Monday, June 13, 2005

Play a tune, piano man

My good friends and neighbors, L&L, they of the notorious Psychiatrist Game (mentioned in a previous post), have flown the coop for a fortnight and we're already missing them. They've gone to Italy via Rome (also doing a hasty jaunt by the Vatican before heading to Tuscany) with twelve others and one member of teh posse has paid all the travel and accommodation expenses. Everyone's on their own with regard to hiring a car to get to the villa, for the eats and the mucho delicious Tuscan vino, of course. When I last spoke to Lee, being a woman wisely aware of the chaos involved in reaching consensus about the grocery preferences for such a large group, she was busy mulling the initial Euro deposit amounts and ground rules for the establishment of a kitty, a term that immediately brought me back to my law school days when I shared with four other chaps in university self-catering accommodation. At the beginning of the second week the party splits up, with the majority returning to the US and six, including L&L, moving on to take in the sights of Venice, Lake Como and Milano, a city I love.

So this 'all major expenses paid' tour caused me for some unknown reason to think about patrons, especially patrons of musicians and artists, and I remembered my first encounter, albeit indirectly, with one such person a little while back. Larry and I had been invited by NYC friends to accompany them to a piano recital to be given by an up-and-coming Estonian (he might actually have been half-Latvian or Ukranian, I can't fully recall) at their acquaintances spacious apartment in the village. When we arrived the light-filled living room, which had a plantation house layout with high ceilings and pocket doors that were open in its middle, had the grand piano separating the front street-facing portion that was filled with eight rows of parlor chairs and the second half where guests milled guzzling wine and chomping on pretty canopies.

Duscha, a Russian with sparse, brassy blonde hair and a vulpine face rendered craggy by too many cigarettes, swooped in appropriately late and accompanied by her thirty-something pianist, a luxurious lynx fur coat clinging for dear life to her narrow shoulders. It was a benign early Fall evening and my European hackles instantly rose at the sight of the coat--yes indeed, I'm one of them, and my first act of subversion was to set alight my mother's aubergine colored rabbit fur as a teenager--but still I endeavored to dismiss the sight and enjoy the wine and music when it commenced. (I should add here that, after said hackles submerged, I indulged the thought I might be in the presence of the elusive Anastasia, that is until an Englishman in our group informed us in hushed tones that Duscha was shagging her protege senseless and the image distracted me.)

Unfortunately, as soon as the chap sat at the piano and struck the first four or five keys, his performance abruptly terminated. The hostess was summoned and was informed in an unmistakable accusatory tone that the piano was out of tune. (Later, I learned the instrument's primary function was to serve as an accent piece.) In a panic, she tore into the hallway and began to scan the local yellow pages frantically for a tuner. When she returned to her husband--now standing in our group near the first row of chairs-- she informed him a local man was on his way. None of this commotion seemed to affect Duscha, who, acting as patrons do, continued to sip and yak with various personalities including a chap from some NPR station.

After ten minutes, the piano tuner still hadn't arrived and four people left. A tall middle-aged woman in baggy jeans and holding a glass of wine exited the thicket of guests at the far side of the room. She walked up to the grand piano, leaned into its gleaming crook, bent over, and began to tinker with the bones and bowels of the thing. Occasionally, she instructed the now sulky pianist to press a key and he did obey to his credit.
"She knows pianos obviously," I said to the hostess.
Her husband and she traded surprised glances before they peered back at the woman's baggy rear again.
"What a pity she didn't offer a bit earlier," I added.
"I hope she does know something, but I'm not aware of her ever playing any instrument," said the host.
"She's a literary agent friend of mine," the hostess added.
After some further inspection and proddings, the agent erected herself, took a sip of her wine, and announced aloud, "People, I really don't think it'll take very long to tune so we should all stay." With that, she strode back toward the hors d'oeuvres table.

Finally the tuner arrived and, after the passage of fifty-five minutes or so, the concert commenced. The pianist was pretty good. After it ended, Duscha resumed her position exactly where motivated patrons do when the congratulations and praise are being dished out. Unfortunately, six months later, the pianist decided either he didn't need a patron, or he grew bored with Duscha, or perhaps a combination of both, because our English wag told us the chap cleared off to live with some violinist in Queens.

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