Several years ago, at a particularly traumatic moment of dashed hopes in the Middle East, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that he was spending a lot of time watching the Golf Channel. That was all he had left in him by way of response. Just a break from this real and traumatic world into a calm and orderly one with its attendant joys of understandable rules and outcomes.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately—yes, maybe extra much since Tuesday’s election result—but in truth that is a side note here.
I have been thinking about it because I was recently asked to develop an itinerary for Salzburg.
I have actually visited Salzburg only once and that was decades ago. At the time, the city struck me as veering dangerously close to becoming the cultural equivalent of a Mozart-inspired box of cheap candy—a reaction no doubt magnified by my then teenage disdain for all things that weren’t ‘real’.
How ironic since my other relationship to Salzburg is any but real. Longstanding, yes. Real, no. This other Salzburg is the one that I got to know long ago as the backdrop to The Sound of Music; that charming, stirring, heroic and gossamer tale where everything turns out right.
I watch it very occasionally and only as needed.
It is my Golf Channel.
It is also one heck of showcase for Salzburg, something, oddly, I had only noticed peripherally until my most recent viewing.
I watched it a week or so ago for all the usually reasons—‘real’ reality can be just too much sometimes—but as luck would have it, I had also just begun work on the aforementioned Salzburg itinerary.
I saw the movie in a whole new way.
Goodness me, Salzburg is one beautiful city. So old and elegant and yet of smaller scale than so many other ‘must see’ cities. Suddenly—and inevitably—I could not wait to go there!
This will be no surprise to long-time readers. I fall hard and easily when it comes to travel.
And what do I love more than a beautiful city?
An interesting one—and as it turns out, as I have researched Salzburg for this upcoming trip, that is precisely what Salzburg turns out to be. Rich in history, yes, but also brimming with contemporary culture—especially contemporary art.
Sadly, my upcoming trip is for a private group so I cannot invite you to come along but what I can do is share just a bit of what I have learned of Salzburg's more unexpected charms.
It has not one but two very fine museums focused on modern and contemporary art—the Museum der Moderne and the Salzburger Kunstverein—as well as a number of important galleries including Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, considered to be the most important gallery in Austria. There are also quite a number of contemporary artists working in Salzburg including Elisabeth Schmirl, Stefan Heizinger and Erich Gruber along with numerous important private collectors. In an interesting twist on the impulse to collect and to share, Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz has developed Hangar 7 which features not only a large and permanent collection of antique airplanes but changing exhibitions of contemporary art and Ikarus, a two Michelin Star restaurant thrown in for good measure. Other restaurants worth considering include Carpe Diem Finest Finger Food and Gasthaus. Where to stay? Two notable choices here are the Blaue Gans and the Hotel Elefant.
As I say just a little taste of a very real place.
That other Salzburg, I will continue to cherish—that one where Julie Andrews is still a very young women and a whole family walks over the Alps with suitcases. That Salzburg affords what one sometimes most needs--a break from all that is real and into a place where everything turns out right.
But this other Salzburg--the one that exists in the extreme western pocket of Austria, nestled between the Salzach River and the mighty Alps, that Salzburg is very real and in the way of real places, full of complexities and unexpected pleasures.