Forrest Gump's Red Violin
The "Truth" to a Violin's Past is Revealed
It was a dark and stormy night. A feeble old man's hands shivered with
excited anticipation as he carved away the last curled shaving from the
ancient piece of maple.
"Magnifique!" he exclaimed to his masterpiece as he caressed it, as a
mother with her newborn child. He kissed the smooth wood then gently hung it
from a wire attached to a gold-gilded candelabra. The shapely object swayed
gently above the master's head. Flickering candlelight danced with the
ox-hair brush as the violin received its first of more than twenty fine
coats of hot oil varnish.
The violin was completed and labeled at the poignant stroke of midnight on
January 1, 1912 in Lyon, France. The year would later be known
for other historic events such as the establishment of the Republic of
China, the discovery of the South Pole, and more notably, the addition of
prizes to Cracker Jack boxes. All these events are shadowed by the creation
of a violin that would someday find its way to me.
My violin's rust-brown varnish had just finished curing when it was wrapped
in fine silk and sent away in a wooden, coffin-style case. Due to rampant highway congestion and
no available carrier pigeons, French aviator Henri Seimet was asked to deliver the violin and made the first non-stop airplane flight from Paris to
London in three hours.
The violin's premier owner was the great-grandson of legendary violinist
Nicolò Paganini who, incidentally, suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The instrument's
astonishing tone helped auditioners overlook the player's affliction and
earned the him a gig with an 8-man lounge music band on a cruise ship. The Atlantic
voyage was uneventful, unless you consider that last little bit when the Titanic stuck an ice shelf and sank.
The violin's final tune with the band that fateful evening was a jolly rendition of "Roll Out the Barrel" before it was laid to rest in the coffin case, its
owner saying a teary goodbye. The ship went down in a fury of bubbles and
miraculously the case came up out of the vessel with an infant sleeping
peacefully on top. When the rescue ships arrived several hours later, infant
Eva Braun and violin were in the care of another survivor on a nearby
lifeboat: Margaret "Molly" Brown.
Little Eva was reunited with her family and would grow up to make poor decisions in
politics and boyfriends. The violin, however, now belonged to no one and was
donated to a music society as a tax write-off. Joe Dawson, an eccentric race
car driver, purchased the violin (also for tax reasons, though historians
dispute this fact) and won the first Indianapolis 500 race with the violin
in the trunk for good luck.
Soon afterwards Dawson lost his bet with Woodrow Wilson that the latter
would not win the Presidential election; the winner took the violin and a case of beer. Wilson
gifted the violin to former ice hockey teammate Igor Stravinsky, who composed many of his best works using
the violin. A year later, in 1913, the premiere of "The Rite of Spring" was
poorly received and a riot broke out in the audience. Stravinsky himself was
so upset due to its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, leaving
the violin and his toupet behind in his haste.
Historians believe this is when my violin received extensive damage to the
lower bout at the end-pin. (In layman's terms, the bottom was cracked). The facts that follow are fuzzy due to poor
documentation, but it is believed the instrument was discovered in the theatre
rubble and couriered to a medicine man in Cuba who repaired the violin with guar
gum and papyrus extracts. The dear violin spent the next forty-nine years
passed from village virtuoso to virtuoso, who played for dignitaries,
millionaires and other ridiculous people.
This happy holiday ended in 1962 when one village
violinist (also the acting village idiot), fearing the worst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, stashed the violin away in
a fall-out shelter behind 200-cans of "extra-juicy" pork and beans. In 2005
the canned food's expiration date came to pass and, as the unfortunate cans were being disposed
of, the violin was rediscovered.
A compulsive gambler working with the fallout shelter's janitorial
service pilfered the violin and put it up for auction on Ebay. It was
won by my cousin's dog groomer's babysitter's nephew for 50 pesos. Through a series of uninteresting events I heard
there was a violin in the family and traded a broken lawnmower (he
needed the wheels for a go-cart) for the violin, which is now safely in my
possession and care.
Over this past year I have contemplated the mysterious label inside the
antique "Lyone 1912" and pondered over the spider-like cracks on the bottom that seem to
be so expertly repaired using methods unknown to local luthiers. Hence I
took it upon myself to extensively research the history of my violin and
learned what little I could about the violin's history, which I have
presented here truthfully (and unabridged) to you.
Strangely, the people I've shared my flawless findings with have been
disappointed as they're only marginally glamourous or mysterious. Nothing fantastic or eart-shattering, sadly. Sometimes
the truth is pretty boring. I only wish it could be more than that.
So now when people ask for stories about my violin's past, I fib and say my
violin was found in Elvis' cold, dead grasp in a Vegas hotel bathroom.
Feedback for "Pop Culture Blue Bin"
Having just read your amazing violin story, you have left me speechless and in total awe really. Thank you so much for posting this wonderful story. It reveals how deeply connected we all are and how circumstance plays a large part in so many of our lives. I love Lyon. I was there this summer. You could catch my v-clip here.
I am a travel journalist and visit many destinations throughout my work. It would be a real pleasure to meet you one day.
May you continue to get true enjoyment from your beautiful violin and again thanks for sharing!!
Ilona, Editor/Writer + travel columnist: www.mycompass.ca