Readers of my blog will realise that it has been a while since my last entry. In recent months, my day job got so busy that there just was not enough time left over to write about all the wonderful things that have happened.
I have written several started bits. Here is one of the unposted blog bits – from October 3, 2012:
I am sitting in an aeroplane. It is late afternoon, and I have just seen a thin, beach-sand highlighted line between ochre and azure blue – the Australian coastline – slide by somewhere far below. The aeroplane is headed into a darkening sky towards my first stopover – Bangkok. After that, its straight on to Zurich, where I will land in about twenty hours. The next leg will be a train bound for Montpellier – where I will meet my new cello and perform on it for the very first time. It is surreal to think that I will soon perform Bach suites on the wonderful new cello Frederic Chaudiere has made for me. I am also going to the Frankfurt book fair. It is the perfect combination of passion and work, and I am filled with anticipation and excitement.
That was almost a month ago.
On that day, I landed in Zurich at about six in the morning on the fourth of October. I was groggy from the long flight, but felt pretty OK after a shower in the Swissair arrival lounge. From then on, the events of the day were so completely dream-like that even the act of remembering doesn’t quite give a reassuring sense that the events of the day actually happened. The train journey through Geneva and on to the south of France took the best part of the day. I watched a jetlag infused blur of lakes, towns, villages, fields whiz by in colours that gradually metamorphosed from Swiss greens blues and whites into the ochres and pastels of the Languedoc region of France.
The journey’s two cups of double-shot espresso were barely necessary. I think I drank them to pass the time rather than to stay awake. The meeting with Chaudiere and the cello he had made for me were waiting just hours away, and the excitement I was feeling was everything but a soporific. This day held a special focal point, and had grown a larger-than-life significance in the preceding days, months, years, and even decades. [New readers of this blog should read the “about” page - it puts the situation into perspective] . The iminent future held a sure event: one of the most incredible and meaningful events in my little life-history, and it would culminate when I got off the train in Montpellier.
Montpellier is one of France’s most beautiful mediaevil cities. It sits on a small hillock a short distance from the Mediterranean coastline. I am told the original coastal site was no match for the Vikings, so the hamlet was moved inland for a better vantage of the coastline. The streets and buildings are old and deliciously chaotic. But not so much so as to obscure the escargot spiral of the original street plan, which leads to the main civic buildings on the fulcrum of the hill. The streets are almost narrow enough for outstretched arms to reach the buildings on either side. It’s a lively city. Students, artisans, beggars, motorbikes, street markets, children, cars, clergy, and cigarette smoke jostle with café life for the small amount of viable street space.
When I stepped off the train into a warm Mediterranean evening in Montpellier, I was suddenly aware that dragging my suitcase through the throng might be a challenge; and would certainly leave me horribly lost if I tried to find my way by map to Chaudiere’s workshop. So I waved down a taxi, and gave the driver a piece of paper bearing Chaudiere’s address. He looked troubled, and tried to explain something to me in animated French. Eventually, I understood that the part of Montpellier where I was asking him to take me was too narrow for his taxi. He seemed to know who Chaudiere was, and eventually called him from his mobile telephone. We arranged to meet in the best and nearest taxi accessible spot, and we would walk together from there.
The taxi disgorged me and my luggage on the corner of a busy civic square. Not long after, I recognised Chaudiere from some distance. I had not met him in person before, but despite having seen his photo, I have no doubt I would have known it was him. There was an unmistakable sense of purpose in way he strode towards me. People who share rare and long anticipated emotion are visible in a very crowded space. I did also see, in those first moments before and after shaking hands, a slight nervousness that said: “What if he does not like this cello into which I have put all my heart skill and effort?”
We walk a short distance to the Hotel Magnol, a 1701 courtyarded building where Chaudiere has apartments for artists, apprentices, an art gallery and his atelier. We climb the stairs in silence into his workshop. There are several violins and cellos in the workshop, and I have no idea which one is “the” cello. He casts his eye to an instrument that looks like it has been loved and used for about eighty years. It has exceptionally beautiful wood, and all the usual marks from the careful handling of two generations of cellists. I sit down, and Chaudiere carefully and somewhat self-consciously picks up this cello and hands it to me. He says: “So, this is the cello”.
I put it on my lap, belly-up and look at it. I turn it over, and gaze at the rich, marbled pattern in the wood he has chosen for the back. I don’t trust myself to play on it. I pull out the end-pin, and check the open strings are in tune. As I play the C-G fifth of the lower strings, I am enveloped in a strength of resonance in the bass that I have rarely experienced from any cello. I wind the bow a little tighter, and start playing the Prelude to the first cello suite of Johann Sebastian Bach. The sound is warm, rich, powerful, incredible. I lose myself in it, and play through to the Prelude’s last major chord. The sound floats out through the open window and into the street. I look up, and see that Chaudiere is crying. He knows what this moment means, and why I am too overwhelmed to speak and cannot hold back my own tears. He has carved the thoughts, feelings and the life-time significance of this moment into this cello. He hears, and I hear, that this cello he has made is worth the significance of this moment, and that together we have somehow happened upon as perfect a beginning and ending as anyone can ever experience in a life-time.