This past Saturday was really quite strange. In the middle of the morning I saw the Femme Fatale's doppelganger pushing a shopping cart full of French shoes through the Tenderloin. An hour later I saw the same woman pushing a cart again, this time full of dress bags. Not paper bags, nor the large green trash bags you usually see being wheeled around the Tenderloin in a shopping cart, but dress bags like the ones they send you on your way with when you buy something from Saks or Neiman's. She had an immense pile of them in the cart, mostly black, gleaming in the morning's bright sun.
Watching the doppelganger, I had to laugh- in fact I laughed harder than I have in a very long time. If I didn't know she was dead I'd swear it was her. But she is dead- this much I know is true, because I heard it straight from the one who dealt the fatal blow.
That blow came from Thaïs, and though she refused to explain how, she somehow knew all about my relationship with the Femme Fatale and sought me out in the aftermath, seeking a place to lie low to until everything blew over. That wouldn't take long- the San Francisco police are notoriously inept at solving crimes. Without any witnesses (and so far none have come forth) they'll move on, label it a "missing person" case and be done with it. Just another woman who one day decided to walk out of one life and into another. Happens every day. Just don't ask me to explain why I agreed to harbor a fugitive- especially an assassin- I just did, knowing it was the right thing to do. After all, the death of the Femme Fatale wasn't something I was going to shed any tears over at this point.
Between the time I learned of her death and last weekend, I hung fire, waiting for some kind of sign, not really knowing how this was going to play out for me. Though I tried to go about my business, not too far in the back of my mind was the expectation of an imminent knock on my door from one of two possible sources, or perhaps both: the first would be people with badges armed with a bunch of questions for me; the other would be a lone man armed with something else seeking retribution for my complicity in the whole thing, be it real or imagined. None came, so after a week of lying low, I was ready to venture out again and hear some music.
I asked Thaïs to accompany me. Initially she had reservations, but in the end she agreed. Now I was partnered in crime with the woman who killed the Femme Fatale. Watching her get ready, I was struck by the similarities between the two of them- one a seeming inversion of the other. We left my place at 7:30 and walked into the quickly cooling night, the fog coming in heavily over the Civic Center. We settled into our seats at Davies with just a moment left before the lights dimmed. The house was packed. Osmo Vänskä, Music Director of the Minneapolis Orchestra, strode onstage.
I recalled reading a review of the premiere of first piece on the program, Kalevi Aho's Minea, which piqued my interest in it. It proved to be a delight, beginning with the sound of the wind, the origin of which proved impossible to detect in the orchestra. From there it built into something new but familiar, laden with references to Ravel, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, soon sounding like a mash-up of the theme from "Mission:Impossible" and Saint-Saëns' Bacchanalia Suite, as performed by The Incredible Bongo Band- it would fit perfectly in the soundtrack for the next remake of "King Kong" in the scene where Carl Denhman leads his band through the jungle in search of Ann Darrow. What it all had to do with Minneapolis wasn't exactly clear, but it was a great twenty minutes of music with a thrilling climax.
During the break an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu settled upon me as I gazed at the terrace seating behind the stage. The point of view suddenly became clear- and the sensation of an unpleasant memory collided with present reality in a most unusual way. The feeling was fleeting but sharp, cut short by the appearance of Hilary Hahn taking the stage, wearing a stunningly gorgeous gown.
I'd never seen Hahn before, for no good reason other than a reflex aversion to precocity and the weird fame which often surrounds it, and only the urging of a certain sage prompted me to hear her this night. It really hadn't occurred to me that the young girl whose youth was so much a part of her mystique and hype is now a grown woman and my previous prejudice turned out to be my loss. Hahn was simply incredible as the soloist in the Prokofiev's first violin concerto, turning in an impassioned performance which grew more impressive with each movement.
I wouldn't miss her again given the opportunity. As an encore she performed a solo piece called Speak, Memory by Lera Auerbach, one of 24 pieces Hahn's commissioned from contemporary composers and is performing on her current tour. She'll soon record all of them and I applaud this advocacy and effort to bring this kind of exposure to her composing peers. Having never read Nabokov's memoir, I couldn't find the thread to its namesake, and its effect proved fleeting compared to her bravura performance of the Prokofiev, with the exception that the conclusion was a lovely fade out, like an old memory fading away into nothingness. I appreciated the opportunity to hear just a little bit more of Hahn's playing, and she received a well-deserved ovation from the audience.
Following the intermission came Shostakovich's 6th Symphony, which the Cleveland Orchestra performed in the same house just over a month ago. In the hands of the San Francisco Symphony under Vänskä it sounded quite a bit different- brighter in the wind sections, more subdued in the strings, and with the William Tell Overture elements more pronounced here. A sense of cohesion to the three disparate movements went missing, though each grew noticeably louder. The Largo first movement did hearken back to to Aho's work, creating a pleasing symmetry within the program.
After the concert ended we went back into the night, making a stop at a new restaurant with a somewhat silly name that proved to be a mistake. I won't name it, and doubt it will be six months before the space is vacant again. The food we were served was terrible and I felt like we had somehow ended up in Sunnyvale or Pleasanton.
The next night we joined the immense crowd to watch the fireworks marking the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a spectacular show. Afterward we waited until there were few people left, found an empty bench facing the water, and shared a cigar I've held onto for a long, long time. As the cigar burned down, so did certain memories of the past, becoming ashes left behind in the sand.
And as for the weird formatting of this post... well, that's another mystery!