Politics & Policy

Salzburg Souvenirs, Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday I started a little Salzburg journal — go here. Let me just wade into Part II (Part Zwei, if you’re in a Salzburg mood). And let’s move out of Salzburg — to Kitzbühel, the famous ski village maybe an hour and a half southwest of Salzburg. Let me take you into the graveyard, in particular — macabre, I know, but notable.

Toni Sailer is buried here. He was the “Blitz from Kitz,” a great downhill skier, a great Olympic champion. Later he did television and movies — a huge personality in Austria. The kind with 100 percent name recognition — as famous as the Kaiser, if there were a Kaiser. (More on that later in this journal.)

Also buried in this cemetery is Heinrich Harrer, the Seven Years in Tibet man — a fabled mountaineer, and athlete, and author. When young, he joined the SS. He lived a much better life thereafter. He was a great supporter of the Tibetans, and the Dalai Lama honored him. Tibetans — exiles, of course — make pilgrimages to his grave, here in “Kitz.” They dress it up with national and Buddhist items.

Also buried — this is sad — is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brother, Meinhard, who died as a young man — 25, I think — in 1971. Car accident.

‐Flying around Kitzbühel — gliding, I should say — are paragliders. They make a pretty amazing sight, amid the mountains. And speaking of amazing sights: May I show you the view from the front yard of our lunchtime hosts? Try this.

‐Back in Salzburg, I meet a couple who live in Silicon Valley. She’s Austrian — Austrian-born, I should say — he’s Dutch (Dutch-born). National Review readers, bless them. I ask where they met. “Skiing in Kitzbühel,” they say. Nice. They spend about four months of the year in St. Gilgen (Austria). Otherwise, they’re back in Silicon Valley. And, needless to say, he is an engineer, one of those men who helped make the American economy boom: and who showered the world with life-improving goods.

Will such people still immigrate to the United States? Are they able, bureaucratically? Is America still attractive enough — still the land of the future, still the land of opportunity? These are worrisome questions.

Peter Thiel, the great American entrepreneur, told me something sobering earlier this year, during the Oslo Freedom Forum. He said, “Watch emigration” — watch an outflow from America, rather than the usual, traditional inflow. Then we’ll know we’re in deep you-know-what.

‐As regular readers know, I bear no ill will toward the millions of campesinos who cross our southern border. We know why they do it, and they’re right to do it. (The law-breaking is problematic, to be sure.) But it kills me a little that two young German bankers I know can’t work in America and make their lives in America, as they want to, while the millions of campesinos just waltz over the border. The two young Germans feel they were born American — “I was born in the wrong country,” they say. “I am naturally and spiritually and temperamentally American.” All they want to do is become American citizens. They want to join our great and ongoing experiment, and have American children: native-born ones.

But no. Our government won’t let them.

If there is room for the Latin American millions — and we are a big, bounteous country — can’t we make a smidgeon of room for European investment bankers? Especially when their hearts beat red, white, and blue? I promise you they wouldn’t be waving German flags in America — they don’t wave them now. They wouldn’t demand bilingual education, or ballots in German — they already speak English like Masterpiece Theater hosts.

Don’t get me wrong (I know I sound defensive): I am for the illiterate or semi-literate southern masses — particularly those who go through lawful channels. We can’t all be investment bankers. (I certainly can’t.) I have hailed the hard-working, manual-laboring immigrant repeatedly. I would not last a week in his shoes. But, when it comes to immigration, I’m for my European friends, too. Which I think is less than Klan-like. Isn’t it?

‐While I’m on this bitter jag, let me add a comment: In thought, they are like John Roberts, not Sonia Sotomayor. If judges, they would never describe themselves as the equivalent of a “wise Latina.” They would say, “I’m an American, and an adherent to the Constitution — period.” They are Miguel Estradas, not Sotomayors.

Okay, end of bitterfest. How’d I get on this soapbox anyway? Isn’t this supposed to be a Salzburg journal? Oh, yeah — the Dutch-born American from Silicon Valley.

‐Street names are interesting in Salzburg — for instance, you see “Wilhelm-Backhaus-Weg,” “Wilhelm Backhaus Way,” referring to the great German pianist (1884-1969). There are many other streets named for other Austrian or German musical bigs. But there is also “Mascagnigasse,” “Mascagni Lane” — delightfully incongruous, to me. Because, as you know, Mascagni was an Italian: composer of the little (but great) opera Cavalleria rusticana.

