Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Musical Martyrs

Woke up this morning,
dragged my carcass out of bed,
looked out the window,
and what did I see?
Snow. White hankies dropping straight down from a silent, steel-gray sky.

Still, though, I did not despair. It is only November, so it´s not killer depressing yet, seeing snow. The first snowfall of the season is usually kind of nice.

Specially if it´s like this one: short-lived and followed by all kinds of weather after. And better things than that, even. I looked at the snow and realized I´m feeling better, finally.

I´ve not written in my usual rhythm because I´ve been very ill -- an intestinal flu bug is making the rounds hereabouts, and boy did I get a dose!

I knew something was wrong on Saturday night. Saturday was St. Cecilia´s Day. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians -- the good woman, a Roman martyr, is usually pictured with a pipe organ. (Bet you didn´t know that pipe organs date back 2,000 years, to the Romans, eh? The earliest ones weren´t driven by compressed air, but by running water! Cool stuff you can learn from blogs, eh?) I can only hope that Cecilia´s organ-playing was not directly related to her martyrdom.

Martyrdom and pipe organs do have their commonalities, as anyone can attest who has sat through more than one organ recital.

More back story: Michael, my Premier Husband and the father of my children, is an organist of some note in the United States. Many years ago we toured some of the weird 500-year-old pipe organs that still remain in rural Extremadura, Spain. Nothing sounds (or looks) quite like a Spanish pipe organ, and UNESCO, the European Union, and other cultural NGOs have spent zillions in the past two decades saving many of these old whistle-boxes from oblivion. Unfortunately, nobody in the backwater towns is an organist. Paco and Pepita may have a jewel of the Spanish Baroque in the loft of their old stone sanctuary, but it´s a good bet they have never heard it played.

And so Michael´s messing-about, courtesy the Tourist Office of Spain and the Extremaduran bishops, usually drew crowds of appreciative, applauding villagers... and sometimes showered them with clouds of dust and pigeon guano. (this can happen when you pull open a stop and compressed air suddenly fills a long-silent diapaison. (Mothers, warn your children.)

So, in the fullness of years I am left with a perverse appreciation for pipe organs, especially the odd Spanish kind. And a week ago, while reading the local weekly newspaper, I found an announcement: on St. Cecilia´s Day, a free organ concert at Sta. Cecilia Church in Espinoza de Gonzalo, on a 15th century restored instrument, by a Mexican-American organist "of some repute."

"Hmmm," I thought. "I wonder if he´ll play any 15th century Mexican church music? I wonder where Espinoza de Gonzalo is? I wonder if Paddy can be persuaded to go?"

Long story short: We got up and went, seeing as we´ve not done no culture in a while. Espinoza isn´t much these days, but it was apparently an important place a few hundred years ago. They have a real gem of a big old parish church that must date to the 12th century, with a sweet Flemish-style pipe organ up in the loft. The pedals were mere pegs set into the floor. There was only one keyboard, with 40 notes, and 20 stop-buttons, big enough to fill your palm.

The concert drew a good crowd -- about 100 people gathered in, smiled and greeted one another, and wondered how to sit. (Watching a concert means you sit facing the performer. But what if he´s seated behind you, over your head? And what if the seat is a church pew, and reversing yourself means turning your back on the Blessed Sacrament up front and threading your legs over and through the pew-back? And what if you´re an old lady, wearing a skirt, and all your neighbors are there watching?)

Anyway, we being strangers, we just sat and listened. The organist was not much good. He did not play any oddments of Hispanic Baroque, and we didn´t hear any of the wonderfully goat-like honkings I knew were coiled inside those big en chamade horizontal pipes bristling out over his head. Oh well, he is the Yale-educated expert, not me.

It still was an enjoyable evening out, in a lovely and nicely restored church, with well-kept baroque and roccoco altars. It was not overly cold, although the inevitable chill did creep up into my ankles as time went on. Between numbers we could see and hear the crowd slipping away (just try to sneak out when the exit door is 12 feet tall and weighs 150 pounds).

I was glad for the architectural distraction, because my stomach was making amazing noises. The noises! It did not ache or hurt me, but something apparently was going on in there, something akin to a population migration, a hydraulic damming project, or some autonomic realignment of major digestive organs. It was almost musical.

We were going to stop somewhere for dinner after the concert, but the digestive din was a warning shot across the bow. We hied on home after the last semiquaver bounced off the stone vaults. We made it just in time.

And so here I am, somewhat recovered from my very own organ concert -- three days of musical martyrdom. Flu Blues. Acid Jazz. A little tripe music?

Santa Cecilia forfend!


Kathy said...

Reb, you are totally, delightfully, hilarious,

yours in sonorous sympathy,

CarolineMathieson said...

Hmmm, toilet humour!

C x

Amawalker said...

Toilet Trivia:
Thomas Crapper served as the royal sanitary engineer for members of England's royalty for many years. The man held nine patents: Four for improvements to drains, three for water closets, one for manhole covers and the last for pipe joints. (He did not invent the flush toilet - that is an urban legend). He marketed the "Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer" (No. 814)
He did, however, invent a new wooden toilet seat with a little gap in the front for the convenience of male ... er... crappers, I suppose.
So, the little 4 letter word is not really a swear word and the next time you need to go to the crapper for a crap, you can thank old Thomas Crapper.

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

Heaven bless me, I never did mention poo or toilets or caca or anything evacuative. I talked about my rumbling tum, and St. Cecilia, and pipe organs. I did not go any lower.

...I guess some "other" things are a lot more interesting than saints and musical instruments!

Gary White said...

Great to hear about those Spanish trumpets, even if you didn't get a chance to hear them. I wonder what missiles they would spew out if you set them loose! Sorry to hear about the bug but great to hear about the first snow. See you sometime soon, we hope.

bridget said...

Hi Reb, hope you don't mind me butting in on your blog with comments! I have just discovered the delights of baroque latin american choral music myself - even the composers' names - Zipoli, Zespandes (from memory as the CD is in the car and its wet, foggy and cold here in East Anglia)- are musical.
And as so often, as soon as I discover something I come across references to it everywhere and wonder how I managed to miss it all my life!!
Your thanksgiving sounds lovely!
Bridget (of the golden shrugs!)

Virginia said...

Ahhhhhh pipe organs! My father-in-law is enamoured (sp?)of them too...he is a gifted musician, and amateur historian and a scholar. A nice combination when we around Spain with them years ago.

Did the sppuse primero find John Irvings tale of the tatoos and the pipe organ amusing?

I hope you are over your ailments and enjoying the beauty of the first snowfalls of the season...

V.J. Pulver
In Sunny Santa Fe