Here is our weekly instalment of Black Fox (I really need a better title for this), I hope you are enjoying the journey so far. The previous instalments can be found under the 'fox' and / or 'romance' tag.
( Let the music speak... )
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Next episode will be way lighter in tone, I promise! In the meanwhile have a great last day of 2012 and may 2013 be better than your hopes.
It started with a suite of folk songs and dances, light-hearted, happy music celebrating spring or harvest time: brooks murmured, birds sang, smiling country girls danced easing the mostly Italian public into a different landscape, Hu Xiaowen’s bamboo flute soared with the swallows and voiced the dreams and hopes of the villagers .
afterwards we moved through space and time, sampling choice morsels from the different musical traditions of the ancient empire: pieces for ceremony, for the ancestors, for the glory of the emperor and for the private enjoyment of poets drunk with wine and inspiration; again the flute was our key to a time of history, myth and fable.
The intermission came and most of the public took the chance to move a bit, strolling to join friends and acquaintances spotted in the crowd. “ Care to drink something?” I asked my friend.
"Yes, thanks” she glanced at the crowd milling about “ Better go now, before they realize all that chatting has made them thirsty”.
The foyer was still half empty but a while later, as we stood there sipping our white wine, most of the spectators came in, in twos or threes, crowding the bar in a rush to get served before the concert started again. I caught snatches of conversation , comments almost drowned in the hubbub, there was tension in the air, a sense of suspense not unlike the pressure of a thunderstorm building in summer, Lucia looked at me: “ He has built a lot of expectation, hope he can fulfill it”. The lights in the foyer dimmed, I set down my glass, moving towards the entrance of the auditorium: “ We will know soon”.
The first piece of the second half was a movie score suite, music most of us had heard without really paying attention while following the struggles of Li Mubai or the tale of the nameless one, almost all, by now, could recognize the echoes and the twists of tradition into the modern pieces. We started to feel at ease convinced that that was it, we had got what was there to get, we were ready, we understood, and was this everything?
And at that point, when the last note had vanished and the applause had died down, the Maestro went to exchange a few words with his musicians, then he nodded towards the backstage door and, while the choir filed on stage among the startled murmurs of the audience, he came back to the podium and turned towards us.
“Signore e signori,” he announced in a mellow baritone and perfect Italian “ we have prepared a surprise for you tonight: the very first public execution of my newest work, the one-act opera Lullaby for the Lost Ones, in a concerto performance” And with that, while we stared at each other and at the programs in our hands, and the cultural attaché of the People’s Republic in the royal box dispatched a few people to find out what was happening, Hu Xiaowen gave the musicians their attack and the orchestra started playing.
Today's episode is a bit short, but this was the best place for a pause. You'll see why with the next instalment. :)
Allow me tonight to wish you the best possible Christmas, may it be as you hope.
Part 1 is here
As we, arm in arm, entered the elegant eighteen-century building, I recognized a few familiar faces milling around in the stuccoed lobby: a critic writing for the local newspaper sneered something sottovoce to his companion, a false blonde with silicon-enhanced lips and way too much makeup for either the hour or the occasion. The critic’s expression didn’t bode well for his opinion of the performance, but everybody in town knew Mr. Lorenzi’s crankiness was as carefully cultivated as his Van Dyck .
I smiled spotting the tall figure and snowy hair of my high-school chemistry teacher. A gifted amateur musician, he was the terror of those of his students who were also in the conservatory. He never missed a dress rehearsal and, more often than not, followed the performance on the score taking notes.
Quite a few members of the theatre’s choir were there too, women making up at least three quarters of the total. Lucia followed my gaze : “Do you think that they are here for instrumental music?”
“ You are terrible, you know? Hu Xiaowen’s fame is well deserved and having him here in Chiarenza is quite the event, he usually moves in way more elevated circles”.
It’s not like we are a blank spot on the musical map, far from it. Our summer opera festival, held in the old Roman theater on the hill, is known world-wide and, together with our rich history and natural landmarks, brings to Chiarenza hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, it’s just that our winter symphonic season isn’t, usually, quite in the same league.
The lights flickered signaling that the concert was about to start, the noise level abated and the tension went up a notch while we all entered the auditorium looking for our places.
