I was living in London the first time I heard Natalie Merchant sing Verdi Cries. This was ages ago, in the late 80s (yes, I am that old). It was cold, a bit rainy, and the lights went out and nothing but Natalie Merchant’s voice lit up the little arena. I can’t remember if 10,000 Maniacs were opening for REM or if it was the other way around, but goose pimples rose up on my flesh. It was one of those near religious experiences that music can sometimes evoke. Ever since then, Verdi Cries has been one of my favorite songs of all time.
I am fortunate in so many ways. Years ago, when I was a baby, my grandmother bought a condo by the ocean and passed it on to my mother. All my life, every year of it, I have spent at least one week in this condo by the sea. So much of my innocence was left there, so much of my hope, so many dreams washed away in the sand. There was something in that profound and deep feeling I could not find my own words to express in Natalie Merchant’s song. This week I spent at that condo by the sea.
The man in 119 takes his tea alone.
Mornings we all rise to wireless verdi cries.
I’m hearing opera through the door.
The souls of men and women, impassioned all.
Their voices climb and fall; battle trumpets call.
I fill the bath and climb inside, singing.
He will not touch their pastry
But every day they bring him more.
Gold from the breakfast tray, i steal them all away
And then go and eat them on the shore.
I draw a jackal-headed woman in the sand,
Sing of a lover’s fate sealed by jealous hate
Then wash my hand in the sea.
With just three days more I’d have just
about learned the entire score to aida.
Holidays must end as you know.
All is memory taken home with me:
The opera, the stolen tea, the sand drawing, the verging sea, all years ago.
I have returned after a week at the shore. It was just me, the dog, some books, and my writing. There was no opera through the doors or pastries to steal, but the ambience was there. While I began writing a new book, I felt a sense of longing and profound sadness there at the shore of the immense sea.
I could not find a video of the London performance, you know back before iPhones and all this technology, so I dug up something that probably comes pretty close. Enjoy.