Mozart’s Sister on the Phone

Scene from an Italian book launch

Venue: Italy, Tuscany, Arezzo (a great city). Situation: we are in an old stately building, the writer of Mozart’s Sister is reading aloud from her novel (the original Italian version). It’s the page where it talks about Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor for pianoforte, KV 397. Behind her, the pianist is sitting at the piano ready to play the piece. The hall is packed and the organizers are looking round, pleased at what they see.

Photo by Gabriele Morrione.


To be honest, you can’t really hear the mobile ring, but the voice of the person talking into it is perfectly audible. A woman with bright red hair, hunched over in her seat with her head down, in the fourth row. Nobody dares say: “Ssshh!” but several people in the audience give her glaring looks, which go unnoticed because the woman has her head down.

What does the writer do? She carries on reading. After all (she thinks), the phone call is bound to finish sooner or later. But the redhead carries on chatting. More and more people in the audience start glaring at her, and some people are beside themselves. But the woman carries on chatting, completely unperturbed. The writer, as she reads, thinks to herself: the reading is nearly finished. If I don’t stop her, she’ll probably chat during the piano part too; and when the evening is over and everyone has gone, she’ll still be here with her ears burning. The woman with the red hair has entered some kind of time warp and doesn’t realize. She needs help.

“Excuse me, could you stop talking on the phone, please?”

A moment’s surprise and then the woman looks up, but doesn’t look sorry. “I’m talking to my youngest son” she says in a lovely Tuscan accent. “He’s just gone abroad and taken the plane on his own for the first time and…”

Voices are raised around the hall: “That’s outrageous! How dare you?”

The writer intervenes: “You have every right to talk to your son, but it would be better if you did it outside, please”.

“I didn’t think you could hear me!”

“But we can. Loud and clear. So, would you mind leaving?”

The woman ignores the writer’s suggestion but quickly ends the phone-call to her son and the reading resumes.

At the end of the evening, when everyone is milling around, chatting, lots of people are still talking about the incident. A few people tell the woman what they think of her interruption but she continues to defend herself as a normally-anxious mother, and maybe she is happy about being the centre of attention. One of the women in the audience tells the writer how sorry she is and apologizes “on behalf of all the women in Arezzo”. The writer replies: “You’re joking! People will be talking about this book launch for months to come. Even abroad!”