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.

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