It’s Christmastime in Malaga, on Spain’s Costa del Sol. We are wandering with our travel group through the city center’s vast stone-paved promenade. Enrique, our leader, urges us on with tales of this, his hometown, also Picasso’s birthplace. He keeps inviting us to see just one more historic building. As I make my way, suddenly a clear, strong alto voice soars through the cold air, the strains of Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” accompanied by a guitar. The group drifts past the possessor of that voice, a blind woman wrapped in red wool scarves. I stop in my tracks to listen. Surely this is exactly why we have come to Malaga.
“C’mon, Sue, we’ll get left behind!” someone calls. Reluctantly I drag myself along with the group, and the song grows faint.
It’s a miserable cold, dank March Sunday. Another small group I’m with is slogging in the rain through the melting, slushy snow of city-center Bucharest, trying hard not to slip and fall. We’re headed to the lunch place that Radi, our leader, has promised us, a cozy, bustling beer garden where we will consume generous portions of Romanian sausage, sauerkraut and potato cakes. If only we’d get there soon! We’re traipsing past a tiny Orthodox chapel, when suddenly I hear celestial four-part harmony, a perfect blending of inspired voices. I stop, turn, and listen, rapt.
My trip-mates urge me on. “C’mon! We’ll be late to lunch!” Reluctantly I follow, leaving the music to trail off into silence. What a mistake I make!
Lots of people have heard the story of how famed violinist Joshua Bell donned a ball cap, tucked his $35 million Stradivarius under his arm, and headed for the Washington D.C. Metro to play a few tunes. Soon the strains of Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” and next a Bach violin concerto, echoed through the subway. One man stopped for a second, then moved on. A woman threw a dollar bill into Bell’s violin case and kept moving. A tiny boy with his mother stopped, his face alight. The mother dragged him on to catch their train. The same thing happened with several other children, their mothers forcing them to keep moving.
During Bell’s 45-minute concert, only seven people stopped to listen for any length of time. In a nearby concert hall tickets for his performance were going for up to $100. If people passing by don’t have even a minute to stop and hear one of the world’s best violinists play music of the world’s best composers, how many other things are they missing? The complicated, ethereal song of a wren? Waves crashing on an ocean shore?The soft snoring of a baby?
Finally, after much anticipation, I arrive at Zupadi, a newly-opened Indian restaurant that offers a lunchtime buffet people are raving about. No sooner do I open the door than an Indian man who barely speaks English asks, “Masala dosa?” and almost on top of that, “What kind of naan?” I respond without thinking, “Garlic naan.” The very moment I arrive at my table, magically he appears with the dosa and the naan, crisp and piping hot, surely a moment out of time.
Our travel group is in Konya, Turkey. We’ve just tasted pite, Turkish pizza, hot off a wood-fired grill. Now we’ve come to the tomb of Rumi, the 13th century mystical Afghan-born poet. A woman whose husband has died is offering everyone peppermint candy pillows, as is the custom. We approach the sea-green tomb. There is silence. Men and women are standing or kneeling around the tomb. We stand still, too. This is a moment in honor of Rumi. No one urges us on. We stay.
A moment out of time, in the Greek language a kairos moment. I am in the right place at exactly the right time. Indeed, a perfect, mystical moment. No one is urging me on to the buffet table, to Picasso’s birthplace, to a beer garden, to catch a train. I am right where I’m supposed to be.