Sunday, October 02, 2016
Today I am grateful for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. A couple of days ago I recorded the PBS, Great Performances episode S42;E6, Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert 2016, which was performed at Austria’s Imperial Schonbrunn Palace. Umlauts over the “o”, but my computer doesn’t speak German and won’t do it.
Over ten years ago my sister and I took my mom to Austria, the home of Mozart, her favorite composer, for her 80th birthday. My mom lived in Arizona, sister in New Jersey and me outside of Philly. I don’t remember what airport we all met in, but it was an amazing feat of connection. . .sort of like the Bermuda Triangle.
At that point our mom, who can be, um. . .irascible. . .which is taking liberties with the term. She doesn’t handle change well. An understatement. She also doesn’t like any kind of suggestions about how much she should move around on a plane; how to be safe in a large foreign city; how to be careful of irregular, cobblestone streets because of her macular degeneration which leaves her partially blind; how to speak to people with respect and not scream at them when things go wrong, as they always do when travelling; how to let us help instead of telling us to “Stop treating me like a child. I can do it myself!” then banging her head into a plate glass window she can’t see. Oh boy.
Let’s face it. When three people live some distance apart, you can’t throw them together for ten days and not expect a little conflict. Even though you’re surprised enough to wonder if you’ll fit under a floor mat, when your mom says to a tour guide, “You’re old enough. How did it feel when your city was so badly bombed during World War II?” Or when she tells a waitress that she should speak English! Really? Are we trying to start WWIII or at the very least an international incident? We had some conflict. Hahaha. It mostly cleared up when we could take no more, with a straighten-it-out-talk in the middle of the night in the computer room of our hotel. Then we had some fun!
We dragged that woman onto public transportation more times than even I care to remember. “Where is this bus going?” she’d ask, every single time. Usually my sister would answer because she was better at coping and also was more creative in giving just enough information to stop the questions, but not so much that she could hold us to it in a court of law. Mom was out of her comfort zone. So were we, but we couldn’t let her see it. Buses didn’t drop us off in the same place they had picked us up, so we had to walk, many blocks. “How far?” she’d ask. My sister would tell her it was just one more block. Ten times. Brilliant.
We listened to the most beautiful music, schlepping her up hundreds of steps, always dangling Mozart in front of her. “Just a few more, mom. Mozart is upstairs waiting for you.” In Salzburg, when we had walked her far into the old city, she started complaining that she was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel and where is the bus? Blocks and blocks away! Yikes. “How are we going to get her out of here?” I asked the Great and Powerful OZ (my sister).
“Watch this!” She had it all figured out. “Mom, look at these cute things over here.” Then, “Oh mom, isn’t this Mozart T-shirt cute? I think they have one in a better color at the next store.” And that’s how we got her out. From one shop to another, one vendor to another. Again, brilliant!
She was tired. My sister was tired. I was exhausted. We hopped on the first bus we saw. It was ten minutes before OZ and I realized it was going in the wrong direction. “Where are we going?” Right on cue, mom. “We’re taking a little tour through the neighborhoods, first. Look at the beautiful gardens on everyone’s front lawns,” said OZ. It was a high spot of the trip. For all of us.
So why am I grateful for PBS’s special? Because I watched it today. And I bawled because now, these ten years later, I realize there was so much wonderful stuff that happened on that trip, which proves the human brain WANTS to remember the good and let go of the bad.
I was planning on reading the newspaper during the hour long concert, but then they started showing pictures of the palace and the grounds and I couldn’t stop watching. I had a memory of my sister and I standing on the balcony, with large pillars all around us and a gorgeous ceiling above us, looking over the same gardens that led to the palace, very far away in the distance.
A lot has happened since then. Mom could never do this trip now. Daily tasks are just about doing her in. She turns 90 in a few weeks. But there was a time, not so long ago, when we listened to Mozart in Vienna and in between complaining and asking me if I had to talk to every person I passed, she said, “I can’t believe I’m here. This is the dream of a lifetime!”
I had forgotten how important it was to her. To my sister. To me. The PBS special gave me back the entire trip in a 60 minute concert. And I am grateful.