The Luthier

After a semi-disastrous day that imploded around six o’clock, I managed to get my cello to the luthier last night, half an hour before they closed.

As soon as I walked in, I relaxed. Wilder & Davis is in an old townhouse on Rachel street, just a block west of St Denis. As I lifted the cello up the stone steps to the doorway, a woman in an apron enjoying the night air on her break smiled and said, “Bonsoir.” As the door closed I could hear, somewhere upstairs, a cello being played very slowly. To my left was the empty reception area, which has a lovely bay window and a fireplace; to my right was the workshop, wide open. “Bonsoir,” said a youngish luthier; “votre violoncelle?” I explained that I needed the bridge replaced and the fingerboard examined. He beckoned me into the workshop (into the workshop!) and motioned for me to take it out of the travelling case and lay it on the workbench while he cleared a space for it. We stood on either side of it as he squinted at the bridge (“Ah oui,” he said immediately. I wanted to apologise; I know I should have brought this in a couple of years ago, but I held my tongue) and then pulled out a level and moved it all over the fingerboard. “Vos cordes – ils brisent ou?” he asked. (Actually, he tried in very broken but quite earnest English: I had explained about the bridge and fingerboard in my mother tongue, since in my imploded mental state the French terms for “bridge” and “fingerboard” had completely escaped me. I insisted on speaking French after that initial mind-blank, though.) “Mes cordes ne brisent pas,” I explained, “c’est le vernis; ca s’enleve pendant que je joue, mes doigts se rendent tous noirs apres seulement quelques minutes.” “Je vais le nettoyer quand je remplace le pont,” he said after he’d grabbed a bottle of cleaning solution, then looked at the viola he’d been working on next to him. I have a funny feeling that when he goes to clean it he’ll get a swipe of black colour on his rag, but he’ll figure something out to stabilise the stain, I’m sure.

It was so peaceful. I felt like collapsing in the papasan chair by the plants in the front bay window and just closing my eyes. The whole place smells like orange oil, and wood; there’s no sense of the busy St Denis strip a few hundred metres away. He filled out a work order, looked at me anxiously and said, “Mercredi prochain, ca va?” “C’est parfait,” I said. Actually, I knew darn well that as soon as I didn’t have it I’d want to play it, so getting it back today would have been nice, but my husband has a whole three days off in a row because it’s Labour Day weekend, and I wouldn’t end up playing it anyway. So Wednesday is just fine. (I did, in fact, indulge in a pre-emptive strike against seperation anxiety in the form of a Mendelssohn trio yesterday. I love Opus 49 in D minor.)

The bonus: I get to go back next week. Hurrah!

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