Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Five Scenes from a Crime Film
Who would have thought such a landscape existed, not three hours from Manhattan’s thronging pavements and soaring skyscrapers? A dark escarpment shaggy with old trees loomed over watery meadows where a braided stream wandered between dark pools of bog-water. From the left side of the escarpment, a waterfall hung like a white and foaming curtain over the upper-end of a wild valley cleft in the rocks. On the lower, right side of the cliffs, another smaller waterfall cast up a whirligig mist from where the plunging flood was split by a boulder poised like an axe in the middle of caramel-colored (tannic acid) waters.
A feeble-looking dam impounded some water above the falls. From time to time, a gaunt-looking mill on the height diverted water into stone channels and through a slimy, algal-green sluice spillway. Then, the density of the upper waterfall changed slightly, lightened a little and the perpetual motion of the falling river became translucent, so that the stony cliffs behind the veil of waters could be better discerned.
The top of the escarpment is wooded. A road leads from the valley up to the ridge where the rivers flow down from foggy mountain heights. The road curves in several places and ascends a steep grade to an overlook from which the traveler can peer down at the way that he has come.
Where the road crests on the heights opposite the waterfalls, a chateau is perched on the granite flank of the mountain. The chateau is made of white clapboard above stone cellars cut into living rock. Once elegant, the place is now a little threadbare and worn. Travelers park their cars in the lot underneath the diner that now occupies a part of the chateau. Stairs lead up to the white porches running around the sides of the big mansion house. Formerly, this was the home of the vintner who raised grapes and made wine in this area.
Entering the house, there is a sort of promenade that runs between a café and observation decks. The decks extend over the cliffs, affording an impressive view of the valley and the road switchbacked through fields of fallen boulders up to the mansion. When I toured the house, I found a narrow room with panorama windows overlooking the hillsides descending steeply to the grey-green pastures below, terrain that seems to have been farmed once but is now left fallow, a scarecrow brooding over a small pond and naked rows of lathe trellises on which dry and wizened vines are still tangled.
Well-dressed and silent people are sitting in pews in the narrow room with the high and wide panorama windows. At first, I think it is some kind of religious ceremony. Then, I understand that it is a concert, that there is an old, dusty-looking grand piano at the head of the pews. The people are waiting for the pianist to arrive.
A young man in a suit appears framed in a doorway. He takes his place at the piano and starts to play, Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata." But, there is something wrong with the piano’s action, one of the notes necessary to his performance does not sound when he presses down the ivory key. This occurs and re-occurs and the young man is frustrated. He rises from the piano seat to protest the defect in the instrument.
In extreme close-up, we see the intricate action of the grand piano – the wippens or repetititons, taut bass and treble wire, capstans, bridge pins, dampeners, all of these things in the gloomy belly of the piano. The tuner spreads out his tools – he has several tiny silver hammers, a tiny wrench, tuning fork, two mutes with handles and four mutes without handles, some felt temperature strips.
The piano tuners hands are delicate and they glide skillfully between the wippens and bridges. He finds the hurt part of the piano’s action, twists something and taps with his silver hammer, and, then, the repetition that was locked is unlocked and a note sounds and it would not be unfair to compare the sound that this note makes to a limpid drop of bee’s honey.
A man dressed in old fashioned clothing sits on white-washed wooden rocking chairs gazing down over the stone terraces into the misty valley. The man wears a scarf at his throat and has a neatly trimmed goatee. His teeth are yellow.
The man tells elaborate histories, intricate with family chronicles – who married whom, children in and out of wedlock, dastardly cousins and uncles, aunts who were courtesans in the capitols of Europe, heirs, inheritances and disinheritances, estates in fee and entailed. He speaks of seafaring members of the family and the Iroquois confederation and how the first guest-house was so close to the foaming brink of the upper falls that no one could sleep because of the perpetual thunder of the waters. He recalls duels, celebrated crimes from the last century, and, then, remarks that it is pity that the oenoculture in the hills has given way to sugar beets and that sugar beets are, indeed, the most unsightly things, scarcely to be differentiated from the filth in which they grow, and, then, he rambles and his fine hands become transparent and his goatee evaporates like the dew and the interlocutor is mildly appalled to realize that all this time, he has been talking to a ghost and, soon, nothing remains of the apparition except the faintest trace of his burning gaze...
In the parking lot, passed from mouth to mouth: the word that someone has murdered the pianist. This crime will have to be solved. We are all suspects.