Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bolzano 17.12.13: Krampus Masks and Titled Train Angels

A long night of sleep. I went to sleep about 7 P.M., and Steve woke me out of a deep sleep and dreams at 7:30 this morning. During the night, I heard the cathedral bells ring 11 and a noisy group of young Italian men arrive at their room next door, but otherwise, I was dead to the world.

The dream from which Steve woke me: I'm indignantly telling a group of people that, no, I don't read the bible now and haven't in some five years, because there's more to read of God in the wide world than a book contains. I'm trying to give away my tattered old Jerusalem bible, with all its inscriptions and markings, and that produces the conversation in the dream.

Just back from the hotel's breakfast, where the young Feichter man who checked us in yesterday made wonderful cappuccinos, and we had brioche (both here and in the train station in Milan, we found it baked in croissant shape), bread that appeared to be the Schüttelbrot dough spiced with caraway and fennel seed, but baked in roll form, cheese, sausage, ham, and delicious raspberry and apricot jams, along with stewed apples and home-baked apple strudel.

The latter was far better than what we bought at the Christmas market last evening, less doughy and full of tart apples and raisins. The stewed apples were also delicious--tart, flavorful local apples stewed in lemon water with a touch of sugar added.


And so our day: when we returned to our room after breakfast, the key card would not work, mysteriously. Steve went off to get assistance. I look at the door. The room number is 14. We're in 27. We're trying to unlock a door a floor below ours.

Bolzano, Old City, 17 Dec. 2013
We then get up the street, drinking in the beauty of the old city, and Steve realizes he's left the bag with our touring things (journals and pens, gloves and scarves, etc.) in the room. Back he goes for them. Jet lag is obviously working some dark magic with our minds.

Then we stop and buy a round loaf of rye bread from the Bolzano region at the farmers' market, walk on, and the nice man tending that stall comes running after us. Steve has left his wallet lying on the bread and fruit stand.

Jet lag, Steve says again.

Impressions: the old city is beautiful. We had already admired its beauty as we pulled our suitcases up the cobbled, tree-lined street leading to the hotel yesterday.

Medieval arcades, many with faded and partially lost murals on their ceilings and walls; narrow pass-throughs between them, leading to the next street over; the farmers' market we happened on by chance, with stalls full of fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts, cheeses, sausages, smoked meats; the smaller artisans' section of the Christmas market, separate from the large one, this one in Rathausplatz; the clear, cold Alpine air and beautiful morning sunlight; the mountains into which the city is nestled; the artistic curving bridges over the Talfer.
Mural, Medieval Arcades, 17 Dec. 2013

It's an enchanting place, and we enjoyed shopping in the various markets and little shops in the old city. At one, down several steps, Steve bought several varieties of Kaminwurst, ranging from wild boar to venison, and a bottle of a red wine the lady selling the sausage recommended, called Blauburgunder, a Pinot Noir. Steve is opening it as I write this.

I bought some Zelten, the regional Christmas cake made with ground almonds, rye flour, honey, and dried fruit, about which I had read prior to our trip, and a regional bread with pears and applies and spices, which a lady at a booth of local baked goods recommended to me. I asked if she had Similaun, about which I'd also read, and she didn't, but said this is similar. It, too, is from the region in which the rye bread we bought is baked--the Ulten vally near Bolzano, the man who sold us the bread told us.

In the Christmas market, we found a tiny carved hedgehog for Mary and a bottle of local liqueur from grappa, hay, and honey, for Joe. Yes, hay--Heu, the bottle says.
Artisan's Christmas Market, 17 Dec. 2013

That was at a booth staffed by a droll woman I liked instantly. She kept pressing tastes of schnapps on us, talking in a mix of German and English. I spotted a bottle that said it was a mix of grappa and Hexenblume, and said, "Hexenblume?," and she smiled and said "Yes, my flower." We laughed at that.

