My husband lives full-time in Mexico City. As this past summer approached, I realized that if I decided to forego the opportunities that came my way in Boston this summer, I could experiment with some ideas I had relating to music, I could build a stash of reed blanks, I could get to know my husband’s hometown a little more intimately, we could make some repairs to our apartment and buy some furniture (we have been surviving with just a bed, a couch and a grand piano down there…), and, perhaps, I could even improve my (embarrassingly bad) Spanish! I ended up doing all those things and more. It was such a good summer.
My mom’s little dog, Chloe (a five-pound Yorkie), ended up joining us for most of the summer in Mexico. She and I were stopped several times a day on our walks – passersby adored her. I would do my best to understand all of their questions and come up with some answers, on the fly, in broken Spanish. They were so kind and encouraging, I started to feel more and more confident using my Spanish as the weeks went by.
One of our frequent exchanges was with our downstairs neighbor, an Italian man with a small dog, Teo. Teo and Chloe would sniff at each other while he implored me to keep all the doors and windows open so that he could hear me practice. Wow, I thought. What a difference in comparison with what you expect (and, from time to time, experience) from apartment building neighbors in Boston. His favorite thing to hear was the bassoon solo from Ravel’s Bolero. He would sing it to me as we stood on the street corner, chatting with the dogs. I would always think of him whenever I turned the page to start in on that solo.
He may have been especially lucky (or unlucky), as one of my projects this summer was to re-explore and redevelop my musicality. I had been feeling that in my return to music, after spending a number of years away, much of my energy and attention had been on technical matters (such as intonation, rhythm, and physical techniques), rather than musical matters. Earlier in my musical life, my strength had always been in my musicality, and while it was never entirely shelved, that strength had certainly been neglected in my return. To uncover and redevelop that skill was not easy. I realized that I had developed such strong habits of monitoring my technical (and much more easily verifiable) skills, that it was quite difficult to approach the music from the other, more musical, end of things. To uncover the full scope of my musicality again, I realized that I needed more space – more space in my practice habits to allow my ideas to come to the surface, and more space in my life so that I had time to reach deep inside to tap into the source of the emotional energy that suited the music – a practice I had been engaging in only haphazardly in the past few years.
A key piece of my work this summer was taking time off. I maintained a rigorous schedule of practicing and reed-making, but I only exacted that work five days a week. Ordinarily, I maintain this pace six days a week (or seven days during those really busy weeks). In my time off, we had several “Mexican lunches” with my husband’s cousins – affairs that begin vaguely between two and four in the afternoon and wrap up sometime between seven and nine, depending on how each person feels. The food is to die for: homemade ceviche, sopes (wonderful Mexican snacks, with a thick, hand-formed, corn tortilla-like base covered with different combinations of chopped vegetables, meats, black beans, cheeses, and salsas – perhaps you could think of it like a Mexican bruschetta), Caesar salad (originally invented in Mexico, who knew!?) with freshly made Caesar dressing, pork or steak or whole fish grilled to perfection and paired with homemade salsas, followed by a bit of dessert, and accompanied with wonderful Mexican beers, wines and tequilas. One such lunch brought us to a beautiful home in Cuernavaca. I felt like I was in an Architectural Digest. That lunch led to a spontaneous decision to spend the night with family in nearby Tepoztlán and enjoy an amazing morning at the market gathering food for our next “lunch”, then in the pool as we waited for guests to arrive and finally enjoying our lunch, including the locally grown items we had purchased at the market that morning. That weekend was the highlight of our summer and epitomized my goal of taking time for myself.
I saw my downstairs neighbor the morning that I was leaving to return to Boston. The night before, we had just experienced the first big earthquake, that caused so much damage in the southern part of the country. My neighbor was with his wife and Teo and I was walking Chloe. This was the first time that I had ever met his wife. She was so lovely and spoke for a long time about how much they had enjoyed listening to me play. They begged me to keep the doors open (we have an atrium that where all of the apartments on our line share an open, vertical space that is warmed by the sun through the skylight at the top and extends all the way to the ground floor). I gave them the bad news that Chloe and I were leaving later that day, but that I would be back as soon as I could make it. Thankfully, our building seems pretty solidly built and had survived that earthquake (and even the second earthquake that has wreaked so much havoc in Mexico City) without any major damage. I will be there for Christmas with my bassoon and my music in hand, ready to bring a little light into the lives of those around me, especially my downstairs neighbor.
P.S. As I was preparing this blog, I learned that my neighbor’s dog, Teo, had recently passed away. I am glad to make a place here where he can be remembered by those who loved him.