I think they call it preface.
During last months I was writing mostly, as it is said in Russia, into the table. Some of it, handwritten in my notepads, some – in drafts here, in this blog. But none of it had seen “the light of day”. As you (if you follow this blog) probably know, I am not a very shy person when it comes to sharing, but then – something made me lock it all in a drawer. I think the reason was (well, probably still is) – my writing is never good enough. And now I am asking this question – good enough for exactly what? What is that standard that told that Mr. X has to write the bestseller every time he sits in front of the keyboard, and otherwise never show the results to anyone? Right – there is no such standard. And thus, I think I have to spit it all out. Brace yourself 😉
This story took some time in writing (and re-writing), and was reviewed by few of my friends. It did not earn the praise but it did earn lots of critical feedback, feedback that I promised to myself to incorporate over time. Now it is clear that, as flawed as it is, this story will stay in its original form. It might be rewritten after all, but if it will be, it will be a complete different story. Fun fact: I first wrote entire piece by hand, in a notepad 🙂 Somewhat arcane, and definitely out of the digital age, but it felt great to feel hands numb from writing 🙂 It’s been a while since it happened last time (remembering university years, yeah-baby 😉 ).
The story is a bit longer than usual short story. Actually, as one fellow writer noted, it doesn’t fit into any standard: way too long for a short story, and way too short for a novel. Thus, I will publish it here in parts. How many exactly there will be – I don’t know, but then in total they will occupy about 42 typed pages and some of your precious time. I will be honoured if you read the story. And even more, if you actually like it, although as mentioned earlier, I publish it for myself and just for myself. Okay, I think it’s time to start.
Songs of Escape
Every story has to start somewhere. This one started in Berlin. It was the middle of November, the month that almost everyone living in Berlin probably hates. November in the city is usually dark and cold. People look forward to Christmas decorations and colored lights, but it is still a bit too early, so streets look dull and depressing. This November was not an exception to the rule: the sky was mostly gray, and from time to time the air was full with drizzle. Smells and colors of autumn have almost been gone by that time, just as most of the leaves were already gone from the trees, the ones remaining – dark brown and withered.
She was a girl. At the age of twenty two, she moved to Berlin as a scholar of the Berliner Philharmonic – the orchestra and the organization supporting talented musicians. She came to Berlin from the south of Europe, so change of scene was pretty drastic at first, but she managed to get used to it. The hardest part of moving – she always said – was adapting to the German mentality. And, in addition to being overly reserved, they, Germans, totally did not know how to cook – she often joked. Still, she was glad she picked Berlin as her destination – being the capital, it was also the most open minded and the least German city of all she had known, and it brought her closer to her dream.
She played percussions, a passion of hers. Most of all, she loved marimba. Sixty wooden planks, each crafted precisely to produce exact note when hit, laid out to resemble piano keyboard, although much larger in size. The dynamics, the control over the sound it gave to her, the response, the touch – she loved everything about it, but most of all – the mystic, almost surreal feel to the music it produced. Marimba was an instrument for soloists, and thus she mostly played unaccompanied. She did also play piano, but these days she touched it only if somebody would ask her to play, devoting all her time to the instrument she loved.
She lived in Wedding – neighborhood located in the north of Berlin, in a little apartment, sharing it with one other student. Although most of the Wedding area looked a little too ethnic to her – it was rather popular among Turkish population of the city – she found a place in the southern part of it, where it mostly resembled typical Germany. Her choice of location was dictated mostly by the rent costs and the length of her daily commute, and it was not a bad choice – south of Wedding was mostly calm residential area with several parks here and there.
Her apartment was located on the third floor of the Altbau – a house built in the early 1960’s, having very high ceilings albeit relatively small rooms. The apartment had two rooms, a small kitchen and a bathroom. Unfortunately, she did not have a possibility to practice at home – she did not have any of her instruments there, and even if she did, she knew neighbors would not approve it. Hence, she spent most of her time practicing in the basement of the Philharmonie.
She liked coffee. Actually, it would not be a lie to say she was crazy about her coffee. Not only she adored all those lovely little shops scattered around Berlin, but she also made it herself, sometimes – using a stove-top cooker, and when she had more time – a Japanese dripper with a filter. Over time, she figured out how to make it just right. She took great care in selecting the beans every time she was out shopping – for she knew it was probably the most important part of making coffee.
