The first time I came to teach the Special Course in Salzburg, I stayed in a farmhouse in the outlying village of Anif. It was a 45-minute walk to the Orff Institut, a 20-minute bike ride, both along enticing pathways through village back-roads, a beautiful park and Hellbrun Allee where Julie Andrews skipped merrily along. If I wanted to go downtown, it was another 20-minutes in the other direction and a late dinner or concert meant 40 plus minutes riding home in the dark and sometimes in rain, sleet or snow. My farmhouse hostess didn’t speak a word of English and me no German (or rather thick Austrian dialogue), so communication was a challenge. If I had one class in the early morning and another late afternoon, I either had to do another 40 minute bike ride or hang out at the Institute or go somewhere else. In short, it was utterly inconvenient, sometimes challenging and not ever completely comfortable.
And I loved it.
But the next few visits, I succumbed to practicality and found another place closer, though still funky enough to have some charm and the bonus of being on the river. Still later, I opted for the Youth Hostel, a bit closer yet—20-minute walk/ 10 minute bike—and less homey and pension-like, but good wireless connection, a youthful energy and close to the Old Town.
This time, worried about it being cold and not being able to rent a bike, I succumbed to convenience and tried Motel One a mere 4-minute walk from the Institute. Convenient and comfortable it is, but way too slick and modern for my taste. No paintings on the wall and instead a TV screen with a video of a fire, complete with fake crackling sounds. Bright lights, overlooks the Merkur (great view of the fruits and vegetables) and the only close restaurant is across from McDonald’s on Salzburg’s most strip-mallish street and complete with disco-beat music.
The fact is, I’m immersing myself completely in the 2 to 6 hours daily I’m teaching and we are certainly creating our own kind of beauty in every class, musically and otherwise. But truth be told, I’m suffering a bit from BDD—Beauty Deficit Disorder. I’ll solve that this weekend with long walks and bike rides. But in retrospect, I loved the way my home in Anif made beauty part of the daily routine and me with no choice in the matter. When a friend visited Salzburg once and I took him on that bike ride, that I used to do every day, he paused and said, “Doug, this is beautiful,” affirming the happiness I felt living that brief life of biking daily through beauty.
I think BDD is a real thing (am I the first to name it?). I felt it at the beginning of this trip in the Philadelphia outskirts in the typical American strip with no place to go but drive to the mall and even a bit in Barcelona in a more modern hotel fare from the true character of that marvelous city. Brugge was the exception, a room that just made me happy every second I was in it, which was only two short nights. It seems that my Soul needs a certain ground base of aesthetics to feel wholly itself. And I think we all do.
I think the uglification of my country is part of our problem. Because humans are so adaptable, we lower ourselves to the next standard of ugly expediency and stop noticing what we’re missing. I believe it makes us less capable of intelligent feeling and a feeling intelligence, less able to distinguish between the nuances of genuine aesthetics, the subtleties, the shades of beauty’s many faces. Instead of Chopin’s intricate dynamics, we fill the restaurant with the never-changing pounding disco beat, serve bland or artificially-flavored food, have scattered conversations while checking our superficial text messages. We numb ourselves to intricacy and complexity and indeed, how can we make measured decisions about our future if our present is so one-dimensional?
And I can understand how that can happen, having just myself traded the Anif bike ride of beauty for the Motel One convenient short walk. But at least I’m noticing my BDD symptoms and am determined to overcome it. What happens when we’re incapable of even realizing that we’re missing something?
Tomorrow, a long walk and hello, Salzburg!!