Last Tuesday, just after I woke up to start getting ready for my trip to Innsbruck, I saw that a comment had come into my blog about something I’d posted a little over a year ago. In the post, I had used the main character’s real name instead of giving him a pseudonym, and that’s how the person who had commented found the blog. She is the daughter of the main character, and her comment that morning led to an email correspondence between us which led to me anonymizing her long-deceased father, a former mechanic and business associate of mine, giving him the pseudonym George Washington Silt, which isn’t too far off from his real name, which I was hesitent to part with I love it so much. The blog I had written about him is here.
Anyway, when I woke up that morning and saw the comment, I didn’t read it all the way through at first. I scanned it and saw this: George Washington Silt, my father… Oh, shit, I thought. I didn’t realize George had a daughter, let alone one that would find my blog a year after I’d posted it, and ten years after his death. I put my phone down before reading the comment through. I figured it was too early to read what I was expecting to read; I needed to take a shower, get some coffee in me and finish packing before facing up to the hurt I caused. So that’s what I did and forty-five minutes later, when I read the comment through, I was relieved to find that George’s daughter took the post well. She understood that nothing I had written was malicious, and even said the story made her laugh, and that George would’ve gotten a kick out of it too. Still, there were some facts I got wrong – this is why I am a writer of poetry and fiction and not facts – and she clarified those, and also made clear that her father, though not perfect, wasn’t simply insane, or a drug-addict, he was a good man with a good heart, an infectious smile, a great sense of humor, and brought warmth into many people’s lives.
I couldn’t agree with her assessment more and knew it from when I first met George, in about 1995. As I said in the other post, he was one of my first mechanics, though he never worked in my shop. He worked out of the garage at his house, and I used to go there afterhours and bring him my equipment for repair. I remember it something like this: I’d come rumbling into his driveway in my rusted-out 1984 Isuzu Pup, get a couple chainsaws or cut-off saws out the back of the truck, and knock on the garage door. The door would then slowly open, and first I’d see George’s unlaced sneakers and his pant-legs sitting on them in little bundles. Then the door would pass a hand with a cigarette burning between the fingers, and then a little portion of his belly shoving through a button-down shirt whose buttons were invariably stuck in the wrong hole – they were in the hole either above or below the one they were supposed to be in, and the shirt would be off-kilter, sliding off one shoulder. Finally, the door would glide past George’s grinning face, the sun in his eyes, his jet-black bowl-cut glittering like a forest mushroom. He’d stand there looking at me, take a long, deep drag from his cigarette and, still smirking, say something derisive and hilarious about our two scumbag competitors, Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum.
So that was the image I had of George when I read her comment about his infectious smile, etcetera, and that was the image I took with me to Austria.
The easyJet flight we took from Berlin to Salzburg lasted an hour and cost €14. The train from Salzburg to Innsbruck cost €19; this is the great thing about living in this part of Europe. For under €40 you can go to Austria, Italy, England, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc., etc. In South Florida, where I’m from, €40 MIGHT get you to The Villages, the golf cart retirement town in the center of the state where 4/5 of the residents are Trump-zealots, drunk on firearms and Viagra.
The last time I was in Salzburg was in 2013, two months after my son was born. This was a rough time for me, to say the least. I hadn’t yet even seen my son, not in person. I’d seen pictures of him. To say I wasn’t getting along with his mother would be an understatement, but I wrote all about that in Fortuna Berlin. We’ve since fixed things to the point where they’re almost perfect now and I will soon be deleting the novel, replacing it with something that I can tell you, at 45,000 words in, is going to be 100x better.
So as I was saying, I wasn’t in a good place the last time I was in Salzburg, but I didn’t let it totally ruin the trip. Going through some old notes the other day, I came coincidentally across an entry I’d written when I was there. The entry was about how I was in the Festungsbahn, a traincar that takes you up the mountain to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. I was sitting in the Festungsbahn with a bunch of drunken Austrians. They were laughing and talking loudly, but their accent was so strong (& my German so bad then) that I didn’t understand anything they were saying. All their words sounded like one impossibly long German word strung together with Origami ribbon. Finally, when they got out, the old man who was reading the newspaper next to me said something about how they were so noisy he had to read the same passage “drei mal.’ I understood that and would’ve loved to have left it at that – understanding him – but he went on talking in his strong Austrian accent, and all I could do was smile and nod, pretending I not only understood him perfectly, but that what he was saying was too humorous and absurd to offer a reply. It might not have even been funny for all I knew, but he went on, and on, and I sat there with my ironic smile, saying nothing. By then it was too late to admit his paragraphs had fallen on deaf ears, but I think he finally realized it. He offered me a cough drop. We were dead silent after that.
