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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of December 19 - 25, 2001

  Opinion Columns

Lullaby of birdland

Commentary by JoEllen Collins

The gift is the reminder that everyday has some beauty in it, and that we must enjoy the fleeting times of sacred beauty when they happen.

A convention of birds visited me in my garden on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Itís been a long time since I have actually listened to the world around me; fortunately, I was rewarded for my still acceptance of the place I am inhabiting.

I had just come "home" that morning from two weeks of intensive language schooling at the wonderfully named Scuola Leonardo Da Vinci in Siena, a city I have grown to love. I was adapting to the solitude once again, a subject I have shared in previous columns, when the air darkened and a swoosh overhead made me look up at the huge flat-topped pine tree that dominates the courtyard adjacent to my small apartment in Umbria.

Without exaggeration, thousands of small birds swooped in to take a rest in my tree, and they chattered and sang for a good 10 minutes before reaching an agreement to visit the freshly harvested fields nearby. With an audible "whoop," as though a wind tunnel had been uncorked, they gathered again and took their sweet trills elsewhere. I waited for several minutes, hoping they would return, but they had moved on to the next attraction, like happy shoppers in a mall.

That was November 17, and you will be reading this several weeks later, but perhaps my little vignette will serve as a holiday present. The gift is the reminder that everyday has some beauty in it, and that we must enjoy the fleeting times of sacred beauty when they happen.

On my last afternoon in Siena, I saw an advertisement for a concert series to be held in the centuries old Teatro del Rinnovati. The Teatro occupies part of Il Campo, the grand piazza at the cityís center, in a structure famous for the tower from which one can view the bella vista of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The first presentation listed was Brahmsí Requiem, Tedesco (in German) followed a week later by Rigoletto. I managed to decipher the ticket purchase instructions, a rather daunting chore, and set aside some time to return and arrange to see these performances.

Yesterday, I rented a room in a small hotel in Siena and once again settled into an appreciation of this sparkling city. While exploring the narrow, winding medieval streets, I heard pipers playing. I turned a corner, and there they were, celebrating Sienaís own St. Catherine with music appropriate to her time.

While my friends back home were just beginning to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I first joined the throngs of Italians taking their nightly stroll down the avenues and then went to see the Requiem. For one splendid hour I was awash in the rich sounds of Brahms, ensconced in a fat plush red velvet seat in the jewel box Teatro. I even read enough of the program notes to realize that my Italian had improved. I didnít feel alone at all, rather part of an eternal tradition, the sharing of music. I almost even poked the older lady in the fur coat sitting next to me as we were both applauding and exclaiming "Bravo" at programís end. I wanted her to know how much I had appreciated the talent of her fellow Sienese!

During one of my earlier bouts of loneliness, I realized that I was missing access to music. In my desire to simplify my life I had neglected to bring any CDs. There is a TV in my apartment, but it is almost always filled with news, mindless game and talk shows and soaps, all in Italian (good for my language but not necessarily my sanity). I did happen upon one broadcast of a concert, but that was about it. So I bought a tiny radio and thus can listen to an Italian FM station that plays a combination of opera, other classical music, American jazz and a happy melange of international music like Brazilian bossa nova, French chansons and Portuguese fada. Now most of my solitude has been made easier by the companionship of music.

This morning, as I walked back to my car, the wheels of my overnight bag rat-a-tat-tatting on the cobblestone streets, I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the evening. If I have a chance, I would love to go to La Scala, but I understand that is nearly impossible. For sure, I will call during the six hours the tickets are available and then go to the post office to send a money order to Siena so that I can see "Rigoletto" next week. Whatever is near I plan to find.

As I neared my car, I heard from somewhere a beautiful tenor voice singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Italian. I peeked in a door to see who possessed the voice. Turns out it was a fruit vendor arranging his wares and singing to himself. He looked up, and I thanked him, explaining that I was from America. He laughed and beamed in pride, and we mutually showed our happiness with this universal language of the human spirit. Hearing Pavarotti couldnít have been any better!

Hope your Thanksgiving was as wonderful as mine was and that your days, too, will be filled with the beauty of a little night music, maybe some Ella, and the chatter of tiny avian friends.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.