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[Editorial Note: Any mistakes in German are of course all MEIN, but such is my attempt to infuse my writing with true code switching, to explode any sense of cultural purity or provincialism and to bring myself to a new place based in transformative lifelong learning, in this case hopefully to make German a new part of my outlook as a global citizen. Photos (minus one exception) and ALL glitches, likewise, are MEIN, for which I ask your kind patience, dear reader.]
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[PHOTO: Grounds of the Schloss Leopoldskron, upon my arrival.]
Little Robbin is nine years old and plays füssball (but not Amerikanische). He shows off Dinosaurien picture books and tries to play puzzles with me on a Lufthansa magic-pad. But I hardly understand what he’s saying, as he rattles off like any kid anywhere and emotes with explosions and death-rattle sound effects.
Thankfully, he’s a kid and doesn’t care that I look at him blankly when he asks questions and I answer, “Augenblick, noch einmal? Was bedeutet das? Wie sagt man [BLANK] auf Deutsch? Wiederholen Sie bitteÂ…”
As the plane from Frankfurt descends into Salzburg, Robbin points out the mountains of Österreich. He tells me that he too will be in Salzburg for eine Woche, and perhaps we’ll see each other on the return plane.
And so went my first conversation in broken hoch Deutsch. (Aside from Frankfurt airport security, who kindly asked me to take off mein Gürtel, aber ist am besser mit Gürtel als ohne.)
What did everyone say? “It’s so beautiful, you will love it!” Mountains, placid footpaths, medieval castles, dungeons, dudes in Lederhosen. Don’t hate me because I yodel so wonderfully. All touristy stuff, to be sure.
But I have arrived at Schloss Leopoldskron, site of the Salzburg Global Seminar. I am here for City Colleges faculty development, to cull and bring home ideas for global initiatives. I truly have no idea how significant this piece of travel will end up being to me, how it will shatter old presumptions and bring me to the vertigo of new horizons, transcending what anyone might now tell me is “possible” and “impossible”.
The toilets are labeled with a genteel “WC” — where does this originate? “Water closet”? “Wo ist die WC?” Such a mannered mode of making one’s way to the commode. But these are the best toilets I have ever seen in the world.
Yet I can’t sleep, and so I flip on the Fernseher to some channel that looks like cable access bit-through with German enunciation. Kids with shorn, multi-colored mops speak in animated nic-fits through smoke and lip-piercings as they lounge in a communal flat, later camping out between the gutter and the metro entrance. Are they German? Austrian?
So CUTE: They remind of my college friends in their cheap second-hands and DIY do’s.
I lie back and listen to their speech in cadences and clefts that spill out in randomly recognizable vocabulary. What are their lives like? What would they think of this Amerikaner? I must return to Europe with better German, to answer these questions.
For now, a stroll through the Schloss grounds, this manorial, palatial estate cloaked in marble and baroque flourishes. No one out, no one near, dim lights far off, and silence.
“You see, I love this place that I have grown to know,
Alright, North America.
And yeah, I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot-pole
Cause we’re North Americans.
We are North American scum.
We’re North Americans.
We are North American scum.
We’re North American.”

The main lecture for tonight features Reinhold Wagnleitner — a Salzburg native and New Orleans jazz aficionado — speaking about perceptions of America outside of the U.S.
And the prognosis is not pretty — we are dumb, fat, gullible, politically regressive ogres who don’t even speak good English! “We are North American scum!” So goes an unscientific survey of various Salzburgians. The presentation ends with the LCD Soundsystem audio file, whose irony and caustic play seem lost on most of my colleagues.
I tell them that I am ready to wear the T-shirt in my travels to self-identify as such SCUM. Reinhold suggests this is NOT a good idea.
Somehow, this reminds of last night. While recovering from jet lag, I took a stroll by myself into the unlit post-Mitternacht darkness of Salzburg near my Schloss. Hearing the sounds of geese and insects and slathering brooks while gazing into the distant lights of the main Salzburg fortress eased my mind a bit, and then I saw a teenager, a “hoodie” all hip-hopped out, and I wanted to ask, when he walked by with a mumbled “wie geht’s”: YO MAN, where is it GOING DOWN tonight? Where’s DAS SPOT?
