Almost Free Again (For a While)...
We are celebrating a new kind of freedom. Today is two weeks since we received our second Pfizer vaccination, referred to as “The Jab” here and in Great Britain. Sounds like some kind of new dance. And maybe we should be dancing!
But instead, Ted and I were up at the crack of dawn to visit our incredibly caring, cautious and competent perio-dentist, who is responsible for keeping all of our teeth in their place at the age of 72. Since the pandemic, she has insisted that we come first thing in the morning to insure our maximum safety and security.
She keeps the most thorough sanitary regime immaginable. At the front door of her clinic inside the mahogany alcove of her building, we sit in a chair before entering the cabinet. We get our temperatures taken by forehead, are fitted with surgical booties and caps, and deposit our outer clothing, handbags and hats in a large, sanitized, plexiglass box with a tight sealing lid, retaining only our masks and Carte Vitale’s (these are our health credit cards, issued by the French government.) Our hands are sanitized and we are passed over with a magic wand that illiminates unwanted pathogens. Afterwards, we are escorted in and reline in her dental chair. Only then do we deposit our masks and health cards into a small resealable plexiglass box.
The room looks just like a surgical theater, and all staff, like our conscientious Dr. Bouaziz, are properly wrapped in blue surgical garb. She’s the greatest perio clinician in town, but I do miss her warm hugs and beaucoup de bises (true french kisses on the cheeks, two, three or four depending upon the relationship and the region of the country). These bises have all but vanished ever since the pandemic when the practice of what I call 'unsociable distance' took over our lives, and sociable kissing-as-greeting and parting all but disappeared.
Unfortunately, today it was rainy. But on lovely sunny days with blue skies filled with what I call Magritte clouds, we love to walk the two blocks from Dr. Bouaziz' to the small park near the Musee de l’Homme, facing theTour Eiffel in all her glory, with fountains and a reflecting pool in front of her, and the Champs de Mars spreading out like a sea of grass behind her.
Since a pleasant stroll was out of the question today, I was prepared to attend to the many things on my to-do list when we arrived home to Mickey.
I needed to pack up my Winter clothes for storage in the stone cave two floors beneath our building or in Ted’s cedar dressing (French for basement and walk-in closet, respectively). I had emails to answer and supper to plan, and I needed to shampoo and blow-dry my hair. I was hoping to get back to the new Murakami book,“First Person Singular”. But, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to my computer to continue writing, my favorite thing to do on rainy days, especially since activities outside our home remain mostly off limits.
Without external stimulation, I rely on memories to occupy my mind, memories going back so much farther in time than I had imagined. This wasn’t supposed to be the case for at least another ten or fifteen years in our old age, but here I am, already reminiscing. I checked my email and found a friend's blog post in my inbox and read it, reminded of the little girl I was long ago. My friend's blog is titled “Stories About Music in the Key of Strawberry”. Such a clever title, I wish I were as clever with my own.
Arnold Steinhardt, the famous violinist best known as the first violin of the legendary Guarneri Quartet, had written in this particular post about his memories of being a child prodigy under pressure to perform with precision. Linked to the memory of having botched a relatively uncomplicated piece and receiving his father’s words of dismay, he recalled a much later performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto and his reluctance to listen to a YouTube recording, fearful of what he might hear.This had been a special performance where both Isaac Stern and Jack Benny (also a violinist as well as a comedian, for those who don’t recall) were in the audience and had come to see him backstage afterward. Arnold's genius in writing came through in a humorous mock conversation between two aspects of his self, one timid and hyper-critical and the other challenging yet encouraging. Since his father co-stars in this story, one has to wonder if these are two experiences of Arnold’s Father, both inextricably bound to the development of Arnold’s own personhood. I am so in awe of this astonishing musician's accomplishments, which also include writing two stupendous memoirs well before these last few years of blogging more and more memories. If you are a music lover, I urge you to sign up for his blog and discover his memoirs, "Indivisible by Four” and "Violin Dreams”.
