Painting by Enrique Chagoya. Taken at the Minnesota Street Project.

“Where are you from?” — and other attempts at intimacy

I did something strange today. I went to a stranger’s home, sat on their living room floor, and listened to a string quartet perform Haydn and Beethoven. The musicians were also strangers until earlier that day, when they met and practiced together for the first time.

The gathering was put together by Groupmuse, a platform that brings classical musicians into homes, for free. It’s similar to Sofar Sounds, which does the same with all types of music all over the world. The events are simply magical —I highly recommend listening to live strings up close. What makes the music even better is the rare collection of curious strangers and music lovers with whom you share a couple hours of life.

Before the event started, we had some time for mingling, munching on grapes and popping open BYO beverages of choice. The one question asked and answered on repeat was the classic, “Where are you from?”

Where are you from. The step-sister of “What do you do?”, loaded with meaning and presumption. My answer, Los Angeles, sparks a series of connotations: chill vibes, Hollywood pretension, fancy cars, shiny hair, vastness. Their answers — Iowa, Michigan, NYC, France, down the street, all over — are infused with shards of old friends, TV shows, politicians, day-dreams, and a little of each of us. Iowa, girl who grew up in a small town but whose arrival in SF clearly signals urban, cultured ambitions. NYC, the guy who saw way too much way too young. Down the street, and you still live here?

The seemingly harmless question we use to bring us closer couldn’t take us farther, with answers rehearsed over years of practice from college to work. Of course, where you grow up can have a huge impact on identity. But the question where is often trumped by how, and with whom.

The intimacy of the music brought the space created by these filler questions into sharp contrast. I’m just as guilty, and to be honest, I don’t have any great alternatives for repeat, ice-breaking use. Perhaps that’s the point.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.