Moon over Hamburg street

Must have been pushing 80 when we first met. On Hamburg street in the Zona Rosa, Mexico city. Three o’clock in the afternoon, on an October Sunday, many years ago. The rains were over. I was enjoying the sun, and that special light of October in Mexico.

            I was having lunch at the Angus, under the red awning; I’d picked a place where the sun could reach me, while I looked at the old colonial façades of grey stone, with their ornate windows. Right there, at that very moment on the terrace, I felt like on a street in old Madrid, or even Paris, anywhere, far away from Mexico.

            When I saw or heard it, this impression of being elsewhere struck me. It played an old German tune, looking dignified, old, very German. Who knows under what circumstances it had come to Mexico.

            It had a weathered dark honey color, with a large leather belt to hang it from the shoulder.

            It was, I think, one of the last barrel organs that still walked the streets of Mexico.  The manufacturer’s address was engraved, on the front, in golden letters: Schoenhauser Allée 73 – Berlin. I never actually looked up Schoenhauser. I knew of Schopenhauer, but Schoenhauser?

It was a large “music box”, a barrel organ, with a handle, played by a man who looked just as old. Were they “born” at the same time? Or had the musician bought it from some German player who’d come to Mexico in the 19th century? I don’t know.

            The organ played again. I closed my eyes and the music took me back to dreamed memories of Europe, at a time when long-vanished organs sang about early, dark December nights, lit only with the lights of the shops decorated for Christmas, people walking fast in the cold and rain or snow, doing their last shopping, hardly listening to the music.

            It wasn’t that cold here by far, but people barely listened to the music either.

            I gave some change to the musician, guardian, companion of the barrel organ; then the two went to another street: London, Florence, Berlin, such are the street names in that neighbourhood, an instant trip back to my old Europe.

            When I asked the waiter, he told me that the barrel organ was the last one in Mexico, that the organist’ name was Joaquin. The “music box” was very large, and he could hardly carry it anymore, but they had been together for 60 years; they were old friends, Joaquin and the barrel organ from Berlin.

            I saw them only once more, around November or December, on London street. Joaquin looked pale and worn, and the organ sounded sad. I wanted to talk to Joaquin to learn more about his history and the organ, but, as always, I didn’t have time. Another day…

            A year later, I was back at the Angus, one Sunday at the same table, with the same waiter; I asked him what had happened to Joaquin and the barrel organ.

“Joaquin? Oh sir, he died in December. He caught a cold playing the organ in the street, and at his age, in winter… He died of pneumonia, in only two days. Sadly, not even his children went to see him.

“Yes, that is very sad. Families. What happened to the organ?” I asked.

“You know what’s funny? It disappeared. The sons wanted to sell it, but they couldn’t find it anywhere in Joaquin’s small room. A shame, it was the last organ in Mexico…”

The waiter turned around to see whether anyone was listening and whispered:

“Now, sir, I don’t know how to say that… but there is something else. There are no organists in Mexico anymore, right?

“No. Not any more”, I answered, “it’s been a long time since I have seen, I mean, heard one.

“Well, I have been told that one night, last February, when there was a lot of wind, you know how there is always a lot of wind in February, someone heard the Organ, with the same touch Joaquin had, here, on Hamburg Street, and when they went to look, there was no one but the moon.”

There’s a moon over Bourbon street tonight
I see faces as they pass beneath the pale lamplight
I’ve no choice but to follow that call
The bright lights the people and the moon and all
© Gordon Sumner Aka Sting.

Barrel organ, Mexico city. Great picture. I didn’t know the author. Gilles Labruyère found the source: The movie “Roma” by Cuarón. The author of the photograph is Carlos Somonte. Merci Gilles.

77 thoughts on “Moon over Hamburg street

  1. Alfonso Cuarón dans Roma, tourné en 2018, sûrement pas loin de chez toi. Trouvé sur Internet; je n’ai pas vu le film. Je lis des critiques élogieuses et un palmarès impressionnant !
    Bel après-midi à toi, Brieuc.

