Excerpt from In Spite of Myself
Some of us would take that drive every other night for dinner; it was well worth the trip. I remember introducing "Jools" ( Julie's nickname) to Miche's ultrahot peppers. Her throat was instantly on fire and she turned a deep scarlet. I explained to her that because she sang so well and I couldn't, this was my revenge. The great filmmaker Michael Powell arrived one day with his designer Hein Heckroth. They wanted me to play Caliban in their projected film production of Shakespeare's Tempest and wished to discuss it. I took them to Miche's, which they so enjoyed, I think they completely forgot why they'd come. The menu was always small and select and everything tasted absolutely home cooked. The fish and the meats were succulent, the wines exceptional, but it was the vegetables and the manner in which they were prepared that was out of this world. It was almost as if they'd been perfumed. I still hold on to an image of Miche, that most entertaining of ladies, who personally served at table with a smile as big as the room, bearing in her arms enormous platters of these superbly cooked vegetables—the very signature of the place. My mouth still waters to think of it.
Well, after our von Trapp wedding was "in the can," I was granted some time off. Several weeks in fact, a sort of lone honeymoon, you might say. God knows where my real-life bride was—somewhere in England, no doubt. Trish and I had begun to lead separate lives, our absences becoming longer and longer. So, deprived of a playmate, I indulgently took advantage of this reprieve and went on a rampage—cultural and otherwise. I headed straight for Lanz, the famous lederhosen shop, and was outfitted in two or three very smart Tyrolean coat and trouser combinations, and one particularly chic dark loden green smoking jacket. I was ready to conquer. Today Lanz, tomorrow ze world!
I border-hopped back and forth between Austria, Bavaria and Hungary. I did Vienna, beloved Vienna; went to the Büch Theatre and the opera; visited Schönbrunn, the Hofburg, the Belvedere and Schwarzenberg palaces; ditto the Spanish Riding School to watch the Lipizzaner horses pirouette to Mozart. I booked myself into the great Sacher Hotel with its quaint sloping floors, its sumptuous Sacher tortes and immovable feasts. I played the piano at the Drei Husaren while that famous restaurant's resident pianist sat nearby, his face a picture of disdainful mockery (shades of The Third Man). On my way to Budapest I gazed fascinated at the legendary storks perched on the steeples and rooftops of all those picturesque border towns. Once inside Hungary, I made a beeline for the Empress Elizabeth's summer palace of Gödöllö, meandered through the Esterhazy estates and strolled beside the waters of Lake Balaton. Passing through Salzburg I let the lush sound of them Vienna Philharmonic envelop me as I sat in on von Karajan's rehearsals. In fabulous old München, I gorged myself on Wiener shnitzel and weisswurst ünd kalbsbraten; in Bavaria I wandered through Mad Lüdwig's castles pretending I was Wagner and got myself in a deal of trouble with a fast young crowd led by that beautiful, decadent adolescent Helmut Berger. This wayward Adonis would later play King Lüdwig most effectively in Visconti's splendidly photographed movie. And oh, those Austrian girls! With their dark hair and deep flashing eyes—when they are gorgeous, they are fairly unsurpassed.
Then the punishment came! I must have been having too good a time, for someone had put a curse on me. In Austria, they call it the Hexenschuss—the witch sinks her claws into your back and leaves them there. In plain English, my sciatic nerve was paralyzed. For days I lay still on my hotel bed without moving. I had no choice—the pain was too excruciating. A local beauty of astonishing looks insisted upon looking after me. She came regularly to my room. This sister of mercy made sure her nursing skills went far beyond the call of duty. As I lay there, a captive corpse, at least one part of me was alive. It was much needed therapy. I was in heavenly bondage, but during a particularly noisy session, a call sheet was slipped discreetly under my door and the honeymoon was over.