Listen my friend. I have a story to tell you. I have never told this to anyone. But as I am waiting for the airplane, I am inclined to share this story with you and only you. Maybe you will understand because as you will see, this may interest you as well.
I do not know how I came into this situation. But, as I said, now I am here at the airport. My flight will board in 25 minutes. So I will hurry up and tell you the most incredible story that I could ever tell. I could never believe it would have happened.
Some time ago, I was here at the airport right here for some business to take care of. And as usual I had a quick coffee with cream at the usual overpriced Sao Paulo airport cafeteria. As I was sitting there a gentleman approached my table. As it was very crowded he politely asked if he could sit down at my table and I granted his request, “Of course.”
As he was sitting there he was pale, nervous. His baggage indicated that he must have come from Paris, France. So as he looked at me, he all of the sudden said, “Excuse me” — in English with a heavy French accent — “May I ask you a question?”
And I said, “Yes, of course, go ahead.” He looked at me and then looked at my hands and while he was saying all of that, he was staring at my left hand holding a cup of coffee. Then he said, “May I also see your right hand that you are holding down there as if you are a helicopter pilot?”
Embarrassed, I pulled out my right hand from under the table and he started staring at it. Then he stared as well at my face and back at my right hand, at my left hand, back and forth. All of the sudden he said, “Monsieur. Excuse me, is it possible that you play the violin?”
I looked at him astonished, “I fancy being able to play but I am an amateur. I wouldn’t consider myself a violin player.” And he said, “Oh.. There are many ways to play a violin.” And he stared into the air as if something would have happened behind me, up in the air somehow as if he was listening to some sounds that I could not hear. He looked back at me and said, “Listen. I have a story to tell you. You may understand, I do not know where this airplane will take me. I did not come here. I am leaving. I wanted to share before maybe I do not arrive, who knows.. I want to share this story with someone. Do you mind? Do you have ten or twenty minutes that you could listen to my story? Please, Monsieur?”
I said, “Sure. I have a few minutes. Yes I am waiting to board just like you. Tell me. I have nothing better to do. I am glad to be listening to you.
“Okay. Monsieur. You will not believe me. I don’t know if I can believe it. But this happened to me ten days ago as I came here for some business from Paris just for a few days. As I was sitting here waiting for my friend to pick me up from the office, I had a coffee. Someone approached me and he had a disturbing look in his eyes and he insisted he wanted to see my hands.”
I said, “Yeah.. Why not? Haha!”
“‘You play violin?’ Yes. ‘Listen. There are many ways to play violin. May I show you one that you never ever dreamed of. ’I play only for pleasure. I am far from being an expert. Please— ‘‘Rubbish! I will show you something you will never ever forget. If you bear with me and embark on this adventure. Give me one day and I will change the way you think about violin playing.’ Please, I am here on business.”
In that moment, a telephone rang, my cellular beeped. The stranger who had approached me said, “Go ahead. Answer your call. Because destiny will not pass you by.”
That was very strange, I thought. I picked up the phone and low and behold I got the call back from when I informed the office of my arrival. And they said, “You are wrong with the time. Your meeting is in five days. Not today. You missed the date.”
“What now? What’s next?” I said, a bit upset and concerned. I finished the conversation and looked at that strange man and said, “Well, listen. Something has changed. I do have indeed a few days time because I don’t want to go back all the way back. So I will get a hotel and do some work I can do over the internet.” The stranger looked at me and said, “Yeah… How about playing violin? ”
I said, “Might as well.” The stranger looked at me in a very strange way, he looked above me, behind my head up there, as if he was seeing something that I couldn’t see. Or as if he was hearing something that I was unable to hear. I said, “Okay. But I didn’t bring my violin.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll provide everything if you just accept 24 hours.”
I said, “Okay. What else could I do? And I do have time and I need a break from everything.” And he said, “A break? A break?” And he looked at me a bit startled. He said, “We can go now and I will bring you back to the airport in 24 hours.” I said, “Okay.” I was a bit startled. I said, “Okay. Let’s go.”
He brought us out there to the front of the airport and there was a limo waiting. A strange sight in Brazil, one of those stretch limousines. “After you, sir.” He opened the door for me and off we went.
After some time in the limo, I got a little bit worried. Shouldn’t I have informed someone that I have left with a strange person that I never met in my life — with very good manners, I have to say — but it is all a bit strange. He’s always staring at my hands, thinking that I play the violin, even though I am a modest player, not even above a level of the beginner, in my humble estimates.
Then we were on the freeways of Sao Paulo. Ten or twelve lanes, I didn’t count. We are stuck in some millions of cars, it appears, for some time. But we talked, nothing special but an interesting conversation. So time passed by rapidly.
All of the sudden we were on some interstate that had only eight lanes but still a lot of traffic. As time passed by, there were fewer and fewer lanes. Soon, there was just a highway. So less and less cars and more and more forest. And the forest seemed dark and dense and he seemed to have read my thoughts as I was looking out the window and he said, “This is called the Mata Atlantica. That’s the ‘Atlantic Forest’ along the coastline. We are here in the center of a reserve. One of the centers of the original dense forest, once stretched all along the coastline of Brazil with unique vegetation with fauna and flora but I’ve gotten carried away. Let’s not worry about that,” he said as we arrived.
