Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Interlude At Linderhof

I sat enjoying the garden at Linderhof in Bavaria on a chill day that later broke warm sunlight over us, writing observations in a journal as I waited for the others to complete a palace tour. A bad heart, although at the time I thought it the flu, had benched me despite there being few stairs on the two-storey interior tour. I had taken the tour on a prior visit and I hoped our guests would enjoy the opulence of this jewel box of a mansion.

In the garden itself, families strolled, children chased swans and each other, and swaths of sun swept across the slope above the more formal fountains and walkways. Forests surrounded all this.

Behind the palace rose steeper hills, into one of which was set an artificial grotto. In it an artificial lake allowed Wagnerian swan boats to sail from amphitheater seats to the stage across the water, where opera would be performed for Mad King Ludwig. Tourists found this grotto only when guides opened a boulder in the hillside; Walt Disney had been inspired by this as much as by Ludwig’s other masterpiece, Neuschwannstein, only a few miles away.

Jotting notes, it struck me that my three children were likely too young to remember much of this. Our guests, my wife’s mother and her cousin, a retired school teacher, would benefit from it but not in any life-changing way. Capturing some of the scene’s charm, and breathing in the slightly warmed German air as wan sun tried to defeat the misty rain, seemed to me the best way to be in the moment, whether or not I used the setting later in fiction.

The day before, climbing 150 stairs in a tower at Neuschwannstein, I had been forced to pause for breath every ten steps or so, and older Germans had stopped, concerned for my heart. I’d laughed them off.

A few months later a heart attack at age 40 would prove them right, but at the time I thought I was merely feeling a bit under the weather from all the travel. My aches and pains were just a flu, I told myself. Had I died waiting in that lovely formal garden my kids would have missed saying goodbye and my wife’s quick smooch would have been our last touch.

For those few moments sitting in Linderhof’s garden, I imagined how it must have been for Ludwig, when the palace and gardens, the trails in the wooded hills, the walks down by the lake, and everything visible in that perfect little Bavarian valley had been his to enjoy in privacy. An interlude, I thought. A moment’s stillness amidst life’s turbulence.

That it still offered as much to those who accepted it made the place special, like an inadvertent last kiss.

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