European Diary

Under Sicilian Eyes

The last time I was in Austria was embarrassingly long ago, but I recall one characteristic moment.  We were staying in a tiny hotel that occupied the second and third floors of a handsome Viennese townhouse, and once, well past midnight, we rang the wrong bell.  Whereupon the paterfamilias of the first-floor apartment appeared on the doorstep in his dressing gown and began apologizing for having answered the bell that, alas, was not meant for him and his kin.

In the morning, while coming down the stairs past the first-floor landing, we noticed a brass plaque next to the bell, beseeching guests of the hotel not to ring it in error.  It is quite likely, in other words, that the hotel’s guests had made a nuisance of themselves already in the days of the empire, and that the grandfather of the present occupant used to get out of bed to answer the bell’s misdirected summons long before Gavrilo Princip saw the opportunity to dispose of the heir presumptive.  And yet, for three generations, these people remained polite, preferring to polish their brass plaque where an Italian bourgeois would shriek “Maleducati!” and an English one would set the dogs on you.

I am writing this from a heavenly spot in the godforsaken wilds of the mitteleuropäischer Kulturraum, somewhere between Salzburg and Linz, where my wife is rehearsing for a recording. ...

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