We sent intrepid investigator Erik Falstaff to the remote mountains of Austria to help find out what made Arnold Schwarzenegger tick. As usual nothing ever goes to plan…
It was freezing. The higher we climbed the colder it got. Air was thin. Breathing….difficult. “Iʼm not a winter person” I said to Gui. “You know they once discovered who the happiest animals were” She looked at me smiling, this was more her territory, animals. “Snakes…especially when the sun comes out. They fucking love it” I said. “I can appreciate that.”
She stared at me blankly. “That true?”
“No, of course not. But the point is made.” I replied accelerating up the scree-filled tracks leading up to Bahnhof, a small little village in the Austrian mountains, the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The silence that followed was broken by Guiʼs excited voice “I like Bradley Cooper!” I couldnʼt work out how that had any relevance to anything, but I let it go.
“I have no idea what youʼre saying.” I said as I drove past quaint hedgerows with glimpses of green countrysides all round.
“You donʼt know who Bradley Cooper is?” She asked aghast. She looked at me with big, wild eyes. “No, I donʼt know everyone. Is he a lawyer?” I asked.
“Heʼs an actor” She said horrified. “You work as a film critic! How do you not know?!” Exasperation filled the car, it stunk of ignorance and too many magic trees.
I get this a lot. People assume I must know everything film-related. I donʼt. I know the bare minimum and thatʼs the way I like it. The more you know about a subject the more boring you become. Itʼs true. I know enough. I know good films, bad films, good actors and good stories. Everything else is…
“Superfluous” I replied languidly. She glanced at me vacantly. “Unnecessary.”
“But itʼs Bradley Cooper!” she wailed. A dreamy look came over her and she looked quite beautiful. The easy smile, mischievous eyes and even the small droplet hanging from her nose didnʼt detract. In truth I had invited Gui along, because I planned to wear my psychedelic, disturbingly bright jeans. They were a day-glow pink colour and couldnʼt be worn without a beautiful woman on your arm. You would never get away them otherwise.
She was a Malaysian beauty queen-turned hand model, with a whinging streak and a milk fetish. Gui also had a strange habit of baring her breasts and absent-mindedly playing with her nipples, often in public. A Malaysian custom or psychological quirk I simply didnʼt know.
The extravagant trousers and blatant sexual exhibitionism were two ingredients in my plan to hit the ultra conservative Bahnhof hard. To see what this place was made of. I wasnʼt interested in the Schwarzenegger Museum, what iʼd been tasked with, that was pointless, I wanted to know the place and the people, the zeitgeist of the area. What made Schwarzenegger tick and what the rest of them really thought about him.
Our hotel was standard fare. Old fashioned with a trivial effort of modernism. Sparse with lurid pot plants and the smell of carbolic soap. We shared a lift up with the porter who, when I asked about Schwarzenegger, looked pained before forcing a smile on his face and gazing at me for far too long “He is a local hero.” His grin widened maniacally, but his eyes were dead. It unnerved me enough to loosen the cattle prod stuffed down the inside of my jeans.
Things got weirder after that. The room had pictures of Arnie everywhere. Mainly posing in a pouch, covered in grease. But worse of all was the bizarre framed picture of a straining, gurning Schwarzenegger snarling down at us from the ceiling, directly over the bed.
“Thatʼs it, letʼs get out of here!” I said as fear crawled through me. A cleaner was still finishing off preparing the room and she glanced up at me evilly as I danced around her to get to the bathroom. I checked her shoes for slots, fully expecting tiny poisoned blades to come jutting out and a fight to the death to ensue. She said something I didnʼt understand as I took up a preying mantis fighting stance. She eyeballed me her eyes lingering on my fluorescent trousers then turned and carried on vacuuming.
Gui had been talking the entire time, and I hadnʼt heard any of it, such was my heightened sense of wrongness. It dawned on me that she knew. She was a part of this, a collaborator. So calm and normal. How can you not notice the skin-crawling weirdness here…?
“Heʼs everywhere” I whispered glancing at her. “We donʼt belong here.” We made our way back out to the car, and in our immediate vicinity, signs of Schwarzeneggerʼs influence were absolutely everywhere. Statues, shops, plaques, pubs, stickers on windows, even one of the trees looked like Arnie from Total Recall with a towel wrapped round his head.
“Youʼd have to have a monumental ego not to be embarrassed and uncomfortable about your home town treating you like a mythical God. Wouldnʼt you?” I asked Gui, as the sweat poured from my crinkled frowning brow.
She giggled. “Itʼs cute!”
“What!”I just stared at her. She had to go.
I drove up the main road past detached chalets. Rolling hills flew past as I put some distance between us and the town, the mountains a hazy lilac backdrop. I slowed as I came to a turn-off, a small residential road with a street sign that said ʻHarnbrande Strasse”. I crawled past it gazing at it… “Look even the road sign has his picture of him on it!” I pointed to it, and there in the corner was a smiling Schwarzenegger.
