Saturday, April 14, 2007

Songs without words

Given the - ahem - slightly pedestrian nature of the previous post, (the plain people of Ireland: you can say that again) I feel obliged to finish the evening with something a little more contemplative.

During the daytime here en españa, it's all about the words. That's pretty much the point of this trip - I'm here to learn the language. Unlike during my teen years, when I used to osmose German vocabulary with a facility that irritated the hell out of my classmates, this time I actually have to work at it a little bit. So I read my carefully chosen articles in El Páis (hint: every Thursday they have a special section consisting of translated articles of general interest from The New York Times, these are a terrific source of vocabulary words), I walk around muttering words I like under my breath, or - I can't believe I'm admitting this - I make up little nonsense rhymes, centering on my particular favorite of the moment. This week's particular favorite is murcielago (Spanish for bat), if you must know, and my little song is none of your business, thank you very much. A blogger needs some privacy.

Oh, all right then, if you must know, here's an excerpt:

.... somos los murcielagos sevillanas
Comimos las manzanas
y a veces de la carne
De las brujas catalanas....

Just as I did during my last trip to Spain, at about the two-week mark I reached the point where it seemed as if the words had taken over my brain completely. I would lie in bed at night, trying to fall asleep, but the words would keep racing through my brain. Fortunately, I knew what to do. I went to el Corte Inglés and bought myself a fine Discman (at rock-bottom prices, presumably because the era of the iPod already threatens obsolescence). To go with it, many fine CD's of classical music. Strictly orchestral stuff, because - you've guessed it - no words!

This is why, every night for the last couple of weeks, I've been renewing my acquaintance with the nine Beethoven symphonies (16.10€ for the set of 5 CD's). Accuse me of Eurocentric, dead-white-male-loving cultural chauvinism if you must, but let me go on record here as saying that a universe in which one can have access to one of the pinnacles of human achievement for about twenty bucks and change ain't all bad.

Maybe it's a result of just being in a different milieu, maybe all of one's senses are heightened while traveling (see the earlier "fruits of the forest" post), maybe active listening during the daytime has a residual effect late at night. Whatever the reason, I find myself listening to this music with a heightened sensitivity, discovering it with fresh ears, as it were. And having a hard time describing what I mean without resorting to the stalest of clichés.

So I will finish with a concrete example. Last Sunday night - Easter Sunday. It's been a long day. I´m a little wiped out. Lying there listening to the second movement of the Eroica, I don't think I've ever heard anything as desolate, or as haunting. There's no escaping the despair that permeates this music. Except, of course, that he does. He brings you down about as low as it seems possible to go and still go on, and then lifts you back up. With those simply awesome variations through to the triumph at the end. Though I've listened to this particular symphony dozens of times, I've never found it anywhere as thrilling. Shivers up the spine.

And now you know why I will never work as a music critic. The point, if there is one, has something to do with a heightening of one's senses while traveling. Or openness to new ways of perceiving. I don't know. Go figure. No pretty bow around this post - sorry.

With that, I bid you good night.


Gabriel said...

Well ... I'm heading from Chicago to Granada tomorrow (Tuesday) and savoring the thought of coffee and media tostada in Plaza Bibrrambla. Of course, the "murcielagos" of the song would have to be "sevillanos" not "sevillanas".

gaelstat said...

Gabriel is, of course, correct. But if I go in and edit the blog, his comment won't make sense. In addition, if I airbrush out all the mistakes now, how will you be able to tell how much progress I am making as time goes by? So, for now, I leave it, warts and all.

Gabriel: have you considered that your talent for knowing the correct gender of words may be wasted in Spain, and that German might be your true calling? Just a thought.