On my way back, I see a placard advertising the “Mama Africa” fest: “EXOTISCH! EROTISCH! ANDERS! (‘Something else!’).” Tell me, mein little Freund, where to find the ANDERS…!
This stroll reminds me that, as much as I’d like to partake in a New Yorker or Chicagoan big-city SCUM identity, I am still a small-town boy who grew up in an isolated community of 3,000 souls. So my reactions, my credulity, my sentiments will ALWAYS be small-town.
And yet I try to mix into my speech the “ahs” und “ehs” und “na ja”s and “und so weiter”s (“etcetera”s) of a real German speaker. Why not? (I learn later that I could’ve asked the hoodie, “Wo hängst du ab?” WHERE YOU BE HANGIN’?)
Today, after a long morning and afternoon of lectures and situation in small action groups, I have a chance to waltz into the Zentrum of Salzburg, the downtown area carved out of mountains and scenic, small streets of quaint attraction. I stroll with J.L. from Harold Washington and Andy from Bronx College, and we stop for some Bier and have the most wonderful conversation about our homelands and peoples and passions.
[PHOTO: Salzburg Zentrum]
I don’t feel so alone anymore in my shy, small-town shoes, as J.L. speaks about Guadeloupe in the West Indies and Andy talks about Arkansas.
After tonight’s keynote, I soak up vibes in the Bierstube, the Schloss-cellar “soakhole” (as we might call it in Chicago).
Time to watch more cable access auf Deutsch.
We meet for more seminar lectures about sustainable development and teaching global ecological responsibility.
In my mind, I see “the globalized campus” as a scene from Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, in which students at InterZone University arrive on sandaled foot, in rickshaws, by camel, via pogo stick and rollerskate — veiled, robed, and costumed in a schizophrenic swath of fashion. Updated Burroughs would have them working on abacus, Texas Instruments calculator, TRS-80 computer, and iPhone.
The capacious Schloss, with high-ceilinged horizons, allows me to play with these mental fancies, as our guest speaker from Toronto (and a major UNESCO contributor), Chuck Hopkins, speaks about rolling back environmental destruction and dreaming of ways to “have enough for all, forever,” on this planet.
Through continued rain outside the seminar-room windows, Chuck runs down scenarios out of my childhood sci-fi fantasies, a la Soylent Green or The Omega Man: over-fishing and the collapse of entire species, crashing wildlife systems, vast majorities of the poor in mega-city slums living on pennies per day, potable water crises, ecological footprints that leave smoking craters, and trash-heap shanties without sanitation or toilets popping up in “the developing world,” which is in fact MOST of the world.
(I remember Chuck’s story last night at the Bierstube over many bottles of local Stiegl, talking about the time he sassed a U.S. customs official about how great it would be to make Canada the 51st state of the Union because the U.S.A. would thus become a nation of overwhelmingly majority Democrats.)
Time for another coffee, a communal tobacco-round, and Bierstube chats in the Schloss cellar, perhaps a foosball tournament…
The display menu at Zweistein gay bar in downtown Salzburg seems to suggest a progression: ENERGY TRINKEN, POPPERS, GUMMI. “Was ist Gummi?” Our kind bartender answers, “A good kind of condom, would you like?”
I find myself at this place and hour (post-midnight) with J.L. from Chicago and Alexander, Cubano-descent professor from New York. We’ve made our way here after our seminar duties, having walked downtown and gotten lost, then re-oriented with the help of a Greek waiter who gave me directions in broken Deutsch, Greek, and English.
After a bit of lollygagging and skylarking, we cross one of the bridges over a roaring river, then find the Hotel Stein Terasse — a roof-top bar with the perfect panorama for vistas up in the Salzburg skyline. (Across the way at some other peak, sparklers and roman candles flare.)
At this place, we treat ourselves to mojitos and pils, in the company of Aussies, Asians, and assorted Ausländers. Discussing cinema, literature, and art through an alcoholic haze iced by cigarette smoke, we are most impressed with our eventual visit to the WC.
In fact, Hotel Stein’s toilet is the grandest, most immaculate, and comfortable latrine I’ve ever seen. (J.L. and Alexander agree heartily.) Marble, exceedingly pleasant design, and an automatic hand-cream dispenser make me feel like Beavis and Butthead discovering the self-flushing urinal.