That was the only thing I wrote down from that trip. I was only there for a day, enough time to see the fortress, visit the house Mozart grew up in, and go to some bars and coffeehouses.
This time we only had 6 hours there. We walked around the city, visited the Salzburg Dom, one of the biggest and most majestic cathedrals I’ve ever been to, and after that ate a light lunch with beers at a dark little restaurant in the Altstadt. Then it was off to Innsbruck by rail.
If you’ve never been to Innsbruck before, I recommend it. It’s one of the prettiest towns in Europe, and it survived WWII unscathed, so the old buildings are much as they have been for centuries. We stayed at the Maximilian Hotel in the Altstadt. The hotel is named after Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1508-1519) and former resident. He was also the subject of a few Albrecht Dürer paintings, and I couldn’t help making a few sketches of him too when I was there. Here’s one:
So, after checking in and getting unpacked, we walked along the River Inn, through the Altstadt, checked out the Goldenes Dachl, the Stadtturm, and stumbled upon Hotel Golden Adler (aka Best Western Plus), where the likes of Mozart, Goethe, Paganini, Heine, Albert Camus & Jean Paul Sartre all stayed. Goethe came twice. The first time was in 1786 on his way to Italy. He only stayed the afternoon and spent most of it talking to the son of the landlord, according to an entry from his Italian Journey diary. The second time was in 1791 when he stayed two nights with the Duchess Amalie of Sachsen-Weimar. On the bottom floor of the place, there’s a room called the Goethestube which, according to the literature, was once a meeting place for Tyrolean poets, painters and musicians. When I was there it was closed for renovations, along with the restaurant. Only the Best Western Plus part was functioning. I walked through the entrance and poked my head in, just long enough to see the arrangements. I didn’t want it to be said that the doors of that sacred domicile were closed to me in a way they hadn’t been to the others.
We wanted to go skiing, but with the €14 airfare, we were already reaching the top of our budget, so we decided to skip it, but not without regret. I started skiing when I was six, and sometimes I wonder what it’d would’ve been like if in my 20s I’d moved to some little mountain town and became a ski bum instead of opening up a tool rental shop.
On our first full day, we breakfasted at the hotel and then took a long walk along the river, down some random streets, and ended up at the Ambras Castle (Schloss Ambras Innsbruck), which sits in the hills overlooking the city and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The castle, when it was first built in the 10th century, was a fortress. In the 16th century, Archduke Ferdinand II, converted it into a renaissance castle as a gift to his wife, a commoner who he’d married under conditions of secrecy, much to the disappointment of his father. There’s a little cave-like structure outside the castle called the Bacchus Grotto where Ferdinand II used to hold drinking parties where the guests were strapped to what looked like an electric chair and were not allowed out of it until they’d drained the leviathan bucket of wine set before them. Now that sounds like my kind of party. I was beginning to like this Ferdinand II. I liked him even more when I saw his collection of armories in the castle and the Chamber of Art and Wonders (Kunst- und Wunderkammer). Ferdinand II was one of history’s most prominent collectors of art, weapons, scientific and musical instruments, rarities, curiosities, natural objects and wonders of nature. Unfortunately, the Habsburger Porträtgalerie, which contains paintings by Hans Burgkmair, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and others is closed in the winter so we missed that. One of the best books I read last year was the Autobiography of Cellini, the 16th century Italian goldsmith and soldier. I was reminded of the book when I was looking at the collection of finely-wrought suits of armor in the castle, most of them worn by famous people of the time. “I wonder,” I said to Erica, “if Cellini had any connection to the stuff here.” I’d no sooner asked the question than I stumbled on a painting of Charles de Bourbon (1489-1527), a French military leader who in the conflict between Karl V and Pope Clemens VII de’Medici, was apparently killed by a bullet out of Cellini’s hand. He mentions the event in his autobiography.
“I pointed my arquebus toward the thickest and most closely packed part of the enemy, taking direct aim at someone I could see standing out from the rest.”
Some of the pettiest, most cowardly, self-serving, sniveling little shits I’ve ever encountered have been dabblers in the arts. The worst are the ones who do it not so much because they enjoy it, but so they can tell people they do it, to get them laid, or give themselves an identity. I’m never more suspicious than when I meet someone who calls him or herself a poet. I might admit I write poetry, but I would never call myself a poet. The name’s been hacked to bits my too many poseurs, mopes, vulgarians, chickenshits, also-rans, jellyfish & creampuffs-de-jour. Which is where Cellini comes in. He was a man’s man, hot-blooded, fiercely independent, mean as a Gila monster, but also tender and loving, honest-to-a-fault and a master of everything he touched, be it rock or gold, paints, ink, poetry, weaponry. If you’re sick of the Facebook/Instagram poetry coterie, I suggest Cellini’s Autobiography as antidote.
