy-headed despite a cup of coffee, which I hoped would help me. I can’t seem to begin that project. Have no nerve for it, to be precise.
Plus, I’m finding it difficult to know how to write, quite literally. I’ve come to do so much by computer, and don’t have one. I do have this journal and one I’d set aside for thinking about the paper. But not sure I can write any longer by longhand—not an academic paper.
It’s the beginning that’s hard—all those blank pages. And the ending (and the in-between).
Glory. The rain has come. I could smell it and almost feel it on my skin before it began. It’s pattering hard now on the leaves of the tree outside Steve’s room in the Schloss guesthouse.
I wish I could change as mercurially as the weather. I can, certainly, in mood (though I don’t think of myself as moody). But I mean inside, essentially, where it counts. That’s become the dominating passion of my life, to change into who I’m meant to be.
A long time since I’ve simply sat and watched, listened to, rain. Think I’ll do that now.
Quotation from Richard Bradford’s Red Sky at Morning (NY: J.B. Lippincott, 1968; repr. HarperCollins, 1999): “He has many talents and no skills, and the sort of short-lasting charm which comes from having learned good manners as an exercise” (84).
Night falling, earlier this evening than other nights because of the rain. The Alps all shrouded in mist, making the city and its surroundings soft and dreamy like something out of a 19th-century Romantic engraving. The Festung and the mountain on which it sits beautiful as we walked back from the Schloss. Overhead, those birds in huge flocks, flying all together, the flocks wheeling and intersecting overhead. Are they purple martins? All quieter with the rain and mist, meditative.
Steve tells me the tour guide in their tour of the Schloss kept speaking of how the German Nazis took it from the Jewish Reinhard family. As if the Austrians were occupied against their will and in no way collaborated with Hitler.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Salzburg, 11.7.03: Angelus and Trompe L'Oeil Cornices

Sitting in a boat at Wolfgang am See. The Baden cousins, Jochem, Regina, and Helga K. have driven down and we spent most of the afternoon and evening walking in Salzburg with them. Have now driven into the Alps to Wolfgang, where church bells are ringing the noon Angelus, as we wait for the boat to take us onto the lake. All very nice, a beautiful day.

I notice bits about the Jöhlingen accent I don’t hear when I’m there: ist is isht, bist is bisht, gestern is yestern. If I’m not mistaken, the accent around Köln (Kölnsch?) is similar. Is this true of the Rhine region in general?

A woman yesterday at the tree in front of the nuns’ church told us it’s called Plantanen—as well as I could understand the word.

In front as we wait, carved dark wooden balconies and roof overhangs. The balconies have multicolored geraniums and a yellow (small) creeping daisy. One house had trompe l’oeil cornices painted onto it. A small plaza leading down to the water, which is green and purple—the latter in the deeper areas.

And now off! I can understand the German of the guide, to my surprise. Well, bits of it.

Salzburg, 10.7.03: Oberskrems and Die Wärme

Sitting at Leopoldskron while Steve introduces himself to the seminar organizers. I’m on a bench under beautiful old trees—beeches?—that have a lattice of some very old vines going up their trunks. That is, the vines themselves are the lattice. It’s as if they were artfully arranged to form a lattice design. I can’t see any leaves to identify the vines, but they’re enormous, at least a foot across where they spring from the ground.

At my feet, between two granite pillars and down granite steps, is a lake, serene and green with myriads of green trees reflected in it. A soul-making place to sit.

And then interrupted. Steve brought me inside, we did email, and are now on the bench outside the nuns’ church, under the venerable sycamore I so much admired yesterday. I have my back in a corner of the stone wall, very old and irregular, and am facing the arch leading to the church. A cool wind is coming down from the mountains. It couldn’t be a more beautiful summer day, cooler and less humid than yesterday when we arrived.

In the distance behind me on both sides are the Alps, and the gold spire of a church is immediately below—Erhardskirche, I believe. I’m enjoying the beautiful place, the climate, the respite from work and worry (the latter meant relatively).

We’ve just had a lunch we bought at a Feinkost shop in the street on which our hotel (Struber Garni) is located, Nonnthalerhauptstrasse. We’ve had smoked farmer’s sausage, gherkins, farmer’s bread, tomatoes, apples, a smelly Alpenzeller cheese, beer, and orange juice—accompanied by a tube of Oberskrems I picked up thinking I was getting mustard. The shop lady must have thought what bizarre people these Americans (or English, as the hotel manager thought we were) are: Oberskrems with farmer’s sausage.

