November 8, 2008
Live from New York!
It’s Saturday night!
STILL RAINING IN AMSTERDAM
I come out into the chill pre-dawn air from Arlanda Hotellby, where I slept fitfully for 5 hours before awaking at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, at which time I am supposed to be boarding the shuttle bus from the hotel to Stockholm Airport in Arlanda. The wakeup call I ordered for 3:45 a.m. never came. Boring story short, I am the last passenger to run aboard KLM Flight 1106 as they’re calling my name on the P.A. system. Phew! I am ready for home. Unfortunately, between me and it are 6,000 air miles to go before I sleep in my own bed. By the time I get home from SFO AT 4:30 p.m. PST Wednesday it will be Thursday in Sweden.
MIND YOUR OWN GODDAMNED STEP
Rain again here in Amsterdam as I pass through on the way out. Schiphol Airport has a Chinese Water Torture loudspeaker announcement, “Mind your step…mind your step…mind your step.” Sound advice, of course, but do we need to be reminded every five to ten seconds? By the time you can manage to ignore it and not hear it anymore you’re back to being just as likely to misstep as if you had never been warned. And if you do misstep on a slick floor, will the airport say, “Well, we warned you, like, five hundred times!”
Quoth the raven, “Storkyrkobrinken”
IF THERE IS ONE THING
this impromptu jaunt to Sweden did for me, it was to affirm in perpetuity my general principle, “When in doubt, leave the house.” Ya never know what’s going to happen out there. Even though I didn’t (leave the house) tonight, on my usually favorite night of the year, Halloween. Just wasn’t up for it. Been sleeping in shifts at all hours for the last few days, interrupted only by trying not to fall asleep at SF Opera’s “Boris Gudenov” or “Boring Not Good Enough” as I now call it. This was the wildest wild hair trip I ever took, and if ever there was a perfect week of perfect moments, this was it.
the most pleasant room I’ve ever inhabited, John’s Great Room, serves as living room, dining room, bedroom, dog run and performance space for John and his Bechstein grand piano. The room has 27 windows on three walls. I bet he lives more cheaply in this 3000 SF house than I do in my one-bedroom in the Mission. It features a big family-style dining table with nine chairs, like the one whose lack of family to seat at it, was lamented by Dita Parlo in “Grand Illusion.” I am envious of the noisy meals shared around this table.
in the Great Room I took a short nap sunk into the yummy toffee-colored couch while John walked the dogs in the forest behind his house. John had greeted me at the train station barefoot, and walks the woods similarly unshod—just got used over the summer to not wearing shoes. I slowly came out of my snooze to the tinkling accompaniment of Rachmaninoff’s Étude Tableau Op. 38 in Dm, and as I gained consciousness of where I was, it seemed to me that the room was being showered with diamonds of light and sound. The piano on this piece was so sparkling, bright and crisp and the melody so, as John termed it, “elusive and compelling” as to enchant me.
THE WOOD FIRE
reflected against the black gloss of the piano, the delicate shivering of flowers in their amber vase, lit like a flame by the soft afternoon light—it was a moment of pure, perfect happiness—magic. We now have a code name of “Number 20″ for the piece, as I’d asked him would he mind playing it twenty times in a row. Is there any greater luxury than a live command performance of your most beloved music? It’s enough to spoil you for the inadequacy of recording, regardless of quality, to bring music to life. A lot of the music I love has to be resurrected from the dead. The composers are gone and they must be channeled by people who have often devoted their lives to making this happen for us. God bless you, one and all!
had been presented to John at the concert I traveled 6000 miles to hear, at the sweet little Lutheran church near his house, along with a certificate and stipend he’d been awarded by a local cultural organization. I have never seen such a lovely mix of humility and pride, bashfulness and thanks as crossed John’s face at that moment. And listening to his powerful voice introducing the pieces in beautifully enunciated Swedish, was a special treat. The day before, I’d heard him perform Horowitz’s transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise at the unexpected funeral of a friend, and some heavenly, soft improvisations as the mourners filed by the casket. The feeling of warmth and community in this church, and the tears of the deceased’s family, moved me to my own tears, which, once succumbed to, would not cease. I was a mess.
I COULD NOT HAVE ANTICIPATED
how moving and rewarding it would be to share these experiences with a friend of twenty-five years. After a long day, waking up at 6:00 a.m. in Göteborg, having breakfast at the hotel, pounding the cobblestones all day, running for and nearly missing the train that took me to the rest of my trip, and making it safely onto two others—17 hours later, fatigue mixed with excitement as the train pulled into the station and I was now on John Beck’s turf. I thought—God what I put myself through to get myself to this plot of land called Delsbo! And it was worth it. Thank you, John.
AND SO I SAY,
when in doubt, leave the house.
Once the inspector gets here, you’re out of luck.
