A Little Street Music, Anyone?

by Becky on May 30, 2013 · 4 comments

in Music, Travel

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Street music. Such a unique phenomenon. And such a delight. For a euro or two, you can hear a whole movement of something. What’s more, street musicians often play as if no one’s around at all, and with the kind of focus that belies the casualness of their surroundings. It’s as if they’re in a music room somewhere, alone with their instruments.  True, some of them acknowledge passersby.  After all, engaging an audience may mean the difference between a few euros or many finding their way into the guitar case lying open on the ground.  But I’m so often amazed at how cool these musicians remain.  And how skilled they are.

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Once, I saw a gentleman sitting at a grand piano at the Line 5 metro stop.  Inside the metro station. I want to say he was playing some Tchaikovsky, but I can’t recall exactly. I just remember the shock of hearing such robust piano music and then realizing it was coming from a real instrument . . . inside the station!

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You’ve probably heard the story about world-famous violinist Joshua Bell playing in a metro station as part of an experiment to see whether people would stop to engage with the music. One of the only ones who did was a small child anxious to stay and listen, only to be pulled away by–what else?–a parent in a hurry.

When the kids and I come across musicians in the street or the park, we often stop to listen. Among the many we hear, there’s no doubt a young Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma or Jean Pierre Rampal.  It’s easy to be a parent in a hurry.  But it’s surprisingly easy to stop for the music, too.


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Miss Zinnia often sings in ancient basilicas.  However, in Sagunto, Spain, on a quiet afternoon in March, she sings in an ancient, Roman forum, a stone theater hewn into the hillside to which it has clung since the first century.

Partially restored, the forum has truly mindblowing acoustics, making it more like a church than an outdoor theater.  Those Romans, right?  Wish I could personally thank the handy set who designed the venue that made Miss Z’s voice reverberate so hauntingly.  Be cool, wouldn’t it?–if a Mom could say to the architects of such a place, “A girl’s voice endures because the thing you made endures.  Nicely done.”

(In the photograph on the link, the forum is in the lower left corner.)


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Sometimes, Mr. Goose needs to do something besides sightsee.

So we changed it up a little, and over the weekend, he and I took in a musical performance: “Ma, Me, Mi . . . Mozart!” at L’Auditori de Barcelona.

Ohhh! I’m a Mozart lover, so this show–made for children by people who obviously know and love them–was pure magic. Six musicians–five men on a (dizzying) variety of instruments, and one woman with a lovely, classically trained voice–bring Mozart’s music to life in ways that are colorful, clever, theatrical, and totally engaging.

Goose was enchanted. So was I. And he now knows that what he recognizes as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is 1) an old French melody later arranged for piano by Mozart, and 2) a song the Catalans have their own words to!

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Getting To Happy Already (Part Three)

by Becky on February 19, 2013 · 5 comments

in Food, Fun, Music, Travel

Friends! Here are some Happies! Share around! Find your own, too!

First, for your heart:  The twitter feed alone on this site will hitch up your smile a little, especially if it’s on a downturn (your smile, that is).  Think about starting your own gratitude project, or just journal your gratitude, one item at a time, even one item a day.  Be warned, though:  it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to articulate gratitude for one thing and not want to write down a second thing.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  My Grateful (‘grateful’ as noun) for the day is the bright pink vintage flamenco dress I saw at a thrift store down the street. Directly connected to that is the picture in my head of the way either of my petals would look in it.  (And how often do you see an authentic flamenco dress in a store window, just begging to be admired?)

Second, for your ears.  Music by ubercool Spanish indie rock/jazz group Jarabe de Palo, a favorite of mine for years, though I tend to like the jazz-informed stuff better than the rock stuff.  If you can listen to their take on Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema” and not feel instantly happified, then you should check your pulse to see if you are alive. (And see if you can detect that gorgeous Castillian theta, used on letter combinations Ci, Ce, and Z; you don’t hear it anywhere else! The word ‘gracia,’ while spelled the same, is nevertheless pronounced grahthia. Beautiful. And Happy!)

Or, if you’re in the mood for classical, then by all means Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, also Spanish, with the immortal Paco de Lucia on the guitar.

Third.  For your tongue.  Spanish olive oil!  Just.  Wow.

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Next time you’re at the market, pick up a bottle of good Spanish olive oil, one of the products for which Spain is known. I picked up my current favorite–very light, delicate, just amazing–at a little market, a coop of sorts, in the Catalunyan countryside, but you can no doubt find some good ones in the states.

Fourth. For your eyes. An apparition on the metro: Miss Zinnia. No doubt you have your own ‘apparitions.’ See them!  Name them . . .