Arnold and I met a dozen or more years before Ted and I left L.A. for Paris after I had sat up one night in bed reading his book “Violin Dreams”. It was then that I realized that, although he was a decade older than me, we had a lot in common. We had both not only been born in the Los Angeles, had gone to the same luthier for our kid-sized violins, had shared a violin teacher (his first was my second), but we had each acted out our frustrations and anger in reaction to our mothers, who nailed our feet to the floor in front of our music stands daily, by smashing our instruments over the back of a chair.
Even though I was only a few chapters into the book and it was midnight, I couldn’t wait and I jumped out of bed and went to my computer to look up his web site, where I found his email and was thus able to write him a long fan-letter. I was not expecting a response from the great man, but was unable to resist expressing my appreciation of his writing and his music, and my gratitude toward and solidarity with Arnie Steinhardt, the child.
To my delight, when I awoke and went to my computer, I discovered a very long email in response to my own. Long story short, Arnold invited us to a private soiree sponsored by the Maestro Society, where he was giving a master class and performing in recital. It was, as one can imagine, a special occasion.
Our relationship continued with occasional dinners downtown and some before shared concerts at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Colburn Music Academy, where Arnold taught Chamber music each month, flying all the way from his home in New York City.Once he even graced our dinner table at home along with a mutual friend, Jennifer Langham, who had lived a past life in music as an accomplished cellist in New York before moving to Los Angeles to study at my Institute to become a psychoanalyst. She was then married to Albert Mason, a senior analyst who had been born in the States, emigrated to London as a toddler, and had returned to Los Angeles after his training at The British Society.
Most memorable for me was our last dinner together before we left for Paris and Arnold moved with his artist-wife to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Another mutual friend, Glenn Dicterow, who had been Principle first violinist of the New York Philharmonic for 30 years, and his wife Karen, an accomplished chamber violist and a member of that same orchestra, had just retired from the NYPO and moved back to Los Angeles where Glenn had been born, after a plumy offer to teach at The USC Thornton School of Music.
Glenn had been the younger of the two sons of Harold Dicterow, my last violin teacher. Harold had been the Principle second violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over 50 years and my violin teacher for six. Glenn (exactly my age) and I had studied and played the Bach Double Violin Concerto together when we were very young, with his mother Irina accompanying us on the piano. I had been in touch with Glenn over the years, the last time to send my condolences after the death of his Father, but we hadn’t seen each other in decades. In this photo, Glenn could have been mistaken for the twin brother of his father, Harold, at the same age and when Harold was my master.
The dinner had been planned for just ten days before Ted and I were to depart for France. We'd invited Glenn and his wife Karen to join in with us and Arnold, all old friends, even though the Dicterow would have quite a drive in the rush-hour traffic from Thornton School to Kendall’s, the restaurant downtown near to the Colburn. Before sitting to the table, Glenn introduced is wife and gave me a warm hug, but throughout the meal and our energetic conversation, I had the uncomfortable sense that Glenn did not know who I was.
All of a sudden, Glenn looked across the table at me and said, “Now I remember who you are!” It had taken him over an hour of watching my facial expressions and hearing my voice for his memories of our childhood connection to re-emerge into his consciousness and for that long-ago relationship between us to merge into focus. It was then that he came around the table with a big smile to give me a genuine hug and kisses on both cheeks.
These days, my love of music takes the form of an active and avid listener, as Ted and I have found a fertile array of musical venues that include private chamber soirees, concerts in many of the gorgeous churches in Paris, as well as The Philharmonie de Paris, The Orchestra of Radio France, the Theatre Champs Elysée, and opera performed at both The Bastille and the Palais Garnier.
Of course, since the Pandemic has taken over our lives we get our music fix on Digital Concert Hall where we can enjoy concerts in our multimedia room, sitting in Pajamas and relishing The Berlin Philharmonic, opera on The Metropolitan Opera App, and of course Arte.These electronic venues have been life saving in this time of Covid-19. As you, the reader, have probably realized by now, writing has also become a source of live-giving memorizing and a way to stay connected with loved ones, to re-connect with old friends, and to make new friends as well, while we await total and enduring freedom, with everything live as well as staying alive.