May 18-19 & 25-26, 2002
You've seen Salzburg, Vienna and even Innsbruck, but still want more of classical Austria? Unsung Graz then should certainly be put on your list. Austria's back door has the same style and grace, but with less crowds, specifically, much less tourists. The town is yours.
It's a place where typewriters might still be used. There's European style in a casual and modern way: light suits are worn to the opera with sneakers and women can wear small hats with a soft feather on the front. While not forgetting the semiformal styles of Europe, I have forgotten what a warm night walk is like... I've been in London too long! It's like a non-humid New Jersey summer in town, but wait, I hear something drawing me over to over there.
A duet of guitar and violin are accompanied by the occasional vocals of a small dog that somehow is sticking to the rhythm rather than random howls. The hour draws and bells of numerous carillons ring and I pop into a church nearly 700 years old. The entrance is not grand in glamour, but grand in the character of the stone and cement winding the entrance up to a balcony over looking the street then up two levels inside through a gate, past an alter and then into the service. I duck out the side door into a passage of natural rock wall on one side, small two story commune apartments on the left making a small courtyard. You could imagine Maria from the Sound of Music wanting to live here.
Back to the streets to get more and up the Schlossberg passing what looks like a Roman era theatre, then I come across an opening in this small mountain. I knew of the secret passageways from the fortress that was once here before the French destroyed it, but this was different. It's a tunnel that goes on an angle (and another straight up) through the mountain! The elevator is something out of Batman's lair and the walk is ultra modern. The "cave" is stone dry and there are many chambers off the main walk, most empty, but some have drinking establishments in them. Is this a scene from Star Wars? Actually, they are galleries made for WW2. Apparently 50,000 people can live in here! On my second day in here, I remember I've been here before 25 years ago… I had childhood dreams of a dry cave in my toy closet inspired from the television show Land of the Lost. This is it in reality.
It's too early to retire for bed, back down and across a bridge, I come to an entrance near a plaque that reads "Wallfahrts-Kloster-U.Pfarrkirche; Mariagilf, 1607." I enter to hear organ music and a picture of Padre Pia on the wall.
I'm imagine monks walking around the cloister for hours in meditation and decide to give it a lap myself not only to discover another passage, but an impressive back view of the church towers. Where is that great music coming from?
Trying to find the entrance to see and make this concert more tangible, I find there is none. The phantom organ grinds on somewhere, with no light nor no audience. It is something that can't be touched, nor could the power of the music really be depicted in words without the experience itself.
The organ grows more intense as if to speak in a theatrical voice, "oh lord, strike me down and fill my soul" At every moment of expected silence, it power chords into fury while a bat circles over me bring my eyes to the crooked roof. Silence comes. I look down at the other end of the cloister, then at my feet and can muttle 'a-men' knowing what ever emotion the organ conjured up is temporary, what ever this life brings, in the final deaf silence of the tune, I am looking at the ground. In the end there is ultimate quiet, we go back to the earth we are attached to right beneath our feet. Without being religious per say, I consider becoming a practicing monk of no particular faith. Just chanting wearing the brown cloaks, thinking and picking herbs. The idea goes away before bed and the next town as if to say, 'What were you thinking?', but brings out the power of music. More powerful than reality for a moment- Sometimes the only reason to love is simply to be able to write love songs.
Back at the hostel I'm sharing a room with a retired German who is budget touring around the area which sounds great as long as he can keep hiking those hills. My work is proposing that I take 3 months unpaid leave each year to cut the company budget. If I could put that to use, what should I do? Three months to write a book? Probably just continue what I enjoy doing most: walking around and observing as an outsider. I can not stop to enjoy the pub with them. The travelogue, while really just personal notes, becomes a mission and thus makes rest and relaxation enjoyable work, thusly justified.
On my last day I head out after breakfast in the rain. At the other table there's a deaf group who uninhibitedly giggles and grunts. What phantom moves them in sacred cloisters? It's just the same in words, something that can not be depicted without experience.