Gui snorted “Thatʼs not him!”
“Of course it is…Thatʼs him” I argued.
“No itʼs not…Itʼs birdshit” She screeched. “Itʼs Schwarzenegger.” I told her firmly. “Birdshit” She retorted. “Schwarzengger.” I said.
“Birdshit!” She shouted.
“Itʼs Schwarzenegger!” I screamed.
“Itʼs birdshit that looks like Schwarzenegger” she said defeated.
I hit the brakes and told her to get out and take a photo “Use your phone” I called out to her as she crept over to the wooden sign… Of course I knew it was birdshit really, which was why when she was bent over poised with phone in hand in front of the sign, I reversed the car and drove off.
In passing, I glanced down the residential road, and my heart lurched as standing there on every single doorstep staring blankly at me were Bahnhof residents wearing Schwarzenegger badges on their chests.
Things were getting intense, and I knew to get to the bottom of things they were going to get a whole lot worse. I was heading back to the information portal of all things. Where Gui would get in the way, where danger lurked like a rabid badger. Keep her out of harms way. Best be cruel to be kind. I was heading to the pub.
The wizened old man glanced around and then leaned in conspirationally and whispered “The stadium was called the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium…not any more.” He eased back looking at me wide-eyed.
“One of those corporate hellhounds came offering a bigger deal, huh?” I said nodding at him “McVities stadium, Panasonic, Maoam arena something like that? He shook his head slowly “No not that…It was because of his gun laws.” He had another surreptitious glance around and motioned for me to come in closer. “This is Austria, they donʼt like violence of any kind.” I sipped at my drink and his hands shook as they closed around mine. It freaked me out a little I admit. “He-who-shall-not-be-named was Austrian, remember.”
“Voldermort?” I asked feeling confused.
“Who? No!” He glanced around again, his expression angry, “Hitler” he gasped.
He had said it far too loudly. There was a deafening silence, eyes were turned our way and then like the horsemen of the apocalypse, two suited men strode in and were onto the old guy like wasps around cakes. They pulled him and dragged him kicking and screaming from the bar as another suited man slowly walked over to me.
He peered at me with a bored expression. I noticed that on the back of his hand was a tattoo of Schwarzenegger and De Vito in Twins. Sun-faded. Sickening.
“He drank too much, you should be careful not to do the same.” He told me in a gently menacing voice. He backed away towards the doors flapping his arms like a bird, staring at me and then he was gone.
“A fearsome Austrian out for world domination” I said sitting back, regarding my empty glass “Sounds familiar.”
I felt like I was getting somewhere. Austria was definitely anti-violence, but where did that leave Schwarzenegger? A man who has never made a film which doesnʼt involve any.
I made my way to the information centre where I had planned to meet my guide. An expert on Schwarzenegger and Bahnhof. He was a skeletal figure, like Nosferatu but with a spade beard and horn-rimmed glasses. I shook him by the hand, his grip was feminine, limp and a little sweaty. “You can call me Gunther, though that isnʼt my real name.” He said.
I nodded at him. “Well in that case…Iʼm Ferris Bueller.”
“Nice to meet you, Ferris” He smiled. He was definitely an odd one. His tongue poked out from between his teeth. I donʼt think he realised he was doing it.
We were heading to the hills apparently to view something very impressive. Gunther drove in his workmanlike Volvo. I sat in the passenger seat feeling more and more uneasy. He was very still, like a reanimated corpse and when I noticed his pointed fingernails curled around the steering wheel, my stomach lurched and I spat up some bile onto the windscreen. This didnʼt bother Gunther who merely smiled. “Are you O.K Mr. Bueller?” He asked gently. “Itʼs Volvoʼs. They make me sick for some reason.” I said mumbling the first excuse that came into my head.
“So….” I said trying to change the subject of my vomiting over his car “What does Austria really think of Schwarzenegger? He represents a pretty violent image in his films, I canʼt help but think Austria doesnʼt like that kind of ferocity.”
He glanced at me once, then carried on focusing on the meandering road. The silence stretched out before us like a vast poisonous naan bread. I thought he was ignoring me, and just when I was thinking of strangling him and throwing his twitching corpse from the car, he spoke.
““You know who they like? Mahler, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, maybe Ferdinand Porsche too…All Austrian.”
“And Schwarzenegger?” I pressed
“This is Bahnhof Mr. Bueller. Not Austria. We appreciate Arnold for what he stands for. He is a symbol of hope, of goodness. He may use violence, but itʼs for the right reasons.” He glanced at me smiling and his tongue stuck out between his teeth again “He is always the good guy that saves us all.” He said this last sentence with a touch of reverence, hushed tones, as though talking about an omnipresent deity and then he pulled over at a dusty lay-by, the Volvo exhaust spluttering in the silence.
“Not always” I replied. “He was a bad in Terminator, and very fucking bad in Batman & Robin.
