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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 6 Part 2: Salzburg

Damn, I missed that train too! I really suck at this. The next train was already in the station though, so I got on to prevent any more time slippage. Sheesh.

There was a lot of German spoken on that train, so much, in fact, that there was no English. Suddenly everybody got off even though we weren't in Salzburg, and I didn't really know what was happening, but a woman was emphatically trying to tell me something and to get off the train. So I did. Someone else pantomimed to me that something was being repaired, so we had to get on a bus to go to another train station. I got separated from the crowd, and wandered aimlessly looking for a bus that might take me to another thrain station that might have a train going to Salzburg. An old man started talking to me, and I had no idea what he was saying, but there's a slight chance he was hitting on me. When he figured out that I didn't speak much German beyond what I use to trick people into speaking German to me, he settled on repeating, often and loudly, "Du bist wunderbar!" and things of that nature. Maybe he was telling me to get on the bus behind me, but when I left to get on a bus, he said a long trail of goodbyes, such as "auf Wiedersehen" and "tschus" and "bis dann" and "tschau" and another, "Du bist wunderbar" for good measure. I think I’m flattered. Maybe he was telling me that I’m really entertaining since I couldn’t even figure out where I was or what I was doing.

Anyway, I got on the bus that was driving by since the driver shouted, “Salzburg!” at me. It could have been a conversational greeting, but I figured it seemed like a good shot. We drove through the countryside, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Postcards hardly do it justice. I didn’t get any photos, however, because my camera battery is low and I’ve discovered the hard way that high speed phototography just doesn’t work on my camera. I asked the couple across from me if they spoke English, and they said no (all in German, I do know that much). About ten minutes later, I realized that I did know enough German to ask if we were in Deutschland or Osterreich (Austria). Still in Germany. It was comforting to know what country I was in.

The bus dropped us off in a town that may or may not be Traunstein, I saw that on a lot of signs and advertisements. The train departure board told me that I had half an hour to kill, so I found a backeri (bakery). The “bretzen mit kase” (pretzel with cheese) looked tasty, but I ended up getting a piece of ciabatta with soft cheese, roasted vegetables, and more cheese melted on top. I knew enough German to get me through the transaction, but I stalled when she asked me if I wanted it warm, and then she had me figured out and switched to English. She told me that she was from Holland, so we should speak English. I wish we had stuck to German (I held up my end) because I need the practice desperately, but tough cookies, I got a really tasty hot lunch out of the deal. Waiting for trains may soon become my biggest source of calories.

While I was there, I also got a postcard to send my dad. It’s his birthday today. I have not yet gotten him a real Deutsch birthday present, but I can write a paragraph about him right now. What better gift than a paragraph in a blog for your second 49th birthday? Dad and I have had a somewhat rocky relationship at times. It sounds like maintaining a good relationship with one’s parents is a difficult task at best, and doing so with double the number of parents due to divorce is even harder. Thankfully, in the last few years, I think we’ve both grown up a bit. Speaking for myself, I’ve grown up a lot. He’s helped bring a second only child into the world (a do-over? Self-punishment? First round was so fun he just couldn’t resist another?) Now, as best I can tell, we’re back to peas and rice. I’m always so happy to see him and spend time with him. I realize now there’s so much I have yet to learn that my parents have already learned the hard way. Can you imagine telling me as a teenager that one day soon, I’d regard my own father as super-cool and a key highlight of my life?

He’s a very civically engaged person, if I ever run for any office, you can probably blame him, his voice is definitely the narration when I do such wild and crazy things as writing letters to the editor or contacting my elected officials. I think his political soul is best described as a Green Libertarian, but he’s found his efforts are slightly better rewarded in a better known party. He works tirelessly to win small and large victories for the underdogs. He’s also a pretty staunch atheist, one might go so far as to say that he’ll soon be knocking on doors asking people if they really can justify their belief in the exist of a god. This summer, we visited his old Lutheran summer camp, where he made some of the happiest memories of his life. Watching him twist and turn, torn between the joy of the place and good things done there, and the God factor, was quite amusing for me. And so, to celebrate his birthday, I went to church.

