Culture

Salzburg Journal, Part I

(Igorp1976/Dreamstime)

Editor’s Note: Our senior editor Jay Nordlinger spent the better part of August in Salzburg, doing a job or two at the Salzburg Festival. His music criticism has appeared in NR and on The New Criterion’s website; further criticism will appear in the October issue of TNC. The present journal, composed of odds and ends, is supplementary to all that.

Before you pass through airport security, you have to give up all liquids — bottles of water and so on. Before your flight, you may be thirsty — so you have to buy something.

At JFK, the prices are outrageous — criminal. A little bottle of orange juice costs $4.80. Four dollars and 80 cents, I ask you! I’m parched, but I refuse to buy a drink. I’d rather drink my own piss at this point. I’m really pissed.

I’m a free-market man, trust me, but there’s nothing free about this situation. I think something should be done …

‐Lufthansa has a slogan: “Nonstop you.” Isn’t that perfect for our age? “Nonstop you” has been the regnant ethos for a long time. The 1970s were declared the Me Decade. Who knew that the Me Decade would go on and on, and on …?

‐At the Frankfurt airport, an employee’s name tag says “Frau Kienz.” I like that. It does not say “Helga,” “Laura,” or “Anna.” Again, I rather like that, especially for older people (which includes Frau Kienz). I adore American culture — sort of — but maybe we’re a little too free with first names …

‐In Salzburg, I have the most local combination of ice creams you can possibly have. Let me explain.

Salzburger Nockerl is a famous dessert. A soufflé, whipped up to resemble the mountains of the city. A Mozartkugel, of course, is the famous candy, the famous chocolate — the “Mozart ball.”

So, a particular parlor has a Salzburger Nockerl flavor and a Mozartkugel flavor. And, you know? They’re not very good — not in ice-cream form.

Ah, well …

‐Damn, is it hot in Salzburg. In the 90s. (Although they don’t do Fahrenheit over here — which is odd, because “Fahrenheit” reeks of Germanness.) A senior citizen of the area tells me that this is the hottest summer in 200 years.

As I walk around the city, I think, “Well, there’s a tradeoff.” Yes, it’s hot. But Salzburg and surroundings are sun-drenched. Which is not all that common. You can really see Salzburg. Often, you see it in fog, shadow, and rain.

So, again, a tradeoff …

‐There’s a song lyric that goes “you sweet embraceable you.” There’s another one that goes, “Your looks are laughable. Unphotographable.” I combine them to think, “You photographable you.”

Salzburg is so photographable. Every year, I tell myself, “You can’t take pictures of the same places, the same spots, over and over. That’s ridiculous. You’ve got to stop.” And yet you can’t help whipping out your cellphone.

Or I can’t …

‐A beggar has been at the same spot for many, many years. He is not there this year — a younger man is.

I think, “Did the older man retire? Is he dead? Is this his son? Is it like passing on a business?”

‐Salzburg is chockfull of Gypsy beggars, who are organized. In the early morning, they have meetings. (I sometimes see them, when I’m out.) The women man regular posts. They are at both ends of bridges. They get you coming and going. They mutter the same phrase over and over. (Something about “for the family.”) They must mutter it in their sleep.

This is their job. It’s what they do. They work a long day. It’s a racket.

One young man mans a particular corner in town. He’s about 18. I sometimes see him on his “breaks” — when he goes to get a Coke or something. He looks pretty much normal. Then he returns to his begging mode.

Does he want to do this? Does his life have to be this? Does he have a choice? Will he be killed — by his mafia, so to speak — if he tries to break away?

‐I talk with a young Austrian woman who works for the festival, and who spent some time in New Zealand. As a student, I believe. In the course of our conversation, she says, “Holy moly.” I smile. I ask, “Where’d you get that one?” She grins and says, “I like it, because it’s not swearing, but sort of like it.”

‐One European pastime is to mock Americans for air conditioning. It’s a vice, they say. We’ve over-air-conditioned. And I think there’s some truth to it.

But isn’t it better than being under-air-conditioned?

In the Sacher Hotel, you can hardly enjoy lunch — a delicious and expensive lunch — because it’s so damn hot. The Euros, when they come to us in the summer, can always put on a sweater. What are we supposed to do, strip naked?

‐I have never quite gotten the hang of Celsius. Relatedly, I don’t do the metric system. I’ve never bothered to learn, in part out of stubbornness.

Sometimes a waiter will ask me whether I want a small or large drink of some kind. I’ll say, “Well, what are we talking about?” And they’ll answer in metric language, as well they should: It’s their system. I smile sheepishly and say, “I’m so sorry, but I don’t do metric. Would you mind showing me with your hands?”

They smile along with me and oblige. Tone matters so much in human relations — doesn’t it?

‐Give you another cultural difference: In America, when we pass through a row in a theater, we do so with our backs (and butts) to the people who are already in the row. In Europe, they face you.

I found this odd when I started attending concerts in Europe, years ago.

Anyway, I’ve written a post about this and other such differences for The New Criterionhere, if you’re interested.

‐Every year in my “Salzburg Journal,” I say, “Every year, there are more burkas.” So, here I go again: Every year, there are more burkas. More and more.

‐An hotelier tells me something interesting: He has stopped taking reservations from the Middle East, and in particular the Gulf. Why?

Well, a man will book for one person. One person is coming, he’ll say. And then he’ll show up with an entourage — couple of wives, children, in-laws. And the hotelier will say, “I’m sorry, but you booked for one.” And the man will respond, “Yes. Here I am. Just one.”

See the problem?

‐The Salzburg Festival Society has a series of public conversations, with leading musicians. Our first guest is Ann Murray, the veteran Irish mezzo-soprano. She is not to be confused with Anne Murray, the veteran Canadian pop singer. Though she has been. She has some stories to tell about this.

I chime in with an observation about the John Williamses. One of them is a guitarist (classical guitarist); the other is the film composer, and surely one of the richest composers in all the world. In the past, they’ve received each other’s checks. You do not want to receive a check intended for the guitarist — if you can have a check intended for the composer.

Ann Murray is a delightful woman, in addition to an extremely talented one. She is sparkling. And she speaks the most beautiful, musical English, as many Irish do.

Give you a few tidbits from our conversation? Well, let’s see. I ask her about some people she has worked with, including Lorin Maazel, the late conductor. “Oh,” she says. “A genius. Gee-nee-us.” I have never heard that word with the syllables stretched out. Interesting. And she’s right, of course.

She also does an impression of Maazel, hilarious, and dead-on.

I ask her about her longevity in opera, and in singing. She says that she has been disciplined. “I never went to parties before a performance, and I never went to parties after.” I say, “Frankly, I don’t think you missed anything.” She sparkles back, “Oh, yes, I did!”

A member of the audience asks her about her favorite roles in opera. Ann gives two: Sesto and Ariodante. (The former appears in Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito, and the latter in the Handel opera, Ariodante.)

I want to ask her a question about physical appearance in opera — and whether management today places too much emphasis on it. I preface my question with, “I can ask you this, because you’re so fit and pretty.” After the audience titters, she gives me a look and says, “Sorry, could you repeat that? I didn’t quite hear it.”

See you tomorrow for Part II of this journal? Thanks and later …

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