Sunday, March 8, 2015

Slovenia, Salzburg, Spring and Spirit

Ah, to be alive on a Spring Sunday morning in Slovenia heading to Salzburg. Yesterday, a soul-stirring workshop with some sixty spirited Slovenians, the echoes of the hushed Estonian lullaby closing still singing on in me. This morning, a quick walk to the river and Old Town, crossing and re-crossing the seven bridges under the watchful eye of the castle on the hill, shoes click-clacking on the cobblestone streets, church bells pealing, camera clicking to capture the charm of exquisite architecture, New Balance shoe stores side-by side with statues of poets. The Sunday vendors unraveling their wares on tables by the riverside— old coins, paper money, medallions, cutlery, china, ceramic plates, watches, clocks, jewelry, knick-knack statuettes, small paintings, old LP records. Looked like a garage sale of grown children clearing out their parents hoarded accumulations. Wound my way back to the hotel and enjoyed an elegant breakfast of crepes with qvark, apricots, figs, chocolate sauce, grilled vegetables, eggs with red pepper sauce, beautifully prepared and served on real plates. (Ramada Inn, take note. Perhaps you might consider replacing the stale muffins and bad coffee in Styrofoam with plastic spoons with TV’s blaring?)

Off I go to the train station and three seconds on the platform called up that 22-year old virgin voyager I once was wrapped up in the romance of the European myth. You know, the sheltered American growing up with “Leave It to Beaver” initiated into the European aesthetic and swept away by the romance of it all. Wandering in wide-eyed wonder the streets of Paris, Florence, Barcelona steeped in history, art, architecture, croissants and gelato, listening to the tinkle of silverware and family conversations spilling out of open windows during the three-hour mid-day pause of lunch. How civilized! How much more sensible than the frenetic American pace of speed and greed and getting ahead, the quickly grabbed fast-food! Why not relax the tempo and savor life’s simple pleasures of good wine and good company and good conversation? Those newly-awakened Americans come back changed and a little haughty for having tasted La Dolce Vita, feeling pity for their uncultured neighbors. "I didn't know how to live until I went to Europe"' says the returned traveler. At least for awhile, until swimming again in the crazy pool of Americana and Europe feels like a distant dream.

These my thoughts as I board the train, find my seat, scan the car for my “Before Sunrise” adventure. (Ha! That train long ago left the station and ain’t no more coming down the line. But why not treat myself to the dream?) And so off we speed through the countryside, out the window the distant snow-capped mountains, the small towns with their church on the hill, the sparkling sun on a cloudless day. 25 years of fairly constant travel to Europe and it never fails to enchant me.

The train pulls into Salzburg four hours later and what’s this? When I left two days ago, it was Winter and now it’s Spring. Almost 70 degrees (Fahrenheit!) and the streets filled with happy people. I walk through the part of town I haven’t yet visited this trip and my favorite ice cream place is even open! Time to settle into my new room back at the Youth Hostel and then go have dinner with two former students, each of whom have two little children. The Electro Hummer store I passed on the way to the Hostel is still there a quarter of a century later, but meeting my students’ children is a sure sign that linear time is real and it is passing. Hopefully like a train through the Austrian countryside— heading surely and clearly to some destination, but isn’t the trip glorious!

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