Being a musician, she was in love with music. As obvious as it could seem, she did not take this relationship for granted. She played since she was a kid, and she could not ever imagine her life without music anymore. But to love it, to be absorbed in it as she played, read or wrote it – that she had to learn. Among classical composers, her favorites were Franck, Chopin and Satie. Yet a very special place was always reserved for Bach. She could not always relate to his music, but she believed he was a genius, or an alien, or maybe both. Thus, she played his music almost every day.
She had a little musical weakness, which she preferred to keep secret from everybody for it would collide with her image too much. She listened to heavy metal, in particular – the bands with a strong battery, fast and heavy guitars and growling vocals. She needed this mindless noise from time to time to wash away whatever thoughts she would accumulate inside – the same way as she needed a shower in the morning.
She had straight brown hair and brown eyes. Her body always looked tanned. She did not need much sun to get to this mocha color, she said. So even autumn in Berlin, so dark and heavy with rain, would not deprive her of her bronze skin.
2. Stringendo, Andante
She woke up early in the morning and started her day with Yoga. After many years of practice, she was familiar with the postures, and she performed them methodically one after another, stretching every muscle in her body. Each session took her about an hour, and she tried to never skip it. She felt that if she stops looking after herself, her life, her music, and her body, would eventually fall apart. She finished the practice with a short meditation, took a shower and went to the kitchen.
Today she could afford a little extra time for herself, so she decided to make a long coffee. She ground the beans, boiled the water and slowly made her drink, taking care of every detail known to her. She enjoyed this ritual – pouring the water in circle, not too fast, but not too slow, breathing in the aromas, imagining how the first sip would taste. When coffee was ready, she made herself a small breakfast, consisting, as usual, of cereals, nuts and some chocolate. Just like her coffee, she liked her chocolate dark. Preferably even too dark, so so as not to feel any sugar at all. She was not a sugar person.
After breakfast, she quickly got ready and left to the practice room. Even though in Berlin just everyone was in love with their bicycles, she preferred to take the train. She loved trains. Riding them, one had a luxury of listening to music, relaxing and watching people around. All her life she was deprived of trains – the island she was coming from did not have any, and from time to time she dreamed of living in a big city, taking subway every morning. In Berlin, it seemed, her dream came true. From her place in Wedding, it took her five stops with a subway line, a transfer, two more stops with a city line and a ten minute walk to get to the building of the Berliner Philharmonie. All in all, it was not a long commute – on average it took her just about thirty minutes.
On par with every professional musician, she started playing piano when she was four. And, as with all the things that one does for a lifetime, she got a little bored with it. Perhaps, bored would not be the best word to describe her feelings, for playing was so natural to her it was like breathing. I play and therefore I am – that was about her. Hence, for her studies and specialization she picked percussions. She got along with them and they rewarded her with a great sound, great grades, and now – the scholarship. She knew she was one of the best, and she was ambitious enough to want to become *the* best. She loved all the instruments she could play – xylophone, vibraphone, timpani, even the triangle. But she had special attachment to marimba. The instrument was double the size of her, or possibly even a triple, and she had to take great care and lots of practice to take the right notes.
It would be worth mentioning that she was really tiny. For people that looked at her, she seemed so fragile that the slightest wind would blow her away from the surface of the earth. That impression lingered, however, only until she picked up her mallets, for when the same people would see her playing, they would change their mind. The power and the energy that her music emitted was more than compensating for her size.
She got off the train and went in the direction of the bright-golden building in the vicinity of Potsdamer Platz – her destination stop. She passed through the courtyard of one of the office buildings nearby, a posh hotel on her right and a glass and metal office tower on her left. Soon she reached the lobby of the Philharmonie and, losing no time, went straight into the maze of the backstage. Backstage of the Berliner Philharmonie was indeed a maze and one could have easily found themselves lost there. The corridors connected all the rooms available, of which there were plenty: rehearsal rooms, canteen, storage rooms for instruments and sheet music, an entire basement to store pianos, recording rooms. Elevators, hallways, narrow staircases and hidden balconies – it all was there, wrapping around two big concert halls and connecting a few other, smaller ones. The entire building was built around these concert halls, very functional, very pragmatic, but yet very beautiful.
By now, she knew pretty well the path to the percussions practice room so she went straight there, greeting people she met in the hallways. It was around nine a.m. that she was able to start her practice.
