On the drive from Salzburg to Graf, S and I visited Ohlsdorf, the home, for the last twenty-four years of his life, of my favorite writer, Thomas Bernhard. Coincidentally it was Thomas Bernhard week in Ohlsdorf; a banner hung over the road announcing this. I winced. Bernhard despised Ohlsdorf, just as he despised all of Austria.
Later, in Vienna, one of S’s friends explained that Bernhard’s hatred of Austria is a big part of why many Austrians love him. Evidently hatred of one’s homeland is a quintessentially Austrian attitude. But it is by no means shared by all Austrians, for many others consider Bernhard a Nestbeschmutzer (someone who soils his own nest). Bernhard himself claimed to love Austria more than his critics; his love, he said, was the ground of his hatred. His hatred, however, ran deep. In a famous insult from the grave, his will disallowed all publication and staging of his work within Austria’s borders.
But I digress.
Bernhard’s farmhouse home was far from Ohlsdorf proper. I had no idea what I would do when we arrived – probably nothing more than gawk from the car – but the banner made me uneasy. Finally, less than a mile from our destination, I told S, who was driving, that I wanted to turn back.
“But we’re almost there,” she said.
“I know that, but Bernhard doesn’t want us here.”
“Bernhard is dead.”
“I know that too. Now please stop the car, okay?”
S pulled the car onto the shoulder and I got out.
I remember throwing stones at a distant tree while waiting for her to return.
We never discussed what she saw at the farmhouse.