Travels With My Cello

  • Everybody Knows Boris!

     Marianne Ide

    So how exactly does one move a cello from Yemen to the Republic of Georgia…without a flight case?  I spent quite a while pondering that question, because it appeared I had two fairly awful choices.  One:  somehow, get a flight case shipped to Yemen and take the cello home with me for a month.  Two:  ship it straight to Georgia in the box it came in.  The first option quickly became impractical and horribly expensive.  Option two scared the crap out of me, but since I couldn't think of another solution, Yemeni shipping would have to work.  In retrospect, I am not sure why I did this, but I stripped off the strings, pegs and bridge, packed them in the accessory well, wrapped T-shirts and socks around the neck and scroll and put the cello in the case.  Then, I wrapped the case in beach towels, and for good measure,  jammed my daughter’s stuffed Dalmatian into the box, taped it all up, and took it to Yemeni air freight along with the rest of our belongings.  We wrote “Fragile” all over the box in English and Arabic, and then I got in my car and drove away.

    About two weeks later, I began getting nightmarish emails from the business manager at our new school.  Since we had not provided Georgian customs officials with itemized packing slips, they had taken it upon themselves to unpack all of our trunks and boxes, trying to figure how much we would owe in customs fees on our own belongings.  I tried not to think about my cello.  Or the fact that Georgian customs officials were rifling through our belongings, touching our stuff.   

    Needless to say, when we arrived in Georgia, the first order of business was to open up the box and see what new horror had been visited on my cello.   It looked fine, but when I picked it up, I could hear something rattling around inside.  I peered through the F-holed and I could see the sound post, now knocked completely loose, rolling round inside the body.  What might have been a total show stopper in Yemen was now nearly instantly fixable.  I called the music teacher at our new school, and she gave me the name of the luthier at the conservatory.  I asked my Georgian housekeeper to help me with the phone call.  She looked at the name and number on the paper and said, “Oh yes, Boris.  Everybody knows Boris.”  Boris agreed to see me the next day, but I was going to be on my own for translation, as my housekeeper had to go to the dentist.  But I figured, how hard could it be?  Here is a cello.  The sound post is loose and there is a crack in the F-hole.  What more did we need to talk about?  It’s usually stupid questions like this, though that get me in trouble.

    So, the next day, I made the journey down the hill to the conservatory to find Boris’s workshop.  As I walked along the street, I came upon a practice room in which a petite brunette violinist was playing something so fast  her fingers were a dizzying blur on the fingerboard.  It wasn't just the music that stopped me in tracks; for one second, she looked just like my friend Tanya, and I missed her all over again.  The violinist turned and saw me, and hardly breaking tempo, she marched over and slammed the window closed.  Feeling a little like some kind of creepy Peeping Tom, I moved on. 

                                

                                                       Tbilisi State Conservatory

    After much wandering around, I finally found Boris’s workshop.  It looked just like I imagined a luthier shop would look- tools of all sorts littered a huge table, while instruments in varying degrees of dismemberment covered every possible surface.  I greeted him in Russian which I was quickly learning was a big mistake- indicating in any fashion that I knew a little Russian provoked a torrent of words that I could not possibly follow.  I caught “American” ”woman”  and “violoncello” and after that the rest was incomprehensible.  He opened my case, took out my cello, and inspected it.  He asked me something in Russian and I shrugged.   Really, what did he think I wanted?  I came to get my cello fixed- it’s not like I wanted to order a sandwich or anything.  Grasping that I didn't understand Russian very well, he shouted something into the hallway.  Soon enough, the violinist appeared, greeted me in perfect English, and introduced herself as Natia.  I replied in kind and Boris went off again in Russian. 

    “Boris says your cello has been damaged,” she said.

    “Yes, I know.”  Why else would I be here? 

    “He wants to know what happened to the seam on the face?” 

    Hmm.  Where to start explaining this one?  And really, who cares?  But I didn't want to seem rude, so, I sketched over the story:  I was living in Yemen, it was hot, the seams came apart, and we got it fixed.  She relayed this to Boris, and his eyebrows nearly shot through his hairline.  There came another torrent of Russian that went on and on and on. 

    Natia’s forehead pinched.   “You let Arabs fix your cello?” 

    Now here was a dilemma.  Did I say yes, in fact the crack Arab luthier team of Mohamed and Mohamed, known worldwide for their fine craftsmanship of western wooden instruments, fixed my cello this badly?   Or did I own that I had, in sheer desperation, tried to fix my cello myself?  But I am nothing if not the master of deflection:  I simply asked if Boris could fix it.  She looked at me like I was crazy, and said of course.  Boris can fix anything.  More Russian chatter between Natia and Boris. 

    “He said it will take 3 days.”

     More Russian. 

    “And it will cost a lot.”

    “ How much,” I asked? 

    “About $10,” Natia replied. 

    Smothering a laugh, I shook Boris’s hand, and left with Natia.   Her English was flawless and she was incredibly sweet;  it occurred to me that she would make a great teacher for my daughter if she was available.  She had in fact taught violin before, and would be happy to teach my daughter.  I then asked her if she knew any cello teachers.  She pursed her lips and said in her sweetly blunt way, “Well, your Russian isn't very good so it will be hard.  But yes, I think I know someone.”  And, true to her word, when I saw her next at my daughter’s first lesson, she gave me the name and phone number of Mikheil Khoshtaria, professor of violoncello, Tbilisi State Conservatory.  She told me that he didn't speak English, but was happy to teach me anyway.  She also told me that he was an excellent cellist and a very good teacher.  So, I thought, how hard could this be?  He shows me, I follow.  No sweat.  Right?


      

    Marianne Ide is an international schoolteacher and amateur cellist currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  When not playing her Artist cello, she teaches government and economics.  You can reach her at nomadcellist@gmail.com


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