“Ich bin Ausländer aber nicht dumm!”
But the Terasse shuts down at midnight, our Wanderlust not yet satisfied. From the Hotel Stein to Zweistein, I try out my German for directions, drinks, and small talk. I have become crafty enough to draw out Deutsch Sprechers and have them actually answer me IN GERMAN! (Of course, once they start to rattle off responses, they realize I’m not a native speakerÂ…and yet, this is a kind of communications coup, something I can’t quite pull off in Spanish when the nationalist native ear roots out my tongue.)
And at Zweistein, disco lights and syntho-pop keep us content in this smallish bar also equipped with spacious toilets (where male and even female couples sometimes disappear for a minute or two, or three)Â….
In this toilet, I find postcards emblazoned with anti-IV drug propaganda and imprints of Pamela Anderson, proving what I’ve heard about Euro-popularity of Baywatch reruns.
As we jump into our waiting cab, I talk to the driver, Wolfgang from Innsbruck, who points out the nearby club featuring Salsa Nacht, but we three are ready to head back to the Schloss and nurse ourselves through the night into next morning’s lecture.
[PHOTO: Festung Hohensalzburg]
Hiking up the steep incline to the main Salzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) with colleagues, we rest near the Torture Tower over beer, enjoying the bulwarks of medieval Austrian defense and punishment.
Afterwards, a stroll through the Zentrum leads me with a few others to Media Markt, a sort of Euro-style Best Buy. J.L wants to scope out the jazz CDs, but the first thing I see on the rack is fellow Texan Kinky Friedman‘s classic, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore. This is, of course, a cosmic sign that I really must buy this record.
With a quick adventure on public transit, it’s back to the Schloss for an Austrian-style barbecue.
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[PHOTO: Benjamin geht in den Zentrum.]
In the high and wide Raum of the Schloss library, thoughts unravel and realign. The view framing this screen expands such sentiments, with ideas shooting up the sides of mountains and over across into Germany, past that, to London and then maybe Helsinki.
I must trace my way backwards.
Today, a contentious working-group meeting, like trying to grab hold of a greased pig.
This morning, a lecture with two liter bottles of water, to replenish and rehydrate.
Last night (also this morning?), shutting down the Great Hall, burning down the Bierstube, conversations in every direction like a train on fire, like a runaway semi-truck barreling down the side of a California cliff, just a’riding them brakes all the way downÂ…
Arguments, accented with a pounding fist to the table, defending the lecture that pissed almost everybody (but not me) off, about “CORE” and “PERIPHERY” systems in this globalized world, and coming back around to feeling like I am a conservative among academics.
“Extremism in defense of moderation is no vice.”
Some of us left the periphery to come to the core, to get an education, to move up and perhaps fulfill parents’ dreams. And so why have we not returned to the periphery? Well isn’t that obvious? Or should we perhaps disavow every single advantage, then, and do penance? In which case, I should move back to Texas and immediately offer myself up for Homeland Security removal.
No? What then?
Connections with our International Studies Program faculty: Reinholdt signs his book, Satchmo Meets Amadeus, for me. Dr. Bill Reckmeyer (ISP faculty) talks NBA as his paradigm to describe the structures of power and suggest how we might develop a model of cooperative competition. The realities of Realpolitik and the urge from some academics to keep hands clean in the realm of criticism: We know so much about what we’re against, but what are we FOR and what do we DO about it?
And how do we get there? Reactions from the heart are OK, but what about the head? And how to use our hands, to get to a better place if not the best place, a new world?
And then the “informal optionals,” the impromptu gay/straight alliance in which I was the hetero-ambassador. The post-barbecue savor of Austrian baked beans and elotes segues into Stiegl after Stiegl after Stiegl, and wine, and nicotine, and discourse past 3am over a knocked-out colleague, to the tune of piano doodles, of waltzes and salsa.
I am starting to feel the fire, to sense the most magnetic pull to wander more, to write, to meet new people in Johannesburg and Dubai, to take that walk instead of just talking so much talk, to make new colleagues in every nook and cranny possible.
