Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime

The Moser gang at Versailles
I've been absent from this blog for a few weeks, but I have a good excuse.  My husband and I took our three grown children and their spouses to Europe for the trip of a lifetime.  We were not disappointed.  Before we left, we made it clear to the kids (ages 26-33) this was not going to be a vacation, but an excursion.  On the road by 7:30 most mornings we shared the glories of Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucerne, Paris, and London.  But even more than that, we shared time.   

St. Peter's in Rome
Away from the duties of our lives back home, we concentrated on each other.  We oohed and ahhed at the majesty of the Sistine Chapel and Versailles, shared laughter as we had a picnic in the grass at the base of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, and marveled at an impromptu Swiss oompa band practicing above a sidewalk cafe in Lucerne as we ate bratwurst.    
Eiffel Tower in Paris

Together we marveled at God's handiwork from our vantage point on top of the Alps at Mt. Pilatus, and at man's ingenuity as we took a fast train under the English channel from Paris to London.  

The Roman Colosseum

We were humbled by history as we saw the tomb of St. Peter, the Roman Colosseum, the actual armor of Henry VIII, and the stunning St. Paul's Cathedral in London where I remember watching Princess Diana get married back when I was a young mother . . . 

On the top of the Alps
in Switzerland
I've been to Europe over a dozen times, but during each trip the history dazzles me and makes me marvel at the course of humankind. And so, over the next few weeks I'm going to share some of those amazing tidbits of history with you.  Not necessarily the big moments in time regarding kingdoms and dynasties, but the personal stories of actual people who lived and struggled, who won and lost.  People who, but for a century or two (and a few thousand miles), shared many of the same feelings and life challenges that we face today.  Theirs are the stories that remained with us as we moved from country to country. 

Marie Antoinette and her children
One such story was brought to our attention through a portrait hanging in the French palace of Versailles. It was a painting of Marie Antoinette and her three children--the last portrait painted of her. Marie was originally named Maria Antonia. She was the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and was married off to Louis XVI of France at the age of fourteen... The shy Maria and the her young husband (only fifteen himself) took years to consummate their marriage. Their lack of a child was the gossip of the continent. People--from royal to the lowest man on the street--knew their personal business and offered opinions. Maria was a naive girl who had not been groomed to be a queen. It took eight years for her to conceive.

Adding to my interest of her, was the revelation that this Marie Antoinette was the same girl I'd written about in my bio-novel Mozart's Sister. As a child Maria Antonia had heard the young Mozart and his sister Nannerl give a recital in her family's palace in Vienna. When five-year-old Wolfgang tripped during the concert, Maria helped him to his feet. The impulsive little Wolfgang kissed her, said he was going to marry her, and then had the gall to climb into the lap of Maria's mother, the empress. That girl was this woman...

At Versailles, as I stood with my own family beside me and looked upon this grown up Maria Antonia--Marie Antoinette--I learned of another family's trip, taken in an attempt to flee France during the chaos and danger of the French Revolution. As the masses of the suffering poor rose up against the decadence of the ruling class, Marie's world of luxury crumbled around her. So she and her husband the king fled with their three children, hoping to escape to monarchy-friendly Montmédy in northeast France. But before they could find freedom they were caught and returned to Paris. All were imprisoned, and Marie and Louis were eventually beheaded by the mobs who demanded satisfaction.

But what of the children in the painting? There is an empty cradle in the background that sorrowfully represents Marie's youngest daughter Sophie who had died during the painting of the portrait, just before her first birthday. The oldest daughter, Marie Therese, standing at her mother's right, was exiled to Austria. She married but was childless. The little boy, Louie Joseph--the heir--died of TB during the tumulutuous political times, and the baby on her mother's lap (Louie Charles) died in prison. And so the Bourbon line of France was destroyed.

Seeing this painting, hearing this story, walking beside my own husband and children, I felt compassion for this queen. This woman. This mother.

It would not be the last time I would count my blessings on this trip . . .

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