    • Ahhh! Quelle culture. J’ai vu le film. Remarquable. Encore que pour moi c’est plus un “documentaire”. Tellement vrai. Donc la scène est reconstituée avec des affiches électorales du temps d’Etcheverría, 1970.
      La “Roma” est pas tout près, une heure de route, en ville! C’est aujourd’hui un quartier “branché” avec plein de restos sympas. Merci du tuyau.

      • 1- Je sauvegarde l’image sur mon ordinateur. 2- Je fais une recherche d’image avec gougueule. 3- Dans la fenêtre de recherche, il y a un appareil photo symbolisé qui dit “rechercher par image”. 4- Une nouvelle fenêtre s’ouvre qui propose “importer un fichier”. 5- Je vais chercher l’image sauvegardée. 6- Si je ne vois pas l’image immédiatement, je clique sur “Voir la source de l’image” sous-titrée “Voir les pages Web qui incluent cette image”. 7- Après, je fouille.
        J’ai essayé ce matin avec le dessin que j’ai publié hier. La première page de résultats montrent des illustrations de randonnées. La deuxième page de résultats montrent toutes des courbes de croissance !
        Une belle journée à toi, Brieuc.

  2. An amazing instrument amd a romantic, magical story. You are such a good writer, Brian. I feel I have been to Bourbon street in Mexico now. You have so many talents!
    Please keep writing their nostalgic tales! Throughly enjoyable.

    • Takk Astrid. 😉
      I try to write stories. Strangely enough my experience in advertising and Marketing help. Even when I was presenting a Market research study, I was telling a story. To the client. About the brand, about the ad campaign, about the consumers. Everything is always a story, isn’t it?

      • I couldn’t agree more, Brian, and also added to that concept is that everyone I meet has some kind of interesting back story. Our job as writers is, in part, to discover that back story and bring it forward.
        Cheers from a summery day in Australia,

  3. Such a sad story but a great read.
    Interesting how in some families relatives emerge to collect goods only after the family member dies. “Where there’s a Will, there’s a relative”, but I think we’ve spoken about Wills before. 😉
    Keep translating your Spanish stories!

    • Glad you liked the read. I hadn’t heard that line about “Will”s. Interesting.
      I’m working on it. Thing is, it takes almost as much time to edit an “automatic” translation as it possibly does to translate from scratch. So many tiny details. I wish there were a feedback system. “Thank you computer for translating. Here’s what I finally wrote… can you keep it in mind?”. I think that’s the only way automatic translation can improve…

      • I loved the idea of the music and that it continued through the ghost. It was the idea of the poor old man dying that made me sad. It reminded me of the The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson. Do you know that story?

      • I understand. Though we all die eventually. And I felt that Joaquin still played with the wind… In the end, one cannot control the story. Me? I just write the story that comes to me. (That is based on Paul McCartney explaining how he wrote songs: “I just sit at the piano, there’s a song floating in the air, and I just bring it down to the piano.” Same goes with stories…)
        I’ve read that story a long long time ago, when I was but a child. I remember Andersen’s stories to be mostly sad… 😉

  4. Nice short story, reminds me why I first stopped by your “desk” years ago. 🙂

    There may be “things” that want to live on forever, such as that old berliner organ, defying death – the death of a life style, of an era maybe… But we so fiercely push forward in time that they just can’t keep up. Only memories, fewer and fewer, sometimes rise and fly around… like dust in the wind

    • Mutlumesc Dragos. I remember we connected at “Atenti al lupo”. I normally don’t remember how I connected with many bloggers. But you I remember vividly. I wonder whether Il Lupo is still around?
      And memories will always fly in the wind…

    • Nice video. It is a much larger instrument than the one they use here. This one uses a roll of perforated paper if I saw correctly. Same principle as the perforated IBM cards I used when I started programming. Thanks for the link.

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