Watercolor paintings by my daughter Elia.
A long time ago, when I was still in France, I used to go to the Classical and Cultural Music Theater by myself every month. I heard Romani choirs, Chinese opera, all kinds of classical music, Fado, and countless African artists. One evening, I went to the 300-year-old opera house of my hometown and sat in a red velvet chair to listen to Tuvan music. The performers came from Southern Siberia, and at the back of the stage, an old black & white silent movie was playing. As the string instruments and the singers' throats started to vibrate, I watched, enraptured, the story of a young boy and his horse in the steppes of Mongolia.
The surprising combination of such raw music with the images unfolding before my eyes was fascinating and life-conjuring.
Voices from long ago echoed against the walls, and I could feel the dryness of the taiga on my skin. In contrast with the stark black and white images on the screen, the traditional embroidery on the musicians' robes was dancing like exiled symbols looking for a new home, circles of gold on crimson silk, lines of deep green, and luminous blue.
The spirits of the mountains filled the air with a cold wind and the smell of warm ghee and woodfire.
I was transported by the sounds, the ancient, otherworldly rhythm. I found myself in a faraway mythical land that was both foreign and familiar, and I was swimming in the vibrating flow of my blood, at its original source in my bones.
That night, through some music that took me dozens of thousands of years back in time, I found the ancestors we had in common - the men on the stage and myself. The horse was galloping on the screen with a child on its back, it was leaping on the strings of the doshpuluur, and circling wildly inside the opera house. I could feel its mane brush my hair, and for a moment, outside of time, we were the same creature of embodied freedom. The horse was jumping into the throats of men and cantering in my blood.
Horse - blood - throat: an ancient rhythm, a primal sound, our shared humanness.
And the performance stopped. The curtain closed on the stage, and a door was left open in my soul. There was a lot of applause, one coarse horsehair in my hand, some disorientation, and a vague movement toward the exit.
I did not want to leave my red velvet seat. I did not want to leave the smell of fierce belonging that had entered my being. I tucked it all in my heart and prayed to find it again one day.
And it happened, on the day I heard my first daughter for the first time. I had a visit with our midwife and went by myself to her office in Noe Valley, San Francisco. There was no ultrasound machine, no computer or monitor, no electrode or wire to be hooked with. Instead, there were wooden furniture, hand-made curtains, her soft smile, the smell of a safe home, and classical music. Her name was Maria. I chose her from a list of midwives found on the internet, in a city and a country where I knew nobody because her name was the perfect representation of The One Who Knows How To Birth. Maria fetched an instrument from a drawer and asked, "do you want to see if we can hear your baby? It's still early, but we can try". She put the stethoscope on my belly, smiled, handed it up to me, and said, "listen."
First, there was silence.
Then the world stopped, and the most beautiful sound inundated my whole body - it was coming from inside my womb, it looped through my ears on ancestral hums and landed in my heart. It was so fast, so strong and so gracious.
Tears rolled on my face as I realized that the horse had come back to gallop through my blood. It had come back to be manifested, from the far away ancestral lands of Siberia, through my French Italian blood, through the Irish Russian blood of my husband, to be born in San Francisco, on the original soil of the Ohlone people. The rhythm penetrated me in a way only music can - a song I have been waiting for as long as I could remember, an affirmation in a hundred different languages - clear, perfect:
I am coming.
I am coming.
I am coming.
Listen to the same Tuvan performers, Huun Huur Tu:
Full concert (live in Berkeley, 2008)