It’s a mouthful, but every single word is significant. Today is the official summer solstice in 2018, otherwise known as the longest day of the year. Yesterday, being the Wednesday that my ukulele group meets each week, we gave our first public performance for the senior residents and staff members of a nearby building. Sunset is that magical time when you know the deadline of darkness is approaching, and everything must get done by then. To make it participative, we called our gig a singalong so the audience would be encouraged to join us in the singing. Standish Village is an award-winning assisted senior living residence, housed in a historic landmark building (no. 24 in this document), in Historic Lower Mills, just a short walk from Walter Baker Artists Lofts where we regularly meet to jam (or rehearse).
What’s noteworthy? One person had just learned how to play the ukulele three weeks ago in my crash course, four others had never performed on the ukulele before, and it was our first performance as a group.
Five minutes before sundown, a lean man in his early fifties approached our table. Our conversation moved slowly much like the sun before it touched the earth. Until it actually skimmed the top of the mountain, the sunset seemed to take forever. The pace quickened as soon as it intersected the dark silhouette of the distant slope.
Five minutes before sundown, a lean man in his early fifties approached our table in the corner cafe at the far southeastern end of the sandy beach of Paleochora. [Note: sometimes the village is spelled without a c, i.e. Paleohora.]
“Hello, do you mind if I sit here?”
The evenly tanned man gently pulled out the empty plastic chair next to Robert.
“I just want to see the sunset for a few minutes,” he added politely.
“Sure, please go ahead,” gestured Robert. “We saw you yesterday. We were sitting over there. But all the tables on that side have been taken.”
The fair haired man nodded and explained that he was here with his girlfriend and her family. “It’s open evening tonight, so we’re free to do as we please. She is with her sister, and I am alone.”
He ordered a glass of fresh orange juice while I sipped the special house cocktail containing creme de cacao, Bailey’s, and some exotic ingredients.
“Orange juice is so cheap here. Squeeze two oranges and it’s only two euros! But cappucino is the same price as in Germany.” He gave the waiter two euro fifty.
“Where are you from in Germany?” I asked.
“Freiburg.” It sounded vaguely familiar though I had not been there in any of my dozen visits to his country.
Our casual conversation moved slowly, much like the sun before it touched the earth. Until it actually skimmed the top of the mountain, the sunset seemed to take forever. The pace quickened as soon as it intersected the dark silhouette of the distant slope.
The German had come to Paleochora (pronounced with a silent “c”) some 30 years ago when it was full of hippies living in wooden huts. “You can still run into a few of those ageing hippies. There weren’t apartments or hotels dotting the landscape then.”
He was here on a two week holiday, and sunset was a precious moment.
“Where are you from?” he asked us.
“I’m from Holland,” said Robert and turned to me. “Well, Anne is sort of also. But she can explain.”
As usual, to avoid a difficult question, I tried to summarise it all in one sentence. “I consider myself Chinese although I grew up on an American air base in Okinawa.”
Robert introduced ourselves as a piano guitar duo from the Netherlands.
“Oh?” he seemed interested. “And which instrument do you play?”
“Guitar,” said Robert. “Anne plays the piano. But there’s no piano here.”
“So I didn’t bring my music.”
“Nor your piano, I see. Was it too heavy to carry?”
Robert chuckled. “She would have to be Horowitz to get her piano here!”
The man smiled and volunteered, “I used to play the piano when I was young and then I studied to become a professional violinist.”
He grimaced, “I had to stop because it was hurting my ears. Thankfully I was forced to discontinue. I wouldn’t want to work so hard for so little pay.”
He complained that traveling in a string quartet got boring and playing in an orchestra grew tedious.
“So did you switch to something else that was easy but more rewarding?” I asked.
“Yes,” he leaned back in his chair. “I became a psychologist.”
“How interesting!” I told him about my busy teenage years on Okinawa. I accompanied choirs in school and church, played keyboards in bands, played organ for five weekly church services, and taught 20 private piano students, all before I turned 18. “It was too easy to earn money in music. That’s why I went to study engineering at college.”
“But you’re a professional musician now?” he was puzzled.
“Yes, after working in various non-music fields in different countries, I returned to music, lured by the idea of being paid to do what I loved and not having to follow other people’s agenda or operate to tight deadlines like my previous job as magazine editor.”
The sun had nearly disappeared by then. But we had only just begun the interesting part of our conversation. What kind of psychologist was he? Why did he choose to return to Paleochora after such a long time? Why didn’t he visit other parts of Crete?
We told him that we were actually jealous of musicians who could audition and play in an orchestra.
“It’s hard to get hired as a guitarist,” said Robert. “Even harder as a classical guitarist.”
“And there are so many great pianists out there,” I added. “So here we are — a piano and guitar duo, possibly one of the hardest combinations of instruments. Unlike the violin, the piano and the guitar can’t ease into each other to gradually blend into a single sound. The piano hammers. The guitar plucks. We don’t sustain easily on a single note, like string, wind, or brass instruments.”
“Once we play our note, there’s no turning back,” said Robert. “We have to be exactly synchronised if we’re playing the same note otherwise you’ll hear two instead of one.”
The German psychologist shook his head. It did not make sense anyone would invest in such an impossible feat: to play such seemingly incompatible instruments with steep acoustical challenges and actively having to arrange and commission new music for the duo. Like so many others before him, he was skeptical.
“Perhaps we can continue this conversation tomorrow at sunset?” he suggested.
Yes, of course, we replied.
Meanwhile, he has 24 hours to figure out how we could afford to miss a week of teaching, rehearsing, and performing to come to this island.
I am writing these stories in Utrecht, nearly a week after our Spanish concert tour. First, the sunset — as recorded and narrated by Robert Bekkers, below. While he was making this video, I chatted with Christina and Miguel.
I am writing these stories in Utrecht, nearly a week after our first concert tour of Spain.
It’s hard to forget the warmth and friendliness of the musicians who showed us around and shared the drinks and shellfish tapas with us. We ate “pulpo” at least once every day and yet still craved for more. Only on the last evening did we discover the succulent mouth-watering razor clams.
Food, music, and love definitely all go together — especially in Spain.
There is too much to engrave in the depths of my memory and savour until our next trip. Where would it be next? Barcelona? San Sebastian? Toledo? Before I went to Spain, I knew only Paella and Sangria. Now I can’t wait to discover the different regional specialties.
After our “Break a Leg” concert, we hurried Miguel and Christina to join us in viewing the sunset a few streets away, on the coast. It was our last chance to see this amazing phenomenon, for our next concert was in nearby Ferrol the next and final evening.
Below — the sunset as recorded and narrated by Robert Bekkers. While he was making this video, I chatted with Christina and Miguel on the boardwalk.