My grandfather Orsini died because he had nothing else to do. It was not the prostate cancer that killed him. It was his compulsory retirement after the surgery.
His left arm had cramps lacking chords to press, lacking an instrument’s neck to hold. His face continued touching his shoulder as if there was still a wooden box to support, and his right arm drew ellipses in the air as if an invisible arch could still rescue melodies from the violin, now imprisoned in its case.
Grandpa Orsini would rather not listen to symphonies that persisted in playing in his tuned ears. Forty-three years at Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Municipal de São Paulo, most of this time as the First Violinist. Grandpa hated Brazilian pop music and he was against any attempt to popularize classic music. He got furious when the audience applauded at the wrong time, normally during the popular tickets’ performances.
He had no friends, only colleagues from the orchestra. He considered most conductors exhibitionists, dolls in white tie and tails holding a baton. He was a giant when he played Beethoven, his favorite. The climax of his career was a solo in the concert for violin at the Vienna Opera, during a six-month tour in Europe.
He handled his music scores with the same caress as he treated Diana, a mutt he rescued from the street, rejected by the passers-by because she was female. Diana was his loyal shadow during his home rehearsals. He practiced four hours a day, every day. Saturdays, Sundays, holidays too.
To this day, I listen to a classical music being performed and my memory of grandpa rehearsing continues the melody inside my mind. I may not know who the author is, nor the symphony’s name, but I recall the sequence by heart.
It happened like that one day in London when I listened to the only song that could provoke a flood in those saddened eyes. I was walking across Covent Garden when a set of three violins and a cello transported me back to my grandparents’ house in São Paulo. I bought their CD and finally discovered that the music was Canon in D, by Johann Pachelbel.
This was my grandparent’s legacy. The listening memory of his rehearsals and the smelling memory of the grease he applied on his black hair spotted with white and grey. Grease kept curls straight even when his head danced together with his body, following the violin tune.
Years later, I only remembered him lying down in a dark wood coffin, covered with a white chrysanthemum sheet. I recall cotton balls stuck inside his enormous nostrils, small hands crossed on his chest and brown shining shoe tips almost tearing the sheer fabric covering him. What was that lacy cloth for? Grandpa’s size was 5.5, how could his shoes point out of the casket?
Orsini, orso. Bear in Italian. Concerning my grandpa, a panda cub. He contracted meningitis at eleven years old. He survived, but his growth was interrupted as a sequela. This didn’t refrain him from working when he was twelve. The boy had to support the family since his father, great grandpa Pedro, enjoyed life as a traveling salesman, cultivating new families in other cities. But that my grandpa Orsini only found out later.
He got a position as an office boy in an accountancy office. That way he could put meat and fruit at the family’s table. Great gramma Idalina loved pears. Orsini worked all day long, studied in the evenings and twice a week his boss set him free earlier, so he could go to music school. He studied and rehearsed all weekend long.
My grandfather graduated in college and in the conservatory in the same year. He would rather have studied piano. His family could not afford such an expensive instrument, even a second-hand one, as his first violin was. Besides, the chord instrument fit his stature better.
Grandpa was studious, disciplined, and circumspect. A sad boy, until the day he bumped into a new resident at their building stair. She and her family had just moved from a small town to study and to work in São Paulo. Sometimes he dated gramma Djanira right there on the stairs, during the intervals between classes and jobs.
Their romance lasted forty-seven years. He, as a musician, she as a painter. When my grandpa died, gramma stopped painting. In addition to being an inspired violinist, my grandfather Orsini was also famous for his flavored coffee, his unique pastel pastry seasoned with cachaça, and his gardening skills. There were three rose bushes in their garden. The red roses belonged to gramma, the white roses were mine, and the bush of yellow roses was his. The latter, after he left, never flourished again.
One day, upset gramma’s artistic block, I insisted she painted my portrait. Embarrassed she confessed:
— I can’t paint anymore because it was Orsini who drew for me. I lost my register.
— I got his music forever, gramma.