Her musical practice was even more methodical than yoga. She knew, as an aspiring musician, she must invest great effort to become the best of her field. Thus, normally, every day she spent about six hours practicing, after which she could no longer stand, exhausted. Her practice was always divided into sessions – each three quarters of an hour, following with a fifteen minutes break. First she started with exercises. All sorts of these – gripping techniques, scales, chord progressions. She diligently performed them to let her body and hands warm up, and to let her mind get into the mood of going forward and playing actual music. After a break, she spent two more sessions playing Bach, almost exclusively. She believed that playing his music would prepare her to the other pieces, not only because it was rather hard to play, but also because it was very comfortable to practice, as she knew most of the repertoire from the years of playing piano. She would always start very slowly, gradually increasing the tempo to the point where she could not follow any more, and then she would stay just below this point, playing, watching her moves, analyzing, trying to improve. She always used a metronome – and always – a mechanical one. Sometimes she got so used to the ticks, that silence would seem very strange to her – as if the time had stopped.
After three hours of practice she would do a break, get herself a takeaway lunch and a coffee. She would sit on one of those staircases outside of the building, breathing fresh air, enjoying her simple food and thinking what she would do next.
Three hours of practice that followed were similar to the first, with one exception – instead of Bach, she would play music of other composers. Which one she would pick depended, mostly, on what she was preparing to. If she didn’t have any scheduled performances, she would just practice her favorite pieces, among which – ones from a certain Japanese composer. She liked her music, for it fitted her character. It reminded her of the stream high in the mountains, current being swift one moment and calm – the other, dangerous where the stones were blocking the way, and safe and peaceful where water formed a basin, ultimately ending with a waterfall, full of motion, color and sound.
When she finished, she would go to a coffee shop nearby to sit back and recharge. Standing for six hours was the worst part of playing her instrument, but nonetheless she loved it. Even though her legs hurt, the pain brought her some delight – a feeling of a great practice. She learned something. She did something. Every practice for her was an accomplishment, no matter how little.
She would put her headset on and turn on the music. She would close her eyes and let herself relax for some time. Only she knew that her cooling off was accompanied by the rapid rhythm, heavy guitars and the growl of the lead vocals, like fire raging on a paradise island surrounded by calm, deep waters.
She would realize that it is time to go when her coffee was gone. Then, she would turn off the music and walk one or two stops, and then take a train home. She would stop by the grocery store on her way to buy something to eat and then walk home.
This time, she bought some celery, tomatoes, mozzarella and some Italian ham. Even though she didn’t eat much and she always took cheap Asian take-aways for lunch, she liked her dinners. No matter how tough her money situation was, she would not spare a cent on that meal. After all, you are what you eat, for dinner – she would say, smiling.
It was about seven p.m. when she started to cook. Perhaps cook would be a little bit too strong a word for she just chopped the tomatoes and celery, laid out the ham and cheese, poured a generous amount of oil on top of both and, finally, sprinkled both with fresh pepper. Italians would approve that little dinner of hers, she thought.
While she ate, she read. Normally, she would have a book lying around, but this time she didn’t have one for she finished everything and didn’t have time to buy a new one, so she fell back to the news reports. In the news, she found nothing special, just the regular gradual sliding of the world into chaos. Nothing on the news would surprise her any more, for she got used to people worldwide doing strange, pointless, silly or violent things. It seemed fitting to people now. Not that she cared about the world much – it was wild, vast and no one out there even knew she existed, so why should she? Her motto was: “Want to change the world – start with yourself”, and that was what she did.
After the meal she would wash the dishes and around nine o’clock she would go for a short walk, followed by the shower and a series of actions that could be described by words “taking care” of herself. She liked her body and she knew it was the only one she had, so she took time and care to keep it healthy and pretty. She would go to bed around ten-thirty. Almost never she would sleep without waking up so she left a little time buffer for that – her sleep was usually shallow and easily disturbed. Thankfully, she got used to the regular sounds, like passing of the trains, so even if they woke her, it happened only for a moment and then she would go back to her dreams.
Dreams. Of those she had plenty. They were not always pleasant, some were actually very scary, but they were never boring. Only if she was sick, would she not dream. Otherwise – they were always there – an entertainment for a lonely night.
(to be continued… here)