Artist Date 31: He Played Debussy on my Naked Body. Believing in the God of Synchronicity

pianist of willesden laneLast week Stephanie W. invited me on an Artist Date.  This week Stephanie G. did.

However, unlike Stephanie W., who offered a suggestion – one that allowed me the prescribed solo experience of an Artist Date – Stephanie G invited me to join her and our mutual friend, Hallie, at the theatre.  Not solo.  Technically, not an Artist Date.

Yes, I spend this sort of time splitting these sorts of hairs.  As if the Artist Date police might show up at my door.  So I was relieved to read the following in Julia Cameron’s Walking in the World – her follow-up to The Artist’s Way, where I first became acquainted with the Artist Date.

In the section titled “Basic Tools,” Cameron writes:

“…the Artist’s Date…is assigned play…

“Synchronicity – that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – picks up markedly as we practice Artist’s Dates.”

Stephanie’s invitation to The Royal George Theatre for The Pianist of Willesden Lane – Artist Date 31 –felt like that, like play, like synchronicity.

I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately.  My coffers crying out for sound.

I considered Harry Connick, Jr. at the Chicago Symphony.  Tickets were pricey unless I wanted to sit in the rafters.  Which I didn’t.  I wanted to see him.  Easy on the eyes, as my friend Teresa used to say.  Sitting in the gallery section would only frustrate me.

I considered a free concert at Millenium Park.  I considered a trip to the record store.

Yet I found myself in a woefully off-center, red-velvet theatre seat, flanked by Hallie on my right, and a mercifully empty seat on my left.  A Steinway Grand (Baby Grand?  Concert Grand?) and a handful of oversized frame mirrors on stage in front of me.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is the story of Lisa Jura.  How her commitment and passion for the piano, along with the “kindness of strangers” and some sort of higher power – call it synchronicity – saved her life during World War II.  Written and performed solo by Jura’s daughter, Mona Golabek, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is told both in words and music.

Bach. Beethoven. Rachmaninoff.

Debussy.

I feel fingertips on my body.

I am lying in bed with the former symphony conductor.  He is playing the notes on my naked body – silky strains that sound like watercolor.  Ridiculously sexy.  He is teaching me about music.  Telling me about his life.  Interlochen.  Tanglewood.  Studying with Leonard Bernstein.

I have been assigned to write the obituary for his father – a kind-hearted, heavy-hitter in the community.  We speak over the phone.  He is funny, wry.  Smart and sweet.  I find a photograph of him in the files.  He has dark hair and a beard, bright eyes and a kind smile.  He is wearing a tuxedo.  I am smitten.

We meet through a series of synchronicities, and spend the next couple of weeks in bed – with Debussy, and frequently a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint Oreo Cookie.  I fancy myself “Mrs. Former Conductor.”  And then it is over.

I haven’t thought about him for a long time.  But my body remembers.

Like the Holocaust survivor I interviewed.  She lost her sense of smell during the war.  She regained it more than 40 years later when she returned to Germany.  She smelled manure.  Her body remembered.

I’ve been thinking of her ever since I saw Brighton Beach Memoirs a few weeks ago with my friend Michelle.  I told her how I had the great, good fortune to interview and tell the stories of so many Holocaust survivors when I worked for the Jewish Bulletin.

I don’t hear their stories much anymore.  Most of them are gone.  Until now.

Lisa Jura arrives in London from Vienna – one of thousands of children on the Kindertransport.  She is 14.

A few years later she is a student at the Royal London School of Music.  In the evening she plays piano in a hotel bar, where she meets many admirers.  Among them a Royal Air Force commander.

He is shy.  His English is poor.  His comrades approach her with a rose and act as his translator.

He says she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  That she must tell him when she makes her debut.  And then he is gone.  Not just from the bar, but from London.  To war.

Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.
Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.

And then it is over.  The war.  Just like that.

Miraculously, the commander is at her debut.  So are her two sisters.  They too have survived.

The lights go up.  Golabek steps out of Jura, and back into herself.  Post Script.  Lisa Jura immigrated to the United States.  The commander followed her, married her.  He is Golabek’s father.

I get teary.  Really teary.

I want to believe in ridiculously romantic love.  The kind I shared with the conductor.  The kind I had a glimpse of when a certain southern gentleman, upon learning I could not possibly see him again, pulled me close to him and said, “I’ll come find you.”

I want to believe in a God that allows three Jewish sisters to survive the Holocaust and then somehow find one another in post-war London.  Who then places two of them across the street from one another in Los Angeles.

I want to believe in Go(o)dness.  The go(o)dness of people who care for children that are not their own.  Who feed them.  Clothe them.  Shelter them.  Love them.  Foster their talent and dreams while a war wages outside their window.

I want to believe in the God of Synchronicity.  And I do.

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