My friend and former student Marko picked me from the little town of Mattersburg last Thursday. He put me up at his home in the village of Sigleß, because Mattersburg (pop. 6,000 - was 5,000 when I lived here 16 years ago) is too cosmopolitan for him. He studied music in California, and got his BA there, before returning to his home town. He's a talented, committed musician.
Sigleß has 1,000 folks or so. Fery, a friend of mine who owns two bars in Mattersburg grew up in Sigleß, which Marko didn’t know until I introduced the two of them. You’d think with so few people that everybody would know everybody, but it ain’t so.
My former landlady claims that I nearly gave her a “Schlag” - a heart attack (in this context), when I surprised her with a visit. She’d sent me a Christmas card asking simply to also hear a few words about how I am (I am normally a rotten correspondent), so I brought the card with me on the trip, and showed it to a friend of hers at the coffee house (really a “Konditorei,” but we don’t have a good English word for the combination of bar/coffee shop/pastry shop in English) that Martha used to manage before she retired. I asked Martha’s friend to call and tell her that someone from the high school was there to see her, but not to mention my accent. Her friend asked me if I wanted her to then lie. I explained that it was a joke (Schmee) rather than a lie (Lueger). She agreed, and Martha enjoyed my effort to let her know what I was up to these days. (It’s been five years since our last visit.)
Martha came down, and after hugs and a few stories, and showing her pics on iPhoto on my MacBook (the same beast that helps me generate these notes), she went to pick up her husband Hans, and brought him by. I had my back to the room, so when they returned, and she asked me to turn around, he stared, turned ghost white, and said something along the lines of, “Damnit, it’s good to see you, but don’t do this to me,” in rather heavy dialect. I went to their house for a snack the next day, and it was great to spend time with them.
Hans explained that he had a new hobby, “keyboards,” which I at first took to maybe mean video games. He’s a builder and construction worker, and though he knew I played music professionally, we’d never talked about music, even though I had once given a concert in the town. It turns out, he’s taken a rather serious interest in music. About five years ago, he decided to play the the piano (he’s had a few years with bad teachers when he was about twelve), but then...get this folks...buys a keyboard, sets up his room, found a teacher, and practiced three hours a day for two years. He now plays “at least” one hour a day. So Hans is my new Held (hero). I hear people say, almost monthly, “Gee, I’d like to play the piano.”
He’s the only person I’ve ever known who made a commitment to something like this, and did it. Strictly speaking, it’s much more fun with the keyboard he uses (it accompanies him), but the important thing is his on-going love affair with his keyboard. He played several pieces for me, the last one being his “Dearest’s Favorite Song.”
I don’t know which was more impressive, Hans, or Castle Forchtenstein, which has a distinction in Austrian history in that it never fell during numerous Turkish invasions (enjoy the link). It’s an amazing place (still owned, I believe, by Mrs. Esterhazy, though via a foundation that has worked out a tax deal – she lives in Switzerland, or so I’m told.
But my vote goes for Hans. Castles come and go, but people who do what their heart tells them to do are a rare lot.