Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger spent approximately the middle two weeks of August doing his annual jobs at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. He hosts a public-interview series for the Salzburg Festival Society. He occasionally lectures. And he writes criticism for publications back home. Criticism appears in the current National Review and will appear in the forthcoming New Criterion. Additionally, four reviews have appeared at The New Criterion’s website: here, here, here, and here. The present journal is for non-musical dribs and drabs, although they sometimes touch on music.
You don’t mind if we start at the airport in New York, do you? It’s a pleasure to see European young people who have enjoyed their vacations in America and are now returning home. There is a troop (or two) of Norwegian scouts. Smart in their uniforms. There are young people with Yosemite souvenirs and Yankee caps. There’s a young man fondling a football (meaning, a true-blue American football, not a soccer ball).
Very satisfying sights. You want to see foreigners have a good time in your country, don’t you?
‐I know this isn’t right, and isn’t fair, but I have always found something sinister about the word Polizei. About the words for “police” in other languages, no, but Polizei, in German, yes. You will recall the Volkspolizei in East Germany — the VoPo.
Is there anything inherently sinister about the word Polizei? No — it’s a perfectly innocent word, and, while in German-speaking lands, you may want the Polizei to come to your rescue (and keep you safe as you sleep in your bed). But, for some of us, there is a stigma, owing to recent history . . .
‐On a bridge in Salzburg, there is a large, ugly graffito: No Border, No Nation, No Deportation. I think, “No border or nation, huh? The Soviet Union! Lenin & Co. were very good at erasing borders and nations. As for deportation: They were more likely to prevent you from leaving than to force you to leave.”
‐Elsewhere, there is a sign advertising a “pro-choice demonstration.” The sign is in English, and those are the words: “pro-choice demonstration.” I imagine the event relates to abortion, but I can’t be sure. Abortion isn’t banned or curtailed anywhere around these parts, is it?
‐In a park, there are Falun Gong practitioners, going through their slow-motion exercises. I think how safe they are, here in this lovely burg. I think how unsafe they are in China. For National Review, I’ve just reviewed Ethan Gutmann’s new book, The Slaughter. The title is both stark and apt.
‐I have been to Salzburg many, many times. Today, the first day of my current visit, the weather is overcast and Salzburg is looking fairly ordinary. I’m in a crabby mood. I think, “Well, maybe the place isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, including by me.”
Later in the day, some sun comes out, and the old enchantment returns: the beauty, the grace, the semi-mythical quality. I think, “Whoa, it still slays you.”
‐A question: When does picture-taking become compulsive instead of desirable? I have been taking photos of Salzburg for many, many years. I have taken the very same scenes, over and over. No need for any more pictures. And yet — I raise my hands to snap.
My excuse this year: I have a new and better phone . . .
‐Longtime readers may remember this: When I first came to Salzburg, I marveled at how pretty the girls and women were. Salzburg is a capital of female pulchritude. I knew I was in an unusual place when I found myself staring at a policewoman. A policewoman? A babe? Not where I come from.
Today, I see a policewoman who is positively lissome. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before about a member of the police: lissome. I want to take her picture, but just can’t pull the trigger. It would be all too gauche. Can’t do it with the least discretion . . .
#page#‐I have some young friends here, and they tend to speak excellent and idiomatic American English. How is that so? Well, for one thing, they watch American television. I ask them for some of their favorite shows. Needless to say, I’ve never seen any of them. But they sure have.
Here is a list (and be advised that my “voter sample” is largely female): How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Gossip Girl, The Big Bang Theory, Devious Maids, and Gilmore Girls.
The two favorite shows, measured by my limited canvassing, are the first two I listed: How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs.
I was going to lament, here in this journal, that I’m out of touch with “the culture.” But, frankly, I’ve been out of touch with the culture since about 1979 . . .
(Laverne & Shirley is off the air, right?)
‐From time immemorial, Republican politicians have said, “Welfare was never designed to be a lifestyle.” I have a colleague who is irked by this. “No one says or believes that welfare should be a lifestyle.” Well, I don’t know . . .
In Salzburg, there are beggars who go to work every day, so to speak. They beg in the same spots year after year, decade after decade. I have “relationships” with some of them.
One woman begs while kneeling, and she keeps her hand out. Even when no one’s around, her hand is out. And she has a very sad expression on her face. She does not really want to be said hello to. She just wants the money.
Another guy doesn’t actively beg. He kind of sits there, or lies there. He looks content — even happy. I don’t know whether he’s meshugge or drunk or what. He is very pleasant. I always say good morning to him, and, smiling, he raises his hand in greeting.
I dare say, he’s happier than the average Wall Streeter.
‐Every year, there are more and more burkas. Every year. The burkas multiply. I can’t help finding this a little unsettling. Maybe this is “judgmental.”
When I see a headscarf, I count it as a kind of victory: because it’s not a burka.
I realize none of this is any of my business — women and men ought to be able to dress as they please. But . . . You know what I mean, I trust.
‐The first guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series is supposed to be Sophie Koch, the French mezzo-soprano. (I have long said — and written — that she looks rather like Princess Stephanie of Monaco.) She cancels at the last minute, owing to a family emergency. So, festival personnel do some scrambling — and come up with a substitute, Maxime Pascal, a young French conductor. He has just won the festival’s Young Conductors Award.
Pascal is personable, breezy, sharp, and winning. He tells us that, back home, he founded an ensemble. I remark, “So, you’re not just a musician, you’re an entrepreneur.” Brightly, he says, “Yes, I guess so!”
His English is perfectly serviceable, and self-confident, and fast, and charming. At one point, he uses “thunk” as a past participle of “think” — which is perfectly natural. We use it ourselves in special instances, as a matter of fact.
‐Often, I walk around the pond at Schloss Leopoldskron, where people like to take pictures. One afternoon, two young men stop me and ask whether I’d take their picture. Of course. I think they’re from Portugal, and they speak a bit of English. As I’m framing the picture, one of them says, “You can see the house, right?” What he means is, “Do you have the palace in the background?”
Yup, I can see the house (and it’s a helluva house). I just love that. And I’ll continue with this journal tomorrow. Thanks for joining me, y’all.