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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The sound of music

Max Detweiler: “You know I have no political convictions. Can I help it if other people do?”
Georg von Trapp: “Oh yes, you can help it. You must help it.”
The Sound of Music (1965 film)

First, a correction: A reader wrote to say that the U.S. First Lady has moved into the White House. I don’t know if this is just temporary until their son resumes school, or what, but I agree it is important to fact check. While every writer has a point of view, that doesn’t excuse us from telling the truth, as accurately as we can see it. It’s a cop-out to tar all “the media” with one brush, as those who rant about “fake news” do. We are the media, these days, and have a vital role holding those in power to account.

Speaking of which, I bought another New York Times in Salzburg.

Before our travels, I was wondering what was the most camp thing I could possibly do anywhere in the world. Then I did a little research, and found that the YOHO hostel in Salzburg, Austria, screens The Sound of Music every single night in its lounge. I determined that when we got to Salzburg, I was going to be there. 

I don’t doubt that The Sound of Music is unrealistic; in fact I read and enjoyed Maria Trapp’s autobiography, which was a truer and, in some ways, more interesting story of the Trapp Family Singers. The book made an impression on me at the time because while I was reading it, I saw Maria Trapp’s obituary in the newspaper. (Yes, it was a reported fact.) So here’s The Sound of Music version of the rest of our time in Slovenia:
It’s festival season, which in Ljubljana meant there was music in the streets every night. One evening we were there, we just strolled down the riverside and came across a band in front of the statue of France Prešeren, the greatest Slovene poet. It was a large band of young people playing traditional music from various countries. There was a big string section (lots of fiddles), an electric guitarist, an oud soloist which made me think of the Jodie Manross Band, and just to remind us that we were in Central Europe, a tuba keeping time. Accordion and drums. I didn’t have my camera, but sometimes it’s nice just to soak up the experience.

Then the night before we left, I heard a couple of Canadian guys talking at the next table. T. started chatting with them—it turned out these young men from Ontario are playing baseball in France! They lamented the gap between their French and Parisians’, then said they were in Slovenia because (like everyone in Paris) they had the month of August off. We congratulated them on getting paid at least something to do what they love, plus travel to Europe—an opportunity many North Americans never have. 

We were having one last Cacao ice cream when we came across a local trio (at least I think they were Slovenian) playing Americana in a bar. The seating was al fresco, by the riverside, so we sat down and listened to quite a selection: country hymns, “The Gambler,” blues, “Wagon Wheel,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” They played “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and while T. had memories of England rugby matches at Twickenham, I remembered that it was a song of the Underground Railroad, for slaves escaping to freedom. They sang “Midnight Special,” a song about African-American prisoners in the South, which Leadbelly made famous. By the end of the night it was all I could do not to sing along “Meet me, Jesus, meet me in the middle of the air!”

But the most fun I had in Slovenia was still in Bled, of which Preseren wrote, “Nowhere in the world is there a more lovely place, than this paradise and its surroundings.”

Now the world contains two kinds of people: those who love The Sound of Music, and those who do not. Ours is a mixed marriage, so I was quite surprised when T. offered to come along on my pilgrimage in Salzburg. You see I once attended a singalong Sound of Music at the late, great Eglinton Theatre in Toronto. There used to be a lot of these old movie theatres used as performance spaces in Toronto, and this was a fun evening. People came in costume (the “bowing lady” who won third prize at the festival was a good one), and every word of every song was subtitled on screen—including the Latin chanted by the nuns. 

To the other half of humanity, this must sound like your notion of karaoke hell.

But before there were Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, or even Star Wars settings to attract tourists all over Europe, there was this Academy Award-winning Best Picture. And enough of the story is true to make me still relish the improbable tale of a singing family who said no to the Nazis, out of a conviction that was God’s will.
Festspielhäuser, built right into the Mönchsberg
 The Salzburg Festival, which in the film features the von Trapps as winners, has been running at this time of year since 1920. But unlike Ljubljana’s festivals, it’s not accessible unless you buy tickets months in advance. Instead, for the price of a beer we got an almost 3-hour movie. (The version they used to show on TV had so much dialogue and bits of songs hacked out of it, it’s no wonder the religious and political sensibilities were lost.) The beer was local, the friendly barman assured me, brewed according to Bavarian purity laws. That’s when it struck me how really close we were to Germany. Of course. There’s a reason the Nazis marched right in here in 1938.

The YOHO hostel was a friendly place as well as a bargain; had all their rooms not been taken, I’d have been happy to stay there. Although the movie plays every night at 8:00, the lounge was full, and at least one young person there said she’d never seen the movie before. I wondered what she’d make of its slow, silent opening shots (imagine grabbing an audience’s attention like that today). It has subtlety, by which I mean the romantic tension smolders rather than burns, and the audience has to bring some imagination to the show. A quaint way of filmmaking, but it must have worked, because she stayed to the final credits—along with those of us who could have sung along to every word.

I didn’t want a Sound of Music tour of Salzburg. I wanted to walk around and see the city, some of whose locations happen to have been used as settings because they are beautiful. I didn’t want to be on a tour bus with the soundtrack playing, but nonetheless it was playing, in my head the next day. The sight of the organ in the cathedral set it going again, even though Salzburg Dom is one of the most stunning cathedrals I’ve ever been in—and for reasons that have nothing to do with a film.
It didn't hurt that it was free (unlike Toledo) and not crowded (unlike Florence!)
View of the Festung Hohensalzburg and mountains
If you’re not on a hostel budget, you could try the Hotel Pitter, now a Crowne Plaza. Yes, another example of the hospitality industry coming through for me (the helpful English-speaking receptionist not only showed me where we were on my map, but gave me a better map). But I also discovered that the Pitter’s 6th-floor terrace restaurant has reasonably priced food plus great views over the city. Rather than pay to go up in the fortress, we got lunch, and with much nicer service than the Ljubljana “Skyscraper” could come up with. And, I discovered, those mountains really are the amazing blue-green they looked in the DeLuxe Color film.

The historic centre of Salzburg is beautiful around every corner
Fountain and gardens at Schloß Mirabell. Doesn't it just make you want to dance around to "Do Re Mi"?
And electric trolley buses whisked us around easily for a very low price. I’d expected Austria to be expensive after Slovenia, but transportation costs don’t even compare with London’s.

7th-century St. Peter's, whose cemetery looks familiar
Our last night in Salzburg we ate Styrian chicken and what T. said was the best burger she ever had, at the Raschhofer across the road from where we were staying. The waitress talked to us for so long she almost got in trouble with her boss. She’s Austrian, but her dad is from the U.S., and she spent her earliest years there. She was telling us about her dual citizenship and how she feels both Austrian and American. We told her about our travels and wished her good luck with hers.
Residenzbrunnen, where the horses spout water and Julie Andrews spouted about having confidence in everything
I loved Salzburg. It’s ecological, compact and beautiful. And of course, there’s the music.
Mozart was born here, too.

Nonnberg Abbey, 8th century. The oldest female monastery north of the Alps
One of my sponsors for the Kilimanjaro trek urged me to “climb every mountain.” I’m sure that’s what T. thinks we’re already doing!


Maria Kutschera was here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great memories evoked by your "Sound of Music" and the fascinating references to key places in splendid Salzburg! Groove & Pop