Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beer for the ears

After "dining" last night on an assemblage of salads and sausage from the local bazaar, I stopped in at the German restaurant near the hotel for a pint or two. (It can be a struggle, in this climate, to drink beer fast enough to benefit from its coldness yet slow enough not to get tipsy or bloated, but these are the crosses we travelers must bear...)

In deference to drizzle, I sat inside, surrounded by that intoxicating smell of braised smoked pork, a quartet of Americans, a local couple with a baby, a lot of empty picnic tables, and...a little old man at an upright piano accompanying a tall, weary-looking blonde on a violin. The piano needed a tuning, and she, with music, seemed to be struggling at times to follow him, without, but it was wonderful: old, slightly schmaltzy stuff redolent of absinthe and cigarette-holders and long moustaches that leaned at moments towards Chopin, moments Gershwin--the kind of music that reminds you of the importance of acoustic instruments. Due to his individual skill and the general note-heavy nature of the piano, he played circles around her in a sense. But even with her slightly hesitant playing, the violin had that magical sound that made one note of hers carry more emotional weight than a dozen of his. You can have your synthesizers and mp3s and amplifiers: only trees and cat guts and horsehair, things that were once alive, can make that sound to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make the breath catch in your throat.

No one but me seemed to pay them any mind. I clapped somewhat timidly after the second number, which the violinist acknowledged with an almost embarrassed nod. I applauded a few more times, and wished I knew enough Russian to go up and tell them what I'll try to say here:

Few things make me feel more blessed than stumbling onto good live music, as I've done typically once or twice per trip. Most musicians are so woefully underappreciated, I almost feel I've been sent, unbeknownst, on a mission to be the audience they deserve--or they've been sent to give me more pleasure than I deserve. Watermelon in the desert, a good cup of coffee on a cold morning, setting down your bags at the end of many transfers...none of these comforts is sweeter than live music.

Convenience at customs and solace through music--all in one day, and all thanks to beer.


  1. Hardsleeper - It's very enjoyable reading your adventures through China and into Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. It looks like you're headed west; perhaps, northwest towards Aral Sea? Please add more location details in your posts as a vicarious reader of your travels is great reading.



  2. Hey my ancient roommate, swell blog. Looks like you finally conquered Latin America and moved on to Asia. Let me know when you get back and need some reading material--I also have a blog on this very thingy, and I just finished a short story you might like--C. "The Pope" Woody