Oberskrems is one of the great discoveries of this trip. We’ve had it twice, both times, I think, with smoked trout. It’s delicious, a mix of whipped cream, horseradish, a bit of vinegar, and a touch of sugar.

Two Franciscans, youngish, have just walked past in full habit. One, somewhat bald and with reddish brown hair and nice brown eyes, has just waved and spoken to the nuns’ workman, who has scythed the wildflowers bordering their lane, Nonnberggasse. He then looks at me with a half smile and perhaps to see if I have noticed his cheery greeting of the workman, who is working in the full sun with no shirt. I freeze. Why is it I can’t return a smile under such circumstances? The other, younger, looks very austere.

I gather many German Catholics believe none of their priests is gay or engages in gay activities. MJR was very dismissive when Steve suggested such a possibility for her uncle, a priest. Why? I wonder. Is it true? Is homosexuality impossible for German people to imagine? What is deep in their tribal culture that makes that human possibility impossible to imagine?

Dream last night: men descend to earth in an auto, ingratiate themselves. Once accepted, they transmute into alligators. They announce that they are the lords of creation as identified in Genesis. Humans have had it wrong. We’re their herd, to manage and consume as we’ve done with “lower” animals.

Somehow, a group of us have foreseen this and have hidden in an old school. One discovers the headmaster has killed and stashed the bodies of pupils all in a kind of crawlspace in the school. He hides among the bodies.

The alligators are extraordinarily good at sniffing out the hidden humans. They suspect someone’s in the bodies, but for some reason, can’t sniff him out. They’re determined to find him. They leave no one. The head alligator has to keep all the others fed, or they turn on each other, thrashing about and gnashing their teeth in a menacing way.

The alligators find a church full of people who seem to think hiding in a church will offer them sanctuary. They find this hilarious. It elicits their cruelty. They pick out people to torment, biting off bits at a time and laughing uproariously. They’re angry when a man they’ve been torturing this way dies of shock.

Then it becomes apparent one group of people has been left totally alone. We realize they’re chosen to breed continuing stock, and have been chosen because of their humanity. But a significant proportion of this group are gay men. The alligators admit they’ve made this mistake before: the gays appeal because of their gifts and humanity, but aren’t good breeding stock.

Why this dream? I decided this morning lots of factors interplay: that statue of the debased Jew, who’s both alligator-like in his prone position and the sacrificial victim; a scene I saw on German t.v. a few nights ago of native Americans torturing a man by lifting him with ropes affixed to stakes thrust horizontally through his chest; perhaps even a tree we passed yesterday, which I may have seen and which has a trimmed section very like an alligator’s face.

Another factor may have been hearing two early adolescents talking last evening as we walked to the restaurant about die Wärme. The inhumanity of humans to humans….

And now as we write, a remarkable occurrence. Some people have sat down on the bench, Americans. Steve helps them with directions. The woman sounds Irish. I ask if she is. She says American, but her father was Irish. I ask from where. She says Offaly.

She asks about my Irish roots. I say Mullinavat. She’s astonished. Her uncle was schoolmaster there. She has relatives there. She gives me her name and address and says she intends to ask her family about my Ryans.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Salzburg, 9.7.03: Nuns and Sycamores

















Sitting in train station, Westbahnhof, in Vienna waiting for our train to Salzburg. Trying to obtain a balanced impression of Vienna, no easy task. By their nature, impressions are, well, impressions: evanescent recordings of events that touch us like moth wings brushing the face at night, and then disappear. Nothing balanced about them.


I feel out of fairness to Vienna I should record how nice the waitress was to us in the restaurant our second night in Vienna. Without consulting my previous journal, I can’t recall the name of the section of the city. It was around the Lichtenstein Palace with the famous collection of Secessionist art, that turned out to be closed.

She spoke in a kind of coo, or the closest German can come to a coo. She called us, as she presented us the bill, Herrschaft.

All of this may have been shtick for the tourists or a cozening to try to get a tip. But I don’t think so. She seemed genuinely kind in an unaffected way, and too busy to fuss with false friendliness.

