28 Dec 2011

The weight of the piano

She plays, ten fingers running up and down the ivories, filling the audience room with music. She sits straight, very straight, it is part of the technique. I feel a smile growing on me, stupidly happy, as if I am still surprised to find us here, almost every day for weeks now. I just love this moment: her piano on stage, Eline totally drawn in herself, that very same spotlight, the empty chairs, and me, watching from the silent dark. It is like a movie, and I feel part of it.
I quietly sit down in the back. I watch her fingers dance, long and lean, they move along, always graciously, with ever evolving subtleties. Her hands move in as many different ways as a face can express emotions. It is magic. The sounds mingle and trample over themselves. Eline and the piano, they are one when she plays, one melody. When I watch for too long, here in the corner, it sometimes make me feel dizzy, it affects me, it carries me away. Only she does that to me. That is what she did, she carried me away.
As I listen, I try to grasp her mood, try to translate that language I don’t speak. On stage Eline is inside herself, her world, her head gently moving with the melody, sometimes more aggressively. I like the aggressive parts, they are the most expressive. She can slam a note while still, ever, gracious. She is the source, she is the pianist. She is the magician. I never know what note will come, how it will come, she feels it. I can’t imagine how the music sounds in her, knowing her, it has to be intense, ridiculously rich. Mostly Eline is ungraspable to me, when she plays, the notes just send me on an undefined journey. The notes connect us, without ever revealing what they connect. Yet, it happens that I can hear her speak, that I can trace the underlying emotions through the way she plays. It makes me feel very close to her, privileged in some ways. The first time she played for me, just for me, I was literally swept of my feet. I almost fell down, at least my jaws did. I could feel how every single note caressed me, stranger still then, in her so personal embrace. I was amazed. I was speechless, it said it all.
This could be the last time Eline plays here, I can hear it. I can hear how she appreciates every single touch, every single note, how everything here resonates this particular way, as she dedicates herself to every singular tone. I am listening with that same attention, savoring every second. The music is light, the melody almost swinging. I will miss it, she will miss it. I try to capture everything, everything. As if I could put it all in a little box, and bring it with me as to never loose it.
Eline made it as a pianist. I feel proud of her, that she speaks that universal language music so well, that I got the chance to know her, that I can be here, listening to her. It is like speaking all the languages of the world, just with ten fingers. That is how I explain it to myself, that is what justifies all those hours, constant hours, day in, day out, of her practicing. She has to keep the level, stand there on the top of the Mount Everest, for each and every language of the world, for each and every finger. And I watch her, whenever I can, her long and tender fingers, her hands, so finely, yet decisively muscled.
As the notes continue to play, still grasping me in their web of possible endless hours, I stand up and walk away, silently, out of her world. I am happy I found the time to have seen her one more time play here, alone. I am excited about our plans. I get back to work, just a few more hours. We’ll meet at 15.00.
*
I am waiting for Eline, at the Krasnapolski hotel, the lobby, next to the window, with view on the Dam square. It is our spot, ever since we first met there. My baggage is packed. I am pondering a bit random thoughts as I look at people walking by, sometimes I believe I do see Eline arriving, but then it is not so. She is mostly very punctual, but running a bit late today. It is the packing. I thought of helping her, but decided it was not a good idea to involve myself. I could imagine our ways of packing being quite opposite. I travel and emigrate too much, too often. While waiting, I flip through my mental memories of earlier today as I sneaked into the concert hall. Eline didn’t notice I came by, I don’t always tell.
Eline plays not far from my work, she plays there almost every day, at least 6 hours. I love listening when she thinks she is alone. It is the real her, without the mask of the public artist. Mostly she is practicing specific bits of a soon to come performance, angrying and struggling with herself. At moments I wish I could help her, but I can’t. She is very busy these days. She is right, it is important. We discussed it many times. A perfectionist she is, a real one, diligently working herself through all the details. I don’t know how she does it, but she does, hour in, hour out, it is madness, it is a passion, a devoted life really. I have a lot of respect for her, it is not easy. I am stubborn too, in some ways I do understand. Luckily times are not always that crammed, when her schedule is more relaxed, she plays whatever crosses her mind. I love it when she wanders around the piano, no plan, just randomly expressing that music in her. Then I am really lucky, it’s when I love her most, when she feels free, and the piano is not her work, her life. Sometimes I wish I could set her free. But then, without her piano at the centre of her life, that would not be Eline.
