Salzburg and Vienna

The Castle of Salzburg
Heartbreaking Beauty: The Castle of Salzburg and Monchsberg Cliff

September 27, 1991

      I have been in Austria for a couple of days, both in Salzburg and in Vienna (Wien). Austria is a country whose best times have seemed to pass it by and now exists as a generally tranquil (re: neutral) corner of Europe. In the 18th and 19th century, Austria and the Hapsburg was a major political power in Europe and Vienna was the place for culture. It was also the center of culture for the German speaking peoples. It was bypassed by the Prussian propelled German nation/state in terms of power and attached it's fortunes to those of Nazi Germany with the "anschluss" policy (although, admittedly, they had little choice) during WWII and suffered accordingly. Modestly rebuilt, Austria keeps a low profile today. However, the heart and soul of Vienna revolve around music and elegant classical society and on these terms the glory of Vienna is largely undiminished. There still seems to exist a xenophobic and anti-semitic streak in Austria.

      In regards to music, Austria still is the best. And nowhere is this better seen than in Salzburg and Vienna: the birthplace and cultural mecca of Mozart and home of the world leading Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra respectively. A visit to the historical center of Vienna is to go back and time and witness the glory and grandeur of 19th century Europe. The fall of the Austria-Hungary Empire after WWI and the unbelievably bad decision to side with Nazi Germany in WWII has led to rougher times recently for the surprisingly slavic Austrians.

      Salzburg is a relatively small town in a steep valley bordered by two large cliffs with a majestic castle looming threateningly down on the population below. The region is highly mountainous and forested with the town historically linked with the fortunes of the salt mines nearby. The authority in the castle was the Archbishop - Austria is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. We are staying in a small Hostel called "Naturfreundehaus," on the top of the Monchsberg cliff that overlooks the Old City and the River Salzach. My parents are staying in a five-star hotel on the cliff also, but I have a better view. My price is U.S. $10 a night plus $1 for a token which allows me to take a pitifully inadequate two minute shower. Katie, staying in the same hostel, was caught in the middle of washing her hair when her two minute shower expired! My parents are probably paying many hundreds of dollars each night.

      The Old Town is the birthplace of Mozart, and his visage is quite ruthlessly exploited commercially by the contemporary Salzburgans. The Old Town is one of the most beautiful square mile of 18th century cobbled streets I have ever seen. I have always pictured Mozart in a setting exactly like this. The area is clean and smacking of the 18th century. The colors are all white, clean, Spartan. It reminds me of Mozart's strictly puritanical father. I can understand a little the attractions and repulsions which Mozart felt towards some of the cities of Europe: the chilly, provincially mountainous austerity of Salzburg, the societal grandeur and pressures of Vienna, and the uninhibited and spontaneous joie de vivre of Prague.

      It was good to meet up with Mom and Dad finally. We went on a "Sound of Music Tour" which highlighted the areas where the motion picture was filmed, and gave a general good tour of the beautiful areas around Salzburg. These tour buses are a common sight around the tourist areas of Europe and are more than a little cheesy. Before Salzburg, I had never been able to afford one of these tours. The surrounding areas feature dramatic peaks, beautiful blue lakes and everywhere there is green. Austria is even more mountainous than Switzerland. The population seems to be centered around farming.

      Living with Mom and Dad has certainly boosted my standard of living and we had a very special dinner at the "Cafe Winkler" overlooking Salzburg on the Monchstein Cliff. I am sure it will be one of those nights that will remain memorable; an expensive meals in an exotic and foreign land en famille. I gave Mom a statuette I bought in Prague and Dad a Soviet paratrooper watch I bought in East Berlin for their 26th wedding anniversary. Katie is leaving with Mom and Dad to go to back to Paris, and so I am traveling by myself again. Yet I welcome this because it will give me a chance to catch up on my journal. I am almost exactly in the middle of my trip and I will have to watch money very carefully now.

      After a short train ride, I arrived in Vienna and had a very difficult time finding a room. I have a cold, and I walked to two hostels which were full. I was exhausted and sick and frustrated but I finally got a room in a hostel in the beautiful suburbs above Vienna. A little difficult to get to, the hostel is clean, modern, and has a beautiful view of Vienna. I feel like shit but there is such a feeling of relief in having a place to stay when you are new in a strange town. I tried to read some of a book that Mom had given to me highly recommended named "The Beauty Myth." I was reading it in bed and after twenty minutes of hate filled polemic, I quickly threw the book into the wastebasket and washed my hands. The anti-male vituperation was especially malignant after experiencing the relatively harmonious sex relations of Europe. Next, I composed the following letter "...

      Dear Mom,
      I enjoyed hanging out with you and Dad in Salzburg, and my standard of living did certainly rise a couple of levels! Anyway, I read about one third of The Beauty Myth but had to stop, immediately throw it away, and wash my hands. I know the book was hard to get but I have enough problems with women in general (having almost nothing to do with women I know personally) without reading yet another anti-male polemic, and letting it piss me off. What I, Richard (me, personally), need to do is develop my life naturally and individually, free from the toxin of militant feminism. What is not needed is more bitterness in the air; I will not let their insanity make me insane.
      Anyway, I am looking forward to coming home and living with Dad and you. I think you will find me quiet, clean, and unobtrusive.