And before all of this, walking into the Media Markt after the Festung, searching for CDs with J.L., Corey, and Maria. The first thing I see on the racks is Kinky Friedman, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore. COSMIC, that I should see this CD (with some German liner notes) from my fellow Texan and his “Ride ’em JewboysÂ…”
As far away as I can find myself, home pops up just around the corner. So keep looking, keep turning down these tiny streets, keep hiking up the Festung, get lost, take the bus, jump in a cab, and then bust out on the foosball table. Win/lose, then strike out in the darkness down that unfamiliar path.
Weiter. Noch Weiter. And then a break along the way, opening into stands of trees, babbling brooks. “Ãœber meine Mütze/ Nur die Sterne.” Over my head/ Nothing but stars.
JEDERMANN: Final Destination IV (The Salzburg Shuffle)
I’ve been going through music withdrawal, so I stroll into the hills with my iPod, and I must be an odd feature or strike an einzige pose, as motorists seem to set their gaze at me.
But Amadeus does finally rock me, in the Great Hall of the Schloss, at that. While lots of colleagues settle in the cellar Bierstube, I roll into the Great Hall by myself and hook my iPod Shuffle up to a stereo.
Portraits with powdered wigs and ornate frocks look down on me as I bop to Control Machete, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bonde do Role, Johnny Horton, Esteban Jordan. Tejano melds into indie into Mex-Hop into country. This is my baroque mash-up. (Reinhold names it in French, “Texe-Mexe,” and we double over with laughter.)
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[PHOTO: in the Great HallÂ…]
A few friends join my solo party, and we commence to pop-locking, shaking, freaking, and generally jubilating. “OK, let’s get down TO IT boppers! CAN YOU DIG IT?!!!”
Funny, but the iPod, which has been so maligned by academic disdain for materialist culture, now is the party Prime Mover. JUST GET INTO ITÂ…
And I won’t tell you at what time I collapsed into my own private Idaho of dreams.
Next morning’s lecture brings us Mary Catherine Bateson, who admits to “sounding off” and preaching (just a bit) from the bully pulpit. But I glean many ideas and bon mots.
“Cybernetics makes poets of us.” Systems theory leads us to metaphorical thinking in order to describe the interface of human and other, to align our minds with an inter-connected reality that we can put words to, one that we can articulate lyrically.
Afterwards, somehow, back to arguments in defense of Bill Reckmeyer’s systems analysis, which continues to work colleagues’ nerves as a sort of “colonialist position,” so they say. NONSENSE! I keep at this grindstone of misunderstanding and, as Bill put it, this separation of the heart from the head and hands.
Nonetheless, in my own moments of decompression, I dig through so much from Bateson’s lecture, especially her reference to the Salzburg Festival’s adaptation of Everyman, the mystery play, still one of my favorite medieval-British pieces of drama.
In this Austrian-baroque version, mounted in the center of town with actors declaiming from towers and turrets, “Jedermann” plays out the allegory of our Final Destination. On a voyage of redemption, he must prepare to meet Death with the help of the Virtues in order to purge himself of Vices, so to enter into the Kingdom. He must do penance through literal lashing of the body, the drawing of blood like unto that of Christ himself.
And then, the proclamation from his adversary: “I AM DEATH, THAT NO MAN FEARS.” (I remember this line from the play and the GRE, which asked if Death fears no man or if no man fears DeathÂ…well, which do you think???)
This is our common destiny, and not one restricted to Christians. This is our paradigm of universal human journey through life. This is the kind of globalized thinking we are trying to accomplish here, to imagine ourselves interconnected instead of fragmented, and all on the same path going THAT way.
Remember, also: “Jeder Mann macht eine kleine Dummheit!”
My charge now: To find the script of Jedermann in German, to read it and practice my Deutsch, so I can come back next year to the Salzburg Festival and go on this allegorical journey too, to imagine where I shall one day end and how I will have walked these few miles, however many, left on my meandering way to wherever I am going.
Notes scattered between suitcase and cerebrum, I dash off my final thoughts on Salzburg from the tail-end of the Global Seminar and my experiences at the International Studies Program.
On my last night out, the cab back to the Schloss from Salzburg Zentrum putts along with a driver from Sierra Leone in West Africa. He has lived here 30 years and has a family of his own, as well as cousins and assorted relatives. We chat in German for the five-minute ride, because he doesn’t have much English (though he speaks Austrian Deutsch and two of the nine or so dialects in Sierra Leone). He is a kind, wise soul who helps me along with my sentence structure.
