This will forever be the semester divided into two halves. Before Canada and After Canada. Halves sometimes mirror one another. These don’t.
Before Canada was dominated by Bach’s Goldberg Variations. About a year and a half ago, I decided my life would simply be better if I owned the score for the Goldberg Variations. In between other projects, I dabbled in them off and on, but mostly off. Then last May, Movable Sol, the house concert series that I produce with a couple of colleagues, decided to program the Goldbergs in October. Nothing like just putting it on the calendar to inspire one’s practicing.
For the 8 weeks before the Goldbergs, I was a monk. I taught and practiced. When anyone asked me for lunch or coffee, I said no. It wasn’t even the time restriction; it was the mental exhaustion. Like an athlete getting ready for the Olympics, I felt like I had to conserve my energy and monitor my behavior or I simply wasn’t going to make it. The Goldberg Variations are HARD. They are, quite bluntly, unlike anything in the keyboard repertoire. I suspect will spend a lifetime with the Goldbergs. The three performances earlier this month were just the first round.
About the time I acquired the Goldberg Variations, we had dinner at a local Italian place with friends Anne and Dan. It was one of those long evenings, supplemented by lots of wine. At some point we started talking about favorite trips we had taken. “1998. Québec,” Matt and I said. “Absolutely magical.” “Let’s do it,” Dan said as we went on and on about the fall foliage and the food and the culture and…and…and….. “What’s stopping us?”
What’s stopping us would be our lives. It still seems a bit of a miracle that 18 months later, the four of us boarded a plane to Montréal.
We divided our time between Montréal and Québec City. Québec was, in a word, beautiful. Imagine the most vivid fall colors and multiple that times ten. Yes, I know, New England is beautiful, I’ve lived there, but I think for whatever reason (the variety of trees perhaps?), Québec must have an extra long foliage season. We saw mountains covered in trees where some leaves were still green, some yellow, some orange, red or brown, and some trees were already bare. Stunning.
We spent ten days wandering the cities, hiking in the mountains, eating and drinking, browsing in bookstores (all in French, unfortunately!), and meandering through art galleries and farmers market. We had drinks twice at the Château Frontenac (famous hotel in Québec City where Churchill and Roosevelt met during WWII). We went to two movies and heard two memorable recitals. We ate fantastic meals and consumed our weight in croissants.
One afternoon, I left my phone on a park bench in the middle of Mont-Royal, which is the Central Park-like space in the middle of Montréal. By the time I discovered this, we were about three miles away and it was raining. I did not go back to retrieve the phone, which meant I was completely cut off from the world for the remainder of the trip. This was perhaps the best part of the vacation.
Honestly, it was a holiday filled to the brim with competing favorites moments. Another one was the night we arrived in Québec City. After checking into our Airbnb apartment, we walked up to the Upper Old Town, a steep four-story staircase into the walled city, and found a little French-Canadian bistro. We had a three-course prix fixe meal on the patio under a heater, where just across the way was the Château Frontenac with a full moon rising behind it. After dinner we went over to the hotel and had whiskeys. When life is too full and too busy, we will remember that night.
Re-entry back at home in the last week has been brutal. I had a long list of one-offs: appointments with the dermatologist and the vet, two extra rehearsals for a concert next week, lunches and drinks with several friends (see the above for Before Canada monk-like behavior). We need stucco work done on the house and had to finalize the contract. The swamp cooler maintenance had to be scheduled. The geraniums had to be brought in from the courtyard and cut back. Momma wanted her ginormous ferns split again before bringing them inside for the winter. It has taken four trips to the grocery store to get a reasonable amount of food in the kitchen. I had 200 emails waiting and a new phone to figure out. I got a migraine for two days and a sore throat. And then there was the laundry. So much laundry.
I’ve been thinking the last several days about those old Looney Tune cartoons where roadrunner goes through a wall and leaves his outline behind. This seems to be an apt image for what happens when we step away from our lives, even temporarily. Even with something as innocent as going on vacation, we leave behind an imprint of the shape we must assume in order to fit back into our routines and days and relationships. The trick, I realized this week, is re-finding that shape again upon return. “How long to you think it takes to get back into the pattern of your life again?” a friend asked me last night over drinks when I was explaining my newly hatched theory. “Exactly half as long as you were gone,” I said, my answer based upon nothing but instinct.
In spite of the inevitable bumps that come with returning home, home and work is a good place to be. “The days you work are the best days,” said Georgia O’Keeffe. The days you work, I tell myself, trying to make peace with my post-vacation restlessness. Not vacation days, not holidays, not weekends. The days you work.
I was reminded of this very truth on the first week of this semester when sixth-grade Peter came in to the studio and said, “Who has a lesson before me?”
Every single semester he asks me this. It is as if he needs to know who has lessons before and after him in order to orientate himself in the piano universe.
“You are my first lesson on Tuesday,” I told him.
“OK. Who has a lesson after me?”
“The Smiths. After you, I have the four Smith kids in a row.”
“Wow, Amy. This is going to be a really fun day for you.”
You know, he was right.
In fact, this little corner is my favorite place on earth, a small truth I forget from time to time when I am stressed and overwhelmed and moving through my days less than gracefully. And if I need any more reminders of that, there are plenty around me: I have a house and garden full of cheerful pumpkins and pots of mums. This awful, never-ending election season is almost over. Next Saturday we get an extra hour of sleep, my favorite night of the whole year. The Christmas sight-reading books will soon come out of the basement. The pre-recital performance classes are looming. Quintessence has started work on our holiday concert. Momma has ordered the smoked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
Best days ahead, for sure.