Cynthia Polsky is a grand, wonderful, and invaluable lady of New York. She and her husband Leon do any number of things, serving on boards, keeping the arts alive, and so on. Mrs. Polsky herself is an artist. The Polskys have been coming to Salzburg for over 20 years. And Mrs. Polsky has what you might call Salzburg roots.
#ad#Her father was Joseph Hazen, a pioneer in the movie business. Working for Warner Bros., he “wrote the contract between the studio and Edison Vitaphone that resulted in ‘The Jazz Singer,’” the first talkie. (I’m quoting from an obit, here.) He later left Warner Bros. to partner with Hal Wallis in what became Wallis-Hazen Productions. Mrs. Polsky’s mother was Lita Annenberg Hazen, daughter of Moses and Sadie, sister of Walter.
Incidentally, Mrs. Polsky’s cousin is Donald Kahn, a friend of National Review and The New Criterion — and one of the principal benefactors of the Salzburg Festival. He lives here in Salzburg, as well as in other places.
This year, Mrs. Polsky tells some of us an interesting story — I will relate it briefly, just the outlines. Her mother and father honeymooned in Salzburg: in August 1936. Max Reinhardt, one of the founders of the festival — along with Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal — gave them the use of Schloss Leopoldskron. It was his wedding present to them. The Hazens brought along the Warners, Jack and Ann. A very fine time was had by all: You can tell by the pictures.
Joseph Hazen had been to Salzburg several times before, attending the festival (which began in 1920). For the bride, it was the first trip. She filled up a trunk with dirndls, the Austrian dresses — including little ones. Cynthia Polsky would grow up in those.
Of course, after 1938 or so . . .
We’ll flash-forward. After the war and Holocaust, Hazen attended the Nuremberg trials, taking pictures, both still and moving. They exist somewhere, in archives.
The Polskys first came to Salzburg in 1989, at the invitation of her cousin Donald. They are an adornment to Salzburg society, during Festspielzeit, festival time.
‐At lunch one day, I’m seated next to a strikingly beautiful woman, a senior citizen. She is German, but has lived for many years in Salzburg (as I understand it). Her father was a German general — a Nazi general, if you will: Hermann Ritter von Speck. He was the first German general to die in the war. The year was 1940, the month was June; the place was France.
According to his daughter, he wanted to die, and arranged to die. He felt he could not break his oath to the army — he could not desert. And his Catholic faith prevented him from committing suicide — suicide straight out, you might say. So, he put himself in the line of fire.
In his dying words, he did not say, “Give my love to my family,” or anything like that. He said, “It had to be this way.”
His daughter went to 13 different schools in 12 years. You can imagine the tumult of her life. (Less tumultuous than many, to be sure.) In the last five years of the war, she did not participate in any Nazi groups. Her mother forbade it. When officials questioned the mother about this, she said, “This is General von Speck’s daughter — I think we have paid enough.” Or words to that effect.
As a woman in her 20s, the general’s daughter spent a few years in New York, working on the Upper East Side. She loved it. But she eventually missed her language and her culture and returned home.
She has a lot to tell, as do many people here. In my experience, people are quite open about the war years, the Nazi period. I like talking to them — and feel the clock is ticking. Children know more than grandchildren, etc.
‐The general’s daughter tells me something interesting. But first I have to relate something, about my first visit to Salzburg, years ago. Doing what comes naturally, I crossed the street, when there were no cars coming. I did that whether the sign said “Walk” or “Don’t Walk.” But no one else did. The Salzburgers: They just stood there, until the light changed. No matter what. Could have been the dead of night.
And if you cross the street while others are not — it’s kind of awkward. So you stop doing it. And I have mainly stopped doing it, but not entirely. The urge to cross is just too strong.
I tell all this to the general’s daughter. And she says gaily, “I cross too, if cars are not coming!” Maybe the influence of her American years, long ago?
‐I have a friend who’s a native Salzburger but who has lived in America most of her life. Once, someone asked her how many Hapsburgs there are in Austria. She responded, “As many as there are gas stations in America.”
I have met a few of these Hapsburgs. Some years ago, I met the would-be emperor, the pretender to the throne. This year, I meet another Hapsburg, who I’m told is above the other in pedigree and hierarchy and is “the real pretender.”
I just love that phrase, don’t you? “The real pretender.”
‐I have a favorite restaurant, in Anif, outside of Salzburg (where Herbie the K. — Herbert von Karajan — lived). It is named for a family. And my friend — the Salzburger who has lived in America most of her life — says, “Oh, they were the biggest Nazis in town.”
Great. Food’s still good, however.
#page#‐My friend’s family was in the candle business, and they owned a factory. One day, their foreman came in, all cut up and bloody. My friend’s father exclaimed, “Matthias, what happened to you?” The foreman grinned with relish: “Oh, those Jews have had it coming for a long time. We smashed up all their shops.”
This was a little Salzburg Kristallnacht; the foreman had been a secret Nazi. Salzburg has many, many stories . . .