Krampus Mask, Bolzano City Museum, 17 Dec. 2013
We also went to the City Museum, where there was an exhibit of Krampus masks that was fascinating, carved, painted wooden masks, many with hair and beards attached. They're traditionally used on 5-6 December when a masked St. Nicholas goes door to door to deliver gifts to children--and apparently to scare the devil out of them, by his collusion with the Krampus man! Some of the masks are of the devil, in fact.

There were similar masks used for other liturgical feasts, and the narrative accompanying them (which was only in Italian and German) said that some have pre-Christian roots in Celtic culture. It was an enjoyable museum to visit, though the upper reaches, which had local religious art, some of it very interesting, had odd devices you wrap around your head as you close your eyes and stand in a circle on the floor, which played music and whispered ghostly, inaudible words. 

I didn't quite get it, though I imagine this interactive style relying on high technology is the wave of the future for generations raised on the virtual realities of the internet. There was also a picture frame hung from the ceiling with one of the devil masks hanging behind it, which invited you to snap a photo. We did, of course. Some may think the devil mask is superfluous in my case.
Krampus Mask (Yours Truly), 17 Dec. 2013

Then back to the hotel and its little restaurant for lunch, which was delicious. I had Kaspressknödels--cheese Knödels--with cabbage salad, and Steve Wienerschnitzel with fried potatoes. The waiter, the same young Feichter man who had checked us into the hotel, recommended a dry Riesling with both dishes, and it was also delicious--fruity and almost chewy. The lunch, wine and all, was amazingly inexpensive. (And O schau! said an elderly woman at a table of three women near us, when her plate was served.)

After lunch to the cathedral, which has an interesting roof with patterned multi-colored tiles, and a kind of balcony around the spire, topped with a railing of crosses, unlike anything I've seen. As we walked around the cathedral, in came two sextons wheeling a coffin through a side door, a rather ominous thing to see as one tours a church at the start of a trip.
Cathedral Spire, 17 Dec. 2013

After that, a walk to the Museum of Modern Art, where the single-colored geometric squares and stark lines seemed ludicrous to my untutored eye. Even more ludicrous: the exhibit of the work of Klara Lidén, an award-winning Swedish artist who makes art from found objects--pieces of asphalt perched atop stools of salvaged wood, etc.

Throughout the room were television screens of Ms. Lidén cavorting hither and yon--e.g., turning backwards somersaults on a train moving through snowy terrain. Call me philistine, but What? Steve and I laughed and laughed at the show, which the handout for the exhibit solemnly informed us was all about Ms. Lidén's turning tradition upside down and mocking convention. She has a good thing going for her, with her award-winning chunks of asphalt and award-winning backwards flips on moving trains.

Then back to the room for a small pause and to rest our aching feet, and out again to stroll as night fell. We had an espresso at a café--in one of the arcades--browsed in some bookstores, and then drank a shared cup of hot chocolate in the crisp night air in the Christmas market, where a mime dressed as a . . . Christmas sprite? . . .  twice made a beeline for us, rattled a basked with coins as she begged for money, and cursed when we ignored her.
Steve, Artisans' Market, 17 Dec. 2013

And now an evening snack in our room with the two cheeses we bought yesterday, the sausages and wine Steve got today, the bread I bought, carrot and celery sticks still left from our flight, and several local apples the nice man who sold us the bread insisted we take.

Madonna and Child, Cathedral, 17 Dec. 2013
Oh, speaking of nice men: we think our train angel, the man who insisted on helping us bring our luggage from the train to the street leading to our hotel--Helmut M.--comes from a titled family. As we passed a castle on a hill in the train yesterday, I remarked on it, and as we talked about castles and the varying gradations of meaning of words like Festung and Schloss, he casually mentioned that his grandfather had owned a castle but sold it. Steve then said, "Oh, you're from a von family," and he laughed and turned the comment aside.

But today, we walked, we saw a von M. street in the old city.

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