Thursday, July 8, 2010
No mountains in Indiana where I grew up. The first serious mountains I saw were The Alps in Bavaria. I still remember rounding a curve in the road in my boss's deluxe 1956 Oldsmobile and coming upon an amazing view that to a hick from the sticks seemed almost too beautiful to be real. We didn't say "Wow" in those days but my eyes spoke the exclamation for me. I probably said "Jesus!" or "Oh my god!"
Philip Hamburger, a writer whose work often appeared in the "Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker was also impressed with his first similar view: In 1995, in "Letter from Berchtesgaden" he wrote: "I walked to the window and was staggered by the jagged, snowcapped Bavarian Alps. Their beauty is of a magnitude touching the threshold of pain."
When composers Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter were passing beneath the Austrian Alps, Mahler said to Walter, "No need to look, I have already composed them." (And Mahler, upon his first view of Niagara Falls, shouted, "At last, a real fortissimo!")
In an early autobiography called Lions and Shadows, Christopher Isherwood writes of his first view of The Alps:
Next morning the sunshine woke us early. Chalmers,
with whom I shared a room, was the first out of bed;
yawning, stretching himself, he hobbled over to the
window, started back in mock horror: 'Good God!
Mont Blanc confronted us, dazzling, immense, cut
sharp out of the blue sky; more preposterous than the
most baroque wedding cake, more convincing than
the best photograph. It fairly took my breath away.
It made me want to laugh.
'I don't believe it!'
'Neither do I!'