A Night to Remember
September 7, 2012
Have you ever heard a performance that you will never forget no matter how long you live? I have.
And have you ever gone out on a blind date with someone who is known to thousands, perhaps even millions of people—just about everyone except you? I have.
Not only that, but both events happened on the very same evening.
It was the middle 1960s and our Guarneri String Quartet, only a year or so old, was engaged to play in glamorous Rome (Italy, that is, not New York). We flew into Rome the day before our concert, rehearsed the planned program for a couple of hours, and then I was free as a bird to enjoy one of the world’s most alluring cities. Days earlier, I had alerted my friend, Anita, who lived in Rome, that I was to be there with a free evening on my hands. Anita promised to arrange something special. True to her word, she made reservations at one of her favorite restaurants, and if this wasn’t enough, she also fixed me up with a blind date.
That evening, Anita, Anita’s friend (let’s call him Ken since I’ve long forgotten his real name), Eddra Gale, my blind date, and I set out on foot through the streets of Rome en route to our restaurant. Along the way, we passed some of the city’s jewels—parks, gardens, fountains, aqueducts, statues, obelisks and columns—the sparkling new intertwined with and seemingly inseparable from the breathtakingly ancient in this two and a half-thousand-year-old city. As a first time visitor, I was swept away.
I got to know smart, witty, and attractive Eddra during dinner. All blind dates should be like this one, I thought to myself, having been on one or two before. I also learned over house-made gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce that both Ken and Eddra were opera singers. As one course and one bottle of wine followed another, we probably chatted about the city, art (Anita was a sculptor), and music, but I have not the slightest recollection of our conversation. What I do remember is that we emerged from the restaurant a couple of hours later very happy and very tipsy.
It was close to midnight by then and time to head home I assumed, but no, the evening was apparently nowhere near over. “Let’s go to the Colosseum”, Ken and Eddra suggested, and off we went. Moments later, the Colosseum suddenly loomed before us in the dark like some giant ocean liner, its hulking outline barely visible in the moonlight. The Colosseum, dating from 70-80 AD, was the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman Empire. Originally capable of seating 60,000 spectators, it was mainly used for gladiatorial combat.
No spectators or gladiators greeted us as we entered the Colosseum’s cavernous space. The place seemed utterly and eerily abandoned. Then, Eddra had an idea. She asked Ken to head to one side of the amphitheater and wait for her while she went the opposite way. Anita and I watched both of them fade into ghostly figures shrouded in the semi darkness. Finally, Eddra called out in a surprisingly clear and loud voice considering that she was now stationed at the Colosseum’s far end, “I’m here. Are you there?” To which Ken responded from the other side in an equally audible, “I am here.” Then to everyone’s surprise, Eddra began to sing the opening notes of a renowned Italian opera duet. Ken, hardly hesitating, answered her beguiling voice with his part. Ken and Eddrag were accomplished singers whose two voices floated toward each other across the giant amphitheater and came together in sumptuous harmony. It was an otherworldly performance rendered in bigger than life stereo.
The two singers must have felt inspired by their impromptu rendition. When the duet came to an end, they spontaneously launched into another, and then another. Anita and I, an audience of two, stood transfixed in the middle of the vast arena. At least, I thought we were only two. As my eyes gradually became accustomed to the dim light, I saw figures gradually emerge from the Colosseum’s crumbling underground catacombs, drawn out into the open by the seductive sounds relayed back and forth on high. Who were these people—lovers, gangsters, the lonely, the unwanted, the homeless? It was impossible to know but of no consequence to anyone at that moment. One duet effortlessly followed another as Eddra and Ken sang their hearts out like star-crossed lovers reaching out across the void. I have little concept of how long their performance lasted—perhaps it was for only a half an hour—but when it came to an end, applause broke out from the two or three-dozen people who lined the arena’s shadowy perimeter. Had this uncommon event taken place 2000 years ago, gladiators might have put down their swords, lions ceased to roar, and 60,000 spectators given Eddra and Ken a standing ovation.
Afterwards, Anita, Ken, and I walked Eddra back to her apartment mostly in silence. I had the feeling that each of us was overwhelmed by the unexpectedness and the singularity of what had just occurred. I thanked Eddra for our special evening together. Then, with Eddra safely home, I thanked Anita for having fixed me up so superbly. “What a lovely lady and what a gifted singer,” I enthused. Anita smiled. “Have you ever seen Federico Fellini’s movie, 8 ½?” I nodded. Of course, I had. Who hadn’t? My friend, the pianist Peter Serkin, boasted facetiously that he liked 8 ½ so much that he had seen it 8 ½ times. The 1963 film, both a comedy and a drama about the struggles involved in the creative process, had just won two Academy Awards. I adored 8 ½. Anita kept smiling. “And do you remember the scene on the beach?” How could I forget? It was the film’s one scene that almost everybody remembered. “La Saraghina,” I murmured, wistfully. She was the prostitute who danced so playfully, so enticingly for the enraptured young boys on the beach—my absolute favorite part of the movie. “Well”, continued Anita, “Eddra is not only a singer. She’s also an actress.” Anita paused just a brief second for effect. “La Saraghina was your blind date tonight.”
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Dear Mr. Steinhardt,
What a lovely story! The singing at the Colosseum sounds so wonderful. Thank you very much for sharing.
