It’s rumored that Beethoven once said something along the lines of “music is unavoidable”, meaning that you can choose not to read a book, you can close your eyes and not look at a painting (or – now – a movie), but you can’t avoid to hear music. He forgot to knock on wood…
In fact, the only thing that’s unavoidable is probably “smell”. At least, I’ve never met a composer who can’t smell.
But this is not about smell – this is about architecture, the longing to sniff the past.
I’ve spent this fall primarily in Budapest, Hungary – a beautiful, clean, quiet city.
Presently, I’m in Bucharest, Romania – a severly dilapidated, dangerous, corrupt, and overrun city. It feels a lot like Moscow – except that I don’t speak the language.
Walking along the few streets that I have so far, I see an incredibly beautiful, intimate city — but it’s clouded under years of neglect, disrepair, dust, asbestos, and problems. It looks like a sort of Paris, only it stopped playing the role 50 years ago. A forgotten movie set. I’d take some pictures, but I don’t quite feel safe yet. My digital camera is very small, and my Burberry coat is quite conspicuous (thanks, mom!).
I’ve never encountered this feeling — being in an old city, clouded by the new. Growing up in Moscow and New York, I rarely saw living ruins. Either the buildings are new, or they were old and shining.
(I’ve seen the ruins in Rome – but they are just that, ruins. Museum pieces.)
As a composer, I involuntarily react to the architecture around me. I never felt any sort of sympathy for old buildings. They were old, well maintained, they had all the sympathy of the world, and they had to make room for something new – cooler, with faster elevators. But looking at Bucharest, with its sad dopey eyes, and its many hungry stray pets, I could change my mind. It would be a dream to see this city puff the ages away, and return to its beauty.
(… but I should be careful in what I wish for… After all, I don’t want Bucharest to become another tourist trap like Prague…)
There is a musician in Budapest, whose method of ethno-musicology is simple: find the old guy (that being the oldest violinist in town), get him drunk, and put on a tape recorder. What comes out becomes “authentic” – though I disagree.
Bucharest is similar – it is just like the old guy, barely breathing, falling apart… at least to my eyes. Surely it’s seen better – and worse – days.
I hope it recovers. Until then, it’s hard to be musically modern here. (But it’s still easy to blog.)