Playing Violin for Maple Trees

Several years ago, I was traveling from Genoa to Bologna and I happened to drive through a city on the north bank of Po river called Cremona. Like many other medieval cities in Italy, time seemed to have stood still in Cremona. No tourists, no fuss, and no urban commotion of any kind. It seemed life was flowing through the city with the rhythm of pedestrians and bicyclists.

It only took me a few minutes of walking around the main street to realize that Cremona is actually famous for one unique reason: violin craftsmanship. It is a highly celebrated profession for its traditional process of fashioning and restoring violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses. Violinmakers from all around the world go to Cremona to attend a specialized school, based on a close teacher-pupil relationship, before being recruited to local workshops. It is believed the violin is invented in Cremona, not just because of the local mastery in craftsmanship, but also because of the rituals that construct the rhythm of the environment. Cremona’s citizens cherish this culture because it plays a fundamental role in their social fabric. They believe the process of making perfect music requires (a) an instrument (b) craftsmanship and (c) rituals. To Cremonese, a Viola is merely a tool to produce a perfect sound. They believe the joy comes from listening to the sound, and not from the Viola itself.

These craftsmen also go a long way to make sure they have perfected the art of making well-sounding instruments. They make the instrument from local woods, which is mostly maple. They believe the acoustic quality of the local wood is unmatched. They cut the trees in the right season and in the right way. And, one more thing: during fall the violinmakers take turn to play violin for the trees for hours. They believe such ritual changes the acoustic tone of the wood. The actual making of the violin only takes a few months, but the whole process starts from the time the tree is planted. The ritual of playing violin for the trees has to do with the belief that: it’s best to put the violinist’s soul into the root of the instrument.

Every emotional quest simulates the same pattern of requiring an instrument, craft, and ritual. When it comes to relationship between human beings, feelings are merely an instrument. Notions like respect and trust are the craft. The element (ritual) that glues it all together has to do with the ability to be altruistic and benevolent. To some, these concepts seem as ridiculous as playing violin for maple trees. So they laugh at such notions not only because these meanings seem unusual, traditional, and strange –but also because ordinary minds disappoint to reconcile present hardship with future rewards. Every emotional quest needs a part of the violinist’s soul.

Asshole Kid

There is always great drama in things being unspoken and hidden specially when one has an urge to tell them. There are times when you think someone is dreamy because of their oblique behavior, but the fact might be that they never chose to be dreamy. Perhaps, dreaminess was thrust upon them because they didn’t get noticed. What you’re hearing from dreamy people isn’t necessarily what they’re imagining you’re hearing.

In the household I grew up in, my brother was the smart kid and my sister was the beautiful kid. The only vacancy for me was the troubled asshole kid. So I embraced the role and I became pretty good at it. So much so that, my mom once said “If I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t know how it feels like to have a son”.

Close to the end of winter, I went back home to visit my parents. On the second day of the visit, I took the entire day off to lay down on my bed. While staring up to the ceiling, I found myself fighting confusion, because I had no idea where or how to begin the process of reconciling what was going on in my memories -and the reality of my present life. I went out for lunch, surely, and at night, but otherwise remained flat on my back on the bed.

I had assembled enough thoughts to fill a silo, and now I had no idea what to do with it. I thought to write them down and ultimately I couldn’t write even one sentence. I was blocked by a shrill dichotomy. I was stymied by unsophistication. I had never tried to put so many different components, characters, description, dialogue, narrative, set pieces, humor, history, drama, and so forth into a single bundle. So I slept on it until I got back.

After a long period of evaluation I concluded: a complicated story is just another story. This one is personal. It’s one man’s experience trying to reconcile the past and present. The passage between east and west. The tale of transitioning from respect to fairness. It has become my challenge to appreciate, and hopefully, relay something of it. I like stories when they’re just there for cheap laughs, but occasionally experiences like this make me reflect and feel there’s something to twig.

I might have been the asshole kid during those remote years. But in the end, I think I’m only a combination of all three kids.

Giorgio’s Family


“What’s your name?”
“Is this your hotel?”
“This is my family’s property”
“But are you the owner?”
“My family owns the hotel”
“Can I take a picture of you?”
“You should wait until tomorrow morning and take a picture of the whole family”