|Sequel to Frustration with a capital F|
By David Nutt, May 2002
George wanted to ask the passerby some other questions, but by the time he collected his thoughts the man was no longer in the passageway. He looked up again at the boarded building reflecting on the one meeting he had with the old man. In many little ways it had changed his life. He had learnt to open the window and throw things out; these acts had given him a spiritual freedom he had never felt before. He felt a deep sadness at not seeing the old man and thanking him.
Taking one final look at the boarded up house he retraced his steps to the Campo de Fiori, took a seat on a café terrace, ordered a cappuccino, and sat there deep in thought. Why not ask the servers in the café if they knew something about the old man? He called his waiter and started engaging him in conversation employing simple English words aided by sign language. The waiter stopped him in his tracts, signaling he would fetch somebody.
Within minutes a smartly dressed man, no doubt the patron, was standing before George.
“Sir, you desire something?” This was spoken with that lyrical tone of an Italian speaking English.
“Well, yes, I wonder if you can help me? About six months ago I had a conversation with an old man who played the violin. He lived in the passageway over there.” George said pointing his finger.
“You mean Maestro Alberto Mazzini. Of course everybody knows him around here. He was once a famous musician and his wife a famous opera singer. Her recent death was a terrible tragedy.”
“I just heard the news, a neighbor told me she threw herself out of the second floor window. It must have been awful. I never met her, in fact I only talked to the old man once in my life but he made a lasting impression on me.”
The patron interjected. “Monsieur, I am not surprised, they were both remarkable people and great Italian artistes. We will all miss them.”
George interrupted. “You talk in the past tense, is the Maestro is dead?”
“No, not as far as I know. After his wife’s tragic death he gave an enormous party, here in the square, for the entire neighborhood and his many friends. Then he closed his house telling everybody he was going to live in the hotel Excelsior, Naples for the rest of his life. Ah! The party, none of us have seen a party like that, and no doubt never will again. Musicians and singers came from all over Italy. They were still playing, singing and dancing well past sunrise. The market opened very late that morning as when the workers came to put up the stalls they joined in.”
The patron was so overcome with emotion that he sat down next to George, touched his arm and continued. “ We have never heard music like that; what’s more, most of the musicians and singers were over seventy. Listen you can still hear the sounds floating over the marketplace.” He closed his eyes, George listened carefully; for a fleeting second he did see the old man at the center of a crowd of musicians playing the violin in the soft, warm, and idyllic evenings in the Campo de Fiori.
Yes, he mused it must have been some party.
George nudged the Patron out of his dreams. “ Do you have the telephone number of the hotel so that I might contact the Maestro?”
The patron jerked to attention with a start.
“Of course, I will do better than that I will call the hotel and see if Maestro Mazzini is there.” With this remark he whisked out a portable telephone, first calling information and then the hotel asking for the old man. Apparently he was out; would the caller like to leave a message? The patron turned to George who said “no.”
“Here is the number of the hotel, call him at about seven this evening, I would imagine he will be in.” said the café owner.
“Thank you,” said George, “ I have just decided to go to Naples to see him.”
“Give him our love, and tell him we are still talking about the party.”
On that note George left the café walked through the market, bought an apple and strolled down the via della Conda.
Three days later he was in the foyer of the hotel Excelsior asking for the Maestro Alberto Mazzini. The Maestro was out but would be back in an hour came the reply. George asked if he could wait. Be our guest.
One hour later the old man came into the foyer of the hotel. He was still his sprightly self, wearing a white linen suit with a gray bowler hat. George immediately got up from where he was sitting and approached the old man. George could see from the old man’s eyes he was trying to put a name to the face. Suddenly he said “ George, the American, have you learnt to throw things out of the window?”
George was flattered that the old man remembered him. He replied “ Yes, I have started to throw things out that is why I have come to Naples. I wanted to thank you and talk to you again. They gave me your address at the café in the Campo de Fiori; incidentally they all send their love. They told me about the party.
“ My friend,” the old man said, “ I am pleased to see you. Come let’s sit down. Oh! Yes that was a good party. When my wife died. He paused allowing the moment of remembrance to hang in the air. “I needed to create a musical event in dedication of her voice. An evening of pure and passionate sounds! In this way I believe it would be my way of helping her worldly frustrations dissipate in the night’s air. So I called our friends from all over Italy. As the singing and music filled the night air I felt very close to my wife. George, we are lucky we know what to do about frustration.”
George saw tears coming to the old man’s eyes and he deeply regretted never having met the Soprano. Almost immediately the Maestro seemed to forget his sadness and started talking again. “ After the party I closed up the house, leaving everything as it was and came here to this hotel. I stood dressed in a good suit, but with no luggage and asked for a permanent suite of rooms. At first they looked shocked but once I gave my name they bowed and ushered me into one of their best suites. I have given up playing the violin and painting. I just sit in the sun, go for long walks and occasionally read a book. Four times a month I give a dinner party for old friends. What more could I ask for? George my time is long over due. Tell me what have you been throwing out?”
