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.

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