Thursday, March 29, 2007


(a story about a karmic bagatelle)

by Rolf-Peter Wille

Before I can tell you the story of Elise—I do not doubt that you want to hear it—it is my sad duty to report the demise of old Chang, a man who suffered the misfortune of dying a ridiculous death. He collided with our garbage truck. Happily drunk he had been, after all, and gossip’s cruel mouth did not hesitate to besmear his legendary image. But you will forgive me, if I do not call him “garbage kamikaze”.

Curiously enough, old Chang did not mind his stinking fate; ghosts, after all, are odorless. His astral body, enthralled by its ineffable translucence, floated around the truck and listened to the noisy garbage song. (It has to be explained to my out-of-town readers that an infinite “For Elise” tune blares out of our local garbage truck’s loudspeakers).

We could ask why Chang did not hear the noisy garbage song before his fatal accident and the answer is that he heard it and he heard it not, while absentmindedly chewing on his toothpick. Or could it be that he was hypnotized by all those “mi-re, mi-re”? “Mi-re, mi-re, mi-re, mi-re, mi-re, mi-re mi si re do...”—right on the “do”, and without the benefit of a concluding “la”, did his scooter smash headlong into the truck.

From above, the spirit of old Chang watched his corpse being picked up by the garbage men and thrown into the truck. This did not concern him at all and he experienced an exquisite indifference, just as if a dead rat was discarded. After a while, though, familiarity with the new condition diluted his elation. He continued, aimlessly, to flutter to and fro, nobody invited him to drink or to gamble, he drifted to the nearby zoo and, after three days when it was scheduled for reincarnation, he felt bored and carelessly attached his tired soul to the body of a baby chimpanzee girl named Elise.

Never—even a scientific observer must admit this—had there been a more sensitive chimpanzee girl than Elise. Even our zookeeper, an unusually sullen fellow, could not fail to notice that Elise did not in the least exhibit any greed. Neither for apples nor for bananas did she fight but sat quietly in a corner of her cage, legs folded in lotus position, and a strange aura of enlightenment radiated from her crown chakra. Only when listening to music did she become agitated and once, miraculously, when the garbage song from the distant truck could be heard, little pearly tears were running down her cheeks.

Dr. Therese Wu, our zoo director, was informed about the genius ape and, spontaneously, the childless lady agreed to adopt Elise and to provide an environment more amenable to her mental flourishing. Elise was allowed to move freely in Madame Wu’s elegant Japanese-style villa and usually slept in the tatami room.

Initially, she did not excel in the art of rhetoric. Dr. Wu’s eloquent English seemed comprehensible to her but Elise’s answers were limited to guttural grunts and body language. Very soon though, in the attic, her curiosity discovered an upright piano of obscure pedigree and vintage and here she spent many hours absorbed in the mysteries of the musical arts and completely oblivious of her surroundings. Silent admirers sneaked in to witness the miracle but the demon of vanity failed to seduce our virtuous apprentice. A foreign piano professor was imported who, after only a few sessions, conceded defeat. Elise’s stunning dexterous agility by far exceeded his own. But she also delved into the intricacies of lyrical nocturnes and, like de Pachmann, became a distinguished Chopinzee.

Soon enough a solo recital was to be arranged at the National Concert Hall. Some members of the planning committee voiced their reservations, but in spite of those warnings Elise’s gala debut was proudly announced with enthusiastic fanfare. The recital was a success and the young debutante brought the house down with an acrobatic rendering of “La Campanella”, arranged by Simianowsky for the left hand alone.

There was an electrifying anticipation when Elise sat down to play her tenth encore. She felt euphoric and, as if by magic, her fingers improvised a tune she felt oddly familiar with: Beethoven’s Bagatelle in A minor ["For Elise"].

It still pains me to recall the ensuing nightmare. I was sitting in row 59. Right before the recapitulation of the opening, on a “do”, the melody abruptly stopped in Elise’s mind, creating a film tear effect. The pianist suffered a complete mental blackout, was unable to continue and sat onstage, in front of the piano, motionless, a sculpture amidst stony silence.

Eventually she was ushered backstage by a sympathetic stagehand.

After this traumatic incident Elise stopped playing the piano. She became unusually sullen and, I am sorry to report the tragedy, she has been transferred to the Kaohsiung Zoo on Monkey Mountain.