28 May 2022
I’m currently on vacation in New York – alone. As a mother of two that used to regularly bundle her kids into airplanes for transatlantic trips, any hint of loneliness vanishes at the recollection of travel in years past, as in:
“Come on, kids, put your coats on and grab your bags! We have to leave now or we’ll be late.”
Not to mention what every mother dreads hearing just as the plane begins boarding:
“Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.”
While hustling my kids out the door, into the car or to the airport, I often thought of Leopold Mozart – as one does. He was, of course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father, and played a crucial role in promoting his son’s career. Without his driving force, there would be no “Marriage of Figaro,” “Magic Flute” or “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”, to mention only a few of his masterpieces. Leopold Mozart was the stage mom of his day, except instead of dragging his kids to auditions to play a three-second part on a TV show, he was carting them all over Europe to perform for the aristocracy in hopes of finding his son a permanent position.
Mozart’s older sister Maria Anna, or Nannerl to her friends and family, was equally musically gifted. She, too, was instructed and supported by her father and also received rave reviews from European royalty. Her talent seems to have been on par with her brother’s. But as a woman of her era, the worst thing possible happened to her, putting an end to her blossoming musical career. She got married.
The Mozart children’s early musical genius aside, what sticks in my mind is the excruciatingly complicated logistics required to travel across Europe. In the Mozart family home in Salzburg, now a museum, letters of Leopold Mozart are on display that bemoan these hardships in minute detail. You can feel your body being drained of energy just reading them, which is appropriate since all the Mozart family members got seriously ill on the road at one time or another.
Worse still, during a trip to Paris, Anna Maria Mozart, mother of the two musical child prodigies, died suddenly of an unknown cause. The hardships of traveling are likely to have played a role in her death.
As the Kapellmeister of Salzburg, Leopold Mozart was able to obtain musical audiences for his children with nobility across the continent, including Prince Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria in the Palace of Nymphenburg, right here in my adopted home city of Munich. They played for all manner of kings, princes, dukes and duchesses, even performing before the notorious Madame de Pompadour at the court of France, who would have been more appropriately named Pompous-dour. So haughty was this consort of the king of France that she had young Wolfgang stand before her on a chair for inspection. Just living up to her name, I suppose. Nomen ist omen.
Once, the entire Mozart family crisscrossed Europe in what has become known as the grand tour. It lasted three years, rivaling anything the Beatles, Madonna or the Rolling Stones ever put together. Except the Mozarts didn’t have the comforts of modern travel. They journeyed in a coach on dirt roads that were pockmarked with potholes and were demarcated at best by trees or, failing that, by horse manure.
A typical example of the hardships they endured is the breaking of a carriage wheel right at the start of this journey, resulting in a 24-hour delay. Think about that the next time you get the winter tires put on the car so you can drive through snow and ice without risking your life. It quickly puts that waiting time of an hour – or even a day or two or three – right back into perspective.
Pondering the fate of the Mozart family, a privileged one in its day, casts the trifling travails of today’s travel in a new light. It makes me appreciate modern comforts such as cars, paved roads, and rest stops with food and bathrooms, even if you do have to pay a whole euro just to use one.
Such things went through my head during my recent flight into New York. Due to its location right on the Atlantic coast, New York is often subjected to sudden squalls from the ocean. Just as we were about to land, the pilot informed us that we would have to stay in a holding pattern for about 30 minutes until a storm passed. For a moment I wondered why we couldn’t feel the storm from inside the plane. Then I realized that the plane was flying above the storm.
In response to this dramatic situation, I adjusted my glasses and continued reading my book.
We landed safely an hour later. Despite just having arrived from another country, I was able to maintain constant contact with my driver to keep him apprised of my arrival time. Correction: I was able to communicate with the shuttle company; my actual driver was Chinese and spoke approximately 10 words of English. But he did have the presence of mind to jump out of the car and hand me his cell phone so I could confirm my identity with his boss.
The driver was very friendly and clearly wanted to chat, asking me where I was from. That used up 4 of his 10 words of English.
I was about to respond by saying:
“Well, I was born in Ohio, but I married a German and moved to Germany many years ago, and now I’m back for a visit with family and friends with several stops…,” but then I returned to my senses. He would never understand this convoluted explanation with his limited English. So I just said:
“Germany. Do you know Germany?”
Pause, then a quietly uttered –
Not a very convincing response, but he knew how to get to my hotel and could negotiate the tangled mess of freeways that are endemic to New York. That’s all that mattered.
Gazing out the car window at the gridlocked New York traffic while being safely driven to my hotel, I was amazed once again at how effortless it is to travel from one continent to another. It boggles the mind to try to fathom what Leopold Mozart would have done with a car, a plane and a cell phone. He probably would have negotiated with Elon Musk to fly them to the moon where Wolfgang would have performed “The Space Concerto”, especially composed for the occasion.
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