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.
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.
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.
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
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
your cello has been damaged,” she said.
know.” Why else would I be here?
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.
forehead pinched. “You let Arabs fix
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.
it will take 3 days.”
will cost a lot.”
much,” I asked?
$10,” Natia replied.
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?
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 email@example.com