We pulled over into some dusty roads for which the limousine did not seem fit. But it kind of went on, heavier and heavier, until there was some kind of a bifurcation, a crossroads, and on one path, a Jeep was parked. And as we stopped, someone got out of the Jeep and said, “Hello! Hello! Bonjour!” He waved at us as they got my suitcase onto the Jeep. Off we went even further into the jungle until we saw a strange blue-gray house. We stopped. We got into the house. There were strange people waiting around for something but without anything to do. An eerie atmosphere.
So the person said, “Oh don’t worry. If you wonder where you are, this is a closed drug rehabilitation center. Some people here are very nice but they just hang out here. Don’t worry.” I was a bit concerned because it was all closed up with wire and with video cameras so as if there would be no escape possible.
“Do you want a coffee? Can I offer you something to drink? Are you hungry?” Someone came and tried to offer in broken English all kind of assistance to me but I just wanted to breathe a little bit and sit down.
“Okay. Time is short,” said the strange person that I just encountered an hour or two ago. We entered the building, went down some long corridors. It looked like a hospital. Everything painted in white. There’s nothing really, no furniture. Then we entered what seemed like a big wide hall. Nothing in it but two chairs. One chair behind the other as if two people would sit down and be looking in opposite directions. And on each side there was a violin case. And nothing else there.
Our host insisted that I drink water, that I relax. And then he said, “Okay. You know there is a German word. It’s ‘Geigenspiel’ which means it is the spiel, the play, of the violin.” And I had never heard of that but I know that playing the violin is “Geigenspiel.” He said in a strange way,
“Let’s sit down. You pick your side.” - I said, “Why would I pick a side?” I felt very weak all of the sudden. “I think I have to go to the bathroom,” I said. And my strange host looked at me and said, “Oh. Okay. But just in case, we are here in the middle of the jungle. One cannot cross it on foot. The jungle is too dense. Besides, this is an enclosed facility with video monioring. The next town from here is several kilometers from the closest city and it is called “Piedade” which in English means ‘Pity.’” With these words, he then pointed me in the direction of the bathroom.
And I was let’s say disoriented if not scared. I went to the bathroom. Put some cold water on my face. It was really hot and humid and a strange person was standing in the bathroom. Maybe it’s more like a asylum than a drug rehabilitation center. As I looked around, everything looked like hospital. Very strange.
I got back from the bathroom. And my host said, “Okay. Are you ready?”
I said, “I don’t know what for but I am. I don’t know want else to do. Yeah.”
He said, “Pick your side. Left or right.” I sat in the chair closest to me. The chairs were back to back. My host, the strange person, said something behind my back. At the sign, some person closed the door and turned off the light. And except for the windows there was only a reddish-bluish light, that kind of oscillated. That was the only illumination. And I looked around. I could not even see the extent of the hall or the ceiling as it was very high and a sizable room.
And he said, “Okay. Do you have enough light to locate the violin case?” I said, “I sure do.”
“Okay. Open the case and pick up the violin. This is a good one. This is a Guarneri some hundred years ago. You will appreciate it. It’s worth a few millions, maybe less. Not cheap.” It was always a dream to play one of these.
I said, “Oh! Okay!” I took up the precious violin and found the arc. I got into position. I started to play, not knowing what else to do, what I could play with my modest and crude repertoire.
As if my host would have guessed my thoughts, he said, “Forget everything you ever knew about violin playing except how to touch the strings, how to hold the bow, how to make it sound. And now embark on the greatest adventure that you can imagine. The rules are simple. I play - then you play, You may not interrupt me and I will not interrupt you. You cannot play more than ten seconds. That’s all. You have to play more than half a second.”
I said, “I understood. Easy enough. I don’t know what that should evolve to.”
“Don’t worry. We shall see! Whoever stops first has lost. It’s a spiel. It’s a game. But maybe you need a refreshment…don’t you?”
I noticed my throat was really dry. “Yeah. Could I have a glass of water?”
“I have something better. I have a cup of tea. Would you mind?”
“I’d love to.”
The light magically came on again and a man appeared with a cup of tea. He handed it to me. The moment it hit my mouth, it was horrible. I had never tasted anything so terrible in my entire life.
“Oh. I forgot to mention. You have to swallow in one gulp!” It was too late. I had already spit it out.
“Don’t worry. Have another one.”
I said, “I’m okay.” The guy looked strangely at me. My host smiled. “There’s more if you want it,” said the man with the tea.
“Okay. That’s enough. Let’s start,” said my host. He seemed to be impatient. I have no idea why.
“May I can have a cup of water?” I asked. And the man with the tea also had a cup of water for me. It was a great relief. But as soon as I put down the glass of water, that I emptied, the person with the tea withdrew and turned off the light and there we were again all in the darkness, only a pulsing light between red and blue.
