The Girl With Flaxen Hair
Not that I deliberately turned a deaf ear to the blasts in Brussels. After Facebooking and Tweeting the early news reports this morning, I couldn’t bear to see any more chaotic bloody images. I grew up with Tin Tin comics. The world has been like comic books or very trashy TV drama series — in every episode something bad happens. The only difference is that in real life the heroes don’t seem to win.
Yesterday, it was confirmed my young Chinese journalist friend Jia Jia who disappeared last Tuesday was kidnapped by Chinese police at Beijing Airport as he was to board a flight to Hong Kong. Four other staffers of Chinese news site Wujie, including its CEO, have been missing— all to do with an open letter the website published which called for Chinese President Xi Jinping to resign. Jia has said he didn’t pen the letter.
I met him at a friend’s BBQ in New York in the spring last year. I asked him if he would be worried about his safety given his columns were often critical of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. He shrugged it off.
Jia is not the only friend of mine in China who disappeared recently. The Belgium bombings were not the first in recent years and probably won’t be the last. My heart has been weeping silently again. There’s so much ugliness and violence in the world. So much healing to be done. And the best medicines are nature and the arts.
In the afternoon, I spent a few hours in Central Park. Life seemed to be sprouting everywhere. The crisp glaring sun rays were weaving every corner into an Impressionist painting.
This evening I went to a cozy concert at Carnegie Hall. It was the debut of young Canadian trumpeter Brandon Ridenour. One of my favorite numbers he played with his pianist girlfriend Naomi Kudo was Debussy’s “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair”. The tunes were so familiar. And it suddenly dawned on me that I first heard it in my father’s studio 36 years before. Debussy is one of my favorite classical composers — his music always reminds me of Impressionist paintings.
And this number brought me back Renoir’s portraits of girls with long flaxen, blonde or red hair I often marveled at as a preteen — I felt so ugly in front them yet I wanted so badly, secretly, to be as pretty as them. I listened to Debussy on my artist father’s vinyl records and studied Impressionism in his studio in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Not that my parents were planning to teach me European art and music — I was simply immersed in their world. We had to live in that studio for more than a year while waiting for an apartment to be assigned by my artist mother’s research institute.
It was 1979, I was 11. The whole family lived together for the first time — my father was just released from detention and his named cleared. The “crimes” for his 11 years of persecution during the Cultural Revolution were editing a students’ journal in his art college and questioning in his personal diaries Mao Zedong’s policies. 1979 was a magic year in China — the economic reforms and Open-Door Policy just started and thousands of flowers were sprouting. For the first time in decades, music that’s not Chinese or Soviet propaganda songs, art other than Soviet Socialist Realism were made available in China. And the first imports were classical music and Impressionism.
I always wanted to learn to play piano but my parents could not even afford to buy me a tiny toy piano of 12 yuan (about US$2). My ragged clothes were full of patches and my hair messy — the “playgrounds” my schoolmates and I frolicked in were construction sites, nail factory yards and open sewer.
Not until I heard the music of Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Puccini, not until I saw those European girls with long shiny hair in long dresses in the paintings, did I realize there’s beauty in life…
So here it is, the trumpet version of Debussy’s “The Girl With Flaxen Hair”.
Brooklyn. March 22, 2016