A pigeon has just sailed over my head, so close I saw it eye to eye. We’re inside the main Saal, I should stress. It, or another, is now tipping towards Steve. As Steve says, “That is a bold pigeon.” With all the feet and luggage going hither and yon, it’s lion-hearted, I’d say.

Now there are two of them, as if on patrol. If people approach, they tip a little faster, but giving the impression of being supremely in command of their surroundings and supremely unhurried.

As I wrote in the hotel one day in Vienna, a pigeon landed on the windowsill, stepped to the very inside edge of it, and then looked around and down. Seeing nothing to interest it, evidently, it flew off. Many rooms have little needle-like things on the outside sill to avert the pigeons.

As I talk about windows, I realize the architectural element I’ve been calling a pediment is a capital. I knew pediment wasn’t right, since what I’m describing wasn’t below but above the window—not a footer but a header.

But having no English dictionary at hand and being increasingly age-addled, I simply couldn’t think of the term. It’s obvious: pediment; capital. P is to c as head to toe.

Entirely new theme. I’m not doing well at that disappearing act I planned to practice this trip. It’s damnably hard to disappear. I’m not even sure what I mean by it, except that something inside me needs to be less present, less driven, less intently focused. Or is it more present and more focused on what really matters?

I’m worn out by the effort to control and/or respond to my surroundings and the people around me. I need a kind of…spirituality is the precise word…that enables me to rest more inside, simply be.

And I don’t know how to manage it at work or at play. At work, I tell myself the problem is job stress. But away from work, I don’t really unwind. The hypervigilance is inside me, like a second skin over my soul.

I understand so much, I think, Garcia Lorca’s desire to be a ghost, the pulse that beats on the other side. Is that a necessary impulse for anyone who wants to create? Or does it have to do in my life as in Garcia Lorca’s with being gay?

I can’t get that statue of the debased Jew out of my mind. I must see if the Internet has a picture of it. I need a shrine of such icons—this picture, one of Garcia Lorca….

We’re facing the escalator that comes up from the level below. Between where we sit and the escalator is a wall of glass. As people of a certain height rise up the escalator, the glass throws rays out of the back of their heads as if they’re wearing a curiously shaped crown of light. It happens suddenly and is as suddenly gone. When I first saw a woman with this halo, I thought she was actually wearing one of those glittering hats black churchwomen wear that can actually harm someone who hugs them.

Quotation from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (1948; repr. NY: St. Martin’s, 1976):

“Miserable people cannot afford to dislike each other. Cruel blows of fate call for extreme kindness in the family circle” (74).

“He led the way through the rather dull little herb-garden—the idea of herbs is so much more exciting than the look of them…” (217).

+ + + + +

Wine before noon on a warm summer day, in a train whose rhythm recalls the experience of being enwombed: a recipe for sleep. I’m awake, barely, after a nap and a sudden jolting stop of the train. Small mountains in the distance, fields full of ripe wheat, villages with red-tiled roofs and Zwiebeltürm churches: the Austria of fairytale and fantasy, of the von Trapps.

Dodie Smith uses “raven” as a verb (to be ravenous for). Really? Pronounced like the bird or the adjective?

Beautiful countryside as we near Salzburg, very Mittelbergisch with higher mountains to the east. Pastures of cattle, something I haven’t seen since we left the Altvatergebirge in Moravia. Steve tells me due north is the Bavarian Oberpfalz. I can see it, the way that landscape (and culture) would naturally flow into this. Little lakes now, too, like ones around Munich, the Starnberger, e.g., but much smaller.

+ + + + +

In Salzburg now. I realized this morning as I looked out the window in Vienna that it was a sycamore I saw from our hotel window. Had the characteristic bark and those little balls sycamores have, but the leaves are a little different.

What made me remember: we’ve just walked up to the Benedictine abbey on Nonnberggasse and in front of the abbey church is a beautiful huge old sycamore, surrounded by benches on which a group of elderly folks were sitting and talking.

I like that tradition in German and Austrian towns and villages of having trees in a gathering place, with benches under them. I remember how Bubsheim in the beginning of the Alps in Württemburg has a huge linden surrounded by benches, which is an icon of the village. Hundertwasser’s passion for trees: his museum says he planted over 100,000, I recall. Amazing.