Thursday, July 22, 2010

Alone But Not Lonely

I'm not a big fan of large gatherings, especially meet-and-greets where you have to make small talk with a lot of people. That kind of superficial contact tends to wear me out, and it simply doesn't give me much pleasure. But I like human contact. I enjoy immensely an evening with a few friends, and become quite animated with the energy of conversation. And I adore spending time one on one, where I can talk for hours about books, ideas, dreams, passions.

Anyone seeing me in these environments would probably classify me as an extrovert. I appear to be comfortable and at ease in these situations - and that is not untrue.

At the same time, however, I love spending time alone. I cherish the days when I am able to stay at home all day, puttering around the house, reading books, writing, having my only conversations with my dogs and cats. I find that in order to have those external energetic times, I need time alone to recharge - hours of quiet, uninterrupted space.

Sometimes, though, I manage to combine those two sides of myself, being both alone and with people at the same time, in a deeply satisfying way.

A couple of weeks ago, while researching calendar items for inclusion in my newspaper, I discovered that one of my favorite cellists, Nina Kotova, would be appearing in Napa Valley. Since the concert was set for a Tuesday, Sabrina would be unavailable to attend. I asked my co-workers if they were interested, but there were no takers. I was not about to miss this opportunity; I immediately booked a single ticket online for myself.

The concert was held at Castello di Amorosa, a recently-built replica of an Italian castle. The program included two piano/string quartet numbers, plus a cello sonata by Kotova. Knowing that the venue would draw Napa Valley's "in" crowd, I had dressed up for the occasion. I arrived early, and watched people. Being alone gives you the opportunity to be a "spy;" it's one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

We were seated in the central courtyard of the castle, in the open air. When the musicians came out, and took their chairs, it became obvious that I would not have a clear view of them, especially because there was a very tall man seated in front of me. For the first piece, I relaxed with my eyes closed, and felt the breeze on my face, imagined the notes falling into my hair, and smiled when small birds flew overhead and gave answering trills to the high tones of the violins. But before Nina came out, I stood and walked to the side of the courtyard, finding a seat on a low brick wall. I now had an unobstructed view of the stage. I watched enrapt throughout her Debussy piece; it was over far too soon.

A woman approached me later and asked me whether I enjoyed the Debussy. I said I liked it very much. She said she could tell. Apparently, my pleasure was visible. I had brief conversations with a few others about the music. I noticed a man and woman with a young boy. The man was carrying a slender musical case. I couldn't tell what it contained, so I asked him what he played. He said he was a cellist. I said, "Oh, it's your bow." He told me he used to play with a member of the string quartet, but now he sold instruments, and members of the ensemble were trying out some of his instruments. He was up from Los Angeles. The young boy was studying piano.

All of this is simple, nothing earth shattering. Conversations, observations, reflections. But it happened because I was alone. I followed my desires, moving to get a better view of Nina, not worrying about whether or not that was appropriate. I was able to be fully present for the entire concert, not off in my head while the music was playing, not engaged in conversation with my partner during intermission, not closed into an inner circle of friends. I was alone but completely there.

I can close my eyes right now and hear Debussy, and feel the breeze on my cheek.

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