Tuesday 16 November 2010

Birthday Post: Reflections and Music

Last week on my way to work I saw a leaf slowly falling down from a tree. As soon as it touched the floor, Bach's 'Keyboard Concerto No. 7 - Andante' kicked off on my mp3 player. On the surface there was nothing strange in that scene. We're in autumn with trees performing their annual strip-tease as usual, whenever I don't cycle to work, I walk and I usually take my mp3 player with me. I've got a few pieces by Bach on it. But there was a different smell. a different feel in the air this time around. Then it hit me. That leaf, was not just a leaf, it was a page coming off my life's calendar. I was about to turn forty-minus-one. It was nature's way of telling me that I was (am) getting older. Maybe wiser, too? I don't know, I hope so.

The second movement of Bach's 'Keyboard Concerto' has an interesting story behind it. According to Wiki, the musician intended to compose a full harpsichord concerto but didn't alter much the strings parts, resulting in the keyboard instrument being overwhelmed by the rest of the ensemble. You can almost hear the piano in the second movement (Andante) wanting to free itself from the cello, violin and viola's claws (especially at 3:46 in the clip below), only for the latter three to trap it again.

In certain ways my life's been like that, usually seeking to gain and preserve my independence. Sometimes, especially when I still lived in Cuba, this struggle was played against the backdrop of a gigantic Greek chorus whose main intention was to say my lines. The only problem was that being the proud owner of a good voice, I didn't see the need for a translator. There were times when the ensemble took it upon itself to place a mask on my face to hide my true feelings. It was usually a smiley one. A thespian emoticon, if you like.

But at some point in my life I shook off the yoke of that F Murray Abraham-like figure ('Mighty Aphrodite' by Woody Allen, since you ask). The results were mixed: success followed by failure followed by success. Yet, isn't that what life's about? Who wants to be pinned down by a tyranny of strings when there's a whole world of ivories to aspire to? Unlike Bach's concerto, I've been satisfied thus far with my solo role. My harpsichord escaped the violin and viola's claws many years ago and it's not returning to their grasp any time soon.

That falling leaf, set ablaze by the most colourful autumn we've had in years in the UK, Bach's musical in-fighting playing in my ears, my birthday less than a week away. This is what Kundera would call 'a chain of fortuitous events', the concept that underlined his 1984 masterpiece 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'. But instead of being trapped in a 'ménage à quatre', like Tereza, Tomas, Sabina and Franz, I am walking, unshackled and unbound, on a magic carpet woven by the dexterous hand of Mother Nature and made up of red-gold, copper-tinted, yellow-tinged leaves. Autumn always reminds me why I'm glad to live where I live, with whom I live and how I live. Here's a toast to myself on my fortieth-minus-one birthday and, also, to my beloved city, Havana, with which I share my birthday (although she is four-hundred and fifty-two years older). And to you, fellow blogger, thanks for reading me.

© 2010

Photo by the blog author

Next Post: ‘Exercises on Free Writing’, to be published on Sunday 21st November at 10am (GMT)


  1. I raise my glass high in a birthday toast! Happy Birthday!! and Cheers!! xx

    (Glenn Gould is the best. I have a copy of his Goldberg Variations. An excellent post, as always.)

  2. Happy Birthday! And may your voice be always heard and appreciated for what it says and what it means.

  3. Cuban,

    Happy Birthday! What a lovely poetic thing happened, that you saw a leaf fall just as Andante began playing in your ears. There's something really special about that.


  4. The pleasure and joy is all ours Ad Infinitum!!
    A great big whooping cheers from your fans at Little Shelford - Hip Hip Hooray for an early birthday!!!!
    Let the music play on, play on...

  5. "I am walking, unshackled and unbound"

    There is no better way to celebrate your upcoming birthday, to celebrate life. Thanks for gracing our lives with your musings and your wisdom.

    Feliz cumpleaño, Cubano.

