Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Europe 2010 - Salzburg - Day 7 of 12

"Crap, did I promise to meet Michael this morning?" These were my first thoughts less than four hours after going to bed. A couple of days ago I'd committed to joining Michael Fallon for a morning lesson on meditation techniques; it seemed like a lovely way to start a day, in theory. But 7:30 a.m. felt quite a bit different after a late night of reverie by the lake. My eyes were gritty and my breath was unprintable. But a promise is a promise. So I hoisted myself out of bed and shuffled like a zombie to the terrace. After my theme group struggles, I was primed for a beginner's lesson on relaxation.

A couple of other early risers joined the class, each dedicated to learning about breathing, mantras, and the need to calm the jostling of our thoughts (Michael's notion of the active mind as a "leaping monkey" felt particularly apt for me). Following our teacher's instructions I happily sank into a restful state. Without drifting entirely into sleep I was nonetheless surprised to learn that we remained in a meditative state for ten minutes longer than Michael had planned. I opened my eyes, gazing upon the stone horses at the water's edge, and then over the placid lake behind the Schloss, finally upward to Mount Untersberg. Calm.

Lake behind the Schloss
Michael invited us to share our reflections, but despite my natural inclination to leap into the conversation I opted mostly to smile and say little. It was just that kind of morning. My choice for silence made all the more sense given our morning speaker's penchant for leisurely pauses, the kind that stretched across years of her experience. Truthfully I was delighted. Mary Catherine Bateson gave an epic presentation about the social transformations of the aging process, adopting a glacial approach punctuated by bursts of wit and surprise. Without notes or slides, she demonstrated the kind of expansive and flexible intellectual prowess that arises only through decades of travel, reading, thought, and action. I wrote eagerly, anticipating my days in Vienna when I hoped to make sense of it all.

Group presentations near end of seminar
That afternoon our theme group delivered a presentation to the entire Salzburg Seminar cohort. By this point I had long ceased worrying about the outcome. The team effort was nothing like what I would have planned, but I enjoyed watching the show unfold and participating in my own way. Instead of concocting a complex litany of research and bullet points, we diverged from our colleagues and mounted two goofy skits that, for their lack of specificity, offered welcome relief from the weight of ideas that bore down upon us all. At the end of the afternoon our theme group disbanded with smiles and handshakes, and I felt a little silly that the whole thing had been such a stressor.

Signs of Salzburg
At last it was time to enjoy some more time in town, and since Michael and I had generally occupied ourselves in other groups, we decided to head out together. It was such fun to know my way around, recognizing roads that had once led me far from my planned itinerary. We passed by centuries-old stone reliefs and snaked through narrow curved allies, drawn to the town's central platz where thousands of other tourists were snapping photos and collecting trinkets. On Judengasse we found an outdoor cafe under hanging signs and banners. We placed our order and chatted with a guy at the next table who'd brought his dog for a walk.

Michael toasting the end of a long day
Tipping our second bier we were joined by a new member of the Salzburg staff, a young but well-traveled woman named Lisa who'd recently been hired to develop new programs on sustainable living. The three of us commenced to a rambling walk, our new pal recommending directions and destinations we'd not otherwise considered. Indeed, thanks to Lisa, I spotted a McDonald's that was so integrated into the surrounding environment as to resemble one of Salzburg's ancient haunts. I had to shake my head with amazement that this icon of bland globalization found its way into the heart of a medieval city so unique and memorable that it's recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Pleasant dinner and conversation followed, and as we walked back we agreed on a return-visit the next day.

Lisa and Andy chatting on Getreidegasse
Back at the Schloss our cohort met for an "informance" on jazz and globalization delivered by University of Salzburg professor Reinhold Wagnleitner. Mixing traditional lecture with live music created by a combo of friends, family, and even one of our seminar participants, Wagnleitner led us through decades of musical history, weaving a transfixing story about the power of jazz to upend social structure. Afterward, the band played for hours, with many of us staying by the lake to listen and chat in the welcome breeze. I felt like a character in The Great Gatsby, though I recognized the ephemerality of it all. My time in Salzburg was almost complete.

Day 6 | Day 8

No comments: