Ever since I first taught at The Orff Institut in 1990, I always thought that someday I might spend an entire year teaching here in Salzburg. Live through the entire cycle of the seasons, finally learn German, teach one group for so long that I ran out of material or things to say. (Unimaginable!) Never happened (no invitation) and never will (past the Austrian required retirement age). But still I could dream.
Walking some back streets of Salzburg the other day, I played the little game that many of us do, searching for the dream house and imagining myself living there until a blissful old age. This one with its perfect view of the mountain Untersberg, that one with its cozy English cottage look, the other with the enticing patio and garden. I imagined myself waking up each day and greeting the distant fortress on the hill, enjoying my breakfast of hearty whole wheat bread and cheese, walking through the wild-garlic smell forest path along the flowing Salzsach river or biking down the bike path with no cars through the open field to a day’s work at the Orff Institut serenaded by the numerous morning birds. A two-hour lunch break in the nearby park, chatting with the folks that come here from all over the world. Ride back to my welcoming home with the sun setting over the mountains, a radler beer with my dinner and an evening playing some Mozart on the piano. Why not?
And maybe the year would have grown to two or three until I wholly forgot about rush-hour traffic, news of black youths shot by police, the takeover of machines running our lives, the voices shouting from all angles to shop and buy and get more stuff and talk about getting more stuff and the rise of ignorance, greed and cruelty to the top of the power structure. I wonder what that would have been like?
Instead I go to work at a school overlooking the freeway, spend some meeting time talking about the improper use of the i-Pad each middle school student is given, watch helplessly as the next ugly unneeded skyscraper starts rising to blot the San Francisco skyline and bring in 40,000 more cars to clog the freeways and sort through the 50 daily e-mails asking me to protest against the next outrage by our Toddler-in-Chief.
But of course, I exaggerate. Always a joy to bike through Golden Gate Park or hike in nearby Marin, go to the Garrison Keillor event or buy the next book of poems by Mary Oliver or go to SF Jazz to hear Josh Redman or Sonny Rollins. The work at school is stunning, both musically and otherwise and despite the traffic, litter and homelessness, San Francisco remains a vibrant place to be. It’s not always pleasant to be an American living in the heart of the Beast, but it’s always interesting and for better or worse, the life I was born to. And lately, hopeful as our slumbering compassionate selves are awakening, rising to the call and gathering together to organize our visions of life as it should be lived.
My time—and times again—in Salzburg were not meant for my chosen life. Its role is to help me remember that “life as it should be lived” should include two-hour lunches, numerous bike paths, a healthy distrust of high-rises and too much money, attention to savoring the simple pleasures of good bread and beer and keeping both natural and human-made beauty at the forefront of the conversation. Salzburg, I will always remain your short-term guest, but always happily so. And now, off to walk along the river on a Sunday morning where the stores still close and the city rests.