Monday, November 20, 2017

Rendezvous with a sad smile

Lonely Woman

A short story by C. J. Papachristou*

It sounded like a gift from heaven when Lina said to him that she would be out of town for a few days to visit her mother in the country. The truth was that he himself was about to tell her something of the like. Only in his case the true reason for the trip could not be told; it would sound like a fairy tale. To her, however, this would seem a threatening fairy tale of which he had never spoken before...

The purpose of his trip would be to fulfill a promise given many years earlier. He was just a kid at the time, vacationing at a little village by the sea. There, another family from the city rented the next house. They wouldn't have seemed important and memorable people to him, had there not been among them that little girl, more or less his age...

He would see her reading and writing, morning and afternoon, sitting at an old table in the yard. How strict must her parents have been to make her do this in a summer vacation while the other kids her age were playing in the streets! He remembers himself intentionally throwing the ball away, as far as her house, and always being the one to ran to fetch it. He thus had a chance to make a short stop outside the yard gate, just to take a look at her while she was busy with her books and pencils. And there was always that expression of sadness in her face, which made her look so beautifully enigmatic...

For some metaphysical reason he never learned her name. He would always stand outside the gate without saying a word, staring as if hypnotized at that sad look. Then, one day he saw the neighbors prepare to leave and return to the city. In a spontaneous move, he grabbed something from his travel bag and hurried to the next house. He saw her in the entrance waiting for him, as if she knew he would come to say goodbye. And, it was the first time he saw her smiling!

“Listen”, he said, “I never came here to play because I always saw you busy studying. But... please, take this!” It was a photo of his from a school excursion. “Wait”, she replied, and she ran into the house. When she returned she was holding a photo of her own, which she secretly put into his hand.

They stood still for a while, looking awkwardly at each other. Then, just to break the silence, he made a silly proposition for which he was going to feel embarrassed even many years after: “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again. However, when we grow up... that is, I don’t know... say, 30 years from today, what would you say if I asked you to meet here again, at this same place, at this same date?”

“In 30 years? But, how are we going to recognize each other then? Have you thought of that?” He found an immediate solution to this: “Listen what we’ll do: We will be holding each other’s photograph. Thus we will know!” She agreed immediately: “OK, 30 years from today!”

In the years that passed since then, he often brought to his mind that ridiculous proposition he had made, being absolutely certain that the next-door girl of his summer vacation must have thought he was really crazy! He never forgot, however, that sad smile of hers the day they parted. Not even after meeting the woman of his life, Lina, with which he now lived happily and with whom he was truly in love...

But, life sometimes plays strange games, maybe to test how stable our feelings and principles are! It was the week before when he opened that box, looking for an old bank booklet. And there, inside a small envelope, he saw the photo of the girl with the sad smile. He then remembered he had once inscribed a date on the back of it. And – what a coincidence – this date was coming soon. The year was even more important, though: it was exactly 30 years before!

Perhaps to symbolically fulfill a by now invalid promise, or perhaps to rid himself of an unfulfilled childish dream, he made the decision to travel back to that village by the sea, to which he had never gone since then. The convenient absence of his wife seemed like a sign from heavens that should not be ignored! He dressed casually (whom was he to meet there, anyway?) and got into the car...

He arrived a few hours later. The village had changed almost beyond recognition after the necessary tourist modernization. But he easily found the house that had been host to the enigmatically sad smile of that last day. To be accurate, the house was now a modern hotel and the gate at the yard had given its place to an electronic door operating by remote control.

He took the photo out of his pocket. Suddenly, the whole story seemed so silly to him! He allowed himself, however, a last look at that sad child face. Then, with a move full of confidence he put his hand into his pocket again, searching for the lighter. He had to put an end to anything that reminded him of the innocent child he once was. Life is very tough; it never forgives you if you haven't grown up as much as you are expected to...

But, he wasn’t able to burn the memories. As he raised his gaze he suddenly saw Lina standing in front of him! It appeared she had been following him, apparently not having been convinced by his excuse for the trip (supposedly for attending a scientific conference at some distant town).

Interestingly, though, she looked as embarrassed as he was. So much that she didn’t manage to hide what she was holding in her hand. It was something familiar to him, something he hadn’t seen for years: a photo of his shot at a school excursion. Yes, the very photo he was carrying with him at those summer vacations, exactly 30 years before!

To overcome their mutual embarrassment they then both started laughing loudly. And they laughed and embraced for some time without even saying a word. Lina didn’t now have that familiar sad smile on her face, the one that had so charmed and enchanted him the very first moment he saw her. Now she was laughing for real. And indeed she was as beautiful as ever!

(Dedicated to those who look inside themselves, seeking an answer to the question whether the Universe expands forever or makes circles and returns to where it began...)

* Translated from Greek. Source: 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca (movie style)

Floria Tosca : Raina Kabaivanska
Mario Cavardossi : Placido Domingo
Barone Scarpia : Sherrill Milnes
Ambrosian Singers
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor : Bruno Bartoletti
Direction : Gianfranco de Bosio

Monday, October 9, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) / Bolshoi / Simonov

Vladimir Atlantov
Tamara Milashkina
Elena Obraztsova
Yuri Mazurok
Yuri Simonov, conductor
Bolshoi Theater (live performance, 1983)


Even when composing operas, Tchaikovsky was still a symphonist. A good example is "The Queen of Spades" which, in a sense, is a symphony in disguise, reminiscent of the large Mahlerian structures. This "symphony", in three parts (acts) and seven movements (scenes), is built upon three cyclically used themes which act as Leitmotiv at the operatic level. (This is in contrast to Wagner's operas which use a large number of unrelated themes, thus cannot formally be regarded as "symphonies".) Note, in particular, the endings of acts II and III of the opera. In the former scene, all three Leitmotiv are heard and, toward the end, the contrast between the "love" theme and the "card" theme symbolizes the divided heart and mind of Herman's (an ingenious musical characterization of a schizophrenic!). At the finale of the opera (end of act III), the love theme is heard again, this time in its purified form, following the final catharsis.