Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Lara C Cory

Lara C Cory | 5th December 2018

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends look back on the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. From Lara C Cory:

Pianos Don’t Speak Russian

A few weeks ago, I was sat in a tiny jazz club in St Petersburg that I’d visited on the recommendation of a friend. We’d struggled to find the place at all because it had no street frontage or sign and the deserted streets offered no one to ask for help.

The waiter at the Georgian restaurant around the corner spoke no English, but with smart phones, gestures and numbers he managed to communicate to us that we were very close by.  Eventually we found the club in a courtyard accessed through a large, uninviting but open gate on the main road.

Once inside, we collected our tickets, were shown our seats and ordered ourselves a drink. I accidentally ordered mulled wine instead of regular red wine because I couldn’t read the menu. The waiter spoke no English and so just I pointed at an image of a wine glass. Bit of a happy mistake really because it was very nice, and I ordered another.

We had no idea what sort of music was being performed that night, figured we’d take a chance but I’ll admit that while it sounds off-the-cuff and exciting, it was not an easy thing to do. It was cold outside, we didn’t know the area at all and it was a long walk from the hotel. Walking down the dark, deserted streets we thought perhaps we’d made a mistake being so unwary in such a big city. The comfort zone had been well and truly breached and not even a mulled wine could sooth my angst.

Finally, the band emerged, crowding the tiny stage with their black-suited bodies and well-used instruments; guitar, fiddle, drums, double-bass and piano. And then the music started.

While we couldn’t laugh along with the audience at the charming band-leader’s banter and we had no idea what song was being played or what came next, the music needed no translation, no explanation. It was okay, we were okay.

We understood the nuance, the style, the instruments, the jubilance of the crowd and the pleasure of the performers. So acutely aware of my displacement that night, my anxiety was utterly and instantly dispelled the moment the music started, because at that moment, and for those few hours, I understood everything and I belonged. The burden of place, language, culture, politics and uncertainty was lifted by the wordless, timeless gift of music.

We walked home that night with none of the anxiety we’d arrived with. It pays to remember that no matter where you are or how far from home you wander, there are always going to be universals that you can count on; kindness, courtesy, modesty and music.