Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Young Adolf



Chronicle of a young man in a hurry, from The Adorations.

Adolf strode ahead, swinging his cane. Stefanie hurried after him like a meek hausfrau, somewhat resenting this (but he was a man, he was an Austrian...). He was talking over his shoulder as they descended the stairs from the bridge and came onto the Donaulände. Stefanie caught the tail end of his peroration.
            “Vienna in October, you know, to study at the Academy. Perhaps sooner, except I will be sitting the admittance exam then. In any case, after I pass the exam I plan to keep a studio there and maintain my residence here, in Urfahr, with my mother. My mother is not well, these days. Too much worrying about her children, but this is so typical of mothers, ja? Or perhaps I will take an apartment on the Graben, depending on the extent of my artistic success.” He slowed down, again aware of her. “You must come to visit me, Fraulein Stefanie!”
      “Yes. I’d like to.”
            Vienna! She’d been to Munich, a nice town and more worldly than Linz, certainly; but Vienna, she knew from her reading, and letters from her Kahane cousins, was on another scale entirely: Habsburgs and the Hofburg! glamor! the theater! the arts! Herrn Klimt, Schnitzler and Mahler! The Opera! Lehar!
            “Everything absolutely respectable, of course. Absolutely. Yes, I am an artist,” dreamy I-am-an-artist expression wafting across Adolf’s features, “above all I am an artist, God be thanked, but please don’t think that because of that I have no morals, no, no, I have the utmost respect, believe me. Not that I...”
            He slowed down to interrupt himself, gave her a sidelong glance, slyly. True to prim form, Stefanie smiled, placidly awaiting resumption of the monologue. Inwardly she was assessing him, responding to his peacock-display: almost handsome, with those blue eyes, that mobile mouth, but not quite, with that beak of a nose, that oddly weak chin; but he was hardly ugly, and by no means stupid, a bit self-important, in fact pompous in the extreme when he started on his ideas, like so many men she knew, but he was passionate, at least, unlike most men, and so utterly courteous when he was paying attention to her that he was almost like a character in the theater, as if he’d only rehearsed his good manners, never practiced them. Most of all, he was an artist, and a good one, judging by the watercolors he’d shown her with that same odd combination of self-effacement and arrogance: Pah, it’s nothing, only genius!  He was a real artist, anyway, not just a talker, although a talker he certainly was, too . . . of course this was all part of the artistic personality, or so she’d heard.
            “Not that I am incapable, or unaware,” he resumed, standing with his hands behind his back, wagging the cane gently from side to side like a headmaster about to administer punishment. “Of shall we say, oh I don’t know, deeper feelings? As in, as with—have you seen Tristan and Isolde, Fraulein Stefanie? I saw it last year in Vienna. Magnificent! But perhaps you are too young...?”
            (Another quality he had was that of conveying his own nervous energy, almost to a fault: She felt slightly giddy, unsure yet elated at the same time, as if a great wonderment awaited.)
            “No. No, I haven’t seen it, but not because I’m too young, Adolf. My father wouldn’t let me.”

            Young she was, barely eighteen, but eighteen, in that day and age, was young no longer; girls were mothers by then, and farmwives, and courtesans. Naivete was for the spoiled, ignorance for the extremes of rich and poor. Stefanie was neither especially naive nor ignorant, and, although spoiled, as is normal with an only child, she had sufficient grace and spiritual wherewithal to temper the effects. The worst that could be said of her was that she was, perhaps, overly hopeful and determined, but these were, for the most part, qualities derived from her solid stock, the von Rothenbergs of Salzburg and environs. Her father, Herr Doktor Hermann, physician and part-time church organist, claimed descent from the same minor nobility as the great poet and dramatist Hans von Rothenberg; yet “minor” was hardly apt in view of the way he carried on in all of Salzburg’s best salons, for all the world as if his name were Habsburg. It was arrogance, but it imbued his daughter with a self-confidence and assuredness well beyond her years, qualities that normally come, if at all, only in opposition to life’s unremitting tests. That self-confidence had enabled her to accept young Herr Hitler’s invitation. It hadn’t deserted her yet, but she felt it wavering at his mention of Tristan and Isolde, undermined by the suspicion that Adolf was, in his clumsy way, coming around to a declaration of some kind. Certainly mentioning that opera was a sign of unusual, not to say cosmopolitan, interests. Tristan and Isolde was still frowned upon in certain formal family circles like her own: Her father was wont to call Wagner “that Italian,” implying not the glories of that nationality but the perceived over-amorousness, the lack of restraint, emotional extravagance...in brief, she knew the story, the great sweep of romantic passion, Nordic sensibilities allied to universal demands of the flesh.

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