The plan was to take the train to Salzburg (You say “ZAHLZborg” in your best Terminator impression) early so we could visit Mozart’s house (and ignore the places where they shot The Sound of Music), but we got lazy.
We took a walk instead, in the very Grimm Brothers forest by the house.
Our host was James Hamilton-Paterson, the author of three of the best books about the Philippines: Playing With Water, America’s Boy, and Ghosts of Manila. James should be the most famous English writer on earth, but that would be his definition of horror. He is usually referred to as reclusive.
We have the great privilege of being able to pester him in the sticks. It is like visiting your wizard uncle. Last time it was in Tuscany, where the nearest neighbor had a crazy dog who barked at jet trails.
In the woods are the ruins of a castle owned by the local count, who built another castle nearby in the hopes that the Kaiser would use it as a hunting lodge. The Kaiser did visit, and he stayed the night.
Some years ago rock concerts were held in the ruins, but the residents complained of the noise. It must’ve drowned out the sound of their neighbors’ refrigerators from a mile away.
While tramping around in the mud, we asked James about other writers he has known. J.R.R. Tolkien was his tutor in remedial Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. He didn’t learn anything. He hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings, either, so he wasn’t particularly awed. Professor Tolkien never gave him tea (much less Barliman’s Best ale from The Prancing Pony) unlike another tutor who introduced him to Glenmorangie.
James had attended the ancient King’s School in Canterbury, the same school that expelled Patrick Leigh Fermor for holding hands with a grocer’s daughter. Another alumnus, W. Somerset Maugham, had visited the school and James, being their literary hope, had been assigned as Maugham’s guide. “Don’t let him get too close to you,” James was warned, in case the old writer had a taste for spotty 17-year-old boys.
Maugham gave James this bit of advice: “Don’t trust typewriters, my boy. They can’t spell.”