GOT HOME FROM SWEDEN
with a crash landing after my week-long high in the northern latitudes. Highest on the planet I’ve ever been save for a fuel stop in Rekjavik on Icelandic Airlines. 59° to be exact, more or less the same as St. Petersburg, Oslo, Helsinki, Juneau and the Northern Territories. Experienced a few unpleasant days of anxiety upon my return home, exacerbated by writer’s block. Writer’s block? More like writer’s shock.
ONE TIME I RAN, RAN, RAN
to be the last to board the flight that took me to my father’s funeral. We’d had some time to spare, and friend Todd suggested we stop for a brew at the White Eagle (Portland), where our favorite band was playing, and dance for a bit. It was a good time, and the time got later and later. Todd, I’m saying, we have to leave! One tense ride later, a friend was waving me off at the gate (we could still wait at the gate in those days) yelling “Farewell, Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll!” (I was still the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll in those days). I bounded aboard full of energy, scarf flying, and plopped into my seat, huffing and puffing, only to sit there virtually motionless for the next five hours. Not much of a follow-up to such a grand entrance.
IT’S HOW I FELT
when I opened my apartment door. Twenty-four hours of travel by bus, plane and train, just to find myself home? OK, now what? As I spend this election day eve reviewing voter’s pamphlets, rain cascades down my windows. After all, this is where I love to be. On the couch, laptop on lap, rain beating, and nowhere I have to go that day. By the way, Obama won. Did you hear?
OTHER PLACES ONLY MAKE ME LOVE YOU BEST…?
Actually, what other places make me do is admit San Francisco is not the center of the universe. In fact, other places demonstrate there’s plenty of, innumerable, appealing lifestyles out there a world away from the place. “Delsbo has everything I need,” said John, and I can imagine a peaceful life of music and writing and forests and community—but I couldn’t live it. San Francisco has everything I need.
WHEN IN DOUBT,
do not leave the theater at intermission. I had a lot of things to take care of last night. And after jogging from Dolores and Market to Davies Hall in 20 minutes flat (with both shoes untied no time to stop) because the Prop 8 protest on Castro Street had put the trolleys out of commission, after hearing a superbly talented young Danish virtuoso Nickolaj Znaider deliver the Brahms Violin Concerto, I considered skipping Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3 and heading home. When in doubt, don’t leave your seat. It was the most glorious avalanche of music I never expected to hear. A new muse to inspire me!
we are up-to-date. I am now, Saturday, November 8th, 8:55 a.m., at Virgin America Gate A1 awaiting my tardy flight to New York. I had wanted to give Reverend Billy some money, and his yearly fundraiser was coming up, featuring a boat ride around the City. I bought a couple of tickets for my friends Jon and Oscar. But then it developed that friend Kathy had the nerve to happen to already be in New York that day, and when I thought of all my friends enjoying the party without me, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to convince me I had to be there. The Rev had asked me if I perchance might be in NY to attend. “I already booked my flight!”
John has asked himself of his playing and practicing day after day. Could his time be more effectively spent helping the Zimbabwe hospital cause the church sponsors? I said, darling, you were born to bring beautiful music to this life and this world. That’s your destiny. Whatever else you add to it, don’t doubt it. Steve Martin considered writing his memoirs, but thought, who cares? Well, I do. Someone does, someone out there. Sometimes that has to be enough. Am I not asking myself, even as I write this, who cares? Well, I do. If you do, too, I’m glad.
The world according to Beck
WHERE ARE YOU, MY FRIENDS,
as you read this? At 4:55 EDT, I am 37,191 feet in the air over Iowa, heading towards Chicago at 509 mph. It’s -58° F. outside this window. 902 miles to go ‘til New York, a couple more air hours. You’re stuck with me! The plane was delayed by a mysterious weather condition in New York (rain). That’s right—there’s weather ahead, whether I am ready for it or not.
The author calls this one, “Clouds Over Iowa”
THERE’S A FRUSTRATED WRITER
working for AccuWeather.com, someone who spends his time saying the same things in fresh ways, to keep himself interested I guess:
Cloudy and mild with a little rain
Warm with clouds breaking for some sun
Mostly cloudy and mild, patchy fog late
Rather cloudy with showers
A passing evening shower; otherwise, mostly cloudy
Cooler with partial sunshine
Partly sunny and seasonably cool
Some sunshine giving way to clouds
Cloudy with a chance of rain
Overcast with a chance of rain
Cloudy with a passing shower in the afternoon
Times of clouds and sun
When was the last time you saw a semi-colon in a weather report? Bless his heart, he’s doing the best he can with what little he has to work with. Stick with it, ya never know. And also, leave the house and test the weather—whether you’re ready or not. Ya never know!
The author and John at Antikvariat Furioso, where they shared an afternoon espresso with proprietor Pella
"Ode to Johannes"
What was I thinking?! The Chopin Nocturne in Cm, Op. 48 No. 3! Be ready next time.
copyright Alexandra Jones 2008