Yesterday was Friday 13th March 2020. The turning point for the Austrian citizens (and for most European countries) was that we were informed that from the next Monday on, all the shops will be shut down except supermarkets, banks, post offices and hospitals (not to mention that all the institutions and cultural events have been closed/cancelled for a few days now).
I found the news somewhat comforting. Although there are no events or social gatherings to go to (for our own benefit, and to protect others) but as long as the grocery stores are open, and we can get our basic needs, we will have enough entertainment for daily life – thanks to the internet, online courses… and maybe some families will finally have time to cook or have dinner together!
11 o’clock in the morning, I went to the Hofer supermarket in a shopping centre near my home, just intending to get some food for the weekend. I passed by the toilet paper area and was surprised to find that it was empty already. A man asked the staff whether there is some more in stock and the staff suggested he shop online and have them delivered…
What is this obsession with toilet paper, if we were assured that the supermarkets will be open? Why there are so many picture jokes about toilet paper on the internet, chats, and still people are panicking about not having enough? And why this fear that when we see some people buying more than they need, we feel pressure to do the same?
‘Corona time’ is the time to reflect on our own behaviour. If the current situation is teaching us to live with the minimum, to only have the essentials in a minimalist style, why can’t we be less selfish? Didn’t we realise yet that we live in a world where we’re so connected, that when one person sneezes in China, five continents shake?
I went home, feeling sad and disappointed with human nature. I wish the federal president of Austria would make another nice speech to calm the citizens’ fear of not having enough toilet paper at home!
I started to think, what can I do to be more useful to the people/to the world and at the same time to combine my creativity in the “Corona staycation”? -Something I love doing but didn’t have time for? And that’s how I started to write this article.
I’m challenging myself to write everyday, to learn something new (it can be about a famous artist, musician or dancer, or any new subject. Or writing a poem, simply to dive into creativity), and to share them with you (as short versions). And hopefully to share some inspiration around.
The first person who came into my mind, was Nina Simone (1933-2003). After talking to a dear friend on FaceTime, I learned that there is documentary about her, and luckily it is on Netflix. The title is: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
I remember the first time I listened to Nina Simone was almost 20 years ago, and at that time I couldn’t listen to her for long because I found that there is something in her voice which attracts me but also hurts me at the same time, like there is too much sadness. I then paid more attention to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and I totally forgot about Nina till I got the “dance crush” for swing dancing.
It was one social dance evening, that night the music was focussed at a faster tempo so we were supposed to dance shag or balboa. As a musician I pay very much attention to the music we dance to, and suddenly I realised that our DJ had put on a piece of music which was original and fantastically played. It was fast piano music, you would recognise that the pianist had tremendous skills and flew all over the keyboard.
I had to ask what that was. The answer was – Nina Simone.
Damn! I thought that she was only a singer with a very special, almost masculine voice, but I didn’t know that she was a piano virtuoso!
“Oh yes, her childhood dream was to become the very first black concert pianist” – our DJ lady told me.
So today, by watching this documentary I came to know her, and now I know why her intensity scared me for so long! – her life was a drama!
First of all, I don’t need to explain how much struggle black people had in that time in the U.S. Her talent was recognised by two white ladies and she began to study the piano seriously with them at the age of eight. Her childhood was like that of typical classical musicians; we spend long hours practising on our own. The worst of all was that when she had free time she wanted to play with other kids, but the white kids rejected her, and the black kids only wanted her to play the piano so that they could dance to the music! She never felt that she belonged to any of the two groups.
She didn’t become a jazz singer of her own will, but she had no other choice!
She wanted to study at the Curtis Institute but wasn’t accepted because of her race. After some time she ran out of money, and then started to work as a pianist in a night club, working from twelve to seven straight through. Apparently the manager told her on the second day, that if she wanted to stay in the job, instrumental piano music was not enough, she would have to sing. And that’s how she started singing.
For me it was hard to imagine, that someone could produce such beautiful music out of survival needs! She couldn’t have the career she wanted, but she transformed her emotions, struggles and thoughts into her performances. She is someone that once you listened to her voice, you’d recognise the next time immediately!
There is one song I like particularly (to dance to), which is called “My baby just cares for me”. The text is sweet and the tune is very light-hearted, when I dance to it I can almost fall in love with the dance partner no matter who that is! Nina first sang the song when she was 29, and she continued performing this song through out her career. But I wonder who was “that baby” she thinking about? Her husband or other lovers?
Her husband was her best manager; from the documentary we could see that they were madly in love and that he was good for her in the early years. He made her career grew worldwide and she made her debut at Carnegie Hall- her dream of being a pianist in the most prestigious hall, but not playing Bach! But while they were together he beat her up; Nina couldn’t leave him because she loved him and he organised her concerts. There is no surprise that later she suffered from depression because of the busy concert schedule and the family violence. When she couldn’t live with her husband any more, she went to Africa looking for her own peace, brought her daughter with her and also started to beat her up!
There is a lot to tell about Nina. She was an activist, she sang a lot of civil rights songs to awaken young black people. But what inspired me especially in the documentary was the bit where she talked about “freedom”, “being free”. She was actually referring the magic of piano playing on the stage, that she felt free, and freedom for her means “without fear”.
Remember this came from an artist who didn’t have the freedom to choose her own career!
Why am I talking about this? I know it’s strange to mix Nina Simone and the toilet paper business, but this is exactly what’s happening right now.
The fear of lockdown and of this dramatic change, are making people lose their minds. Because our brains like what we’re used to, any change tends to make us feel insecure. To have less is making us feeling uncomfortable, although some changes can be beneficial.
We had too much and never questioned if we needed that much.
We polluted our environment by overdoing everything: the flights, the factories, the cars, the ships, the over produced clothes, the animal farming…
This is the exact right time to reflection what’s important for us, what’s the true value, who/what do you care for, and what does it mean to “go back to normal”? And if it does all go back to normal, do we want the world to be the same as before? What can we do to make it better?
We had too much freedom but too little love, too little care for the people and the world we’re living in…