  6. Happy Birthday, dear Cuban in London. That music was exquisite -- and so are you. (not to mention, you're a baby!)

  7. Bach and leaves... Listening to Bach (and Beethoven) when I'm among trees and hedges always feels right. Conversely, when I'm on the motorway, Steve Reich -not that I listen to him a lot- feels right. I suppose the old guys were surrounded by trees and vegetation (as we're often enclosed by cityscapes) and it seems to permeate their expression somehow.

  8. Happb birthday Cuban!!

    Ti auguro una felicissima giornata con i tuoi cari, e molti altri giorni come oggi.

    Saluti da Colonia,

  9. Happy Birthday today to both you and my daughter! Wishing you much happiness, joy and good health my friend!

  10. Many thanks for your kind birthday wishes.

    The song took on a special meaning for me today because I was walking to work in the midst of the foggiest day in London so far. And it was so magical (both the song and the feeling it awakened). And then, there's the playlist that came after: Nick Cave's 'There She Goes My Beautiful World', Fito Paez's 'Gente Sin Swing' and Radiohead's 'Karma Police'. My walk to and from work today was unbelievable.

    Have a nice rest of the week, all of you. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  11. Here's wishing you a most wonderful birthday week, Cuban. Far as I can tell, you need way more than just 24 hours to celebrate where you are and what you've got.
    I've said it before, and here it comes again - your dexterity with language is fabulous. Thank you for an excellent post.

  12. Ooh so timely Cuban!
    I'm turning "40 minus 1" on Nov 18, so you can be sure i've been thinking all about falling leaves and pages turning in my life!

    PS, I love how the combination of music and environment can make us have the most amazing insights!

  13. wonerful nod from nature and those thoughts are such a peaceful reflection of the bach piece; its reflection in your life as well. happy birthday, happy fourty minus one. : )

  14. Beautiful words you share today! Happy Birthday and many more....

  15. Happy birthday:)

  16. happy Birthday Cuban - enjoy!! I am really missing the season of Autumn right now - love all those colours and falling leaves - doesn't happen here - is that picture Hyde Park??

  17. Happy Birthday! I love how you tied music to the seasons, to cinema, to reading and to your approach to life. I also enjoyed the Glen Gould recording – one of my favorite pianists playing a favorite piece of music.

  18. Happy Birthday, I come back and read you posts now and again I enjoy them.

    Thank you for your kind words on my blog.
    It's not luck, but prayer and fortitude is what I need.

  19. this is exactly what I needed to read today. beautiful.

    happy belated birthday and warm wishes from the southern part of the U.S.

  20. Thanks a lot for your birthday wishes. Catherine, that's St James Park.

    Sorry, I've had to put the comment moderator on. Just have to get rid of a couple of spammers. Will be back to normal on Sunday.

    Greetings from London.

  21. Feliz Cumpleanos! I have just enjoyed a big, fat, aguacate in your honor! I never knew that Havana was a sorpio as well but of course, it make perfect sense!

  22. It has been a very colourful autumn, hasn't it? Not just my imagination that everything is more vivid this year.

    Happy birthday, my friend!

  23. Belated happy birthday to you. May there be many more of them.

  24. Your birthday has passed, and I hope it was a happy one. Here's a little story I was reminded of as I read your beautifully written post:

    A four year old boy of my acquaintance was taken in the summer to see an afternoon performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At the intermission his parents asked him if he understood what was happening in the play. He replied, thoughtfully, "Well, some of it I understood, and some I didn't; but that's pretty much how my life is."

  25. Happy belated birthday, Senor Cuban. But really - it's you who give us birthday presents each week with your thoughtful posts. May you strive and thrive for many more decades!

  26. Good Gracious Cuban, how did I miss the Birthday Post!

    Happy Birthday, and I'm glad you're on this earth.

  27. Many thanks for your birthday wishes. 20th Century Woman, that was a fab story. Many thanks.

    No comments moderator now. Back to normal.

    Greetings from London.

  28. Totally off the point, but I thought you might be interested in this, which I've just found:


    Got to listen to the music this visit, as it's not the middle of the night!

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