As I stared across the night-time vista of Salzburg and gazed between the spires and domes of a plethora of churches to find the turrets and parapets of castles and fortresses, my eyes fixed on a rather large white box. The garish sign blazoned across its entrance reminded me of an out of town sportswear supermarket. That it is not, it is the Museum of Modern Art.
Before you get worried I am not about to embark on a rant against planning decisions, or provide a comprehensive review of Salzburg’s architecture. Instead this was something that got me thinking. It disrupted my thoughts and sent them on an entirely different track.
Perhaps I should set the scene. I had gone away on holiday on my own with a train pass purchased and a return flight booked from nearly 1000 miles away. The first stop on my tour was Salzburg in Austria and I had only allocated 22 hours before moving onto Vienna.
I started off determined to do everything that there was to do in Salzburg, yet by mid afternoon, my flight had only landed at 10.45, I was a little worried that I would run out of places to visit. Being a tourist isn’t just about doing things, it is about enjoying the ambience of a place, breathing the air that the locals breathe and other such nonsense.
So my slightly revised action plan kicked into gear. I decided to enjoy some wheat beer while sat in a tavern in Fortress Hohensalzburg, and in the evening went into the 300 year old Cafe Tomaselli to savour some cake and coffee while watching the world go by. Oh, and I read a book. I like to read.
As I visit different places and am not numbed by familiarity, thoughts that had previously been dry and academic come to life. Sometimes it is self-reflection, probably a bit too much of that, and at other times the things around me. I have found God in some of the most unusual places, and other times I long to have something profound to say and nothing comes. Yet I see God at work all over the place. And that most unusual place, well that’s me. The fact that God chooses to work in my life astounds me.
This is the start of me trying to explain what Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt is, it’s going to take a while, I’ll pop in and out, and hopefully you’ll start to get the picture. Some of the examples from my life you may find just down right quirky. I may have some explaining to do to a few people. But in at least some I hope the lessons are universal.
Anyway, back to Salzburg. Before I went back to the Youth Hostel I thought there was plenty of time left for a little more sightseeing. I wandered along a magnificent little street where the houses on one side are built into the cliff face. Actually, I walked along it one and a half times as I realised I had joined halfway along so went back to the start to do it from the beginning.
The final item on that day’s itinerary (Yes, I had made itineraries for each of the eleven days I was to be away.) was a walk up a hill on the opposite side of town to a convent to catch a night-time panorama of Salzburg. It was when I reached the summit and sat on a convenient park bench on a specially located viewing platform that I was confronted with this glaring floodlight white building.
It had struck me as I was walking (for the second time) down this quaint street and up the hill that you just cannot ‘do’ ambience. And when you try, annoying little things like modern architecture shatter the pretence. Something can seem real enough but really it is just a show.
In the same way that you cannot just do ambience, can we ‘do’ God?
I don’t think you can. And when you try, you generally sell either yourself or God short, and usually both.
Because God is not something that can be summed up in a whistle stop visit or captured on a postcard. There is no one-hour audio guide available in ten different languages with special versions for children in German, Italian and English.
God is not sanitised, convenient, or marketed to the masses.