‐Erwin Schrott comes from Uruguay — not the home of many music stars (classical division), and he is one. He is a bass-baritone, and, this season, he is singing Leporello in Don Giovanni. (He is also a famous Don Giovanni.) (I am speaking of the role, not the singer’s personal life.) Moreover, Schrott is a guest in our interview series: the series of the Salzburg Festival Society.

I realize his name is Erwin Schrott — but, trust me, he is South American. Lots of Germans lurking in South American backgrounds . . .

I ask him about singers he heard while growing up — recordings he listened to. Deadpan, he says, “Tom Jones.” Then he explains, “My mother was in love with Tom Jones. It made my father a little jealous.” Schrott also listened to plenty of classical singers — Plácido Domingo, for instance (though Domingo, at his swooniest, can sound more Vegas than Tom Jones — or Engelbert).

I ask him about the popularity of classical music, and of opera in particular — people in the music biz are always worried about popularity. I guess almost everyone, in almost every biz, is. Schrott says something that brings a smile to my face: “Houses [opera theaters] don’t want to hear me say this, but ticket prices are too high.” They are indeed. One of the reasons is: exorbitant union demands. But that’s a subject for another day . . .

Couple of years ago, we had Ferruccio Furlanetto, the famed Italian bass, in this series. I asked him about warming up — he does very little of it. “Maybe ten minutes,” before a performance, he said. Well, what about Schrott? He gets a look in his eye and says, “I warm up in my first aria onstage.”

Anna Prohaska, sitting next to me, says, “Oh, you low voices! You have it so easy!” Who is Anna Prohaska? A young English-Austrian soprano, who is singing Zerlina in Salzburg’s Don Giovanni. She is also a guest — an interviewee — in this same hour. She is an interesting combination: an intellectual (clearly), a musical talent, and a radiant, girl-like personality. A very rare package.

Furlanetto has an extraordinary speaking voice — extraordinarily beautiful. So does Schrott. Even before they sing, you can tell they can — at least I think you can.

The Festival Society, kindly, has given us all boxes of chocolates — really, really delicious chocolates from Fürst, just about the best sweet-maker in the world. Schrott points to himself and says, dramatically, “Chocoholic — serious chocoholic.” Join the club, baby.

‐My Don Giovanni remark, above, reminded me of something. About four years ago, René Pape was a guest in our series. (He is another bass — a German.) He described himself as a real-life Don Giovanni — he had few doubters. He is also one of the great smokers in the history of singing — smokes like a chimney; so did Fischer-Dieskau. Marlboro should use these guys in ads . . .

‐Earlier, I gave you a picture from lunch at Kitzbühel. Care for a picture from lunch atop a mountain in Puch, just outside Salzburg? Go here.

‐In yesterday’s installment, I was praising the food in Salzburg — and it deserves praise, lavish praise, indeed. But I notice something: Often food in this delicious town tastes too salty to me. And I think I know why: In America, some years ago, we declared a war on salt; everything was more lightly salted, if salted at all. One’s palate adjusted. I have a feeling that Europe didn’t wage this war on salt: They kept salting “normally.” And now, to my palate, the food is apt to taste over-salted.

At least that’s my theory. I could be full of it.

You will point out that Salzburg — the very name — means “Salt City.” And right you are . . .

‐A friend of mine goes off into the mountains to pick Steinpilzen — enormous mushrooms, and extremely tasty too. How big are they? I tell her, “They look like something that people, at least children, would sit on in fairy tales.” She considers this for a second, then smiles her assent.

‐On the golf course, I’m paired with a lawyer from Vienna, a very nice guy, who speaks very good English. I ask where he picked up his English. He says, oh, here and there. I ask whether he has traveled in America. Oh, yes, quite a bit. Well, where, when? He gets a sheepish smile on his face: “I toured around America when I was young — ages ten and eleven.” He was a member of the Vienna Choir Boys.

He seems embarrassed, almost apologetic. I say, “Oh, nothing to be embarrassed or apologetic about! What a wonderful experience.” It was, he confirms. And this is something interesting about spending summer weeks in Greater Salzburg: You might just play golf with a grownup Vienna Choir Boy.

See you tomorrow for Part Drei? I can see now that I’ll need another part — I think we’ll end up with a fourth installment on Monday. But don’t hold me to that. Like our congressmen, I reserve the right to revise and extend, or subtract, my remarks . . .



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