My agenda today was to work at home (Monday’s my day off) and make sure I got out on a bike this afternoon. So when my colleague called to say she was sick and asked if I could sub, I decided I’d simply bike to school. The ride there is about 30 minutes, a steady slight uphill and then a long sweeping downhill and I arrived one-minute before Singing Time. Had a delightful sing and two satisfying classes with the 7th graders who I hadn’t taught all year (that’s my colleagues’ job). Then back on the bike to face that long sweeping uphill before the steady slight downhill, only this time in a light drizzle. I powered on for the 45 minutes return trip and arrived to meet someone for our 4 o’clock “What Is Orff?” appointment one minute before 4.
I wanted to complain about the difficult bike ride for this out-of-shape traveler and having to face the rain, but the truth is I loved it. It reminded me of a time in my life when I was more consistently happy than just about any period.
The year was 2003, in the Springtime of Salzburg, where I went to teach my first group of Special Course students at the Orff Institute, 16 teachers who had arrived from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece, Finland, Italy, Spain and the U.S. I had six whole weeks to share my life’s work with people so ripe and ready to receive it, a group that had already bonded from 7 months together as strangers in a new land, housed in the very place where Carl Orff had laid the cornerstone. The social dynamic was dialed high to “yeehaw!”, the classes fun, engaging and musical and the sense of adventure exploring this beautiful city together the stuff beautiful memories are made of.
Amidst the many highlights was me staying in a small village a 25-minute bike ride away from The Orff Institut, in a farmhouse next to a church with a landlady who spoke no English to match my no German, tucked up in a cozy third-floor room all by my lonesome, but embraced by a delicious sense of solitude and living a new life in a new place with new people, the kind of renewal my 52-year young self was ready for.
And one of the best features was having an old sturdy bike as my main transport. That meant that each day, I was guaranteed the refreshing exercise of the bike ride in and the bike ride back, starting the day with the muscles pumping and the lungs working and ending the day with the same. And that ride!!! Through this charming village to a large field looking out at the distant Bavarian Alps (one mountain silhouette a dead ringer for Beethoven’s profile), past the zoo where I greeted the lions each day, on into Hellbrun Park with its large ancient trees and spreading lawns, down Hellbrun Allee where Julie Andrews skipped in the Sound of Music and voila!, the welcoming arms of the Orff Institut. And then everything in reverse. So not only exercise, but my eyes filled with beauteous sights, my ears tickled by morning birds and roaring lions and church bells, the fresh air in my nostrils along with the farm smells. Legs pumping, class plans dancing around in my brain, my little dimly lit room awaiting me with its warm comforter and books to further awaken my imagination.
“Spring” in Salzburg can mean rain, from the drizzle to the downpour, winds, sun and even snow. I biked through it all, prepared with boots and rain-pants and gloves and if there had been an evening concert at the Institute and I’m riding back in the dark with the snow blowing, I could have complained bitterly. But truth be told, I had never felt so alive! Out there in the elements, moving my body, moving my mind, opening my heart to the beauty and the beautiful people. I loved it!
And so I felt a bit of that again today biking home from school. There’s absolutely nothing to stop me from biking to school every day, rain, shine, hot, cold, putting myself back out there in the world of sweat and chills and meeting the Goliath uphills with my old David legs. But of course, I have become that creature of comfort who’s content to listen to music in the safe temperature-controlled car. In Salzburg, I had no choice and that was perfect. Here, choice is the devil always tempting us to take the easy route—and then sign up for the marathon to compensate. Oh well.
And a confession. I’ve been back to Salzburg and taught seven more Special Course groups in the past 15 years and each time, I stayed in a place a little closer. Until the last time was the new motel a five-minute walk away. I have sold my soul to convenience. But I do always take that nostalgic ride back to the farmhouse in Anif and the last time, knocked on the door. My landlady was still there and she remembered me! So note to self: consider the farmhouse in Anif next time. Even if they don’t have Wifi.