Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gli uccelli cantono nel giardino


I am a complete idiot musically; I cannot read a score and often cannot follow the inner lines. But music moves me to distraction. It is the one constant in my life and I know it will never fail me. It has always been there, and always will. I can honestly say that the Faure Requiem has saved my life.

That being said, sometimes I turn the music off, open the windows and listen to the birds.

I am at the moment quite lucky. I have two immense windows that open onto a walled garden lined with trees. These are mature trees, old like me, huge and leafy in summer and spectral skeletons all winter long. I have never lived among trees this large, and at night the wind through their branches sounds like rushing water.

There are other trees nearby, in gardens and on terraces. This is something of a green oasis in brick and stone Venice and the result is that birds love to hang out here. The got drunk on strange berries; nested in the palms all spring. You don't see them as much as hear them. And often, for hours, they converse from their hidden shady bowers.

There are no seagulls here. When I lived in Santa Croce I heard seagulls constantly. Sometimes they sound like they are laughing loudly; other times they imitate cats or babies. They are clever imposters, loud and ballsy, and hang around the garbage cans in the campo. A big seagull with a roost on a high chimney swoops down, lifts plastic bags of garbage from the cans, drops them on the paving stones, and proceeds to tear the bag open with his beak and scatter the luxurious horde of orange peels and coffee grounds and table scrapings. Then the pigeons move in, feasting on the leftovers. The pigeons are mostly silent; the seagulls raucous, garrulous, comical. They can also be macabre, as when I saw two seagulls feasting on a dead pigeon.

The birds that hang out around the garden are different; no pigeons to speak of, no seagulls. They are songbirds and at various times of day differing choirs of them sing and chatter. I know less about birds than I do about music, so I cannot tell you what kinds of birds they are, except for the small grey and brown sparrow types. But I know there are many different kinds, even though I don't see them. Their songs are distinct and musical, madrigals, arias, choruses, duets and trios; dolce, agitato, con brio, con amore. It is easy to hear the direct line from these songs to human music.

When I listen to them I often think about St. Francis, who preached to them as an integral part of creation and, reportedly, they swooned and soared and sang their responses. It was not a matter so much of Francis "understanding" them, as in "I Talk to the Animals," or as we converse among ourselves as humans. It was about embracing them as brothers and sisters in the great circle of life. He reached out to them and they responded; it was all about the vibes.

Like music.

In the realm of human art the birds can speak our language, issue somber warnings from the mysterious gods, they can soar and ruffle their feathers and sing, and when they sing, a character like Siegfried can understand and reply. The Forest Bird tells him fabulous secrets that are steps in the footpath of destiny. As he lies dying he sings the music of the Forest Bird and the poignancy of this music is matched only by the return of the music of Brunnhilde's awakening.

But that's opera; another story completely!

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