Where the Hills Are Alive, Finding Beauty in the Dead

photo credit: Daniela Bryan

photo credit: Daniela Bryan

Unlike so many, I didn’t go to Salzburg for the day to do a whirlwind tour of The Sound of Music spots. I wanted to get some flavor of the city my first time in Austria and let it be organic, but I was also open to the joy and wonder of seeing the setting of Maria’s incredible life.

My friend and unofficial tour guide, Dany, is a native of Germany and I was staying with her in a small Bavarian village. This was a day trip to Salzburg. In the car en route, when it appeared we might drive right into a massive, gorgeous mountain, all this Jersey girl could muster was, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

That approach was stunning. Life-changing stunning. For a mere moment I toyed with taking a picture and immediately shut down the thought. I had to be with this. I know me. By the time I fuss with the camera, I will have missed the experience. I knew I didn’t need a photo to remember it and much as I adore that family and friends want to enjoy pics of my getaway, this one had to be for me.

Conversation stopped. Dany was enjoying it all over again and was happy to see I was gaping. (That we wound up in a parking garage built into a mountain was a whole other story.)

There was a street market in high gear when we arrived and the incredible smells of the different foods were kind of an appetizer for the lunch Dany had in store at her restaurant of choice (Herzl, meaning ‘heart’ in English). I had weiner schnitzel and it came with the best little salad with cabbage. We shared apple strudel (of course) for dessert and the presentation was so delightful I snapped a pic to share.

See, this is where I’ve become a bit more flexible. I am not a fan of the mentality I see so often in New York — people posing their kids in front of things so they can say they were there. (Note to them: You really weren’t. Physically, maybe. But really, not so much.) I’ve taken to the idea, though, that I could put a little more focus on sharing an experience when I feel it in the course of my living.

So I ‘shared’ my food and there was an outpouring of fun from my Facebook community. Balance, I think. We all have to find our own place with that. If your thing is taking pictures, enjoy it and be with that as expression instead of as a way to prove you showed your face somewhere. Ugh on the latter.

This brings me back to The Sound of Music. We were strolling and Dany took us in a direction to see St. Peter’s Cemetery, the site of that dramatic scene in the movie where the family is hiding from the Nazis. As we entered, it was as if we’d left the city. I turned a corner and I felt like I’d been dropped into another land.

Part of St. Peter’s Abbey (founded in 696), it is surrounded by achingly beautiful storied structures that give it an intimate feel. I instinctively reached for my phone to snap some shots and then eased off the idea. No. I needed to just breathe and be with this. The graves were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Wrought iron, blossoming flowers, lanterns.

It was the variety in sizes and styles of the wrought iron fixtures (where the headstone would be in most cemeteries) that dazzled. I felt myself tear up after a few minutes.

I knew why I felt emotional. After experiencing some deaths in 2012 that collectively made an impact on my life, I began wondering in earnest what happens to us when we die and went on a bender of reading and attending lectures that addressed the topic. It’s been about six months since I came out of that phase, but the immersion in it will stay with me forever.

On this day, Lorna Byrne, the Irish mystic, came to mind. I’d read her memoir and had heard her speak in New York. She sees angels around all of us, has seen them since she was a child, and explains that there is a greater angel presence in churches and cemeteries. I’m not certain of anything in this realm, but I do believe there is an after life and that a kind of relationship with the dead is ongoing. And I also believe I was feeling all of that in Salzburg at that moment, the enormity of the question and its possible answers.

So no, I didn’t take a picture of this place I was led to by a beloved movie. But this, this account I’m bringing you here, is my snapshot. A feeling of a whole different dimension captured for eternity.

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