What does the discerning cellist bring when moving to South Asia?
And so I am off again. Tomorrow I leave for Karachi, Pakistan, with most of my belongings in tow (the rest being somewhere in trans-oceanic transit.) Once again into the land of Allah, Ramazan, and the call to prayer. Allahu Akbar! However, this time I am coming prepared! I am not stumbling over a cello case and toppling down another musical rabbit hole, trying to decode a culture in which a cello is about as familiar as a pork roast. While I am bringing along all the usual suspects, (rosin, music stand, chair, tuner), I am packing a few extra items to help smooth the way. Here’s a peek into my luggage!
Two cellos and a Sherpa:
One might reasonably ask, why two cellos?? (Coupled with, are you completely out of your mind? What, the airlines don’t give you enough grief with one cello??) The reason is simple: just as in my high-flying Yemeni days, the closest luthier is once again in Tel Aviv. When I lived in Yemen, this was a geo-political nightmare, but no more! Now I have friends in Cairo and the Israeli Army. If I crack up either one of my cellos, I can easily slip over to Cairo, change passports, and on to Tel Aviv for the necessary repairs and a latte with my friend in the IDF. This might take weeks to arrange, though, so in the meantime, I have a spare to play. As for the Sherpa, he had his chance. He took violin lessons and decided that he would rather drink his own blood than play an un-fretted stringed instrument, and quit. So now he carries the cases. It’s a shame, really. I am just one violist short of a string trio.
One attitudinous Hippy Chick Violinist.
At least I have one other person to play with, right? Although it wasn't until I started playing with the Hippy Chick that I discovered that instrument bows made excellent weapons, and that classical music could in fact be a contact sport. Who knew?
But that’s not all! In my new life, my colleagues are now going to be my neighbours, and while, for the most part, I play well enough that no one’s ears should bleed, I am working a Jewish Music phase that can be, shall we say, somewhat less than melodious when played by me. I can already imagine the conversation now: “Was someone slaughtering chickens last night? Nah, that was just Marianne, warming up “Kol Nidre.” The song of atonement, indeed. And you haven’t heard anything until you hear me attempt to play “Prayer.” So, in order to buy some good will, maybe a little bit of understanding while I murder that descending F major scale in octave position, I brought a few things for my new friends and neighbours.
A tortilla press and masa flour.
I understand there is a serious lack of good Mexican food in Karachi (perhaps because of the serious lack of Mexicans), and whilst I wouldn't exactly proclaim myself chef extraordinaire, I can whip out fresh corn tortillas when needed. Hopefully, a few tacos might prevent pounding on the walls whilst I practice.
But if not, I have more!
The implementations of oenophilia.
Wine Yeast? Check! Hydrometer? Check! Racking tubes? Check! Miscellaneous chemicals? Check, check and check! I think it’s really handy to know how to brew your own libations, especially when wandering around Islamic countries where alcohol can be in short supply. I used to be able to turn out a very drinkable mead (honey being easier to find than grapes), so if the tortillas don’t work, perhaps a little booze will. And of course, if I combine the wine and the Mexican food I’ll have a regular fiesta going on, and maybe no one will notice my playing at all!
But if not, here is my last resort:
Mack’s wax earplugs. Pop these suckers in your ears, and the only sound my neighbours will hear will be their own pulse pounding away in their head. (Combine with the mead for that extra pounding effect.)
And finally, One Extremely Patient Man: belligerent airlines, brutal flights, random countries, horribly missed notes, shouting matches with the Hippy Chick? No problem. He still smiles at me every day and encourages me to keep on playing.
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Afterwords: I wrote this in LA before I left, and I am happy to report that nearly all of my goods arrived in Pakistan safe and sound. The fine folks at TSA did in fact confiscate my wine sanitizer, even though I volunteered to wash out my own mouth with it. They weren't buying it and threw it away.
Marianne Ide is an amateur cellist living in Karachi, Pakistan. When not teaching speech and writing, she is busily playing her new and amazing Soloist III cello.