The next day, which was also the last day of our short trip, and Valentine’s Day, we went to the Tiroler Landesmuseum, the Dom zu St. Jakob, the Hofkirche, and ended up at a little restaurant across from the Goldenes Dachl where we ate Tyrolian specialties, drank beer and watched in amazement the only cook serving the place, a stoic, fat old man with hands quick as finches in a fruit tree that’s just beginning to blossom. The food was great, and the people were friendly. We had quite a different experience from what one recent jerkoff had posted on Trip Advisor. I was going to post just an excerpt of his diatribe, but it’s too good to delete anything. It needs to be read in whole, parsed, dissected and, if possible, immortalized in the Goethestube at the Best Western Plus.
Rude and racist staff. Wrong order and hair on food.
Look, the food wasn’t all that bad but it wasn’t the best I have had either. It is traditional Austrian cuisine but I am sure you can find the same type of food at any other city. The service was extremely appalling and staff were very rude and dismissive.
The staff had the audacity to offer us the “only” available seats for our family on the landing between two stairwells. To set the scene, when you enter into the restaurant, you arrive at a small narrow walkway which is adjacent to the open bar and kitchen. There is a small bar stool with some tables on the side for you to wait to be seated. There was no urgency for us to be seated as soon as practicable and staff did not advise the wait time to be seated at the actual restaurant on the second floor either. We took up the offer seeing as it was almost midday and we had only just arrived in Innsbruck. It was quite an awkward and out of place set up. To make matters a little more interesting to observe, many other incoming restaurant goers were offered seats up in the second level not too long after us after a very short wait time.
Now onto the food. We ordered four main dishes, alcohol and coffee. The wrong coffee order was made and it had alcohol, which was not to be consumed by a minor. When this was pointed out to the staff, they did not admit they were at fault and nor did they apologise for the error or provide a solution to the issue other than offer to “add whipped cream”?! I am sorry but adding whipped cream will not eliminate the alcohol that is present.
In addition to the wrong coffee order, we also found a piece of eyelash/eyebrow hair on our food and drinks – which in itself I am sure will speak a lot out the work health and safety environment within their kitchen.
He never elaborated on the racist accusation, but it should probably be noted that he was a white guy from Australia. Also, the eyelash/eyebrow must’ve been pretty long to span the food AND drinks.
Friday morning, we left Innsbruck on the train to Salzburg. It’s a two-hour trip, and to pass the time I’d brought along Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky has always been a great solace of mine, though I’m ashamed to say I haven’t some of his great tomes. I still haven’t gotten to The Demons or The Idiot. George Washington Silt read The Idiot. I remember talking about it with him in about 1998, shortly after he got out of the madhouse. He said the book was in the library when he was there, and he liked he liked how it was still relevant. He said it reminded him of South Florida in general, and the tool rental business in particular – everyone was screwing everyone else over. An honest man doesn’t have a chance.
I was only about 1/8 into Brothers Karamazov when I came the Schiller poem Dostoyevsky’s character Mitya quotes. He also quotes Goethe. Something about kissing the hem of the robe that God enwraps himself in. I looked out the window of the train at the lofty mountains and the landscape flying by. I thought about the marvels of modern transportation, and I thought about Goethe in 1786, in a horse-drawn carriage, passing through Innsbruck on his way to Italy. What would a Goethe be like today, in the world of high-speed trains, cryptocurrency, nuclear fission, oil drilling, bioplastic, data mining, self-reconfiguring modular robots, ultra-high-definition television, augmented reality, sneakers-with-lights-on-them, and so on, and so on? No wonder why polymaths don’t exist anymore. There are too many fields, and too much to know. But, it’s true – everything ends at the same place – with your lips on the hem that God enwraps himself in. Not that I believe in God. I don’t know what I believe in. I try not to think about it, and in meantime give the widest possible birth to the fire and brimstone crowd. Some of my least trustworthy customers when I was in the tool rental business were pastors, and I’m sure George Washington Silt would agree. He said it best. He said, “Ya gotta look out for them Holyroller types. They start talking about that God, and as soon as you look up into the sky to see what all the fuss is about – as soon as you let your guard down, that is – they’ve got your pants down at your ankles and are slippin’ you the big salami. It’s no good, I say. No good at all.”