music, nostalgia, and travel

3 Nov

Okay, this is the easiest one for me to relate to, as I often associate music with travel, and not necessarily music about travel. For example, whenever I hear The Beach [now more commonly known as ‘At The Secret Beach’]  by Mikis Theodorakis, sung by many different singers in many different ways, I am reminded of my childhood holidays in Greece, when it was often played on juke boxes on ferries. The bouzouki opening and the bittersweet vocals, are like olive groves in the shimmering heat of a midday summer. But I also like it as an adult because of my re interpretation of the lyrics.  The lovers at the end of their romance, knowing that this is the last time, and they are trying to get what is left of it while they walk on the beach. The lyrics were in fact a poem by Nobel Prize winning poet Seferis, and yet I think Theodorakis captures perfectly the mood of the poem in his music. I have projected the meaning to refer to doomed holiday romances, and that is as nostalgic as one can get.

WhenI was a teacher in Thessaloniki, in Northern Geece, the locals were big fans of Rembetika, Laika and ‘Post-Rembetika’ music.  One of my students gathered a cassette of Greek songs and gave it to me as a Christmas present, and whenever I play some of the lovelier ones, like Kali Mera Ilie,   I am reminded of the forests of Northern Greece. the plunging gorges near the Prespa region and some of those villages clinging to the hillsides. And of course, my time in Thessaloniki. I was not always happy there, but I so loved this part of Greece. I still have on film my Greek friends charging around the streets of the old town pretending to be spies following me. I remember Kallia, one of the people who consented to appear in the project, commenting that my take on Thessaloniki was too like Beirut (this was when the Lebanon was still recovering from the war) for comfort. She had that dark humour that Greeks claim is a British preserve.

What reminds me of the Czech Republic?  Dvorak and Smetana. Listen to the Slavonic Dance in E minor by Dvorak. It is Prague. The old streets, the castle,  those monuments all conspiring together with the bustle of life in it to make a rich and enduring harmony.  And what about the second movement of the From My Life Quartet by Smetana? Those soulful Czech girls.  Enough said.

I could go on and on and on. The spookiness of Bartok in The Miraculous Mandarin. Switch it on when you ąre appoaching a Mittel European castle which is supposed to be haunted. As I said to some of my Polish students only today, never underestimate the power of legend to lend something to a building or monument. Look at Bran Castle in  Romania or Cachtice castle in Slovakia.

And what about the Stranglers? I have memories of wandering down various beaches in Bali with one of their most famous songs, Peaches, singing in my ears. If I wanted something that connected me more with the locals than with the tourists, however, some Gamelan music was required, but I had to admit I found it hard going.

Nowadays,  I tune in to the Long and Winding Road and Across the Universe, two of my favourite Beatles songs, and I find I am transported across continents. They may be sad songs, but they are travelling ones.

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