It’s been hundreds of years since Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” was published, and seems quaint in hindsight, but what it chronicles has a certain impact in travel today. Mann introduces us to four characters at the end of the day at their aristocratic summer retreat, where they lie reverently in bed, deeply in love with one another. “Is there any place in Europe where people are meaner and more desolate at the end of the day?” one asks in voice-over.
Inside the Palace
“The Magic Mountain” is part meditation on death, art and mortality, part a thought experiment in lovers’ happiness. If it has a strong moral, it’s that when you’re lonely, your happiness has nothing to do with your girlfriend or boyfriend, nor does it have to do with the prettiness of the scenery. In this way, it also captures — decades before Seinfeld and Sex and the City — the notion that perfectly groomed and coiffed aesthetes travel at the end of the day, often for reasons of manners.
It’s only in the last pages, when the four characters reveal how they get on, that the allegory of the engaged lovers at the summer home becomes more clear. The perfect, handsome and gorgeous are old: The shabby doorman and lady in the flower shop aren’t needed. And, of course, “The Magic Mountain” is now set at the turn of the century, in what would have been the beginning of the Great Depression.
However, perhaps more to the point today, when the world has changed so much and yet nothing seems so perfect anymore.