Thursday, May 10

The Life and Legacy of Augustine, Accordion

It all started with this foreign film.  I got it out to watch late at night with Dad.  Bread and Tulips, it's called, or Pane e Tulipani in Italian.  It's about a busy mother who is accidentally left behind by her family during a road trip in Rome.  She impulsively decides to take the opportunity to do something she had always dreamed of - visit Venice.  While there, she ends up working in a florist, sharing a room with an old man whom she falls in love with, and becoming best friends with her neighbour, a holistic masseuse.  

At one point, she finds an old accordion and rekindles her childhood passion for playing it.  There is a beautiful scene in which she plays it.  

The love and feeling that goes into the action of playing this instrument was so beautiful that I was moved to watch more videos of accordions.  Before long, it was obvious that I couldn't last much longer before finding one myself.  There is something so deeply attractive about an instrument that you pump breath into and hold so closely as an extension of yourself.  As a pianist and cellist, it seemed a perfect merging of these two - a keyboard and a stroking sweeping arm movement that controlled volume and life.  

So I spent some time researching and speaking to a music teacher who has contacts in the accordion-playing world.  He recommended me to buy a Hohner accordion, with 120 bass.  I have had my finger on the pulse of eBay and Gumtree for a couple of months now, watching the listings with an eagle eye, looking out for something older, cheaper.  

And this is what I found.

Hohner Verdi III Piano Accordion

Hohner Verdi III Piano Accordion
This Hohner Verdi III piano accordion was made in Germany in the 1940s.  Her bellows are made of cardboard, gloved in leather and capped with metal.  Her keys are ivory, and her body is covered in an authentic mother-of-pearl veneer.  She comes in her original case.

Seeing her for the first time last night was an amazing experience.  I had never seen a piano accordion in real life before, and was surprised by the sheer weight.  The stretching of the bellows, which I thought would be a jaunty, fast action, is a slow and elephantine exhalation of lungs.  

Each of the 120 bass buttons provide a chord - a beautiful, hearty, resonating sound that immediately transports you to France, and then all of a sudden, to Italy, and then - no - I'm in Poland.  It has an unmistakable fog of atmosphere that drenches you in droplets from a dozen cultures.

And what is almost more magical than all of this, is the sense of memory and story behind her.  She is 72 years old.  She has been all around the world.  She came to Australia in a migrant ship and ended up in an antique store where the man I purchased her from stumbled upon her quite by accident.  

She has had a life before me, and just as she begins the prologue of a new adventure in my life, I have added another chapter in hers.  What a legacy, and what a beautiful thing to become a part of.  

I named her Augustine, after the last survivor of Trachimbrod, from Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated.  It would be so wonderful if I could write to story of Augustine's life, for what a life that  must be!

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