“How was your day?” Eline asks, in a happy mood, as she meets me at the Krasnapolski Hotel, Amsterdam. I didn’t see her coming. I look at her suitcases. The luggage is huge. There are two in fact. I smile.
“ I was working on that new story, and I dreamt I could hear you play”. She smiles. She got used to those weird sentences. They don’t make sense, they are just sweet. It has sense in itself to be sweet by whiles. There is a short silence. We just look at each other smilingly.
“How is it going?”, I ask her without thinking, and I immediately regret it. Her professional face appears, a determined, disciplined expression. She is worried, it occupies her mental space. I can see her fighter fire in her eyes. She is beautiful, no, stupendous by moments. It is because I love her, that I wish her to relax, let go.
“I am struggling with the last two passages. It just does not balance out.” She goes on, I listen, I do my best. I do hear the intensity of her hours spend intimately with her piano, with herself. I am left out of that equation, only she and her piano. No one enters the equation, it is like that, it is tough, even for her, I know that. I want to be a door to the bigger world, not a mirror. I am a perfectionist too in that sense, anthroposophy is my piano. She pauses. A mutual gaze. She knows me well enough by now, to know I am wandering off with my thoughts. She is not just beautiful, she is smart. I like her, and I smile at her as I see she is realizing I want to change the topic. She just adds, as giving her professional qualification:
“It is gonna be good”.
“Good?”, I ask her, making my strange face. She laughs.
“Excellent”, she corrects herself and gives me a wink.
“Exceptional, breathtaking, ridiculously marvelous” I whisper her, as I reach out to her smilingly, my hand supporting her chin, kissing her lips affectionately. I don’t care that we are in the hotel lobby. I am happy to see her. I am happy to find her here with me.
Her smile sticks on her face, I guess so does mine. We both just smile for a while. I make strange faces in those occasions, which only makes the smiling worse. Sometimes we don’t need music or words.  I want her to know, to feel that she just rocks.
Eline starts talking about non piano topics, her face relaxed, opening up, talking about him and her, this and that. People have been talking a lot about our departure. Like an Italian she starts using her hands, and her arms. We laugh a lot, my arms and hands move too. We imitate people we know. When she does that she feels at home. She likes Italy, it is like her second home. Italy is one thing that brought us together. We talk casual life stuff. I listen, making jokes from time to time. In non piano life we always find ourselves in the same core values, exchange funny views. Time never goes slow with Eline.
When we just got to know each other we didn’t have that much to say. I would write stories, letters, poems, and she would send me recorded music or play for me live. That was our connection. Our lives would be unrelated, we would not even see each other that often, me living in Italy, she living in Amsterdam. We met as an acquaintance of us brought us in contact. We met over breakfast, randomly. It took a long time before our worlds genuinely connected, but once we got closer, the bridge through our mutual arts was already build.
“ Let’s go” I tell her. She nods, and I ask for the bill. We have a plane to catch. The Friday 18:00 KLM flight to New York. I know the flight very well, it is a busy one, and security is a hassle at Schiphol these days, especially since Eline does not have the miles and status cards I use. I hope they will be nice and let her through the business route, it is faster and more convenient. With our big suitcases we walk up the Damrak towards central station. It is only a 20 minute train ride from there, but the Damrak walk is always longer then you think, it is one of those walks.
While walking, fighting the wind and the cold (me), and the luggage(Eline) we both have our “just thinking by myself” moment. Reviewing time, thoughts, feelings, it is normal at big departures. It is a big jump we take. The biggest one is that we are taking it together.
I took three months of sabbatical of my work and I will be promoting my book in the states. I don’t really know what that means, I just believed it was a good idea to take a break from the office. Eline will play, she will participate in this one tour, from which much will depend. It is a mission really. We have been begging all my friends, and so has she, to get her in the circuit, the American one, this is the one shot. We will both be travelling a lot through the States, no clue whether the schedules will match, but our home will be up the crossing of 29th street and 3rd avenue, NY.
I look at Eline, I gently pinch her, big smile and whisper in her ear, “you know this is really happening”.
“I know”, and in her eyes I see the adrenaline, from excitement or fear, or probably that Eline’s specific mixture of both. And it comes to my mind, that for a moment, I know her better than her piano. For just a moment, I dare to believe, that she doesn’t follow her piano to NY, but that the piano follows us. It is not true. I sigh, and smile at the sight of her big bags, there is no piano in there, it is too big.

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