Salzburg Journal, Part I

The house where Mozart was born.


Editor’s Note: For the first half of August, Jay Nordlinger was at the Salzburg Festival, hosting a series of public interviews and writing criticism. The criticism will appear soon in National Review and The New Criterion. Today begins an online journal, Impromptus-style.

From Manhattan to Newark Airport, I take a taxi. The driver is Greek: and garrulous, and sharp. As we pass the Metropolitan Opera House, he says, “That is where the fat lady sings.” “Yes,” I say, “many fat ladies.” “And the skinny ones dance,” he says.

So true.

Frustrated at a traffic jam, he says, “Maybe I’ve had enough of New York. Maybe I go back to Greece and chase the goats up the hill.” “Wouldn’t you be bored?” I say. “No,” he says. “You hook up a television, you’re all set.”

Soon he avers that the United States is “the number-one terrorist nation in the world.” Uh-oh. He continues, “And George Washington was the first terrorist.” “Oh?” I say. “Yes,” he says: “He made sneak attacks on the British, instead of confronting them head to head on the battlefield.”

I remember something that U.S. diplomats in Greece told me in 2001. I was going there to give a speech. They said, “A recent poll showed that Greece is the most anti-American nation in all of Europe.” (Albania was the most pro-American — I was speaking there after Greece.)

In New Jersey, the taxi driver says to me, “You know who Alexander Hamilton is?” “Yeah,” I answer. “That’s where they fought the duel — over there.” A driver with American Founders on his mind . . .

Shortly after I get to Salzburg, I meet a member of the beautiful set — a natty, quick-tongued Euro. He says, “Who’s going to win the presidential election?” I say, “I don’t know, but I’d bet Romney.” He says that such a result would be very bad for America. Why?

Well, Romney is insular, don’t you see. And Obama has experience in the world. Moreover, Obama has accepted American decline: “He realizes that America is not a superpower anymore — or that there are other powers, like Brazil and China.” (Brazil!)

Ladies and gentlemen, I will go all McCarthyite on you: In my experience, those who want to see America weak — or wouldn’t mind seeing America weak — like Obama, a lot.

Told you it’d be McCarthyite. (Still true.)

Speaking of the beautiful set: Someday, we’ll have to have a discussion of wealth and physical attractiveness. Generations ago, some guy got rich, and scored a smokin’ babe. They had children, who in turn married “well,” physically speaking. And . . .

I’ll stop now. Starting to sound like Margaret Sanger. Are there ugly richies? Oh, sure. Anyway, a discussion for later (or not).

I’m always glad to see basketball hoops up in Greater Salzburg. Nice goin’, Dr. Naismith — what a game!

I’m glad to see putt-putt in Salzburg too. Forget Mozart: Where there is putt-putt, there is civilization.

One of my favorite places to walk in Salzburg is sort of in the “country,” along the Backhaus-Weg — Backhaus Way. Wilhelm Backhaus was a German pianist, a great musician, who lived from 1884 to 1969. That he should be remembered with a “way” — a path, really — is kind of touching to me. Of course, he is mainly remembered by his recordings. In any case, the Backhaus-Weg is a beautiful and special walk.

Fun fact: Though Backhaus was a German pianist, he was not of the German school. Nationality is not destiny, musically or otherwise. There are “Germanic” pianists from all over. And some Germans who are not so Germanic.

Know what I mean?

Salzburg is so beautiful a place, it’s hard to stop taking pictures. I say to myself, “You have taken many pictures of this very scene, for years. Do not. What’s the point?” And yet — I may go ahead and click.

I don’t know about you, but I never took pictures before cellphones. Owned very few cameras. The advent of the cellphone made me a frickin’ shutterbug.

Today, the instinct of many people on seeing something beautiful or exceptional is to snap a picture. What did we do before? Just drink it in, impressing it on the memory?