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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Hills are Alive by John von Daler

                You could say that Oklahoma had not prepared me very well for #Austria. My summer vacations in the Southwest had all melted together into something like a scene from a musical, the cast in jeans and calico belting out "Surrey with a Fringe on Top": horses, water, grass, dust, sun, bicycles, hamburgers and lemonade. Mom's territory. Now you are probably thinking that Austria, Dad's place, just had to turn into "Sound of Music". Sorry. We landed someplace between Amadeus and Arnold Schoenberg. End of comparison.

                We knew the South and Southwest and the myths of Mom's family almost too well. We could touch and feel and smell the summer nights in Drummond, Oklahoma, without ever having been there. But when Dad got transferred to New York and we finally got to Europe, we had to work our way through that heavy black curtain, World War II, to reach whatever myths that silent man was holding back. Austria was different than I expected and it was not peopled with kindly Mark Twain eccentrics waiting to share their yarns.
                In #Kitzbühel a towering old waiter in a black suit and white apron did run out to our car panting, "Herr Daler! Herr Daler!" Dad had worked at the Grand Hotel as an accountant in his young days while his family vacationed in a house in town. But here the stories and myths almost stopped. Since the early thirties Dad had been in South America and America. Kitzbühel had stayed where it was. Need I say more?
                I was fourteen on this particular vacation and no one had to caution me not to "mention the war". I was into girls and a glass of wine and swimming in the pool.
                With a certain amount of prodding my mother did get my father to tell a little. When he wasn't sifting receipts for room service in that great, old establishment he had gone hiking - on the Kitzbüheler Horn. He used to walk all the way to the top where he stopped at the old inn and drank a glass of goats milk.
                Now I had done all my mother's Oklahoma stuff, so I started to plan my attack on this little bit of my father's almost invisible past. A walk up the Horn! But first I had to work my way through an ill-timed date with an English girl I had danced with the night before. She met me in the morning dressed in ankle-length toreadors, a revealing blouse and high heels. We made it to the bottom of the first stage of the ski-lift. No myths met that day. Just real life.
                The next morning I was up early again. The kitchen had made a little package of food for me. I took off in jeans and sneakers for the Horn, literally walking in my father's footsteps.
                I started at a brisk pace up the little dirt path. There were raspberry bushes along the way. They were untouched, so I ate my fill without stopping. On the first stretch where you looked back on the roofs of the little town I passed an old woman in black walking in slow motion. She muttered "Grüss Gott!" and I left her behind. A swift pace took me through the trees to one opening after another where the beautiful valley appeared and vanished and the town started to look like the toy city on my recently dismantled train set.
                About half way up I ran out of breath and stopped at a bench to eat my sandwiches. In the middle of a chewy roll with salami and swiss cheese, I looked up to see the little old lady stride past at exactly the same plodding pace. We did not grüss gott this time. I decided to take my time, drank some water and enjoyed the view. Finally, I got up and walking at an easier pace I continued towards the top. I never saw her again.
                Soon the trees started thinning out and I could see the bare mountain tops and the strings of ski-lifts all pointing towards God and humming with small cars filled with tourists who looked like tiny lilies of the valley in the fist of a giant.
                After another hour I reached the top and the inn which also was the destination for one of the lifts. Suddenly the mountain had been populated again. The many wooden tables were filled with tourists and their children. They were hungry, out of sorts, active as worker bees, and buzzing. I found a corner of a table for eight and waited my turn. When the irritated waitress in a dirndl and a frown finally reached me I pointed to the remains of my food and asked if I might eat it there with a nice glass of goat's milk.
                She looked at me as if I were Rip van Winkle back from bowling.
                "Goat's milk!?" she said and focussed her eyes on my right shoulder. She turned a little to the side as if whispering to the giggling audience, "Summer in Tyrol", act II, the city dunce has just made his entrance. Now he will get what he deserves.
                "Goat's milk..." she hissed. "You can have a small, a medium or a large coke." Then she looked first to God for help and then down into the valley. I repeated her gesture silently, as we each looked with different thoughts at the same incredible view: that green valley located in the lap of the alps somewhere between myth and reality.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces below. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!

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