      The next day, I bought a couchette (sleeping car) for Venice and checked my backpack into a locker until the train leaves. This gives me a full day to explore Vienna, and this is plenty of time. Like London, Vienna is an old town of past splendor. Vienna was a world-class city in the 19th Century and arguably has the most impressive cultural heroes. Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert. It is the music and buildings of that era that still exists in the heart of Vienna today. The "Ring" streets of Vienna are full of opera houses, museums, baroque palaces, etc. that epitomize the culture of Europe. Viennese opera, waltzes, etc. attest to what must have been the grandeur of Vienna at the end of the 19th century. Vienna must have been splendid at that time and even Hitler speaks fondly of the beautiful women of Vienna although it is said that he personally felt rejected by the city and hated it.

      However, the 21st century has dealt Vienna some obvious cruel blows. The power of the Austria-Hungary dynasty was vanquished in WWI, and in an attempt to regain lost stature a portion of the Austrians embraced Hitler's Third Reich and the rest were browbeaten. WWII brought destruction and famine, and a Russian occupation which lasted until 1955. Now, the population has been cut roughly in half and Vienna only resembles its former self in terms of total population. The culture here is still very great, and the Viennese Philharmonic and the Viennese operas still rank among the best in the world. But there are many old buildings that are decaying in a way in which those in London are not. The best of the city remains in the past, and this fact relegates Vienna to the position of neutral city where east met west during the Cold War - a sort of symbiotic relationship of convenience. It reminds me a little of a museum.

      It is often said that Vienna is a good meeting point for the East and West. It really is geographically in Central Europe, and the slavic influence is readily apparent in the food and collarless jackets of the men. But it leans towards the west in terms of government and culture. It seems Austria is still a somewhat wealthy country and I wonder why? There is no large industry or trade (I think). I think it is a question of old money somewhat perpetuating itself coupled with a small population and few expenses. The thought of living in a country with no enemies or external responsibilities in a quiet nook of the world appeals to me as an American whose country spends ridiculous amounts of money on weapons and has numerous burdens and ties in a violent, dangerous and unpredictable world. Austrian life, in general, is about three times slower than American life. They live their lives, enjoy their fine operas and symphonies, and have fewer of the plethora of distractions and complications we have in the U.S. Maybe this will change now that the Cold War is over.

      Austrians speak German and have somewhat the same culture. The people here certainly do look Germanic. Yet Prague is further west than Vienna. And Austria and Vienna is the spot nearest to the Eastern block where all the refugees would flee to during the Cold War during crises (1956, 1968).

      The area between the Ring streets and the Danube is simply sublime. The Baroque architecture seems to have remained untouched since its construction and walking through the area I felt transfigured.

      This trip has been somewhat disorienting for me because, for the first time in a long time, I have had no busy schedule to occupy my time. Despite a frenetic rate of travel, I still have significant amounts of time on my hands and it leaves me bored and disconcerted. How typically male: to be restless without some kind of guiding purpose or principle in life.

      And so I have become a practiced people watcher. Some of my most pleasant times here in Europe have been in parks and public squares watching young wives with their babies and young children. I am fascinated and it occupies all my concentration. In my hurried and focused life, it seems there is so much I miss simply because of tunnel vision. A young mother playing with her child in the park is so typically out of context to my life in the States. Especially what my life was like with fraternity games and emergency room work. They consisted of long, long nights followed by a few comatose hours of daylight followed by yet another endless night. I was so cut off from mainstream life and all my personal interactions were all either with police or medical people, criminals, hypes, the homeless and the partyers.

      One of the things that is most disappointing about this trip is the fact that I see so many people and places yet gain such a superficial understanding of them. For some reason, this fact fills me with bitterness. My rational mind tells me, "What did you expect? You spend a day or two in a city and you expect much?" For the most part, people have been hospitable to me and tolerant of my lack of German, French - whatever. But I also know in a thousand ways that I am almost immediately classified as a tourist generally and as an American specifically. The reactions range from fascination (Czechoslovakia) to revulsion (Paris, in places). In Paris, they walk by you quickly you holding their noses. Perhaps this is merely the naturally feeling of the exile in not fitting in, of the loneliness of the stranger in a strange land. No wonder that the people American tourists meet in Europe most often are other American tourists. I have met many locals in pubs, trains, and such and those acquaintances - no matter how brief - I regard as valuable and educational. But I would trade them all for a one night stand with some European women whom I could talk with in an intimate manner. It sounds somewhat cynical, but sex is a good way to cut through to the truth (or as much as is possible) through all the bullshit that typifies everyday conversation. Admittedly, I use sex for intimacy.

      I talked to Marty on the phone and the first thing he asked me was (typical UCLA), "Are you getting laid?" I almost had to laugh at the question, thinking how far away from getting laid I am. And it has been this way for a long time and it does not bother me. It is always this way with me: feast or famine.