Sunday, July 7, 2013
"Neuschwanstein was commissioned by King Ludwig the second, king of Bavaria, and built on the site of an old castle ruin called Hohenschwangau."
"She sounds like she's reading right off Wikipedia," Frank whispered to his wife.
Mabel laughed. "She must do this five hundred times a day," she whispered back.
"Ludwig's goal was to rebuild the ruin in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles, as he wrote in a letter to the famous composer Richard Wagner. Wagner's operas inspired—"
"Höchstes vertrau'n hast du mir schon gedanken," came a loud voice from somewhere out of sight, a strong operatic tenor.
The tour guide stopped, obviously surprised and thrown off her rhythm. "Um, well, speaking of Wagner's operas . . ."
The singer's voice continued, accompanied by the rising hubbub of other tour groups and museum staff.
She laughed now, suddenly engaged and clearly off her script. "What he's singing is an aria from Wagner's opera Lohengrin, which is the story of a mysterious knight who—"
Suddenly the singer came into view. He was tall and thin, his blond hair reaching just past his shoulders. He wore a faded flannel shirt and blue jeans, hardly looking the part of the holy knight. His eyes were fixed on the tour guide as he continued the aria. "O gönne mir, dass mit Entzücken ich deinen Atem sauge ein."
"This is his great declaration of love for Elsa, um, 'Oh grant me that with delight I may, um, breathe in your breath' . . ." She caught the singer's eye and faltered in her translation. He was striding toward her, a trio of security guards following at a cautious distance.
"I don't think this is part of the normal tour," Frank said.
"Sh," Mabel hissed.
The singer extended a hand to the tour guide, still singing: "Dein Lieben muss mir hoch entgelten für das, was ich um dich verliess."
The tour guide took his hand, spellbound, but an older gentleman in the group offered a translation laced with a thick German accent. " 'Your love must be the highest reward for what I left behind, for your sake.' Lohengrin was the son of Parzifal, the knight who found the Gral, the, em—"
"The Holy Grail," someone else finished for him.
The man continued. "He says, 'No destiny in God's whole world could have been nobler than mine.' The eternal life granted by the Grail, he gave up to be with her."
Mabel's hand found Frank's and clasped it tightly. Frank started with surprise, then squeezed hers back.
The singer was standing very close to the tour guide now, holding her hand to his chest and gazing down into her eyes. "Das einz'ge, was mein Opfer lohne, muss ich in deiner Lieb ersehn!"
"I bet he's her boyfriend," Frank whispered in Mabel's ear. "Hell of a proposal."
The tour guide seemed to come to her senses, suddenly aware of her group watching wide-eyed. She tried to pull her hand away but he held it tight, she turned her head but he kept singing.
"So I ask you, steer clear of doubt," the older man said. "Your love is my proud reward."
The tour guide managed to get her hand free and she stumbled back a few steps. He never took his eyes off her face.
"Because I don't come from night and suffering, from splendor and I bliss I come."
He stopped singing, breathing hard from what must have been a vocal exertion. He kept staring at the tour guide, though, as if expecting her to pick up where he'd left off.
"What— I—" She couldn't form words, couldn't seem to think straight, couldn't understand what had just happened.
"Elsa," the singer said, stretching out his hand to her again.
"It's Liese," she said.
"Elsa, take my hand," he said, his accent suddenly very American.
"My name is Liese," she said. "What's yours?"
He turned away suddenly, his face contorted in grief. "Weh uns, was tatest du," he sang softly.
"What are you saying?" she said.
"Elsa was not supposed to ask the knight's name or his origin," the older man explained in a whisper. "She broke her vow and he was forced to return to the Grail."
"Who the hell are you?" the tour guide said again. "What do you think you're doing, interrupting my tour?"
"Elsa," he said, pleading.
"I'm not Elsa! And you're not Goddamn Lohengrin! Stop it!"
He looked stricken. "Woe to us," he whispered.
"Look, can you be normal? If you tell me your name and ask me on a date, I'll go, OK? That was cool, what you did, no one's ever serenaded me like that before. Be normal, OK?"
The security guards were inching closer now, seeing that things were going wrong. The singer just stared at his Elsa, tears welling in his eyes. Frank squeezed his wife's hand tighter.
"Can you get him out of here?" the tour guide called to the security guards.
"Elsa," the singer said. He managed to put an ocean of longing into those two syllables, begging her not to send him away.
"I'm not Elsa!" Her fists were clenched at her sides, her eyes blazing with anger.
The singer spun around, aware of the security guards for the first time, righteous fury twisting his face. "Elsa, my sword!" He stretched out his hand behind him, but the tour guide stepped up and planted both hands on his back, then pushed him away hard. He stumbled right into the closest guard's grip.
"Komm, Lohengrin," the guard said.
The singer looked back at the tour guide, pleading with his eyes, as the guards pulled him away. Mabel huddled closer, and Frank put his arm around her shoulder.
The tour guide took a moment to pull herself together as the guards got the singer out of the room. She straightened her skirt, tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, and then turned to face her tour group again.
"Well," she said, "I am sorry for that interruption. It looks like another group is right on our heels now, so with apologies I'm going to move us along quickly for a moment. If you'll come this way."
The group shuffled after her again, slowly at first, as if just waking from a dream.
"As I was saying, Wagner's operas inspired Ludwig's romantic vision of the Middle Ages, and he built Neuschwanstein as a memorial to that lost age."
Back on script, as if nothing had happened, she chattered away as she walked the group briskly through the palace.
Frank kept his arm wrapped around Mabel's shoulders as they walked, smiling, at the back of the group.