Inside, a troupe from a regional TV channel was checking their camera and sound set-up, the flow of incoming public parted around them, narrowly avoiding a minor disaster when an elderly gentleman tripped on one of the cables. As soon as the audience was settled the musicians came in, it wasn’t the full orchestra but a smaller formation with some new musicians carrying Chinese instruments among the local regulars. They took their seats on the stage.
“ What are those instruments?” whispered Lucia.
I leaned in her direction “ Those with the bow are erhu, a kind of Chinese violin, only they aren’t really Chinese, they originated with a nomadic people in the North; the wind instrument that looks like a bundle of bamboo canes on a pipe is a sheng, the mouth organ; the two ladies play the moon guitar, zhongruan and the gentleman standing in the back plays the bianqing, a lithophone”. An huff from the man sitting on my other side silenced me, I shrugged an apology to Lucia mouthing “Later”. The lights in the auditorium dimmed, leaving us in half-shadows; only a spotlight remained, aimed at the left side of the stage. Just a few moments before the tension in the audience started to ebb, Hu Xiaowen entered.
He was tall, with a longish, strong-boned face that spoke of Northern China and wide, intense eyes the color of dark amber. It wasn’t his looks, though, that held us all mid-breath, that would not have been enough, it was his effortless magnetism, the charisma he exuded with his simple presence that grabbed us and would not let go.
The guy from the Confucius Institute who entered after the maestro to introduce the program was the anticlimax. He must have felt it, because he tried to warm us up with a couple of jokes and keep up with his written presentation, extolling the ‘unwavering friendship’ and ‘glorious musical traditions’ of Italy and China, but after a couple of minutes he surrendered and went for a brisk, shortened version before disappearing again behind the curtains with a plastic smile stamped on his face.
Then the music took center stage.
NOTE: edited as per suggestions. Thank you!
They say: “ It’s out of fashion”,
“ You are limiting yourself” they say,
“ You could be so much more”,
“you are throwing away our efforts”.
They feel diminished somehow,
these proud women of progress
that one of us could, knowingly,
choose to be ‘just a housewife’.
But I’m not ‘just’ anything, sisters.
I choose the path I walk on, just like you;
With my eyes open, with my weapons ready.
I know my strenghts, my weaknesses.
I am here, building my home no matter what,
Guarding and preserving what I do love
With all my powers of mind and body
Just like you do, in your own way.
If you fight for the right to choose, sisters,
Then respect mine, just to begin.
Why is for some so hard to believe
That I know what I’m doing,
That home, and husband, and children
Are just what I want and need for myself.
Just as you fight your war outside
I fight for my cause right here
One thought at time, one word at time,
Raising my children to be decent people
Who think, who question, who love,
who can choose their own path
Being there as a mother, a teacher
An equal partner with a brain, a soul
And hands that are at ease in the kitchen
And on the looom, because there is where
My talents lie. Why should I pretend
Otherwise to make you happy, sister?
It was known once, long ago,
The old ones had it right:
“ The woman at the loom, one thread at time,
may weave the fate of nations”.
Thinking of Home While on a Mission in the West (1)
This morning, wild geese went East,
At dawn they broke my sleep.
Restless, I can’t dream again,
Alone, I think of Chang’an (2).
(1) Anonymous poem found in the archives of the Chinese embassy in Italy.
(2) Chang’an (长安 ‘Perpetual peace’, modern day Xi’an 西安 ‘Western peace’), was the capital of more than 10 Chinese dynasties, during its heyday it was one of the most populous cities in the world, this poem dates from the mid-eight century AD, when Chang’an counted a population between 800,000 and 1,000,000 within city walls.
This is an apocryphal piece 'in the style of Tang translations', if you wish, that I wrote for the Silk Road Allies alternate history project. While no Tang poem was found in the archives of the Chinese embassy in Italy, the information on Chang'an is true.
They tried it on him, the two Parthian brothers.
The older spoke first, in sorrowful tones:
“This sea, o my friend, is so vast and large,
With terrible storms, and many hidden dangers;
It may take years to cross it at all”.
Then spoke the younger, with honeyed words:
“ This we say to you in token of friendship,
Your faraway lord, no matter how wise,
Could not have known the dangers you face”.
