From the second row of the upper balcony, Pete and I were not afforded a view of the stage unless we stood up. Fortunately, everyone was standing or leaning in close to the low rail beyond which opened the grand space of Peon Contreras.
The concert hall is one of the oldest in the Americas, built near the heart of the ancient city center of Merida. The Mayas lived in this city long before the Spanish came and forced them to tear down their white limestone temples and reassemble the stones into cathedrals and palaces and theaters.
We first began attending the Merida Symphony thanks to our new expat-friend Deborah, who plays the violin with them. We bought the cheap seats because we’re cheap, but as we kept climbing up the circling stone steps, my wonder rose in my chest. How big was this place? How grand? When we opened the doors to our balcony chamber, I went dizzy. The flying dome. The floating crystal chandelier. The heads of the audience on the floor like carefully-arranged pebbles. The space!
Deborah brought us in. We joined her and the other musicians at the side-alley Italian cafe after the concert. We went on dates for drinks and dancing. One of the best was the night she met us after we saw Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the outdoor art cine and cafe, La68. Our heads swirled with the revelations of the cave artists speaking to us from 30,000 years in the past. We snuck in late to a government-sponsored free concert in Peon Contreras of the visiting Guanajuato Symphony culminating in the heart-skipping performance of an operatic soprano soloist. Then we took the long warm walk to Blue Namu, the gay bar where we witnessed the most spectacular especatulo of our young lives. We gather together and watch shadows dance.
Tonight we are here for Verdí. The Symphony has assembled 150 people to string and blow and sing. We can barely see the feet of the bass singers hiding in the back rafters of the stage.
I’ve always loved the moment of the tuning, when the prinicipal plays the A. It’s when we can’t judge, we can’t weigh our expectations against reality. It’s just this anticipation and sense of purpose.
What is that purpose? Isn’t it strange that people gather together like we do to share our music? We all want the waves to wash over us together. This is what it seemed to me, as I stood behind the line of people crowding against the rail of the upper balcony, as the Symphony crescendoed and wailed. I swore I felt the whole place shaking. And I watched the faces watching the stage. The light of the stage lights glowed upon them. The curve of their bodies matched the scallop of the balcony. I felt as though all we ever want is to be closer to the light and the sound of this thing we share. I loved us, the symphony, the audience, the curved line that did not bother with formality, that did not stay rigidly in our seats. We bent toward the center of it as though we were gathering around a fire surrounded by night.