Friday, October 14, 2016

Home is the wanderer

I got back from the 6 week trip to Austria and Switzerland on Wednesday night.  San Francisco bay looked so beautiful in the late afternoon light!  I had hoped for enough time to get the feel of living in Europe: and staying with Marilyn and Jim certainly helped accomplish that goal.  It was so beautiful in the autumn, the long Indian summer only yielded to a rainy day on the week before I was to return, but still the weather held many lovely days, and one was the last day in the area near Vevey--- I had read that the nicest walking stint is from Chexbres to Vevey, through the vineyards, and went up there-- it was a cloudy day, but there were moments when the sun burned through the clouds and lit up the terraced vineyards over the lake, and Lake Geneva itself.  I had gotten sufficiently good at taking the train from Marilyn's house that it was a good day-trip, and I took my walking poles, just in case.  The vineyard trail was cemented, and flat, and very nice to walk on.  The views were breathtaking!  They were just harvesting some of the grapes... it was so beautiful!
In thinking about the trip, it was like a big spiral review through my life--- first, the Vienna reunion, 45 years after being there in our Junior year, and the marvel of being there with many of the same people, sharing that sense of reunion, of time lived since, and the reverberations of what Vienna meant in our lives.  I was so glad to get enough time to see the Breughels at the Kunsthistorisches museum, and to see Klimt's Beethoven frieze at the Jugendstill museum (the "golden cabbage" as the Viennese call it).  I made it to the Belvedere, to see "The Kiss", and that blue and white ceramic and tile room at Schonbrunn.  I saw the Lippizaners with Tunie, and the Kaisers apartments and Sisi's rooms in the Hofburg.  I spent a lot of time thinking about Sisi and what her life was like, and when they say she was a modern woman, and she was selfish, and she loved to travel.  I would love to have seen her place at Corfu!  I think the excruciating pain of her son's suicide just completely did her in.  I thought a lot about how royal people raised their children to be "courtly" and that she kept trying to escape and be her own person.  And maybe she was manic-depressive.  Her moods seemed very intense.
  I got to see the Picasso and Seurat show at the Albertina, and watched a Chef get 4 huge salmons ready for his sushi that evening, in the cafe there.  Being at the remodeled Albertina was a huge invitation to think of the changes in Vienna. When I was there before, there were long library tables and small lamps, and librarians with white gloves who would bring you a book and open it for you, and check to make sure your hands were clean before you touched the book, and not let you do anything which might injure the book, even placing it under a glass shelf so you could read without getting fingerprints on it.   The biggest change in the city is having the Ubahn, which makes it so quick and easy to get around, and the cell phones-- ubiquitous, and aiding us in getting people to know where to meet, and to maximize one's time.
  I had forgotten the Hebrew name of God in the rays of light above the main altar at the Karls'kirche--- did I ever know that was there?  It was fabulous light, and very interesting to consider the Spanish influence on Vienna from that branch of the family...
So much of Vienna was stuff I never saw, because I was studying, and did not take time to just walk around and see the city.  Being in the older area around the Griechenbeisl was not something I recognized--- and I loved that we got to see the Synagogue, with the robin's egg blue dome, thanks to the intervention of a sweet elderly man named Tommy, who was so taken with the idea that we had studied there so many years ago.  The monument to the 65,000 Jews from Vienna killed in Hitler's regime was beautiful and very poignant--- like a funnel of everlasting tears, spilling into a stone basin.
I had not put together before that the Schwartzenberg platz fountain is the same since Roman times, when the Romans founded the water supply to the city.  The water pressure is natural, not pumped!  
And the music!  It was so wonderful to get to be in the Musikverein, to see Zubin Mehta conduct the Vienna philharmonic orchestra-- Debussy's La Mer, and a Schubert piece with a lot of french horns... just wonderful!  And of course the high point was being at the Staatsoper for "Salome"-- Richard Strauss' work, fabulous music, shocking, amazingly well-acted and sung;  her lust for John the Baptist, and his purity of soul, and the disaster of the lust of the king; I have never heard that opera before, and the libretto by Oscar Wilde was so powerful... wow!  And running like a ribbon through it, the friendships and shared experience with the other alumni, and our love of Vienna.
The boat trip down the Danube allowed us some good opportunities to visit with each other, to share some memories, and the memorable day of the monastery at the rough part of the river, which turned out to be a link in the walks toward the Camino de Santiago, also; and coming into Budapest in the early morning, watching the light hit the marble on the parliament, seeing the Fischer bastion light up...  and putting together more than I had before, the intertwining histories of Sisi and Hungary, and the Hapsburg empire...
