Alone in Italy with Rabbi Harold
I like to compare notes with computer guys about how they manage their work days. Like writers, they are often alone and like me, it turns out, many rely on music to keep them company. In fact, one of my computer friends has supplied me with stacks of great stuff over the years, everything from The Eels and Spoon to some group called Frightened Rabbit. However, I can’t listen to anything with actual English words these days; otherwise they (the words) end up in my manuscript. Indian hit music, French and Spanish pop — that is fine. All of which means I have a highly diversified play list and am used to surprises, from Schubert, say, to Brune. But today, an alarming thing happened. I was writing about Mary’s father’s death: “a slight rattle” had brought her to his bedside; his heart stopped, when a loud nasal Brooklyn voice boomed “Baruch atah adonai” straight out of my computer. How had this happened? This was not G-d, nor was it Mary’s father, who did not believe in G-d anyways. It was Rabbi Harold someone of Siddur Audio, a bar mitzvah preparation tool. At my house, “Music sharing” which sounds benign and is not — has caused my son’s music to infect my computer. Although Rabbi Harold is kind of soothing — He interjects comments like, “Now the congregation repeats what you have said” or “Now, you turn the page and start the V’ahavta” — he is not good work music. Nor, and this is the point, is he mine. He is my son’s. I had my bat mitzvah. It occurs to me, however, that he might be helpful next week when I am in Pisa, alone, staring out over the Arno which is what Mary did a lot of. I will not be happy, even though I should be because I am in Pisa. I will be thinking about Mary’s desolation (when she was here, Shelley was busy flirting with her friend, Jane) and Shelley’s impending death. Worse, I will be remembering the last time I was in Europe alone. I was twenty-two years old. I had saved up all my money to live in Paris which is what I thought all writers should do and instead of turning immediately into a famous writer (Hemingway, let’s say) I got gripped by a terrible panic. I could not sleep, eat, read, or write. I went out with strange rich men. What I remember most is how afraid I was. Nothing was all right. The world, the streets and the cars, the people in their overcoats and the door to The Orangerie all seemed a great distance away. I was moving in a bubble.
Now, I am 48 years old. Italy, alone, what could be better? But I picture a bed in a cold bare room. Me alone at some table. Me lost. Me lugging my suitcase up stairs. I worry about where the train station is and if I will find my hotel. I think of one of my old students, J, who is currently studying in India and am ashamed to worry about a trip to Italy. She is far braver than I am. As is my niece who has just moved to London without knowing a soul. However, both of them are in programs of sorts. What I dread are the long self-made days, the what shall I do with myself now kind of feeling which is bad enough at home. I suppose that if I get really desperate, I could turn on Itunes and Rabbi Harold will be there, ready to walk me through the Saturday morning service. One of my computer guy friends told me that when he starts to go a little crazy after a day alone, he wanders in and out stores to remind himself that other people are out there, that he is not the last man on earth.