While staying at la Casa de Melgar I met a painter, accompanied by a group of unusual tourists. This painter takes travelers on tours throughout the world, showing them how to document their experiences through artwork: instead of snapping photos, they paint pictures.
He discussed with me how you can have a richer sense of a place if you take the time to sit and paint it. You’re there for an extended period of time, and can watch the scene change as the hours pass. For example, he had just come from Cuzco where he had been painting the Plaza de Armas over several days’ sessions. Just before he finished his last sitting, a group of school children arrived, and they formed two rows as they waited for some activity. The geometry of it was such a perfect addition to the scene already in process—so he quickly sketched them into the piece before they dispersed.
The experience of a place is never captured in one photo, one video, one conversation, or one story. A memory lives with depth in time, space, and levels of awareness.
You don’t know what will come into frame if you take that extra time to watch and listen.
Battling Lucho’s Piano
Back at Lucho’s café, I was taking some serious time to tune his piano. The work was going slowly, and it was not easy. Still, I kept at it. The upside was having more time to spend at the cafe with my good friend.
I had three sessions with the piano, each one lasting for a few hours. This piano was not designed to be cared for easily. Accessing the strings to complete the tuning process was quite difficult. The action of the piano was fixed in place so it could not be removed for convenience. Many of the strings actually snapped while I tuned, but fortunately enough of them survived that all the notes were still playable. I concluded that this piano was manufactured as an economical model. There was little emphasis on functionality in its design. I would classify it as an instrument forsaken since birth.
Whether it’s clanging through the chorus of an old song, or raising a glass on a warm afternoon, more details are added to the picture of my experience here.
After several hours plugging away, I started to wonder if it was worth the effort. Maybe this instrument was just a lost cause. Whoever created it didn’t care enough to give it what it needed for a successful life. Maybe I should forget about it, too.
Sharing a Drink, Opening the Heart
During one session of tuning, I was starting to get really hungry, so I got ready to head out and find something to eat. Interestingly, I can’t eat much of the food in Lucho’s cafe! I’m avoiding gluten and he makes pasta. His delicious almond cake and cappuccino would unfortunately not suffice for dinner.
However, before I left I sat down with Lucho and his sister, Giuliana, to chat for a bit. In the midst of our conversation, without me mentioning my hunger, Giuliana offered to share her lunch with us. How sweet! And perfectly timed! It was a really nice meal with fava beans, potatoes, rice, and a creamy pumpkin sauce.
As we ate and chatted, we somehow got on the topic of drinking, which is something I don’t do much of. Lucho eventually brought out an array of bottles containing various spirits and liquors. One by one we smelled each distillation, taking in the aged aromas and flavors.
I once heard someone say that sharing a drink with others opens your heart. I found that to be true as we sipped and relaxed. Lucho poured a sip of Frangelico for me, a glass of wine for Giuliana, and a dram of Scotch for himself that was fifty years old. We all enjoyed a taste of it, this whisky from another land that was still bringing smiles to our faces after five decades of existence.
Gratitude and Appreciation
I’ve just recently become intrigued with the difference between gratitude and appreciation. Often, I’ve turned to daily habits of gratitude as a way to stay positive. I even wrote an app for the Google Glass to assist with this. But appreciation can be an even more enriching experience. On the one hand, gratitude is a warm, simple acknowledgement: I’m grateful for a meal or a drink with a friend. On the other hand, appreciation is more active, more visceral, tied to the sensory details of a savored experience.
I’d like to help, however I can, to make sure anyone who loves music can have their piano brought to its maximum potential.
As we shared that lunch and sipped from those glasses, all of my senses tuned in. I watched sunlight peer through our magical elixirs, I inhaled the sweet and earthy scent of the wine, I admired the array of bottles with their various shapes and colors. More than anything, though, I enjoyed sharing the experience with Lucho and his sister, and I felt present and connected. I clarified with them the words for gratitude and appreciation in spanish: “agradecimiento” and “apreciación.” We discussed how appreciative and present we felt at this moment.
As time passes, I see deeper layers of the people I’ve met in Peru. The nature of these friendships shifts and grows. Whether it’s clanging through the chorus of an old song, or raising a glass on a warm afternoon, more details are added to the picture of my experience here. I step back one day and the canvas is filled with several days worth of laughter and friendship.
I Will Survive
After wrestling with this piano for a number of days, I thought I had finally persuaded it to come back to life. But I decided we must both test its vitality and celebrate it for joining the world of the living again. I planned a get together in Lucho’s cafe. The hope was, through this piano’s rebirth, to add a layer to my developing memory of Arequipa, Lucho’s cafe, la Casa de Melgar, and the slew of friends that had begun to surround me.
To be honest, I was nervous whether this celebration would be at all effective. We crammed several musicians and guests into this tiny cafe with little plan on how to proceed. I had to ask all the other musicians to tune down their instruments to match the piano. I was worried that piano’s sound would disappoint. I was worried if anybody would find this extemporaneous event enjoyable. But we forged ahead.
Well, it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Lucho’s cafe suddenly bustled with energy and vitality. Even if the sound wasn’t totally perfect, it didn’t matter. We were all there playing, singing, and enjoying every minute of our concert, sharing the music with our happy audience. We played on into the night. Guests who at first were reluctant slowly began to step up to add their voices to our concert. By the time we were finished and packing up, there was still a crowd gathered around the piano, picking out sentimental melodies. How loved it must have felt—forsaken for years but now the center of attention.
As we chose our tunes for the night we happened upon a rendition of “I Will Survive.” How appropriate it felt to hear the piano belt out this anthem to those who dare to rise above adversity.
Some tuners won’t bother with a piano that seems beyond repair. On the one hand, I understand that—it may be a lot of effort for disappointing results. That seemed the case as I tried to force this tired old piano to regain its youth and excitement.
I’m making friends, sharing stories, and learning to better appreciate the unexpected treasures that do come.
Still, despite all the pain it took to tune it, I can’t say it wasn’t worth it. As with every piano I encounter here, we aim to take a transaction normally paid for with cold, lifeless cash, and grow from it an experience that supersedes the monetary value.
In the last post we contemplated measuring the value of our experiences by the joy they generate. Without a doubt, we all had fun playing this piano together, despite its flaws and limitations, and it still proved itself successful at doing one invaluable thing: bringing joy to people.
Just as with athletic abilities or economic investments, not every single piano is going to be a top-notch player. But I don’t want to completely accept that. If only the finest pianos receive care and upkeep, while the rest are left by the wayside, then we risk losing moments like this, gathered in small café, singing into the night. We rob the kid with a less than perfect piano of a closer glimpse of what music can be. We lose our sense of joy and the ability to fully celebrate our humanity.
I’d like to help, however I can, to make sure anyone who loves music can have their piano brought to its maximum potential. Some might think I’m fighting a losing battle, or that I’ll never make any money like that. Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, I’m making memories with friends, sharing stories, and learning to better appreciate the unexpected treasures that do come. I feel that more and more with each passing day.
As we sit in the plaza painting our pictures, we realize the depth of what is in front of us. Here is a perfect example. I mentioned last time that Lucho used to work with explosives, but that is not correct. Oops! I talked with him some more and It seems I confused his pronunciation of the english word “pumps,” thinking that he said “bombs!” Hell, I may still not have the translation quite right but its worth mentioning.
I had reveled in the fact that he had chosen to turn from making bombs to making pasta. Perhaps its even more poignant that this fine fellow never helped to make a bomb at all.
Here’s to putting the time into painting the full picture of our travels, yet celebrating the meaning we find in the detours we encounter along the way.
About this series: Floating piano has come to be internationally known, and thanks to the internet we’re getting inquiries worldwide about our top-rated apprenticeship program. This has inspired us to try to connect with international piano lovers in person via some transcontinental traveling. Eathan Janney, lead technician and founder of FPF will be visiting Peru to search for human connections through pianos. Meanwhile our star apprentices Daniel DiMaggio, Bimol Karmaker and Tom Erickson are manning the ship at home in NYC, ready to tune your piano to the highest standards.
As a “Goodwill” Ambassador, FPF assigns itself the task of connecting with piano owners in various locations and exploring the histories of their pianos. We will document these adventures and stories, and as a gesture of good will, offer to tune the pianos for free. Piano tuning is our business, but we are also fascinated with the non-transactional aspects of a piano tuning visit: the interaction with a piano owner, the sharing of music, the caring for an object that has a life history of its own. Music is a global phenomenon that exists outside of the physical, political, and national boundaries that may separate us. We would like to highlight these factors by making connections through pianos and sharing these stories with you.
Special thanks to playwright Chad Eschman for collaborating on this post.