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Fifth. For your hands. Vintage gloves. These belonged to my mother’s mother, Olive Estella Harker. Every woman of a certain age needs a pair of great leather gloves–a seriously happy acquisition.

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Sixth. For your sense of adventure. One of the magically labyrinthine streets in the Born District, maybe my favorite district in the city.

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Hope you’re getting your Happy plugged in. Just writing about mine, I realize I am smiling. Really big.  (And me smiling means my family is probably smiling, too.  Funny how that works.)

Happy Day lovely gals . . . and besitos in abundance.

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My teen girls and I:  sometimes, we need a good swoon.  For that, we turn to movies like the incomprehensibly lush Jane Eyre, with music by Dario Marianelli.  As we cluster on my bed, the three of us, we often dial up the film score on Grooveshark or Spotify and laugh at ourselves.  “Look at us,” I’ll say as we recap our favorite scenes and let ourselves be swept away by Marianelli’s musical imaginings.

Jane Eyre was probably the first “big girl” book I ever read, and it touched some rarefied chord in me that no other kind of reading experience had yet triggered.  You have to understand:  I . . . was . . . Jane.  When I finished the book, the world looked a little different to me, almost as if I’d traveled to someplace others hadn’t yet been to, making them less fit to appreciate the story of my adventures.  Or so I felt.

I really do believe that some books, some pieces of music, some works of art change us, almost right down to our DNA.  For that reason, I’ve been foisting books on my kids practically from the womb.  So it’s with such great pleasure that I gather my girls–my tribe, I call them–onto my bed sometimes, where we’ll listen to music, review books together, and talk about cultural events both life-changing and totally inconsequential.

The acquisition of culture is about so much more than just knowing that some dude with a fondness for starry night skies liked swirly brush strokes.  To the extent that we embrace it, culture allows us to relate to each other in ways we wouldn’t otherwise.  If it’s a swoon, for example, that brings my daughters and me together, connecting us for an hour or so on a Sunday night, let’s say, then Jane Eyre is more than the sum of its literay parts.  It’s mortar, for my relationships.  And moms and their teens:  they need that.

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Care To Hear Miss Zinnia Sing A Carol?

by Becky on December 29, 2012 · 6 comments

in Music, Travel

Sometimes it’s good to talk. But sometimes it’s best to listen.

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Every year around this time, I go into this strange, pre-Christmas “state,” feeling like if I don’t light everything up–I mean really light it up in a spectacular way–then I’m not doing my job.  And of course it takes its toll.  I ricochet wildly from errand to errand, wondering if I got my teeth brushed before I drove off, my skirt/coat/seatbelt flapping against the outside of the car as I motor along because when I shut the car door, I didn’t get myself properly tucked in.  The kitchen looks apocalyptic.  (Mountains of) gifts need wrapping.  I head off to a child’s classroom party and realize I forgot a gift for the teacher.

This year, in contrast, I am far from everything and thus have managed to avoid The Crazy. Feeling mighty “chill,” is what I am, and it is a sensation so odd and so out of character for a woman whose middle name is Stress Hound, I may need therapy to get a better angle on it.

So. Listen. If you are now fast approaching burnout, quick!–do these three things.

One.  Click on this playlist.  Both classic and jazzy, it’ll put some swing back in your step.  At the very least, it’ll pull the corner of your smile up a bit.

Two.  Repeat this mantra to yourself:  I need not be the Hostess With The Mostest.  (You may have to breathe into a paper bag for a while before you can get the words out.)

Three.  Tonight, before you go to bed, make yourself some hot honey lemonade.  Here’s how.  Add the juice of one lemon to one cup hot water (I heat mine in a saucepan).  Stir in one teaspoon honey, adding more if your mood/night/life need extra sweetening.  I use rosemary honey–divine.  This treat is so perfectly restorative, it brings me back to myself every time.

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Miss Zinnia sings. It’s her thing. Unless you count loving plants, which is also her thing. Perhaps her Italian parlsey, rosemary, and basil continue to thrive because she sings to them. After all, when she sings to me, I certainly thrive.

With its thick, stone walls and thus surreal acoustics, the Abbey at Poblet was, for thirty minutes or so, the perfect venue for a Young Thing desiring to flirt a little with the echo.

I’ll tell you a secret. I have to come to love the old churches of Europe not only for their cavernous beauty but also because they enliven The Girl Who Sings.

And I wonder: doesn’t every teenage girl have her own kind of “church?”–a place which, though it may never have been anything at all like a house of worship, functions as the perfect space for the expression of her bliss?

