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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 14 of 30: 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.

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