Impromptus

In Mozart’s Town: A Salzburg Journal, Part II

Salzburg, Austria, from a mountaintop, August 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)
On masks, gardens, slang, ‘stumbling stones,’ Gypsies, cows, and more

Editor’s Note:  For Part I of this journal, go here.

I’m always complaining about having to wait for lights — as a pedestrian, I mean. There is no car for miles around. But if the sign says Don’t Walk, you don’t walk. Or at least they don’t. My American feet won’t keep still.

But, you know? You get kind of used to waiting. It becomes normal after a week or so.

I talk to some Austrians who have spent time in the United States. At first, they are shocked when people cross, no matter what the sign says. Shocked, they are. They cannot make their feet move. But then they get used to it — and go with the flow.

When in Rome . . .

• I’m walking along the Salzach — moving pretty fast — when this old man absolutely blows by me. He has wild white hair. He is scrawny and sinewy, and probably about 75. Yes, he’s using ski poles, or whatever you call those sticks — a lot of people do here. Still, he’s elderly, and he has blown by me like an Olympian.

• The Salzach is a river — the river, here in Salzburg, dividing the city (but not in any bad way — merely physically).

Let’s have a picture:

And another one:

So, you’re sitting by the river, on the patio of your favorite café — the Bazar:

And you simply let the time pass:

• This morning, it’s about 63 degrees — not that people know Fahrenheit here (as I don’t know Celsius) — and the Austrian ladies are bundled up in their winter coats. I am wearing golf shirt and shorts. They look at me wonderingly — not disapprovingly, just wonderingly.

• Another day, it’s like 90. Grandparents and grandchildren are swimming together in the canal. A really nice sight. Equal fun is had on both sides. The oldsters and the youngsters are loving it equally.

Feel like seeing some flowers, hard by that canal?

• This poor lady. Every year, I photograph her yellow house and her garden. She must think I’m a stalker. Surprised she hasn’t slapped a restraining order on me.

• I like this yellow house, too:

• As I mentioned in a previous piece, you have to wear an FFP2 mask — in the concert halls, I mean. Mine are white, and I keep getting chocolate on them. My fingers tend to be chocolatey, thanks to my super-healthy diet here. And when you reach into your pocket to get your mask . . .

Let me quote from that previous piece:

One night, a courteous young woman, ushering, said, “Sir, you have blood on your mask. Perhaps you had a nose bleed. May I show you to the men’s room?” Thanks, but it was just the usual chocolate.

She and I then discussed Fabi’s — where I get frequent (not quite daily) sundaes. This parlor is in the house in which Mozart was born. That is totally normal — doesn’t raise an eyebrow — in this city.

• As I have mentioned in previous journals, there are Stolpersteine — stumbling stones — all over town. You can literally stumble over them (although they don’t quite trip you, such that you fall down). They are reminders: Who once lived here, and was then arrested? In what camp was he or she murdered?

Here Lived Auguste Volkmann:

Here Lived Pauline Gassner:

• This kind of thing is all over the world, isn’t it?

Not as bad as pot — particularly of the “skunk” variety — but still not so hot, in my book.

• I learn a little dialect: For a casual hello — a casual greeting — “Grias Di.” And for a casual goodbye, “Pfiati.” With practice, these words trip off the tongue.

I also learn an idiom — an idiomatic expression: “fit as a tennis shoe.” A surprising, charming simile.

Do you know this British expression? Boris Johnson uttered it, not too long ago: “fit as a butcher’s dog.”

• In a restaurant, after I place my order, an Austrian waiter says to me, “Awesome.” Turns out he worked in New York for a few years . . .

Awesome.

• I meet a Greek waitress. She would so like to be a schoolteacher, back home. She has two degrees. But there are 30,000 people ahead of her, in some bureaucratic process. So, she is waitressing in Austria. She could waitress in Greece, she says — but she would get little pay and little respect. Here, she gets better pay and more respect.

All over the world, Greeks are successful — in America, not least. But Greece is not a land of opportunity. They desperately need, for starters — and maybe even for enders — the rule of law. The rule of law and an open economy. Then they would fly, no doubt.

As it stands: what a waste, and a perpetual exodus. (Same with Russia. Same with other countries.)

• The food is so very good here — in the finer restaurants, yes, but that’s not the true test. I’m talking about the grocery stores, the bakeries, the carts on the street. The relatively humble stuff. Take a pre-made sandwich in a grocery store. Really, take it — buy it — because you’ll love it. Where I live, grocery-store sandwiches are pretty gross. Here: fresh, delicious, cheap.

• Several years ago, you started having to pay for a bag here — like five cents for a bag at the grocery store. I thought that was pretty weird. I had never heard of such a thing. And then it started at home, about a year and a half ago . . .

• Let me quote Wikipedia, Source of All Knowledge:

Bosna (sometimes Bosner) is a spicy Austrian fast food dish, said to have originated in Salzburg. It is now popular all over western Austria and southern Bavaria.

It resembles a hot dog . . .

That gets us up to speed, pretty much. In the Old City — the historic part of Salzburg — there is a famous Bosna stand. It was run by one old lady, who came in from the country, for many years. As she worked, she took her time. She would not be rushed. The lines were long — very long. People from all over town lined up to get her Bosna, especially at lunch hour. They waited patiently.

They still do. The historic lady is not working anymore, I understand, but there are two more women in her place. They, too, take their time. They’re in no danger of losing business by not rushing. If people leave the line — the line will still be long.

I can report another thing, too: The ladies eat their own product. I witness this. They eat it heartily — which is a good sign.

As I wait my turn, and ponder the whole situation, I can’t help thinking, “This would have made a pretty good Seinfeld episode.” Anyway, behold:

• A taste of America, in good ol’ Salzburg? Well, behold:

• To attend a particular event, at the Sacher Hotel, you need a PCR test — proof of a negative PCR test. That’s even if you have proof of vaccination. The cost of a PRC test at the Sacher is 57 smackers. (Euros, I mean.) But the Austrian Red Cross, bless ’em? They offer free tests, a few blocks away.

Mighty sporting.

• Over the years, I have written many, many times about the Roma — the Gypsies — who hang out in this city, operating their racket. My fingers hurt too much to write any more about them. I have said my piece, I suppose. I have seen these people, operating their racket, since I was a college student in Italy, long ago. I hope, one day, they will break out of this degrading mode of life: a life of begging, conniving, and manipulating.

I will relate one brief episode, from my current stay in Salzburg: To a Roma lady sitting and begging, I sort of bow, gallantly. This amuses her and pleases her no end. Her face is wreathed in smiles, which is heartening to see. Beautiful, actually. She bows back, from a sitting position — still smiling and chuckling.

It’s not her fault she has been born into this racket. I imagine it’s as hard to leave it as it is the mafia. (This racket is, in fact, a mafia.) (And I do not believe it should be permitted by the authorities.)

• These chess players? Having a ball.

• Among the nicest people in the world are the young men and women — mainly women — who serve as ushers and program-sellers at the Salzburg Festival.

• In this town, construction starts at 7 a.m. sharp. I mean, full on — with all the noise that construction entails. If you want to sleep past 7, too bad, bucko.

• On Sunday morning — starting early — the bells ring continually. No doubt, this annoys would-be sleepers-in. I understand them. But I find the bell-ringing pretty glorious. Wachet auf! (“Sleepers Awake,” as in the Bach cantata.)

• See this funky shop? We had quite a few like them, in good ol’ Ann Arbor Town, when I was growing up:

• This café, in this garden? The garden is Mozart’s — the garden of the house in which he lived, before he left Salzburg, his hometown, for the greater world.

• A kind of dreamy, iconic shot:

• Another:

• Maybe you would not care to be a cow, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you had to be a cow, you could do worse than these cows’ situation:

• There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow — and the Alps form a nice backdrop:

• Uh-oh — elsewhere, it’s Shroud City:

• A Japanese family gathers in front of The Man — W.A.M., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

• The entrance of the Mozarteum “at gloaming,” as the British might say:

• Again, at gloaming:

• A handsome alley, replete with flags:

• Would you agree with me that wood looks good?

• A study in verticality, you could say:

• Are you Salzburg’d out? I’ll end my journal now. If you want music criticism, consult one of my archives at The New Criterion, here. Also, there’s more criticism to come. Thank you for joining me today. I realize — believe me, I do — that there are more pressing concerns than tasty Bosnas, pretty meadows, and stately Alps. But those concerns are never far from our minds. And I will be writing on hell, as I usually do, soon enough.

Very best to you. See you later.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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