Tag Archives: The Thieving Magpie

Real Words and Other Journeys Under the Splendid Sky

Photograph by Jose Padua
Earlier that evening, the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie came on the car stereo as I took Maggie to her theater class. Over the years, The Thieving Magpie has brought different things to mind, not all them pleasant or comforting, but as of late I’d found listening to it exhilarating. That it can have this effect on me much of the time was why, about a year ago, I put it in the mix of jazz, classical, and pop music I have on the mp3 player I use in the car. (How much music I have on it I’m not sure—just that morning Maggie asked me how many songs I had on it, and I had no idea).

Usually when The Thieving Magpie starts playing out of the random mix, I’ll turn up the volume, because listening to it feels like several shots of good bourbon—except unlike the alcohol, it doesn’t impair my driving skills. But that night, when it came on, I felt a certain amount of trepidation.

Although I had come to think of the more whimsical aspects of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle whenever I heard it—The Thieving Magpie is what the novel’s protagonist Toru Okada is listening to when the novel begins—this time I began to think of some of the more distressing aspects of Murakami’s book. Namely, the isolation and confusion that are a big part of the journey Okada experiences in the course of the novel. And although I recognized that what I was feeling as I drove was simply another manifestation of my obsessive-compulsive fears, I felt quite tense all the same. Adding to that feeling was that, after dropping Maggie off at her class, I was going to meet Heather and Julien at the new ice cream shop that had opened on Main Street.

Normally, going to an ice cream shop shouldn’t be a source of stress, but I still remember the one time I went with Maggie to the one that used to be on Chester just off of Main. They were, to say the least, less than welcoming, and when Heather and I noticed that a new shop was opening, I said to her, “I hope it’s not another Confederate Creamery.” And it wasn’t—which isn’t to say it wasn’t still a little strange.

I parked the car at the gazebo on Main Street, where I met Heather and Julien, then together we walked across the street and into the ice cream shop. The owner was friendly, greeting us and shaking our hands. He was a skinny guy, somewhere in his early 40s with a bad eye, and with his good eye he looked me in the eyes. “Let me see,” he said, “where are you fr…” and he didn’t quite say it, but he was about to: “where are you from?” Instead he said, “I know what flavor you want. Pineapple, right?”

“Er, no,” I said. “Actually I’d like to try the salt caramel.”

After we’d gotten our ice cream, we sat down, and the owner and a woman who worked there immediately went outside for a smoke. It felt a little awkward, but the thing was, the ice cream, which he makes himself right there, was really good. When he was done smoking, he came back in. As Heather, Julien, and I were finishing up, he said, “I had a vision this morning when I was on the way in.” He looked up toward the ceiling. “And what I saw was cucumber, ginger and lime…” It sounded pretty good to us.

Heather and Julien started walking back toward our house, and, since I still had the car after having taken Maggie to her class, I drove. We met back home, and after a while, it was time to pick Maggie up.

“Did you go to the new ice cream shop?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Was it good?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I want ice cream too.”

We didn’t think the new shop would still be open, so we went to the 7-11 on Royal. Maggie took a long time trying to decide what she wanted, and I was starting to feel that fear again.

“Come on, we need to hurry,” I told her. I didn’t tell her why. She still took a few more minutes to decide, but we finally got out of there. By this time the car stereo was playing something completely different, Scritti Politti’s “The Word Girl” and its chorus that goes:

The first time baby that I came to you
I’d do things that you want me to
The second time baby that I came to you
Oh you found my love for you
The third time baby that I came to you
Oh oh oh I knew
The last time baby that I came to you
Oh how your flesh and blood became the word…

And I considered how sometimes I feel like I’m just sitting still and going nowhere and that I’ll continue to go nowhere for the rest of my years, while other times I feel like I’m going places, mastering the process with which my mind can create ideas and make progress. Where I end up once all these journeys and non-journeys are gathered together remains to be seen.

This photograph of Julien was taken after his soccer workshop later that week. Sometimes, here in our town, I have a feeling of exhilaration on the grass, under the clouds and beneath the blue sky as it creates what looks like an infinite edge over the mountains.

Sometimes it’s just Maggie and Julien feeling the exhilaration. Other times it’s just Heather and I. But somehow, much of the time, when we feel it, we feel it together. Those, of course, are the days I love best.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Real Words and Other Solid Objects I Can Recall without Having to Look Back

Photo by Jose Padua
During the drive back from Roanoke yesterday, it was while the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie was playing that Julien spotted the most cows along the highway. Watching for cows and other animals is perhaps Julien’s favorite part of being on the road, and hearing the overture playing, punctuated by Julien’s declarations of “Cows!” and “More cows” was invigorating, giving me energy at a point in the drive when I would usually be getting tired and ready for a break.

But what was also nice was to have this piece of music associated with something other than a violent scene from A Clockwork Orange, which is what often came to mind whenever I heard the overture once Stanley Kubrick used it in his 1971 film of the Anthony Burgess novel. Not that Malcolm McDowell didn’t deliver an incredible performance as lead thug of the droogs, but it’s not what I want to focus on all the time. And while some people are obsessed with violence in its various forms, I prefer to think endlessly and obsessively about other things.

Happily, A Clockwork Orange is no longer the only thing I associate with The Thieving Magpie. It’s also the music that Toru Okada listens to as he boils a pot of spaghetti at the beginning of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is a more pleasing association, which isn’t to say that the Murakami book is a much happier affair than A Clockwork Orange. It isn’t (well, not exactly ) and it has some of the most horrifying scenes I’ve read anywhere, but it’s still a much warmer experience than Clockwork’s dystopian satire.

It’s also a book that’s always somewhere in the back of my mind since I finally read it a couple of years ago. And after leaving our hotel yesterday and driving down Route 11 towards downtown Roanoke, there were two things that occurred to me. The first was the revelation that, on this stretch of Route 11, at least every other building looks like something that would be quite at home in a William Eggleston photograph. The second was more fear than revelation–and what I was afraid of was the possibility that at any moment I could find myself caught in the sort chain of events that would be at home in a Murakami novel, and in particular, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This, I think, says loudly and clearly how this book hit a certain note within me. This is also when I have to say something to Heather or Maggie or Julien and hear them say something back to me, to bring me back to the world at hand. And as we were driving down Route 11, that’s what I did. I don’t remember what they said–it doesn’t have to be anything long and involved–but I came back. From a momentary plunge into extreme sadness, from a brief mental tremor, or from the dizziness that comes from having to consider every possibility every moment that I’m awake. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to cut a fart in the car, and I’m back, in more manageable frame of mind.

And as we drove on down Route 11, we saw, in the distance, the Big Man statue at the old auto shop. I slowed down to take this picture of it. It’s not at all like William Eggleston’s photographs, which to me always seem to make the distant past seem so immediate, as if it’s never gone away, and never even come close to anything approaching change. This seems more like something out of a dream that was dreamt at least a couple of decades ago and can barely be remembered.

And after passing by the Big Man statue on the way to downtown Roanoke, I wouldn’t have been surprised, upon turning around for one last look, to see that all of a sudden it was gone. That in a matter of seconds the statue and everything surrounding it had been replaced by some 21st Century roadside creations–all made quickly and cheaply and without any kind of thought–and that we, on this Sunday afternoon, were the last people in the world to have seen it. Which meant that it was up to us to tell the story of its last moments in the hopes that this story, and everything it contained, would endure for a period of time which–in its slow, beautiful unfolding–approached eternity.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua