There’s an old John Denver song that says the farther we go the closer we are to one another. It’s a sentiment that felt pretty true to me the day I met that singer in Vienna: I was just exiting the grounds of the pale-yellow-and-cream wedding cake that is the Schönbrunn Palace, my eyes still joggled by the sight of its many frescoes and paintings, when I heard a loud and melodious voice.
A man with gold-painted skin, a golden wig and gold brocade clothing stood on a small wooden box, gorgeously executing an aria. He was what they call a Living Statue such as appear at tourist sites like New York City’s Seaport District where you can routinely be startled by a quietly breathing Lady Liberty rendered exactly, from her grey-green skin and robes to her windowed crown to the torch she holds tirelessly aloft.
“Who is THAT?” I said to one of my traveling companions.
“That’s Mozart of course!” he said, as we began walking toward our tour bus.
Stunned by the beauty of his voice, I began walking backwards, to keep him in my sight – until it occurred to me that the small cylindrical container in front of him had a purpose.
I hurried back and dropped in a couple of Euros.
And that’s when this living statue came to life for me.
“Ah, many thanks,” said the painted gentleman, taking my hand in his two golden ones. “And from where are you?”
“The U.S.” I said. “Massachusetts, specifically.”
At that he began singing: “Feel Ah’m goin’ bahck to Mah-sa-choo-setts…”
“The Bee Gees song!” I love the Bee Gees!” I started to say. He stopped me abruptly then and regarded me with somber mien.
“They are all dead but one,” he intoned.
“I know, it’s so sad,” I said. “And that one… was it Maurice Gibb? How could he die so young?”
He shook his head. “The road,” he said.
“Anyone it will kill.”
“I KNOW. For 20 years I am a singer and I have traveled. I have, so to say, toured. Is not good.”
He shook his head. “The drinks in the bars after. The wines. The cocaine. It’s no good for people. No good for me for sure.”
“And yet you were trying to do something with your music,” I said.
Still holding my hand, he answered me with freshened feeling. “Listen. I tell you what I do for my music today: Every Thursday I study with… you call it a ‘voice coach’, and I am today a far better singer.”
“You certainly are a fine singer,” I said – but just then one of my traveling companions called my name from 30 yards away.
I turned to see that she was taking pictures of Mozart and me deep in our conversation.
It was a conversation I won’t soon forget, and not because of the illusion that I had leaped across centuries to have it. It was a conversation I won’t forget because of how it reminded me that wherever you wander, through space OR time, you find that people are all the same. We all just want to guard our health, and use our gifts, and sometimes stand outside, singing our mortal hearts out in the sunshine.