La Terroir

Last week I found myself struggling to teach the first bars of "Unchained Melody" to a father who wanted to learn to play.  His daughter continued her own lesson on the floor, playing a memory game by herself; we heard her trying out the pronunciation of "fortissimo" as she turned the card over in her hand, tracing the italic f's softly, an introduction to a new world of sound.

Meanwhile, her father was cautious, bashful, but eager to work.  As we finished, his hands trembling from the effort, he breathed a sigh of relief.  "This is so hard!" he exclaimed. "It's like learning another language!"

I told him he was right, explained the similarity: when you read something out loud, you don't read each word individually; your eyes scan the page and give your brain a few moments' warning before your mouth actually needs to form the words.  Reading music is the same, but there are numerous systems of denotation: tone, rhythm, pitch and expression all intersect in one glorious symphony of Unchained bliss.

He shook his head.  "It's like taking a Spanish class or something."

I laughed.  "I can't help you with Spanish," I said ruefully.  "I took French instead.  I probably should have taken Spanish."  It was a lie of which I am ashamed: in truth, I am proud to know a language and culture as lovely as French, even at the expense of something far more practical.  The language itself can move me to tears, as it did once in a Solemn Mass at Sacre-Coeur or in the husky outpourings of Carla Bruni -- so much so that reading it during Agape Vespers is difficult.  Even the word emouvant, moving, is far richer a concept in French than in English.

Rod Dreher wrote very beautifully yesterday about terroir, another French word that can't easily be translated.  As I read his words (tres emouvant) I thought about my own terroir.  Here are the basic elements:

Books. I'm sitting next to a huge shelf of them.  This is a laptop, so I could be anywhere, such as in my bed upstairs, where Rob and my comforter are nestled in a warm, fluffy pile.  But if I leave this room, I won't be able to grab something I need from one of my color-coordinated shelves, and that's too much of a risk when I'm

Writing. It is the focus and bane of my existence.  I love it.  I hate it.  I'm good at it.  I suck at it.  These thoughts follow me throughout the day.  I cannot lose them, but I cannot stop, either.  For now, I'm here.

Maia. About five minutes ago  she moved from her perch beside my head, wedging herself into my lap in front of the keyboard.  I have to type haltingly, a few precious letters at a time, to avoid disturbing her.  But I do it, because a warm, fluffy kitty is even better than the warm, fluffy comforter upstairs.  Few people ever see this side of my snobby Siamese diva, but that makes it all the more precious to me.

Pain. She is digging her claws into my lap in ecstasy, and I am protected by only a single layer.  The pain is worth it.  It is my experience that this is true more often than not.

Pajamas. Covered with cat hair.  And my own hair is a mess, half-damp from my shower and uncombed.  But it's my terroir.  And six days a week I get up early to put on a Catholic schoolteacher's uniform, so today I get to languish a little in comfort with

Mexican Cocoa. Raw milk, heated just enough.  Sucanat.  Cocoa, cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne to stop my cough (the remnants of what I think is probably a developing mold allergy.)  It goes very well with

Mexican Gangsta Rap. Didn't expect that, did you?  But it's pouring out of the car across the street, and in spite of myself, I'm enjoying the beat.  It's my terroir, but it's not my world.

Music. Currently from Rob, who is now awake and drifting from David Bowie to Colin Hay and the Cars.  Snatches of his guitar drift downward, as does his strong, gorgeous voice.  Few people see this side of him; he doesn't like to perform, unlike his fearless and choleric wife.  But hearing him strum away upstairs is one of the great joys of my life.