The sound of a violin, then another one, just like that. Two sounds. Two notes. I picked up the Guarneri violin with a delicateness. I knew how precious the violin was. I was holding a fortune in my hands and I couldn’t even see it. I could only feel the wood, the fine wood, an unimaginable treasure I was holding in my hands. [ I could see my hands, too, I noticed. They looked strange, like those of a ghost. ] And I started. I tried to play and the first squeaky sound sounded came off the violin. As soon as I started there was a response. My host, the other player, the Geigen player, the other player, he tried to imitate my squeaky unfortunate first attempt on the violin. I nearly laughed. But I didn’t know, maybe I should panic. I was too shocked, in such a strange situation that I could not have imagined two or three hours ago, being involved in the middle of the jungle, close to some city called ‘Pity’ and enclosed in a barbed wire and television circuit in what they called a drug rehabilitation center in a big hall with high ceilings, all the giant windows closed and covered with blankets and just a little light, blue and red and blue and red, cycling.
I was trying to answer the play of the other player. And as time passed, the Guarneri sounded a bit more like a real violin. I proudly made a little passage and managed to make it without too many errors, be it five or six seconds. Then I realized that I was supposed to play not more than ten seconds so I faded out and the moment I stopped the other player started again. From there we went into a strange game and all of the sudden, I thought, “Maybe this is what he calls the Geigenspiel. Answers to questions that come from nowhere. Sounds, phrases, with no meaning, just sounds, and the answers to questions that can’t be known.”
We played along, alternating, one and then the other. As we did so, time stopped. I tried to chase the sound, the melodies, of the other player. It went into dark melodies, dark sounds. It went into strange double-stops and squealing high overtones. Just when I thought we had played over the entire scale, we started at the bottom again on the G string, making more and more strange sounds, until the violins all of a sudden seemed to stop talking and what was playing was not I or myself but the violin playing. All of the sudden, it sounded like there was some meaning. Time passed by, must have passed by because I was there but I had idea of what was happening. I lost myself in space and sound and questions without meaning, answers to questions without meaning.
Until the moment I got so scared that I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was not even in my body anymore. I was floating in some other space, some space in which even though there was a lot of space there was no escape. How was that possible? I thought I could not come back to my body. The violin took over my body and it was playing hauntingly beautiful sounds, melodies I could never have ever imagined, nothing that could fit the human memory, nothing that could be from a human mind. Something maybe not even from this universe.
I was there and I had a strange feeling that this was a trap.
What kind of game was that, the Geigenspiel? Was there a winner, was there a loser? If so, what were the stakes, and what's the prize? How could I play so well this moment? All my thoughts were gone and I played effortly what seems a hundred times faster and clearer than ever before. Strings of notes I've never heard. Sounds, like laserlights in the sky, chasing each other, guiding me away from here and today into an unknown space and time. Something started to change in me, in the bottom of my soul. It scared my spirit and it sedated my soul. As if a new treaty would be forming between them, all this, beyond space and time. Nothing would be the same anymore, even if I would find my way back into my body, there below, playing a violin, or, rather, being played by a violin threehundred years old, its spirit mocking me, making me a feel like a clueless child. Trap or freedom? Would I ever come to know?
From that moment on, my memory faded and I have no clue whatsoever what happened. Next thing, the only thing I knew was that I was waking up in an ambulance, a beautiful nurse at my side, talking relentlessly on a cellular, giggling in a language that must be Portuguese, so I figured.
I was once again, it appeared, looking out at the window, stuck in Sao Paulo traffic. I did not know what to think about it. I was in deep shock. I sensed my body had sweat all over. Dry sweat. Wet sweat on top of dry sweat in layers. I do not now how I got into this situation. At my feet I could make out my suitcase stacked at the end of the stretcher in the ambulance, driving over a freeway, without the sound of sirens. I breathed deeply. The nurse all of the sudden looked at me and was shouting something to the driver in front. Looking out the window, I could see a sign for Sao Paulo airport five kilometers away. So we must be heading to the airport - or leaving. My thoughts were racing. What is happening? I cannot recall one single minute. There’s a big hole in my mind.
Minutes later, we stopped. We entered the front of the airport. The door opened and they pulled me out, guided me on shaky legs into the cafeteria of the airport restaurant. I said, “Oh.”
They dropped me there. I looked at the cellular phone that they put in my hand. I did not know what to make of it. They put a cup of coffee in front of me and they left me. I was sitting there until my cell phone rang. It was my business partner in Sao Paulo. “Okay! Have you arrived yet? You were five days early but now the day is today. Hope you are all fit. We have a lot to talk about. It’s great that you made it over here.” Shocked, I hung up the phone. I tried to think. Yes, I was here and it must have been five days ago and in the same exact chair with a cell phone in my hands, waiting for my business partner to pick me up at the airport. This is when a strange man appeared to me at the table, asking if he could sit down and asked if he could look at my hands…
Okay. This is it. Boarding has started. I will go home. I hope. I do not know what happened. I have five days missing in my memories. And I do not know what has happened to me. I feel strange, I feel different, as if a different force is in my body and in my mind and sometimes it forces me out and I do not know where I am except the big void. If that should ever happen to you, a stranger should ask to see you hands, be warned, my friend. That’s why I am sending you these messages. Because I will be going on the flight and I do not know if I will ever come back.