For that matter, doesn’t every mother, too? What a cause for celebration, the discovery of that which makes us want to sing.

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This morning, in a small town in Catalunya, in an old church high up on a hill, Miss Zinnia sang for a man of mature years who took the time to give us an impromptu tour.  He showed us through the church, rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War.


By European standards, it is brand new.  But the gorgeous art work on the walls dates to the 1500’s.  And the sarcophagus, to the 1100’s.  He was proud indeed of his church, this gentleman, and, after telling us the story of its reconstruction and contents, he needed to be thanked properly.  So I suggested to Miss Zinnia that she sing for him as a gesture of gratitude.  When she agreed, I explained that my daughter had a gift for him–a short song.  Immediately he sat down, ready for her music.


Hearing a young person sing in a stone church with a vibrant echo is a near surreal experience.  When that person is your child, the experience is sublime.  So thought our fine gentleman, too.  When he rose at the conclusion of Pie Jesu, he had tears in his eyes.  “I have become emotional,” he said in Spanish, clearing his throat.  He explained that he had a granddaughter just Miss Z.’s age.    Clearly, he missed her.  And clearly, he felt he had been duly thanked for his time.


It may not be practical to break into song each time a kind person needs to be thanked.  But in a country church frequented by few people, a song was perfect.


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Sometimes you can’t see the beach for the shells, you know what I mean? This is a function of what I like to call RTS (Racing Thoughts Syndrome), where your mind races out of control, your thoughts jauntily boomerang-ing (I just made that word up!) at the speed of light while the rest of you moves in ultra-slow-mo, like you’re wading through wet sand.  (Picture me raising my hand to admit that yes, this describes me, perfectly.)

I most certainly have RTS.  In fact, I think that if folks could actually see the lightning storm of chaotic electrical activity going on inside my head, they’d politely say, “Um, I’ve got somewhere I’ve got to be right now,” then run away, as fast as their legs could carry them.  According to one group of researchers, we have around 70,000 thoughts a day!  Mindblowing, no?  I figure that, given how much time I spend thinking about my kids, roughtly 69,950 (give or take) of those thoughts have to do with how to mother them.  (I am rather manic, however, so a thought that gets stuck in my head and starts looping probably makes the rounds 30,000 or-so times before I manage to reset with a second one.)

Examples of thoughts that fall into the “30,000 plus” category.  How will Miss Z. move forward with her vocal music in Spain, without her teacher and without a piano??  (Multiply that single, potent thought by 30,000.  There–you get the idea.)  Or, How how how how how (times this by 6,000, since I already lined up five iterations of the thought at the beginning of the sentence) is Miss Lavender going to finish her online physics class given how passionately she hates the subject and how impossible it is to connect with the tutors back in the states?  Or HOW (times this one by 30,000, plus a migraine, indicated by all CAPS) am I going to send a proper Christmas package to our young Mr. Beethoven back in the states, without filling it with nonsense he won’t need and without spending  hundreds of dollars to get it there??

See what I mean?

If you, too, are a victim of racing, looping thoughts that seem to be a function, ironically, of your love for your children, I suggest a brief moment of meditation.  I’ve tried meditating before, by the way.  I am not good at it, for the aforementioned reasons.  BUT when I see a beautiful image, I can sometimes manage to lock on and go to that place, which frees me momentarily from the scary math going on inside my head.  Likewise, when I hear a cool piece of music, I can lock onto that, too.  I plan to step up my meditating in the weeks and months to come, eventually (and hopefully) segue-ing to the proper–i.e., more quiet–kind.  I know this will require significant discipline, especially because those darn times tables are constantly sabotaging my efforts to slow down and smooth out my thoughts.  (I also know this may require a full brain transplant, so I’ll keep you posted.)


I invite you to let your thoughts return for a moment to a place you found restful. For me, that would be Zandvoort, on the Dutch Coast, where, back on July 3rd, three of the Eleven O’Clock kids looked as meditative as I’ve ever seen them.  Must be something in the air in the Netherlands.

I also invite you to check out some music that helps me chill.  What would I do without Yo-Yo Ma’s immortal Obrigado Brazil album?  (Not everyone’s thing, but the combination of classical and jazz totally works for me.)

Finally, I invite you to share your thoughts . . . about racing thoughts!  And about your meditative practices.  I’d love to know what you do to increase the productivity of your mothering efforts and to decrease the chances that such efforts will be undercut by old habits of thinking, let’s say, or just those rogue thoughts that run away with us!  And if you have ideas for music, by all means, share!

May your morning be peaceful.  May your thoughts be yours to direct, especially as you embrace another day of mothering!


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