PS. i wonder how you came up with the cute name ‘In the key of strawberry’ :-)
Hi Arnold! What a delightful beginning of your Strawberry blog. How lucky for you that you were introduced to Rome by the phenomenal Eddra and friends. I, too, loved 8 1/2 and saw it almost as many times as Peter Serkin! Looking forward to more stories.
A wonderful, well-told story about a magical experience. One can only wonder what might have happened had La Saraghina danced the rumba for you that night!
By the way, I like your new site and its name. I’m glad you plan to keep writing; I shall keep reading as long as you keep telling us your stories. They’re terrific!
Just read this beautifully written chapter and loved it. Needless to say your description of the late night in Rome and the duets touched my heart. I adore biographies – especially by musicians and artists so this is a pleasure for me to read. Keep’ em coming.
The Key of Strawberry? I like it. I am involved in defing the sound of lemons, and what intrument is green. If you have something to write in this direction, you have me as a reader!
Dear Arnold, you always make me happy with such a wonderful way of telling us your stories of life and music. Thanks a lot, you make us smile!!!
i love your new name’s site. Love,
Maru Rangel and Paolo Gori
Dr. Lien, your answer lives in Arnold’s 1 Jan 2008 story.
Today is Paolo’s birthday, this was the best gift he could received. When was his last birthday we spent together?
We miss you!!!
Nice to hear from you! This key of strawberry is berry, berry interesting! I loved your blind date story. What an amazing experience!! —- How does Dodo like this new key of strawberry? Give her my love!! Our “O…118” tone cluster has successfully added the stable key of “K…man.” With hard work from the tone cluster and the key, it should prove to be an exciting composition! I look forward to hearing more from you and the Strawberry Key, and seeing you and Dodo sometime soon!—Lynelle
Dear Mr. Steinhardt,
Thank you for sharing such a lovely story! There is a moment some 30 years ago that has been etched in my mind as a night to remember. I was on a skiing trip in Zermatt Switzerland (my first). We had just finished skiing, hungry and tired we roamed the town in search of food. At the end of a long narrow lane we saw flickering in the arched windows of a small church. The sound that came from the partially opened doors was sweet and melodic, suddenly our hunger pains could wait. As I peeked in the door, I was quickly ushered up a small spiral staircase and directed to a seat behind the most ornately carved banister I had ever seen. As I peered over the railing there on the altar like little soldiers was a small orchestra, perhaps 10 to 15 musicians. They had just begun to play Vivaldi’s Winter from the Four Seasons. In the dimly lit church as the music rose to its climax I remember glancing at the audience and thinking that this was the most happy accident that I wandered into. I had never been moved by such an experience and found tears welling in my eyes, I was forever transformed into a classical music lover! I’ve tried many times to find that moment in music again, but this was a once in a lifetime moment that I am thankful to have experienced.
Your book Violin Dreams is filled with many of these moments and I have so enjoyed reliving them through your eyes. I am a 51 year old violin student (just 6 months now) and have gained some much needed insight. Your book makes me want to practice more, learn more, experience more. I thank you for this gift you have unwittingly given to me, passion for an instrument that vexes me daily….I love the violin and how it challenges me and helps me grow. I’m off to practice!
Sincerely, a devoted and grateful fan. Kathleen
Dear Arnold, This is just wonderful.You are a great story teller, and it is a pleasure to find your voice again greeting me on my “return” to civilization after a year long “absence”.
The pictures are wonderful. (compliments to Dodo).
(My first short fiction film was called “Strawberries” as well.”Elective Affinities”, I guess.(Goethe)
Your story about the evening at the Coliseum is breath taking. I really missed your stories, and the only chance to hear you play. (My Coliseum story is the absence of it, though I was there).
So I welcome your new venture, beautifully realized. (Alexej’s handiwork?)and of course I will subscribe.
Wow, Mr. Steinhardt, 8 1 /2 is one of my favorite movies of all time! That’s so amazing that you met the actress from that famous scene on the beach!
Arnold, I loved the story, your evocative writing, and Eddra’s beautiful performance in the film which, besides showcasing her fine acting and joyful abandon also reminds us of the innocence of little boys in the age before on-line pornography.
Arnold! Issi just sent this. I can picture it all exactly – I had many similar,singular and memorable moments with Tony and Eddra.
I think of you often –
xx from DD
What Fun! What Fun to read on a rainy afternoon! Perfect! Took me to another land!
Sending you all Love!
The site is Beautiful! Best to Alexej !
Ellie Javier & Marisol
I’m so grateful to Bernie Zaslav for telling me about your wonderful website this morning! (Yes, I am Burton’s daughter, and I once met you with Jules Eskin in New York at an ice cream shop on Broadway and 81st street around 30 years ago.)
What a delightful notte en Roma. Again, our paths do cross.
I worked as a dubbing actress in both the Italian and English Versions of 8 1/2. In the Italian version I played the Airline Hostess among many other parts, in Roma directed by Fellini. I had already known him in LA when he came to the States for his first visit to pick up his award for La Strada. At that time he did not speak English and I was hired to translate for him by 20th Century Fox. They were a terrific ten days. He even chased me around his room at the Bel Air Hotel. I got the giggles! Later on I would direct Cabiria in Paris and this is when I met Jay. A few years later in New York I dubbed the English version. So, again KISMIT. Thank you for your lovely stories.
Hi, Good stuff. I want to read a lot more of your blog.
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