August 23, 2008
Chamber music for commuters.
Ok, I know, I’m rubbing everyone’s nose in it now. So sue me. All I can tell you is that a week after my return from a 2.5-day blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip back to Los Angeles, aka my home for 24 years, I still suffer from Post Traumatic Porsche Syndrome. Upon my arrival at LAX I was immediately flung into the wilds of L.A. driving at its worst: cars either screaming down lanes at obscene speeds, intent on getting anywhere at anyone’s fatal expense, or cars in a fast-moving parking lot, formerly known as a “freeway,” harboring people so inured to this insanity that they no longer notice what’s wrong with this picture. In either case, all vehicles appear to be controlled by disembodied heads, offering no proof whatsoever that any body parts below the shoulders might actually be attached. Perhaps this is a good thing. That way, the species can’t breed.
Oooh, I’m a toughie on this one, ain’t I. But sometimes a magical, and effortlessly normal experience, like the one I had here in the San Juans a couple of days ago, reels the past and the present into vivid perspective. They’ve both flopped at my feet within a five day period, causing me to take stock of the changes in my life this past year.
One of the reasons I decided to leave southern California, was that I could no longer bear the unsolvable traffic, the endless driving and the angry, frustrated people behind all those safety padded steering wheels. When I moved to Malibu in 1993, it took me about 40 minutes to get from the beach to downtown L.A. for a concert. In the context of big city life this was not unreasonable, and I was happy to make the drive in exchange for a life with toes shriveled from salt water. By the time I left in 2007, that same drive very often took me…. two hours. One way. Creeping along at roughly 7 MPH. Detours? Side streets? Secret back ways? Same amount of time. I felt trapped. Moving into the city was not an option; being surrounded by nature was too important.
It was challenging to relax and enjoy a chamber music concert after battling the myriad of variables that necessitated an alertness so intense that it left me with a throbbing head (unfortunately, never throbbing to the same beat as the music). With less than ideal eyesight, hopping in the car meant taking my life into my hands, plus needing to cut short my own work day by mid-afternoon, just to be able to meet a friend for a quick pre-concert bite and immerse myself in… what I love. Too many times, having given myself what seemed like plenty of time to arrive, I would miss dinner altogether and find myself racing to my seat, my heart still puffing as the opening notes were performed. It wasn’t fun anymore. It was simply crazy. But it was how I lived for many years. I used to joke that the hours and distances we blithely drive in L.A. to get to events across town would be the equivalent of going across two, sometimes three state lines on the East coast. No one would ever expect someone to drive from northern Connecticut or southern New Jersey just to attend a concert at Lincoln Center. And yet, that’s what we do in Los Angeles.
So, now one less person is doing it. And she was struck by an extreme and beautiful contrast on Wednesday, as she strolled on to the inter-island ferry at Friday Harbor, and walked off onto the soil of Orcas Island 35 minutes later to attend a concert of their wonderful annual chamber music festival. The photos you see here are from my peaceful commute. It’s a rather different vista than what I used to squint at beyond my smog-covered windshield. The end result– have dinner, see friends, hear fantastic music– is the same except for one big thing that’s missing: urban insanity. For me, at this time in my life, that’s a wrong, discordant note.