When I first started learning the recorder 25 years ago, “Innsbruck, ich muβ dich lassen” by Heinrich Isaac (1450–1517) was among my beginner tunes, and I fell in love with the melody.
As I progressed to playing the four-part version in consort, I learned the sad words and loved them too. “Innsbruck, I must leave you. I must travel streets in foreign lands. My joy is taken from me...I will be in misery.” (If you're interested, you can find a score with words at http://www.hansmons.com/sheetmusic/Isaac%20Innsbruck.pdf.)
Isaac’s great love for the Austrian village awed me and made me sad that I had never felt that way about anywhere that I had lived.
Now I have found a town worthy of such love, and now I too must leave it.
In September, we are moving from lush and beautiful New Orleans to the mountainous desert of southern California—a foreign land indeed. The landscape there has its own beauty, a raw exhibit of the power of tectonic plates that fold and tear rock into jagged peaks and strew boulders about like beads at a Mardi Gras parade.
Still, I will miss nearly everything about New Orleans (the bugs, potholes, and stifling humidity excepted), the first place I’ve ever felt I truly belonged.
I once bought an old book of photographs of Innsbruck at a garage sale. Published before the Allies bombed most of Innsbruck into nothingness in World War II, the book showed the medieval village at the foot of the Alps had changed little over the centuries since Isaac's time.
I no longer have that book. When the federal levees failed two years ago after Hurricane Katrina, the flood destroyed it. Is there another copy left anywhere in the world? If not, Innsbruck of old exists now only in the memory of the eldest of elderly people.
New Orleans has risen from the ashes (literally, in two cases) several times, and it will rise again from the “Federal Flood.” Unlike Innsbruck, plenty of photographs of New Orleans before the flood survive; its beauty won’t be forgotten.
But the essence of New Orleans was more than its beauty. It was walking out of my house and seeing a cart pulled by a horse; buying produce at a corner stand; going to lunch and seeing a horse-drawn hearse pass by with a second line dancing behind it; having birds singing so loud outside my office window that my clients could hear them over the phone; smelling flowers everywhere in spring. One day, like the elderly Innsbruckians, I will be among the last people who remember what New Orleans lost when the federal flood walls gave way, not least of which was our innocence. And I’ll be remembering it from a foreign land.