|Frustration with a Capital F|
Standing at one end of the Campo de Fiori, he heard the clear-pitched sound of a soprano’s voice mingled with the elegant chords of a violin coming from a passageway to his left. Even to his uneducated musical ear, he knew the performers were striving to reach a high level of perfection. The haunting sounds drove him to explore the passageway. The first thing he noticed, opposite the house where the music was coming from, was a dirty old mattress lying in the gutter. This ugly sight seemed alien to the sounds of haunting music wafting through the passageway. He looked across the narrow street, hoping to see who was performing. The windows were wide open: violin playing on the first floor, operatic singing on the second floor. He stepped back to get a better view when, to his surprise, a violin came flying out of the first floor window. It fell with a thud into the center of the mattress. The singer’s voice from the second floor still pervaded the passageway as if nothing had happened; there was complete silence from the first floor. He bent down, picked up the violin and shouted up towards the first floor windows.
A head popped out. “It was until a few seconds ago.”
“Want it back?”
“Sure, why not? It will save me the bother of coming down later to retrieve it. Come on up.”
The door on the first floor opened to reveal a small old man dressed in evening clothes. He had a long pale face supporting an elegant little goat’s beard, but it was his sparkling eyes, full of youth and enthusiasm, that told his visitor he was no ordinary man. As he took the violin, he introduced himself as Alberto.
“Please come in.”
His visitor introduced himself as George. Without more fuss, George was ushered into the large room overlooking the street. On entering, George caught his breath in amazement. The room was divided carefully down the middle into two distinct sections: one for music, and one for painting. On the musical side, the walls were fully furnished with violins in different stages of repair. They hung from floor to ceiling like a regiment of soldiers on a drill square. He turned to the painting side. Here the walls were covered with canvases, many of the pictures half finished, some had just been started, paint tubes and brushes cluttered the floor.
“You also paint!” exclaimed George.
“Today we only talk about music,” the old man replied. “Only music.”
Not being a musician, George was not sure how to continue the conversation, but out of politeness to his host he turned his attention to the violin wall. The obvious topic of conversation came to his lips. “May I ask why you threw the violin out of the window?”
“Frustration.” The old man replied looking towards to the violin wall. “Frustration!”
“Why frustration?” questioned George.
“Ah! It’s a long story. As you see I am old, and slowly I am beginning to forget how it all started.” He stopped a minute as if losing his train of thought. Then he took George by the arm and said. “My friend, you are in Rome. Everybody here thinks they are great artists; singers think they are Caruso, painters Leonardo da Vinci, composers, Puccini, and so it goes on! Our desire to imitate our great artists is unlimited. We are crazy! I am Italian, crazy like the rest of them.”
He paused to allow George to understand the true Italian artistic meaning of crazy.
“At one time I was a well-known violinist—world concert tours and all the trappings. In all due modesty I know how to play the violin. You ask me why I threw the violin out of the window? You see, my friend, many years ago in Naples I heard a street musician reach a note with his violin that I had never heard before and have never heard since. After that, I have been trying to find that note. Sometimes I get very close but it still eludes me. At first I thought it was my playing; then I thought it was the violin; as you can see I have tested a fair number. In frustration I started throwing the violins out of the window. It got quite expensive so that is why I have put a mattress there. Ah! It’s crazy; but what can we do? Listen to my wife singing.”
He pointed his finger at the ceiling and paused to allow George to listen.
“You hear her my friend? She is smitten with the same bug. Once my wife heard a great operatic soprano, like herself, reach a note so high and of such vocal beauty that she just had to try to copy it. Her attempts have been going on for years, but unlike me she cannot just throw her voice out of the window. She has to live with her frustration. George, my friend, take my advice: if you get frustrated just throw out whatever gets in your way. It helps.”
They talked on for a while, George mostly listening. Finally he saw the old man was tired. As he said good-bye for the first time he noticed that all the paintings on the walls were on the same subject in various stages of progression. He was about to say something but remembered the old man’s words “Today we talk only about music.”
George didn’t sleep very well that night; two recurring thoughts disturbed him. First, what could he throw out of his life that was getting in the way? And second, what was the meaning of all those pictures? The next day at noon he was back in the Campo de Fiori. He immediately heard the haunting voice of the soprano but the violin was silent. He crept down the passageway to see if there was a violin on the mattress. To his great amusement he saw paintbrushes being thrown out of the first floor window.
Over the coming months George often thought about his meeting with the old man and slowly began teaching himself to open his windows and throw things out.
It must have been six months later at eleven o’clock in the morning when George’s British Airways flight from London touched down at the Rome Airport.
“Campo de Fiori, please.”
As he alighted from the taxi, he could hear no singing, no violin. He went straight to the passageway. No mattress. The house was boarded up. As he stood gazing up at the first and second floor, a man came out of a door further down the passage.
“Please,” George said, pointing to the house, “do you know where the old man has gone?”
The passerby looked at him. “The soprano! She threw herself out of the second floor window. They were artists, crazy people.”
George wasn’t so sure……...
- The end-