October 08, 2009

Hat trick

After seeing the movie Paris with D. last Saturday, we go to sit on his balcony and drink good red wine that I cannot name though I would like to say it was French, suspect it was Spanish—we are a little drunk. His apartment is near the Verizon Center and the Capitals are playing. We are so close that we can hear the blare of horns. When he checks the scores, we learn that the Caps are beating Toronto three-zip. D. thinks that Alexander Ovechkin may have a “hat trick”: three goals in one game. But it turns out that Ovechkin has two goals and one assist. Not bad. Final score Caps 6, Maple Leafs 4. I read the next day Washington AP: “By the time the game was 77 seconds old, Alex Ovechkin scored the first time his stick touched the puck, earning ‘MVP!’ chants from all those red-clad fans.” Surely he will get the hat trick again the way he did in May 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I am stuck on the hat trick. For me the movie Paris is Cédric Klapisch’s and his favorite male lead Romain Duris’ hat trick: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) and now a window on Paris from a non-Rom-Com view that includes Romain Duris’ view of the city from a taxi. In that one scene we see Rom-Com Paris: the Tour Eiffel, the golden statue, a Rom-Com collage but not as I have ever seen anything in that much-filmed city filmed—not as I perceive the city by then. For Klapisch has closed with the hat trick.

What we have seen by then is the refrigerated fruit and vegetable outlet while in most Parisian movies we see romanced markets in the street. We see them here too but with the gloss from the grit of living. We see refrigerated meat lockers. We see flowers pushed on an industrial cart by a strong young working-class woman. We see academic Paris. We see dancing, dream-like Paris (Romain Duris, slim beauty in red) and tiny apartments that bespeak living in the spaces of the heart—not the spaces of Architectural Digest.

No villains and no heroes. Humanity on full compassionate show culminating in the simple exchange that brought me to full tears: “Merci” and “merci aussi,” built on the relationship of the characters played by Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche who speak these words.

When we leave the theater, D. asks me, as he makes a note to himself in his Blackberry, “It was Bach’s Minuet in G Major?” And I am struck that he hears what I do not hear, that he brings music to me. He seduced me with his piano, the one with the crack in its sounding board, the one he sold when he married me. He had little furniture when I met him, had placed his baby grand as the centerpiece of his living area.

In 1984 he called me and told me he had a gift for me and I should come over from my place, a tiny house in Garrett Park estates—meaning that all the old big Victorians were in Garrett Park and that I lived in the estate, the extensive land where the poor live near the rich. We used to call his apartment up on Pooks Hill California because the kids and I went there to swim in his pool, to sit on his balcony, to stand in the shiny-like-marble glistening lobby—a world apart. I came that day and he played Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and then without words, with instead the simple silence that follows the end of a piece, the laying of his hands in his lap, he looked at me. And I wept. I’d wept from the first melodic chord.

This was the last time he played the piano for me—twenty-five years ago. When we lived together, I often heard him work on Schubert’s Impromptu in G Flat but he’s never played it for me all the way through. The barren period. Music in silence. When I heard him play, I’d be upstairs in our large Victorian house in Adams Morgan—we’d come such a long way but not come through.

All the silence would seem to me to be gone when I heard him play.

A piano teacher once told me the story about the man who was lucky enough the night before a concert to get a hotel room next to Rubenstein, or was it Horowitz? She’d forgotten which, the name did not matter. What mattered was that the man heard through the wall the same phrase played over and over and over, like a needle stuck on a scratch in a record.

D. and I are stuck like that.

Before all the loss, when I watched him play that day he seduced me, I saw the muscles in his shoulders, his forearms, the angle of his back. The movement of his brow, the corner of his mouth, the line beside his eye. I watched his body move through the piece. He leaned into the bass. The melody rang from the keys, shifted in tone, in softness and loudness with his touch. His back curved into the music, his brow softened, his shoulders rose and fell with the thematic repetition. His neck bent and relaxed.

What he does not know is that when I heard the Schubert in G as I lay in the bed where I waited for him, where I often fell asleep before he came to bed, I did not hear the missed notes, the imperfect phrasing that he explained as the reasons he could not play for me or anyone else. I thought I heard his heart pulse, but knew it was my own.

I am stuck on the hat trick: Will he pull Bach’s Minuet in G Major out of his? Will I pull Paris out of mine?

When Alex Ovechkin pulls the trick, the ice will be full of hats. This tradition owes its history to cricket when a bowler knocked off three wickets and was awarded with a hat.

I am reminded of my favorite Rom-Com The Thomas Crown Affair—not the first one with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but the second with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Tommy hides by wearing a bowler hat and filling the museum with men in bowler hats, an allusion to the painting “Son of Man” by René Magritte: a man who wears a suit and a bowler hat with an apple on his face.

When we truly see, we see what has been hidden: the hat trick.


  1. Mary,

    You are making a dangerous choice: beauty is not truth, put yourself before the art you are creating with D.

  2. There's a play upon the notion of play here, I think--playing hockey, playing the piano.

    Anonymous, I think Mary is pointing at the flaws and humanity that are present in life, beyond the art made from or about it. This passage reminds me of a time I saw an utterly beautiful picture of a Victorian house surrounded by snow before me. I rushed to take out my camera to take a photograph so that I could keep the image fresh, only to later realize that there was a large tree in the camera image that my eyes in their wonder had managed to ignore.

    There is an article on the psychology of human vision I recently read called, "What You See Is What You Need." I am reminded of the paradox pointed to in the title of that article here.

  3. The Thomas Crown Affair (the original) remains one of my favorite movies. I've played Beethoven's Pathetique and it is so beautiful every time (even with the flaws I add) that it almost makes me cry. I'm sad that your D didn't continue to play the piano (or at least to play for you); he is obviously very talented.

    What a delight to find another Blogger of my decade.

  4. Discovereuse,

    You are right. On rereading I realize what power Mary has in embracing the reader. I think her pain became hard to take, and D.'s silences and rationalizations angered me. His silences, unlike Beethoven, do not enrich what follows, be it music or words. But she listens for love. Silence can bring acceptance or rejection. I fear Mary's writing this memoir may encourage her to wait for one or the other. She has great talent, and I hope it flows again into happier or less frustrating channels. Apologies to Mary for a premature and harsh judgment.

  5. Anonymous, whoever you are,

    I am grateful for your reading.

    Much interest in your thoughts,


  6. Anonymous,
    I can see how Mary's pain is hard to take. It is.

    One thing I value about recent postings is how love as an emotion is illuminated as both seeing the illusory Beauty of the beloved
    and as seeing the fullness of the beloved, cracks and all.

    I am ready with my hat, to applaud what is emerging now.

  7. D's not completing the piece and not playing it for you, not wanting perhaps to expose his errors and faults in playing it-is this a metphor for his not being open and not wanting you to see his frailties.
    And you say you did not hear them; perhaps then these are unimportant to you and do not diminish him, but he thinks that you would value him less should these be exposed.

  8. Harvey Black, Good advice! I am listening.

  9. wow this was clever, it goes to show how the other half live and you got a taste of it, for a while, was laughing when you were guessing what kind of wine you were drinking, and ironic as it is u think it was spanish lol in the heart of one of the highest wine producing countries in the world, this is good Mary, very good.


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