This is part and parcel of my experience, to come to Österreich and meet someone from Africa who teaches me Europe.
And when I finally arrive back in my Chicago cloister, a telephone conversation with my sister clues me into my own true global identity, as she has researched our genealogy and found a sailor great-grandfather who came to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, directly from a part of Spain settled by Sephardic Jews. And we have great-grandparents also from the Chichimecas of Morelos, México.
Through Spain, I am Jew and Moor, European and African. Through México, I am indigenous, pre-Columbian, First People, and on back to the Siberian land bridge, which gives me Asia.
A conversation from Salzburg remains with me, in which a colleague talks about the Chicano sense of “Our People,” but this is not my conception, for I can tap into greater sense of self, a true global citizenship, than just noting the obvious: my American racial, ethnic, and class background. “My People” are greater than just my skin tone. My new sense of global identity makes me so much more than someone bound by a crude sense of “community” rooted only in the historic adversity of North America.
My People, for example, congregate in transitory zones of movement and self-transformation, maybe at a bar in Salzburg where Germans want to distinguish themselves from Austrians and vice-versa, where music students from Malmö, Sweden, pick up hip-hop and East Asian tastes, where others yet hunger for jazz created by African-Americans yet produced and distributed by Jews, all influenced by the heritage of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the classical culture scattered across the globe by anti-Semitism, coming all the way back, full-circle, when we hear the creative re-interpretations of classical structures brought to us by Louis Armstrong, from New Orleans, from the Creole and Euro and Juden whose blood and passion forged hearty, dynamic diasporas.
And now, to pick up all the pieces and put them together, to gather my scattered notes and see if I missed something, perhaps to stroll to the lake and read my new colleague’s ruminations on Satchmo Meets Amadeus, to think about yet another new colleague’s potent analysis of what I should do next, to pursue my global citizenship through acquiring greater power and position in the interests of leadership, leverage for progress, and (ultimately) a sustainable Earth for us all.
To start with the tongue, with true code switching, not just the limited and pained kind pushed by Chicano brethren, but with every lingo I can wrap my lengua around. Because one can make any language one’s own, but with an effort based in the desire to know, respect, and assume these cultures as “one’s own.”
To put myself out there and continuously turn my world upside-down, like at the Salzburg Global Studies Seminar, where I had the most intense presentation of my life in front of my new world heroes.
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[…photo thanks to ISP CD, Salzburg Global Seminar]
(On one side, the panel with tough questions; on the other, the yellow and red cards of over-time execution; in front of me, hard-working representatives from American colleges and universities; and me in the middle, a “flyboy in the buttermilk” who could have never anticipated this moment back on those dusty, South Texas streets.)
To make the connections when I see a concert like our ISP final banquet treat, a precious gem of a show with pianist and singer Valerie Capers and bassist John Robinson — especially when I hear Cuban charanga and an entire salsa combo unleashed from only two musicians, themselves geniuses and ambassadors of world culture.
To add German and multiply by Spanish, just for starters, and then repeat. Wiederholen Sie bitte.
Allow me some time to turn piecework into a plan. Allow me leeway to wring juice from my soul that will nourish a greater sense of self, more rootless and cosmopolitan yet more unified and pacific and gustatory, integrated and plugged into this great world.
Grant me, dear reader, the time and space to connect with you in the most meaningful way, one that envisions an equitable world for us all and speaks to you with the respect and filial affection due My People.

[VIDEO: Closing footage of yours truly, shot by yours truly — CLICK PLAY.]
“Everybody keeps on talking about it… nobody’s getting it done
I’m tired, tired, tired now of listening, listening… knowing that the ship’s gotta run

Everybody keeps on pushing and shoving… nobody’s, got the guts
You owe me ti-ti-time, now they’re writing me in… I’m gonna act like I should

Everybody keeps on listening in… Nobody listening up

Everybody keeps on talking about it… nobody’s getting it done

I’m tired, tired, tired now of listening, listening… knowing that the ship’s gotta run, just gotta run…
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah… yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah-yeah, yeah… yeah, hey, hey, hey, hey”

–“Yeah,” LCD Soundsystem

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