Insisted the brothers, concern in their voices:
“Providing for many, your friends and retainers,
Will tax your resources, will leave you stranded,
Turn back while you can, we speak out of care”.
This was the place, the alley behind the old cinema, Gloria could feel the call that had drawn her: a buzz in her ears just below hearing range, a suggestion, a sudden idea that it may be worth checking the alley for that bracelet she had lost yesterday. Except she never wore bracelets.
The link to her domina gave Gloria some protection, her turning allowed her to recognize the suggestion for what it was: the lure of one of her kind looking for prey. She tensed, this was her domina’s territory, and Violante had clout enough among the Kin of Venice that none of the locals would dare to intrude in her preserve, she had no guests at the moment either, so this new one must be a poacher.
A poacher meant trouble.
The Kin had their rules, they were a necessity for survival. If people kept disappearing and turning up in the canals drained of blood the Herd was bound to notice, no matter the level of denial most had for the strangeness that lived under their noses. A stampede could easily turn into a mass-hunting, it must be prevented at all costs.
Gloria approached the mouth of the alley, melding with the shadows while she concentrated, freshly turned as she was, extending her senses still took effort. No breathing, no heart-beat, utter stillness, just the mind-lure; it was stronger, now an Elder would have been able to pick it up at a distance without even trying. The poacher must be really hungry, hungry enough that it would not mind the risk of broadcasting its presence. Hungry enough to drain a fledging of the Kin? The thought was almost enough to make Gloria shudder, she wasn’t about to go in blind, she needed a lure of her own.
As always they answered her call: the ubiquitous pigeons of Venice: pests, nuisances, the city council had tried to deal with them multiple times with no success at all… but they had their uses.
A small flock landed just outside the alley and started pecking as if it were full day and not the deep of the night.
Walking stomachs and no brains
To the rustle and the cooing Gloria added a call of her own: Food, come out, there is food here. Blood, warm blood. Nourishing, rich, yours for the taking… Blood.
Something pounced out, the birds took wings, one of their numbers missing, neck torn before it could feel it, body squeezed to pulp by thin, shaking hands, the last drops of blood oozing into a mouth stretched wide, fangs in full view. Gloria moved before thinking, tackling the interloper, keeping it prone on the cobblestones, ready to break its neck.
The poacher slumped.
Did you really think I’d fall for it? Gloria kept her hold on her prey, the physical contact allowing her to feel the intruder: weak with hunger; female; so freshly turned that she almost reeked of Herd.
What’s happening here?
She forced the woman upright, held her against the wall.
“ Who are you?”
The only answer was a blank stare from dark, almond-shaped eyes.
“ Do you understand me?”
Maybe English would work, everybody spoke English nowadays.
“What is your name?”
Nothing, but the same flat, resigned stare.
Gloria fished her cellphone out of a pocket, speed-dialing Violante one-handed, her domina answered on the second ring.
“What is it, filia ?”
“ I caught a poacher, Domina. she's just turned, no more than one week”
“ There should be no fledglings so young around, what does she say? Who turned her?”
“ She doesn’t say anything, I think she doesn’t speak Italian. She looks Chinese to me.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
“You were right” said Violante, coming in from what her familia called ‘the guestroom’, “She is Chinese”.
“ Then you were able to speak with her?”
The elder woman shook her head: “Looks like the wretch never went to school and learned a proper language, she bleats a dialect I don’t understand. I’ll have to arrange an appointment with Luigi Wang, if he doesn’t understand her either he might know someone who does”.
The domina was pacing, a sure sign of trouble.
“We must get to the bottom of this, turning without permission is a crime, turning somebody who cannot speak, or write” she added with a sneer “and abandon the fledging half-crazed with hunger, ready to kill at random, is a provocation and an act of war from someone who tried to cover his tracks. The Serenissimo must be informed immediately”.
Gloria nodded, only by sheer luck they had avoided a disaster.
“ She is secured in the guest room but she needs food, will you take care of it while I’m at the palace, dear? She is likely to be a messy feeder, but my herd needs culling anyway and I know I can trust you to do things as I like them.”
“ Yes, Domina”.
Gloria turned and went, some chores were better done and forgotten. She hated mopping floors.