“We donʼt talk about that” He muttered as he cut the engine. We got out of the car and I watched Gunther as he opened the trunk. A very tall man unfolded himself from within, clambered out and then stood adjusting his suit. This was unexpected, but not the freakiest part, because he was also wearing a Schwarzenegger mask, a cardboard one with elastic attached round the back of his head.
“What the hell is going on?” I shouted staggering back against the little wooden fence by the side of the road. “Why was he in the trunk?” “Calm down, Mr. Bueller. Toni prefers it that way.” Gunther replied calmly. “I bet he does” I spat back.
“We came to show you this.” He said and with a flourish of his arm, pointed across the distance. There on top of the barren hill lands was a 35-foot tall wooden effigy of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
My blood went cold and all sense of reality left me. Sweat poured from me and my heart went into an aggressive frenzy, like Lee Marvin on an amphetamine binge.
I held on to the rickety fence and stared aghast at the two smiling men. “It all makes sense now…” I started to say.
“It is a sculpture by the renowned Austrian Architect Max Shmell…” Gunther cut me off before I shouted loudly…
“Itʼs the fucking Wicker Man!”
I pushed the two men away from me and whipped out a convenient screwdriver and brandished it at them wildly. “Youʼre gonna cook me in that thing…a sacrifice to the moon” I was panicking and already plotting my escape.
“Mr. Bueller…it is a sculpture!” Gunther said in an amazed tone.
I was barely listening, but was checking my diary planner frantically, then I saw it…a new moon..
“You are gonna kill me in that contraption to see in the new moon….you worship the moon as itʼs the only thing thatʼs larger than Schwarzeneggerʼs ego.” I screeched in a demented rage. I pushed past them and rushed to the car.
￼I jumped in the drivers seat and slammed the door shut. Gunther had come over looking concerned. He put his arm though the open window and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“That is a simple sculpture, Ferris.” He squeezed my arm and I pushed him away. “and that is also my car” He continued.
“Not any more.” I started the engine and started to pull away, tyres kicking up sand and dirt as Gunther leant in and tried to grab me. I pushed him away again snarling at him.
“And keep your claws to yourself, bitch!” I shouted as I plunged off down the road back to the village.
By the time I got into the hotel room I had hyperventilated twice, I didnʼt want anyone to recognise me and for want of a better disguise had placed a brown paper bag over my head as I dashed from the car park. My medication made no difference. I had to get my stuff then get to Gui before they did or weʼd both be roasted like a couple of unwanted racing pigeons.
No wonder Schwarzenegger buggered off to America. Had he been back much? Like hell. Luckily, Gui was sitting in the hotel bar, reading a magazine about sausages and sipping on a lemonade. She was also fiddling with her nipples as the barman pretended not to notice. I ran in and pointed an accusing finger at him and grabbed Gui by the elbow. “I know what youʼre up to, Pedro!” I screamed at him.
“Whatʼs going on?” She asked alarmed at my frenzied appearance.
“Never mind that, we have to go. Now!” I said still glaring at the barman, who had stopped moving and was stuck in a parody of a statue.
We rushed outside and made for the car. As we got in I looked into Guiʼs worried eyes and wondered whether she could actually see mine as I had only made small eye holes in my paper bag mask. I handed her one too and told her to put it on. She did and we sat there staring at each other. Two bagged-up nobodies against an entire Austrian town and then I did something that I should have done long ago. I kissed her. I kissed her where I thought her lips should have been. It tasted of paper, which wasnʼt surprising. I fumbled with the keys and started the car.
“Theyʼre going to try to kill us Gui. Me – because Schwarzenegger would never wear bright pink trousers and you – because of your beautiful hands.”
“I have nice hands” she admitted, smiling happily.
“Yeah well you wonʼt if you are inserted up a wooden Schwarzeneggerʼs ass and set on fire.” I told her as I pulled sharply away scaring an elderly couple walking past.
“Heʼs not wooden. He was really good in True Lies. I like that film.” She said.
I pushed down hard on the accelerator and caught a glimpse of a black car behind us. Inside all the passengers wore Schwarzenegger masks. I bit down my frustration. “Gui, youʼre missing the point!” I shrieked.
￼“Oh, and what would that be?” She said sticking her chin out, eyes peering out at me inquiringly from her eye holes.
“The point is…” I started to say, then frantically pulled the steering wheel left and right, put both indicators on then threw the front end through a wooden gate and onto a freshly ploughed field. “The point is…that Jamie Lee Curtis made True Lies!” I gasped.
I peered round and saw that the black car had stopped and the masked Schwarzeneggerʼs had got out and were standing waving goodbye to us from the top of the field. I drove on at high speed regardless, until the suspension was completely screwed.
With a sigh I relaxed a little, we had made it. We were safe. Eventually my heart rate returned to something approaching normal and Gui resumed twiddling her nipples and murmuring about milk and I summed up the entire Austrian experience in one sentence.
“What a waste of fucking time.”