Monday, October 11, 2010

What a Wonderful World

 And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I’ve heard Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” a million times.  But there are three occasions that stand out in my memory. 

The first was in Venice.  It was September 25, 1994.  I was living in Rovigo at the time and we took the train there.  We had forgotten to change the clocks to standard time from daylight savings; we didn’t even realize until we got to the train station.  I had never been to Venice before.  This is pre EU—another world, another time.  Hardly anyone had a cell phone.  No one had an email address.  Pre-EU meant that all the merchants were Italian, if not Venetian.  (I went back a couple of years ago and was supremely disappointed.  It was like a dirty Disneyland.  All of the vendors were immigrants from somewhere else.  Venice was just another rung in the their labor ladder)

As you probably know, there are no cars in Venice.  It is a labyrinth of canals and bridges and alleys.  In winter when the fog sets in, it’s like trying to navigate through a fairytale.  This trip I watched movers lift a piano through a window from a boat in a tiny vein of water.  Around another corner we saw workers laying high fiber optic cables.  In Venice.

I didn’t know where we were headed; we couldn’t even see the water from our path.  But my friend knew.  All of a sudden I turned the corner and there it was: Piazza San Marco.   I lost my breath.  My senses were inundated simultaneously with the ancient and the contemporary: in the distance, the Byzantine water architecture of San Marco.  In my ear, a tuxedoed jazz quartet played Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”  Shops and cafés lined the shores of a sea of pigeons.  It was so unexpectedly beautiful that I actually cried.

This single scene was like a montage through the centuries.  This was the Venice of Marco Polo, of Casanova, of Othello’s sweet Desdemona.  And yes, of Louis Armstrong.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Flash forward to November 16, 2002, St Paul, MN.  My brother is getting married.  As all wedding are, the reception is a perfect reflection of the bride and groom.  We’re at the Landmark Center, the old courthouse building with impossibly high ceilings, almost as high as the young couple’s aspirations.  The lights are dimmed and the tables are sprinkled with purples and oranges and chile peppers. 

The couple is baby-faced and fresh out of law school.  Their first jobs—clerking for the State Supreme court and the Federal district court—might be the pinnacle of success for other mortals, but for them is merely a good start.

They take their first dance as husband and wife, sweeping over the ballroom floor as Louis Armstrong croaks.  They are beaming and dreaming and thinking to themselves, “What a wonderful world.”

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

They're really saying I love you.

On January 5, 2010, I walked into the hospital lobby and heard it again.  It must have been a Wednesday because that’s when the harpist comes and plays for the patients.  It must have been that Wednesday because I was discharged on Monday and the boys weren’t back up to their birth weights yet.

Have you ever really listened to harp music?  It’s like listening to water sing.  The instrument itself is so heavy, so burdensome, like a murder weapon.  Its notes resonate sometimes like thick gold mud, other times like dewy droplets on a spider’s web.  Harp music carries you.  It cradles you.

I remember the opening of Waltz of the Flowers with Mr. Gibson conducting and Mrs. Gibson playing the harp.  The opening is all harp music.  The harpist takes her time and chooses her tempos and the twelve of us must all listen very carefully.  We must obey her timing.  It’s the best part of the dance: glowing, full of life.  You haven’t made any mistakes yet.  You are a flower’s life reincarnated.  The harpist carries you to the beginning of the dance and leaves you to dance your six-minute flower’s life.

At some other point in time, I would have loved to have sat and listened, really listened, to these golden notes, to the volunteer harpist playing “What a Wonderful World” in the hospital lobby.  I would have teared up with two-dimensional sentimentalism.  Happy to be happy.  Grateful for her musical offering.

I feel so strongly about how classical music transforms our lives.  I am so sad when people rush by, hardly taking note of how the heavy harp has drenched the air with music. 

It truly is a wonderful world, even on this, the first Wednesday morning of the twins’ lives.  I can appreciate that.  I am up and about.  After nearly two weeks in bed and a c-section just a week ago and I am already climbing flights of stairs.  But today, if I stay to listen, I will lose it.  I will explode into hysterics and they will have to peel parts of my flesh off the ceiling.

This would have been a good time to let harp music cradle me.  I could use a hug.  I bite my lip so hard, so hard, so hard.  I am locking all my tears in my jaw.  Trying not to cry is like putting on a sweater made out of pins and needles.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

All I can do is run to the elevator.  I bang on the ‘up’ button and try to escape as quickly as possible.

© 2010 Janine Kovac

1 comment:

  1. I liked reading this again. This really is a wonderful world, a wonderful year, a wonderful life and you have captured that essence in your essay. When life is not so good music says it deep and loud, but when my heart is light, music makes me want to pick up the pace and start skipping wherever I'm going. I remember the first time I heard the harpist as I walked into the hospital to visit the twins in the NICU. I just had to thank her for sharing her gift of music with us. Once again you have written such a good post, it made me want to skip throughout the house!