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Travels with Georgia and zig
Overseas Trips

Episode 13: Georgia's Cracker Jacks. From Salzburg to Vienna, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria 2010
Episode 13—Georgia’s Cracker Jack’s surprise.

As I was saying: Georgia needed change for the WC after we got back to Salzburg so she took my 1-euro coin and slipped into the slot she thought would give her change. Push the handle in and then pull it back and Voila! –there was a little plain brown box about the size of Cracker Jacks. We kids always loved the little prizes inside. This little box had a prize inside as well. There was some very utilitarian writing with words I didn’t understand. But one phrase seemed pretty clear: “TO STOPT AIDS.” We laughed and figured we’d just bought a box full of condoms and planned to bring them back to the states in our luggage as an exotic souvenir. Decided, though that we’d better check first. That was a good idea. The box did contain a condom but also contained three hypodermic needles, a little bag of white powder (!) and an information sheet detailing where drug addicts could get help. I wouldn’t have wanted to explain these items to the guy who runs the airport x-ray system! I doubt they would have seen the humor.

We went to the Augustiner Brau Haus for supper again, this time strolling along the river past a hundreds of booths selling meats, pretzels, knick-knacks, gee-gaws, but practiced our sales resistance and arrived at the pub at the top of the hill empty-handed. There were two couples on the street out front asking a passerby what kind of place the “Augustiner” was. From the outside it certainly didn’t look like a great place to eat. It looked like a huge rambling Monastery. But then, that’s what it is! We assured them that it was terrific and offered to pretend we were experts because we had eaten there the day before. We’d show them the ropes. We showed them the food stalls and how to order beer, and then we all sat together and had a very nice visit. They were from Philly and had just arrived in Salzburg. We suggested some other places to see and told them we were just leaving Salzburg for Vienna.


Our waiter was named “Bernard,” but told us in excellent English to call him “Bernie.” He worked at the Augustiner, but was not a monk. He was studying theology, however, and said he hoped to be a deacon. There are not, as yet, anywhere near as many deacons in Europe as there are in the US. That’s funny, too, because the American bishops at Vatican II were opposed to re-forming the permanent diaconate. It was at Dachau where so many priests had been internees that the idea to resurrect the permanent diaconate was hatched. They thought that if the Church had not become so separated from society—so insulated—the Nazis would never have been able to come to power. It could have warned the people of the danger. They thought that with a permanent diaconate the Church would again have one foot firmly planted in “the work-a-day world.” Bernie said he knew about the requirement of being 35 years old, and he also knew that if you were single you could not marry. He said that he had a girlfriend but she has a house somewhere she didn’t want to leave. I suggested that love wasn’t easy and he agreed that it was certainly hard in his case. Like so many people in Europe, he admired Thomas Merton and said he wanted to visit Kentucky one day so he could see the Monastery of Gethsemani where Merton was known as Father Louis.
Tuesday, May 25, Mrs. Sommerfield

When we were visiting Oberammergau there was an American girl, about 12 years old, sitting right in front of us. She kept looking all around for other kids her age. I heard her complain to her mother that she couldn’t see any. I told her that was OK, “In heaven we will all be the same age.” I’m not sure she believed me. But this was reinforced for me on our last morning in Salzburg. At breakfast we met the absolutely captivating Mrs Sommerfield. She must have been somewhere in her mid to upper-eighties, thin and slightly stooped, but with twinkling eyes and a smile that could melt a glacier. We’d seen her other mornings speaking with the German-speaking guests, but I’d never had the nerve to try to start up a conversation with her. I guess I thought it would be too much trouble to converse across our language divide. I think we must miss some of the best friends we never have out of such fears.
But this morning, we three were the only ones in the dining room and so we said “hello,” as you most certainly MUST do when you are traveling in Europe. She asked if we were visiting Salzburg and we said that we had been but that now we were on our way to Vienna. I asked if she often visited Salzburg. She said that she came several times a year to visit family and friends. She didn’t, however want to stay with any of them. She wanted to be able to come and go as she pleased. We asked if she’d like to join us at our table. She thanked us, but said, “No.” “You want to keep your independence,” I said, smiling. Her eyes twinkled, and she laughed so prettily.
 I know so little about Austria I decided to take the liberty of asking her questions. She was so open and relaxed we must have talked for 30 or 40 minutes. Georgia excused herself to go get packed, but I couldn’t bear to leave my new friend. She said that she’d always lived in Salzburg though now she lived in Munich, or Hamburg, (I forget which) where she taught economics. With my brief foray into university teaching we swapped stories about students around the world. Grade-grubbing is evidently not a purely American thing. Europe also has its share of students more interested in a grade than in knowledge.
I asked her what Salzburg was like after the war. She said it was bad—very strict rationing and many deprivations, but they were very lucky to have had Americans as their occupiers. Nearby towns had been occupied by the Russians and the retaliations were very brutal. I didn’t mention the awful things the Germans did to the peasants when they invaded Russia. But I thought to myself that the dogs of war are very bloodthirsty: it’s fine, perhaps, when you are holding the leash, but it’s not so good when they have you by the throat.
I’d been disappointed by the lack of interesting stained glass. I asked if that was because of extensive destruction during the war. Bombing, perhaps? She said she didn’t think so; she didn’t remember there ever being much stained glass, even when she was a girl.
I told her about our seeing Betulia Liberata at the opera house. She was the one who told me Mozart had only been 15 when he wrote the score, and that the famous recitative libretto had been personally worked and polished and condensed by him. Her eyes teared up as she told me “they were some of the finest sentences ever written in the German language.” I wish I could appreciate them. I can certainly see how the issue would be paramount to a young genius. Can one extrapolate from our common world full of imperfection to the existence of a God imbued with all perfections? Which would be more amazing? That there was an author of all this world’s wounded beauty, or that there was not such an author. We still wrestle with the question.
Somehow I knew she would understand my confused thoughts about the three angry young men trying to disrupt the Pentecost services at the Cathedral—and how the music had silenced them. Music can touch, if not overpower us, in ways rational argument never can. I told her about St Lawrence (whose statue we saw in the Cathedral museum) and how when the emperor demanded the riches of the church presented him with a crowd of poor people: “Here is the treasure of the church, your excellency!” I wondered out loud what he could have meant. How are the poor, the drunks, the cripples, the “needy,” the treasure of the church? As Dorothy Day said, “They smell bad; they’re dirty; and they are difficult to deal with.” How are they a treasure? She said that she had a friend who’d been at the service and who’d been frightened because she didn’t know what they were going to do. I agreed. Those three presented a very strange treasure.