I was so glad to meet Peter in Bad Ischl, and found the Sophiens Doppelblick a real addition to the knowledge I had previously about the imperial family.  And I loved seeing the Kaiservilla, and Sisi's rooms.  It was also lovely to be at Mass in Bad Ischl and to see the people in dirndls and trachten, with a sense of recovered dignity and a feel of real resolution since the war.
Going to Salzburg, seeing Gundi and her mom, who is now 99, felt timeless.  And Hermann's place at the Irrsee, and meeting Martin and Ana, and thinking they are on the verge of new lives, new careers, as we fade out...  it was great to swim in the lake, & to watch the trees start to turn.
Then Jan and Mandy and Maren and Linda came to Fuschl am See;  and I got to have this time of being a "host-mom grandma"  to these sweet girls, and share the Marionetten theatre in Salzburg with them-- a lovely rendition of "The Magic Flute".  We went to St. Wolfgang, and Linda got a little blue dirndl, and looked so sweet in it. Hermann had taken me up the Schafberg in the train on a perfect sunny day, and you can see 5 lakes from the top--- it was a breathtakingly beautiful day...
Fuschl was lovely, and we even got to swim in the little spa across the street, in the last day it was open for the season...
Staying in the airb&b place with grad students studying the refugee situation was really interesting;   and this was the first time I went through the archbishop's residence in Salzburg, and thought about the power and decadence-- especially since we had seen the little movie at the salt mine in Hallstadt of Wolf Dietrich von Reichenau, and his use of the salt mine money to aggrandize the dom, the residenz and the fountain with Italianate splendour... along with having 15 children and being a very cruel master...  and I was so glad to walk to the top of the Kapucinerberg, even though I was huffing and puffing, and my knees hurt... I did it!
Then going on the train to Feldkirch and then on the Bernina Express to Lugano, staying at that lovely Hotel San Carlo, and walking on the quay.  It was hard to manage with both the backpack and suitcase, but I got through it, and got safely back to Marilyn and Jim's.  It was great to be there for Jim and Enrique's birthdays, and that allowed me to have more time with Martha, speaking Spanish (what a relief, after trying so hard to recover the German!--- actually it was coming back, and I could understand most of what I heard, but still was having a hard time making sentences, having to go really slowly)--- and then getting to go with her to the beautiful chapel at Romain-motier through another day in beautiful Swiss countryside...
Every day was very full, very wonderful, interesting and educational and marvelous.  I was with amazing and wonderful people, the Americans who are alumni with me, as well as the Austrians and Germans.  I am indebted to Jobeth for putting up with me as a roommate through the majority of the time;  it is not easy to travel, to be trying to fit so much into each day, and to have the stamina and flexibility to do it well.  I know that I am impatient, and in general I have more energy than most people, which is a gift, but makes others frustrated, if they are trying to keep up with me, and get exhausted.  I was really grateful to Marilyn for helping guide me through choices in Switzerland, and through the maze of train schedules, and even helping me get discount tickets and sending them to me in Austria.
There are small things which point to changes which are actually profound-- one was eating a soup in a cafe in Salzburg which was made of pumpkin, curry and chili.  I cannot imagine them serving such a thing 45 years ago.  And there are definite changes in protocol;  relaxation of general cultural rules, such as everyone wearing jeans in public as a routine clothing item.  Still, I saw an usher at the Musikverein turn away a man in a work-out sweater, because people still dress for the symphony and the opera.  But they allowed women to wear nice slacks in to the opera, as long as the tops and coats were dressy.  And sensible shoes were the general rule, which is good, as we all have gotten older, and walking and standing in high heels is so hard!    I found out in Lugano that what we called a "grossen braunen" in coffeeshops inVienna is a double espresso.  All the cafes and pastry shops still sell the most lovely pastries, but there are also shops now lining the halls at the train station, making it very convenient to do shopping on the way home from anywhere.  And they still call afternoon tea or coffee "Jause".  We stayed with a wonderful hausfrau at the Vienna International Center (out past the Donau canal) which is where the UN offices are.  Jobeth went on a tour of the UN offices, which was a very positive experience.  Vienna has gotten used to people from everywhere else, and it is amazing to be on the train with so many different kinds of people-- like New York.  The old beer halls are next to very chic stores;  expensive clothing boutiques line the Graben and the inner city.  The strassenbahns still roll around the Ringstrasse, and there are still bargains in some shops.   Museums are closed on Monday, but full on Tuesday.  However, I think it is the first time I saw the black and white marble mosaic floor at the Kunsthistorisches museum, and realized how artistic the floor is! ( I think maybe there were so many people there, when I was there before, that I never saw the floor).  
It will be reverberating in me for a long time-- this experience.  It is hard to do it justice.  It will also be interesting to see what others saw and remember as important, and the changes we all sensed.  I am so grateful for the chance to do this trip!