Salzburg, Austria, has churches everywhere . They range from the small and cozy to the ancient and crumbling to the luxe and glittery. I didn’t notice any American televangelist-style mega churches, but I wasn’t looking in the warehouse-like cheap buildings, but the stone ones with really tall steeples. The first I wandered into was magnificent. I haven’t seen any big Italian churches, or come to think of it, many churches at all, but I was amazed. There were frescos all over the ceiling, beautiful paintings and intricate marble carvings. I wanted to get a picture of me standing with my head twisted way back and mouth agape, but I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to draw so much attention to myself in a church. So I laid down on the floor. I circled the church, and found an entrance to the crypts below. Since WWII, some architect or another did some fancy things with red, white, and grey marble. He found creative ways to entomb long-dead archbishops and other such important Catholic characters. He worked the ancient foundations of ancient and long-gone buildings into the rooms though, which was cool. In some places, it was positively eerie. I liked those places, the magic of a church needs to be balanced with a reminder of all the terrible things done in the name of an all-mighty, all-knowing, and benevolent god. There was even a mini-chapel, all art-noveau/modern, which felt out of place in the setting for Blair Witch Project II: Old World.

At the base of Hohenfusting (literally, high-fortress) is Nonnberg Kirche. It was all rough stone and stucco rather than shiny shiny marble and metalwork. I had the sense that the faith of the place was very much alive. It may be a monastery, I’m not sure why I think so though. I reached the door seconds after it was locked, so I wasn’t able to go in, but from the entrance way and the build (doorways for shorter people, low arched ceilings), I felt like it was older than just a few centuries. Maybe 400 years? On my way back to the train station, I stopped into the completely empty and unlit St. Michael‘s Kirche. It was really small, and felt really old, it looked like it had been sandwiched between two newer buildings a century ago. I didn’t take any pictures there because it felt sacrilegious. I did sit my stuff down and take a quiet moment to think about what I want for the world and humanity, namely, be saved from The Saved.

The oldest church I visited today was the first building, and cornerstone of Hohenfusting. I guess the emperor and pope were fighting back in the early 1000’s and the archbishop had to make himself safe, so he chose the really steeply sloped hill in the middle of what is now Salzburg as the site for a very defensible fortress. What do archbishops build first in their fortress once walls are built? A church of course. This church unfortunately went through a lot of make-overs, including one by a king/emperor who had a taste for the decadent, so this little pint-sized chapel got marbled and gilded over. Now it’s either a ruined mess, or archaeologists have pulled off all the flashy stuff trying to dig down to what the church was once like. It didn’t feel all that spiritual.

The rest of Hohenfusting was pretty cool too, from what I could see. What I couldn’t see through barrricades I used the stealth camera technique: stuck my camera and arm through the hole and used it to look around. I mostly saw construction sites or empty rooms, but there were some cool things too.

Beyond the thumb screw exhibit, the private quarters were really interesting. Everything was ornate and decorated, painted dark red or deep blue. The carvings were so intricate. They just don’t make them like they used to anymore. It was funny seeing an outhouse just off to the side in the tower’s tallest building.

Those of you who are my parents may remember the era in which my life’s greatest ambition was to be a princess. Once I got inside the fortress walls, I resisted the urge for about 3 minutes, and then utterly gave into my imagination. I was happy to figure out that my imagination has slightly matured: I was only half-princess, the other half a Dan-Brown character solving an ancient mystery.

I loved the sense of history in the place. Alaskans don’t know more-on houses until they see Salzburg. Looking down from the festung it seemed like all the buildings were very carefully, if haphazardly, stacked up the hillside. All in a row or block would be super old and super new buildings. The oldest buildings are really unassuming, then the younger they become, the more grandiose they get, and then the quality of engineering and construction goes noticeably downhill in this century. In Europe, rather than in LA proper and Hollywood studios, really old and really new are all together at once.

Many people talked about all the Mozart stuff in Salzburg. Yes, Mozart stuff, because that is what it is to me. I feel about classical music the way I used to feel about jazz: vaguely disinterested. Upon being forced to listen to jazz for up to 5 hours a day (occupational hazard of dating a jazz musician), my opinion of the genre developed into a much more solid sense: I hate it. I don’t want to get to that point with the music that makes up the soundtrack of my own dear mother’s life. I figured I should go, just in case my mind had changed about classical music without my realizing, since I’ve been listening to bluegrass and 80’s rock like it hasn’t yet gone out of style. My brother is a whiz-kid on the cello too, so I felt some familial obligation. Thankfully, the museum was closed for its lunch break when I walked from the hauptbahnhof (main train station) to the historical area, and closed again when I passed it on my way back that night. Whew, utter boredom averted.

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