Once upon a time in Austria

Once upon a time in Austria, on vacation, in Salzburg, I went to a classical music concert – Mozart, I think. This was in winter, just a week or so before Christmas. Snow dusted the tree branches overhead and the edges of railings beside and the puddles of frozen winter grass I walked past. Golden light spilled out of windows.

The concert took place in a pink marble room where the notes sparkled off the polished surfaces and the ceiling and the chandeliers soared far overhead and the concert-goers in stiff side chairs sat neatly arrayed in rows, listening. It was a chamber music concert, just four musicians. It was wonderful, like a window into another room, like a moment taken from a fairytale.

But the part that stays with me, as a surprise, years later, is this: that because it was winter, all of us concert-goers arrived wearing substantial, voluminous coats. And whereas in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or most other places I have been, we would all have waited in a coat-check line to hand our coats to a clerk in exchange for a tag or a token which we would then re-exchange for our coat again later, after the concert, after standing again in a line – in Austria there were simply large and substantial coat racks set up in the lobby, unattended. The racks gleamed with chrome and coat hangers. And we concert-goers, as we entered, simply hung up our coats on the hangers on the racks, and went in to the concert. Afterwards, on our way out, we returned to the lobby and retrieved our coats. No standing in line, no tags or tokens. No awkward uncertainty about whether or how much to tip the coat-check person.

And, as far as I know, no missing coats.

It was a wonderful experience.

Meditation on New Mexico’s green chile

The first time I tasted green chile I was nineteen years old

sun-struck

desert-struck

in love with sunburn with the desert with the wide ranges of the interstates with the sharp edges of the peaks standing out against the hot pale sky

in love with the August thunderstorms that broke the sky’s edge sent the red mud washing down the arroyos

sent torrents of water sheeting down the old truck’s windshield so fast the wipers couldn’t keep up and we had to pull over in order to see

in love with the sparse cool grass under the one tree

in love with the need for a sun-bleached hat with cowboy boots with the hard work that started with the drive out at dawn with the dirt on my skin and the way a wheelbarrow angles down a rough-cut path and the fit of a shovel in my hands and the smaller tools tucked into the back pockets of my jeans

If I found myself – one of my selves – for the first time when I reached the Mojave – partway there! – with the windows down and a stubborn refusal to turn on the air conditioning and had to soak my head under a tap at the rest stop to bring the focus and the cool back to my brain

If I found myself – one of my selves – when the oncoming lightning storm lifted the hair from my head and I felt the crackle in the air before running rushing back down the hill to make it down off the peak before the storm struck

If I found myself in the wide cut dirt of working outside and the chile in town just the right heat on weekends at the end of the day when the sky also opened up with stars and we tilted our heads back and there was so much space

then I am still all of those selves

and in these days of less space and less motion I am grateful for remembered heat

remembered past

remembered sun

remembered selves.

Photograph, memory

Last week I went looking online for photos from Pacific Repertory or Grovement’s theatrical productions in the 1990s. There were a lot of these: the Shakespeare Festival, the Human Chess Game, a bunch of other stuff – and I was in as many as I could get through auditions for. It was a huge part of my life for several years, and influenced who I am and how I act today in ways I probably still don’t really understand. Anyway, at work we were creating ‘life path’ slides for ourselves, to talk about significant personal history, and this seemed like a thing to include – so I went looking for photos. 

I found nothing. 

I mean, I found some WPA photos of the Forest Theater, where a lot of this happened, being built in the 1930s. I found a few news stories of Grovemont Theater’s being renamed to Pac Rep. I found photos and posters and reviews and all kinds of stuff for productions after, say, 2009. 

But for all the years before that – nothing. 

This got me thinking. As a high school kid, I was doing one of the most intentionally publicly visible things you can do – being on a stage, with makeup and lights and my voice carrying to the back rows of a packed house – and the whole thing left no public record, not of me, not of anyone else, not of the show itself. Whether I was great or terrible, however large or small my part, however large or small or thrilled or bored the audience – nothing. 

There’s a certain kind of freedom and satisfaction in this. Sure, I’d been hoping for a photo of myself in my Star Trek uniform, defending the galaxy with a coffeepot and a clipboard and the greatest knee-high boots I’d ever seen (the Human Chess Game tended heavily ridiculous), or a full-stage shot of all of us gender-bent broadsword carriers  brawling it out onstage at the end of Richard III (we used to practice the fight scenes with our eyes closed… when I say that teenagers have terrible judgment, I’m usually remembering myself). But on the other hand, I’m also free to remember those summers as I remember them, rather than as they were documented. If a particular post-rehearsal conversation lingers as monumental, okay. If I still vaguely regret the passing of O’Keane’s (O’Keen’s?), the bar we used to go to after shows, and the most amazing croissant and avocado sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, well, that makes sense. I remember the afternoon heat, and the scent of Coppertone Sport that even now smells to me like summer, and the baking-hot trailer where we changed into costume, and sneaking into the nearby hotel in full makeup to use a real restroom, and the cute older guy who ran the gelato place remembering all of us years later, and the kicked-up dust in the historic garden where we did a bunch of the Shakespeare, and the feel of that twenty-pound broadsword in my hand, swinging around to clang against Camille’s or Donovan’s equally-swinging broadsword, and Greg teaching me lighting and how to throw a dagger into a tree and make it stick and that’s it’s pretty much fine to test a 9-volt battery with your tongue, and stage falls, and the smell of sage burning in an abalone shell because after all this is the California coast and if you don’t smudge before the show, how will you bring the universe to you? and the sheer raw thrill of being onstage, with the lights and the audience and squinting out into the unknown dark and that word passed on from the stage manager – 

10 minutes. 

5 minutes. 

Curtain. 

and the indrawn breath – 

If I had photos at the time, would I remember it all so well?