Politics & Policy

Salzburg Journal, Part I

I seem to take a fair number of flights to Vienna, or from that city. And, often, there are Israelis on the plane. Apparently, Vienna is a common connector with Tel Aviv.

As a rule, the Israelis have several children, and they call their father “Abba.” I never cease to be astounded by this — and to get a little kick out of it. The very name that Jesus used, way back when. Used now, in a revived language, in a revived country.

If I lived in Israel, I wouldn’t think twice, after a week or two. But I hear “Abba” seldom enough that it rather amazes me.

Do you know what I mean?

‐I’m going to scribble you a journal from the Salzburg Festival — there will be the usual odds and ends. (Sometimes very odd.) I’m hosting a public-interview series for the Salzburg Festival Society, reviewing concerts and operas, and so on.

Is Salzburg the most beautiful city in the world? No, because there is none — too many are tied for first. But I doubt there is any more beautiful, no matter how you measure beauty (which has many types of tape).

‐As I walk through the Mirabell gardens, there is a choir — men and women dressed in traditional clothing, which is to say dirndls, lederhosen, and the like. They are singing folk songs, in “classical,” “highbrow” arrangements. Very nice, as the sun starts to set.

And free to all! (The Salzburg Festival is one of the priciest events in the world, or at least in the arts.)

‐The proprietor of my guesthouse informs me that there is an actor staying next to me — the one who played Hitler in the movie Downfall.


‐Bianca Jagger is also about — I believe she lives here. She must be Salzburg’s leading Sandinista. I’ll never forget what P.J. O’Rourke wrote about her. Sitting at the bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua (I believe), she was “one bummed showbiz lefty” — because her man Ortega had just lost to the democrat Violeta Chamorro.

La Bianca is not a young chick anymore, but she still has a touch of glamour, believe you me.

‐You know who else is around? Alfred Brendel, the pianist, now a senior statesman, and basically retired, I think. He’s not performing at the festival, to my knowledge — but he’s attending concerts, which is kind of cool to see.

‐I know that economies are on their knees, or back on their heels. But, boy, Salzburg is packed. Someone has money, as you can plainly see. Can barely move in the streets — some streets, at some times, as usual.

‐Here is a cultural difference — a difference between us and them. Older boys walk along holding the hands of their mothers — I mean boys who are eleven, twelve, thirteen, in there. They do this without flinching or blushing. At home, of course, we would shoot ourselves.

‐I bring you news, good news! Fürst now has ice cream — their own ice cream (homemade, of course). Fürst is pretty much the leading chocolates-and-pastries place in Salzburg (although you can fiercely argue about this — Schatz is damn special, too). Their ice cream ought to be first-rate. And, you know, it is.

But I’ll tell you this: The pints I can buy at the supermarket on my block in New York — Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs? I’m not sure there’s a whole lot better.

‐A quick plug for Schatz — their Rehrücken is one of the great items in life. I have heard “Rehrücken” translated “deer’s back” and, more felicitously, maybe, “saddle of venison.” At any rate, it is a chocolate cake, not too rich, perfect for every occasion, and every minute of every day — even if it’s 8 in the morning.

I’m not sure your mother would agree. (Mine would!)

‐In a big, sleek tourist bus, you know that chair next to the driver, where a person sits and talks to the people on the bus via a microphone? I had never sat there. And now I have.

Here’s what I did: I gave a talk on Bruckner to a busload of music-lovers from L.A. We were going to St. Florian, in Upper Austria, where Bruckner studied, taught, and served as organist. (This was early in his life.)

You can see so much, sitting in that jumpseat, or whatever it is! The windshield is vast. The vistas are excellent.

Once you’ve been there, it’s hard to sit elsewhere on the bus. Oh, well: I had my 15 minutes, so to speak.

‐One of the Bruckner pilgrims was Trader Joe — the Joe who started the grocery stores. No ordinary Joe, obviously.

‐At the St. Florian monastery, there are paintings of Altdorfer, incredibly vibrant — the colors almost hurt your eyes, so alive are they. From what I understand, there has been no restoration, no cleaning, no nothin’ — same paint as 500 years ago (almost to the day). I think: “What an incredibly durable, incredibly persistent substance, paint” — at least some types.

‐On the ceiling of the monastery’s Marble Hall is a depiction of 1683. Big year, over here: when the West stood up and drove back the Turks. “Everything old is new again.”

‐Sitting in the monastery church, listening to a recital on the famed “Bruckner Organ,” I think, “This is where recordings are least true, least helpful: in organ music.” With all music, there’s nothing like live. I believe this is especially true — supremely true — with organ music. Even more, somehow, than with orchestral music.

But maybe that’s wrong . . .

‐Walking around Salzburg, I feel like singing, “Lydia, oh, Lydia, say, have you met Lydia? / Lydia the tattooed lady.” Holy mackerel, are the women tattooed here! I’m not talking a few tattoos here and there. I’m talking about virtually the whole body — or what one can see of it — plastered.

I see much more of this than I saw even five years ago — at least I think I do.

“She has eyes that men adore so / And a torso even more so.”

Nice rhyme.

‐At a dinner one night, I meet a man from Germany who turns out to be a well-known painter. He says, “I realize I don’t look like an artist.” A funny line, coming from him — and true. “I look like an insurance salesman.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I say, “Well, what’s an artist supposed to look like?” He says, “A good point.” Still, I know just what he means: An artist is “supposed” to look disheveled, bohemian, fashionably disrespectable. This guy is the picture of respectability — “kempt,” to use a word we seldom encounter.

And a very good painter too, I understand.

Um, you want to knock off for today? Keep these installments shortish? Okay, I agree — see you tomorrow.



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