George told the old man all his experiences of throwing things out. At first it had been a toothbrush that had been particularly annoying, followed by plates, pictures and finally the television. He explained by throwing all these material things out his concept on life was changing. He started being more creative; he even dared saying he had picked up a paintbrush. Alberto chuckled.
“George, I like you. You are learning what is important in life.” Then for no apparent reason, the old man changed the subject.
“My friend, if you are staying in Naples a few days may be you can help me. About two nights ago I had a dream about that street violinist. You remember the one who played the note I have been trying to copy for years. Well that part of my life is finished. I never found the answer. I dreamt I found the violinist and he showed my how to play the note. Tomorrow I have a meeting with some musicians. Will you come with me?”
George didn’t hesitate for one moment.
The next morning they met in the foyer of the hotel and took a taxi to their prearranged meeting. The meeting turned out to be in a social club for retired musicians. Alberto Mazzini was welcomed as an honored guessed. He gracefully declined to play the violin. George stood in the background fascinated with the scene of elderly musicians remembering and talking about great musicals moments. As he listened to their voices he could almost hear the sounds of instruments being accorded. Finally the old man told them the reason why he had asked for the meeting. The gathering was not surprised, many a violinist had tried to reach the note. Apparently the street musician was well known, he had for many years been the lead violinist in the town’s orchestra. Then one fateful night he embarrassed everybody by playing while being completely drunk. The musicians later admitted this drunken solo performance had a musical quality that still pervades the rafter of the town concert hall. He left the orchestra and for the rest of his life happily played in the streets. He died about five years ago, leaving his haunting playing still alive in the city streets. They told the Maestro his widower was still alive. She is the guardian in a building at 6 Corso Umberto. They were sure she would be delighted to talk about her husband with the famous Alberto Mazzini.
As they got into the taxis to go to the Corso Umberto Alberto said, “ I never thought of playing while being completely drunk. George, maybe that was the answer.”
Somebody had already forewarned the street musician’s widower of Maestro Mazzini’s pending visit as the door was opened with a flutter of words saying how proud her husband would have been to know of this visit. They were ushered into a small room, over heated, and full of objects of no importance, except: hanging on one wall, like a religious shine, was a violin. The old woman immediately noticed Alberto’s interest. “That was my husband’s. May I offer you something to drink?”
“No, No,” replied Alberto, “but could I play the violin.”
The old guardian was all smiles. This was decidedly one of the great moments of her life. To think the great Maestro was asking to play her husband’s violin. “Of course,” she said carefully taking down the violin before handing it the old man.
George watched fascinated as Alberto slowly examined the violin. He saw his long slender fingers caressed the strings. The Maestro turned the violin over and examined the back. Finally he said. “This is a very beautiful violin it was made by Guiseppe Guarreri, a master craftsman. It has had a lot of wear and tear. I must be careful how I play it. With that he took the bow and started to tune the instrument. The old woman stood back in admiration, George watched hypnotized. He had never seen the old man playing; his only experience had been the violin flying out of the window. He was confronted by a profile of an old man and instrument that seemed to have been molded in to one. The arm holding the violin was in complete symmetry to the beauty of the instrument. The Maestro stood with feet slightly apart, his whole body tuned to the sound of the bow moving across the strings. At last he was satisfied it was correctly tuned.
He straighten up allowing the violin to drop to his side, he bowed, placed the violin under his chin, his right hand came up in a graceful movement and if by some divine magic, elegant sounds of remarkable violin playing filled the small room. Two minutes into the piece we all heard a note of exquisite beauty; it just stayed there lingering in the atmosphere like a great wine on the palate. Alberto stopped. “ So, it was the violin after all.” He came towards George and threw his arms around him. Thank you for being here; all those years of trying, finally the secret lay in this violin.
Shaking with emotion he replaced the violin on the wall exactly as it had been placed when they entered. George noticed his fingers continually caressing the highly polished wood as if he never wanted to be separated. Finally, he bent forward and kissed the instrument, when he turned round there were tears in his eyes.
“ Madame, he said in a trembling voice, “ I can tell by playing this instrument your husband was a great violinist, his soul and spirit are embalmed in this instrument. Take precious care of it. Thank you for letting me play. He paused to allow his words to be clearly understood. “George we must be going.”
Once outside the old man turned to George and said. “ Thank you again for being with me, now my life is complete, I ask no more.”
George was completely overcome by the situation; he had difficulty in controlling the tears forming in his eyes. For several minutes there was a revered silence between the two men. Suddenly the Maestro said. “George will you do me a favor? From your appearance you seem a reasonable wealthy man. Buy my house in Rome, the price is not really important, I just want you to have it.”
Two months later George turned the key in the door of the first floor of Alberto’s house in the passageway of the Campo de Fiori. He entered the room he had seen for the first time some nine months ago, it was exactly the same, divide into two distinct half, on one side the violins hanging on the wall, the other side was full of the unfinished canvases. Strong light was coming in from the two big windows overlooking the street. He walked towards the windows to look down on the passageway. There is his surprise was a brand new mattress lying opposite in the gutter, strange he thought that was not there when he walked down the passage way a few minutes ago. He opened the windows, bent down picked up a paintbrush and throw it on to the mattress. Somewhere down the passageway he thought he heard a chuckle.