I complimented her English. She said she’d visited the States many times. I gave her one of my cards and wrote a note on the back for her: “For my dear Mrs Sommerfield, whose conversation and brief friendship I have so much enjoyed.” I told her I was very hopeful that our paths would cross again. Her eyes filled up with tears, and she said that she would call me one day—I shouldn’t be surprised to hear from her. I told her the easiest way to reach me was by email, but she said that regrettably, she did not use email.
Have you ever met someone briefly, and known that you could have been absolutely smashing friends? I have, and someday I expect we’ll meet again—if not here, then in that place where these all-to-obvious worldly imperfections are completely forgotten. And there, where time is not an issue, and perfection is all around us, we will get to know each other perfectly.
May 25th, continued. On the Train to Vienna

On the train to Vienna we shared a coach booth with a 9-year old girl, her mother, and a university student named Wolfgang, studying statistics. I embarrassed the little girl mightily by asking if she was studying English in school. She admitted that she was. I asked if there was anything she wanted to ask me in English? She was mortified. I asked if she knew any American songs. She did but wouldn’t sing any for me. “How about ‘Happy Birthday?’” I asked. Even little Melina knew that one. Her mother said it was her 10th birthday in a month so I sang happy birthday to her. She wondered what planet I’d come from.
To give her a break I asked Wolfgang what he was reading. It was a graphic novel called “Manga.” They come in a set of 20 or 30 books. He couldn’t wait to get them all. We talked a little about fantasy literature in general and science fiction as well. He liked the movies made about the Lord of the Rings, but didn’t like the books.
I asked if Manga had a story line. He said it didn’t. It was just a series of battles. I told him I found it hard to believe that 20 or 30 books could be sustained without some sort of unifying “story.” Perhaps the battles presented a very long “Quest” narrative? Maybe like a 21st century Japanese Canterbury Tales, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? He didn’t think so, but said that the characters we’d seen in the train station were dressed in Manga costumes. I told him it looked like they were having a great time. He said it’s common. In fact, the public acting out of Manga themes is called “Cosplay,” for Costume Play. Oh to be young again.
When we arrived in Vienna we promptly got on the wrong tram, or rode the right tram in the wrong direction, or the right tram too far, or something. Anyway we ended up way out too far, and had to walk back toward our convent guesthouse: “Stephen Haus.” It looked like an old 1950s style apartment building but just a couple of blocks from the city center. We had to wait in the lobby for the office to open at 5pm. The nun who appeared was dressed in old-order Amish clothing. She looked very severe and humorless. I’m pretty sure their cosmetics budget would have starved a church mouse. But boy, the room was great! It was clean and sunny, with a balcony overlooking a parking lot. We washed clothes and hung them out to dry.




After that we went walking toward the center of town. As we walked through small alleys and along broad streets I was amazed at the number of pedestrians. The city was truly bustling, but as we approached the main plaza it looked like there had been some sort of accident. There were dozens of people sprawled on the sidewalk beside this enormous building. But the people weren’t just sprawled. They were sitting or reclining on carpet squares and staring up at this gigantic screen. It looked like some sort of a pedestrian “drive-in movie.” And glorious music was playing.
 (to be continued)