#ad#‐I meet an Egyptian, resident in Salzburg for many years. He is from Alexandria — beautiful English, of course. Slightly British. And he laments that old Alexandria is gone, long gone. It was a cosmopolitan, even a chic, city. But Nasser and his gang came along and wrecked the place, along with Egypt at large. A veil was drawn over the city and the country — and that veil has become more literal.
We talk a little presidential politics: Mohamed ElBaradei? The Salzburg Egyptian likes him — anything to break out of the pattern of “presidential dictatorship.” Anything for a little liberalization. “I also like Boutros-Ghali. He could be president. But he would never make it, because he’s a Christian. If I expressed support for him, I would be denounced — even by my friends.”
‐Krystian Zimerman is scheduled to give a recital here — a recital in the festival. As you may remember, this marvelous Polish pianist is boycotting the United States. Why? Because of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he is happy to play in Austria and other moral leaders among nations.
He is sick, and has to bow out. His substitute is Arcadi Volodos, a Russian and another marvelous pianist. Not a boycotter, as far as I know.
‐Feel like a picture? A famous shot — through the Mirabell Gardens, looking up to the Festung. The gardens were deserted (pretty much) at this moment — owing to the early hour. Go here.
‐Another shot? This is just another little cellphone job, looking up the river — or is it down? Don’t know. Who am I, Magellan? Davy Crockett? Anyway, here.
‐Is Crockett the only Davey who is “Davy,” rather than “Davey”? Strange, that absence of “e.”
‐When covering concerts and operas here in Salzburg, I notice a dog not barking: no cellphones. Cellphones do not go off, as they go off routinely in concert halls and opera houses in New York. I find this remarkable (which is why I am mentioning it). One night, however, a cellphone does go off: at an inopportune moment, during a song recital — during Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch, sung by Angelika Kirchschlager and Ian Bostridge. Otherwise, in about 14 concerts and operas — no cellphones. In New York, there are two, three, four per performance. Maybe I should make a scientific study.
Some weeks ago, Paavo Järvi and his band from Bremen (they don’t call it that) played in Alice Tully Hall, during the Mostly Mozart Festival. One of their encores was Valse triste — and, in a particular section, Järvi had his band play very, very softly: almost freakishly so. I wrote for The New Criterion (words to this effect), “It was a minor miracle that no cellphone went off. If it had, it would have sounded like an atomic bomb.”
‐The delicious Angelika K., mentioned above? She is a native Salzburger — once a member of the children’s chorus in Carmen.
‐There is a restaurant here called Carpe Diem — very modern, slick, and excellent. Owned, I believe, by the man who concocted and sells Red Bull. He is one of the richest men in Austria, if not numero uno. At Carpe Diem, they have “finger food” (in addition to the luxury stuff). And this food comes in ice-cream cones — for example, mini-hamburgers do; and beef tartar. The beef tartar, atop its cone, looks like raspberry sorbet.
‐When you’re walking up the Kapuzinerberg — which is very steep — there is a rule: You don’t want to be passed by nuns. By fit, spry nuns with muscly legs. Intolerable. If one tries to pass me, I’ll elbow her into the ditch, I swear.
‐Want to see Salzburg’s golden boy — and Austria’s golden boy, and music’s golden boy — tucked into the Kapuzinerberg? Here he is.
‐I know I’ve made this joke before — maybe some readers haven’t heard it: I get to the top of a peak; I behold some breathtaking view. I make to recite “God’s Grandeur,” that fine chestnut of a poem: and I can’t remember the words . . .
‐You now what America does very, very well? Milkshakes. The Euros have us beat in many areas; in milkshakes, we are untouchable.
You know what Europe does very, very badly? Orange juice. Our worst orange juice — frozen, from concentrate — is the nectar of the gods compared with the foul liquid these people peddle under the name of “orange juice.”
You know what Europe does very, very well? A million things . . .
‐August 22, 2010, is the 90th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival — of the first performance, which was of Jedermann, Hofmannsthal’s treatment of the English morality tale Everyman. I knew a man who attended the first performance: Dr. George Sgalitzer, who was seven years old at the time. He was taken there by his grandparents, who lived outside Salzburg. They liked theater, but, interestingly enough, did not like music.
Dr. Sgalitzer, a Viennese, became an American — a military doctor who lived in Seattle and traveled the world. He also became the senior patron of the Salzburg Festival, never missing a summer, staying in the Sacher Hotel — in the same room. Right up till the end, he walked all around town. I remember going to the Felsenreitschule with him — this was in his last year, just a few years ago. Before we set out (after dinner at the Sacher), I said, “George, would you like to take a taxi?” He looked at me like I was nuts.
Anyway, on 8/22/10, the 90th anniversary, “callers” all day long shout out the signature Jedermann “call.” They do this from rooftops, hanging from steeples, wherever: “Jedermann!” “Je-der-mann!” Yeah, yeah, I hear you.
Or, alternatively, Hey, buddy, I’m not just any man, okay?
‐Friends, thank you for joining me for these Salzburg scribbles. I will have a piece on the festival in the next NR. And then more — considerably more — in the October New Criterion.
See you soon, for other stuff.