Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What my work is sometimes like

...when not editing my book. Have just been to Salzburg to interview a great soprano.

Monday 8 August: call from editor offering the job. Sounds fantastic. I haven't been to Salzburg for 10 years. Agree to drop everything and run.

Monday 15 August: leave house 2pm, train to Waterloo, tube to Bank, walk to Liverpool Street, Stansted Express to Stansted Airport. Meet press officer & photographer, stand in check-in queue for 3/4 of an hour with half of eastern Britain off for its summer hols. Fortunately we are not flying BA from Heathrow. 6pm take off into warm evening sun. 8.45pm arrive local time Salzburg, where someone in the sky has left a tap running. We leg it to the terminal building in our light summer sandals. Morose taxi driver takes us to hotel, whence it is too wet to even consider a gentle stroll up to the Mozartplatz. As for the festival, Cecilia Bartoli & Andras Schiff started their recital at 9pm and it is now 9.30pm, so we can't go there either. We spend a pleasant evening in the hotel restaurant eating spaghetti carbonara, then crash out.

Tuesday 16 August: the rain in Salzburg stays mainly on the press trip team. Press officer is taken ill (result of spaghetti carbonara or chilly, wet weather?). Taxi transfer to another hotel at 9am where record company has booked a suite for the day to accommodate photoshoot and interview. Soprano delayed on Austrian country roads by flooding. She eventually turns up looking bright and breezy, however, and next hour or so is in the hands of accomplished make-up and hair artist. I press my nose to wet glass and long to go out for a walk, but even with raincoat and umbrella this weather is seriously nasty and I don't fancy sitting in sodden jeans for the rest of the day. Press officer has to lie down. The 'Festspielhavs' [the hall's lettering boasts an odd 'u'] offers a morning concert at 11am: a typically earnest, heavyweight Salzburg programme full of Mahler songs. Can't handle Mahler at 11am, so remain a 'festspielhavnot'.

Photographer sets up & soprano appears in glorious concert gown looking several million dollars. The morning passes in a sea of raindrops and camera lights. 1pm: soprano is handed over to me and we lunch together in hotel cafe on the top floor, talking about Mozart while gazing at the Salzburg skyline, full of onion-domed churches and a romantic castle, which remains swathed in grey cloud and water. There are indeed mountains out there somewhere, she assures me... Great soprano talks about her repertoire, teaching, new CD and much more and I am immensely inspired by her insights, her intuition and her self-knowledge. At this moment, wet, tiring trip seems entirely worth it: one can learn a great deal from someone like this even if one can't sing!

2.30pm, great soprano goes home. Our plane isn't until 9pm so photographer, ailing press officer and I sit in cafe putting world to rights, wondering whether we can get out for a walk and see something of Salzburg. We decide against it. I wonder whether to text great violinist whose mobile number I have & who is possibly rehearsing nearby for a concert the next day, to see if I can gatecrash his rehearsal. Look at rain & decide against it: who'd keep a mobile on during a rehearsal anyway? Instead, sit in hotel suite all afternoon, trying to keep warm, drinking copious quantities of tea and reading biography of Margot Fonteyn.

6.30pm, stroll down to foyer, check out and ask for a taxi to the airport...

...and find that apparently there are no taxis to be had in the whole of Salzburg and EVERYBODY needs one. Girls at hotel desk ring every Salzburg taxi company on the internet, keep getting wrong numbers & eventually they begin to panic. An aging Austrian in black tie, accompanied by glamorous girl in high heels black suede shoes and waiting for taxi to concert at the Festspielhavs, yells at them and demands repeatedly, and of course counter-productively, whether they've even been trying. Festspielhavs is a gentle ten-minute stroll away, if that. We are aware that even if we'd got our act together earlier and booked taxi in advance, some irate festival-goer would have swiped it from under our suitcases. Traffic outside hotel door is solid. Rain tips out of sky. Panicking hotel girls retreat into Salzburgian intransigence. At 7pm it becomes clear that if we don't get out of there, fast, we may not make the plane. Press officer, who's been white until now, turns grey. Photographer needs a smoke and a pack horse for her gear. I persuade intransigent hotel girl to write down the best way to get to the airport by public transport and persuade the others to venture to nearest bus stop. A few minutes later we are at the Hauptbahnhoff, which naturally boasts a fine rank of waiting, unemployed taxis. Small airport is full of nerdy families with ballistic children waiting for last flight to Stansted.

Sit on plane reading, then stumble across a page about Nureyev that makes me realise one paragraph of my novel is full of nonsense about Russia because it's taking place ten years too late for that period of history; decide that I have to make a particular character ten years older than he is, which could cause severe complications given that I'm proofing and am not supposed to change anything. Spend rest of trip in blind despair wondering how stupid I've been in other parts of book...

10pm descend from plane. 10.50pm, luggage slowly gasps its way onto carousel. 11.10 a bus condescends to take us to car park. Photographer gives me lift to west London, but exit from M11 to North Circular is closed so we almost end up in the Blackwall Tunnel. 12.20 we get to Acton and my knight in shining dinner jacket - the Tomcat, fresh from Glyndebourne - is waiting to collect me for the last leg of the journey. Start, slowly, to feel as if it's summer again. 12.35, home & hit the whisky.

ADDENDUM, 1pm: in today's Indy, my Proms preview about the great violinist I didn't see in Salzburg: Mr Kavakos - newly nicknamed, in our house, The Chocolate Fiddler (=Leonidas chocolates...). He's playing the Berg concerto at the Prom on 25th. Should be incredible.