For some, a visit to Austria could be described as a dream come true. For us, it was beyond that — something so unbelievably exciting that we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were really there. With all the uncertainty in planning and then actually proceeding on our trip to the homeland of the music we had heard and enjoyed since we were young, we had almost not allowed ourselves to believe it would actually happen.
Through the ups and downs and the ‘Will it happen or won’t it?’ we consoled ourselves with the thought that we did not really need to listen to the strains of Strauss’s By the beautiful blue Danube while we cruised along that magical river. It had never been on any agenda when we were young or as we grew older. Nor was it necessary to walk through the city of Mozart and the Von Trapps — tread where they had, look upon the same magnificent sights — to get transported to their times.
And then, suddenly, we were there — beside waters that were not blue, but were beautiful nevertheless. Within the group we were travelling with, we had thus far encountered music from our own country. Familiar and enjoyable, sure to set our feet tapping or get us nostalgic about the old Hindi movies we had watched — but it was not what we wanted to hear on the Danube. We wanted that eternally haunting waltz to get us into the spirit of the places we were visiting and as we set foot on the boat, it rang out from all sides, its lilting notes transforming the evening. As we swayed with the notes, it was easy to let our imagination take wing ... and now we expected to hear Strauss at street corners and Julie Andrews thrilling us from the fountains at the Mirabell Gardens.
Forgivable, if you consider that our generation grew up on The Sound of Music and its 70mm depiction of the Von Trapp family singers. A captain with seven children had someone in that line up that we could identify with — be it is the innocently romantic 16-going-on-17 Liesl, slightly defiant 14-year-old Friedrich, dreamy Brigitta who could not get her nose out of a book or the ever-getting-it-wrong Kurt. We were one of those children or all of them — and it mattered not in the least that much of what we saw on screen was fictional. It was one of the first movies that had everyone in the house talking the same language and mouthing those memorable dialogues to each other.
A personal favourite from the long list of choice banter was the berry-picking episode, when the children return from trying to visit Maria and ad lib an explanation for their outing. This was used often when I wanted to assert my independence as an almost-teenager and go to undisclosed destinations (usually within a radius of 250 metres from our house). When I returned, hugging a couple of minor encounters to myself that I did not want to share with the rest of the family, it was invariably “berry picking” that I had gone for. By the time I reached the part where “It was so cold that the strawberries had turned blue,” everyone had stopped listening and my secrets, however insignificant, were intact.
Perhaps so much ‘history’ gives us licence to imagine those well-loved tunes of our childhood flowing out of the water, lyrics flying at us in the breeze. It was sheer magic that had got us along the course of the River Danube and to Vienna and Salzburg, so why not go a little further with the magic and enjoy the sounds of music that ring in our ears and play in our heads — and only we can hear?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.