Every so often in the past I would hear brief snatches of music in my head, but I could never place them. The melody was vague — a few disconnected notes. Could they have come from a song, and what song was it from and where had I heard it before? Or had I just made it up? This went on for several years, and although the melody popped up only rarely, the fact that I could not trace its provenance bothered me, but not unduly. How ever did it come to lodge itself in my head? One of life’s mysteries, I concluded – to be wondered at and be amused and bewildered by.
And then one day it came to me. It was from The Mikado: Katisha’s song – full of deep yearning and melancholy –“Alone and Yet Alive” – the part where she sings “O living I…” I had once been in the chorus of a light opera group that performed The Mikado, and the voice of the lady who played Katisha had been especially stirring. That was so long ago that the memory and the melody had gotten buried so deep in my mind.
Similarly almost a lifetime ago, I learned the song “Eli, Eli” while learning Hebrew at an ulpan (an intensive language-learning school). The song’s haunting melody moved me to the core – I don’t know why – and whenever I hear it or sing it, I feel tears welling up, unbidden.
Remembering the first time I heard that song brings back my class — a miniature of the world. Two young Ethiopian men from Tigray and Gondar; a Mexican soft-spoken lady of middle-age, a petite concert pianist; an ageing Polish artist: his wife, classically beautiful and looking so much younger than him, and as well seeming somewhat malcontent; a Bolivian young man in his early thirties, a real-life Adonis; a recent Physics graduate from Romania; a rotund chef from Alsace; a young mother from Russia, a costume designer with a profile like Nefertiti; a well-built matron from Egypt; and a lady translator from Romania. We had learned the song and its lyrics — a poem — in connection with a field trip to Caesarea. The last two women shared their picnics with me on the trip – the same place that had sparked the poem by Hanna Senesh, the Hungarian poet who at 18 was executed by the Nazi regime.
I remember now our shared picnic – rolls of stuffed cabbage from the Egyptian lady who’d made them herself. She said they had to be made the day before, for their flavour to develop with standing. The rolls, stuffed with rice and a few raisins, no meat, were tasty and redolent of spices – cumin and coriander – and lemon. The Romanian lady had brought a couple of dry, piquant sausages from her stash of goodies from home. And I? I’d brought norimaki stuffed with vegetables. As you can tell, my memories when linked with food are so much sharper and more detailed.
Here then is the song and its haunting melody. There are some lovely images too, to go with it. Here too is a view of the same sea — the Mediterranean — though not at Caesarea.