Monday, July 25, 2005

if there were no music

Around the second day of the trek in Peru, I remembered some advice an experienced trekker had given me- "keep your favorite prayer handy." Now, contrary to the obvious context, he was actually suggesting that having something repetitive, a chant of sorts, could serve to provide a calm, a rhythm on this sort of journey. At the moment that his suggestion appeared from the recesses of my memory, I had no prayers in my arsenal. But I had fallen behind the group, the altitude was wreaking havoc on my lungs and my head, and I needed something to keep me steady, to sustain me.

Well, I thought, this is easy. Music has served me well in the past at such times. I recalled coming down some treacherous paths when I used to mountain bike with A. A was always half a mile ahead of me, having just zipped down the rocky, steep ravine I was staring down. I'd take a deep, slow breath, and nervously sing the opening lines to Mellow Yellow while trying not hurtle head first off the bike. Most of the time, it worked.

The problem, of course, was the altitude. The altitude depleted a sizable chunk out of the available oxygen at my brain's disposal, leaving my choice of songs to those heard within the past week. And so it was, in the mountains of Peru, at 3000+ meters, Coldplay's Fix You started to pulse through my head. Coldplay, at first blush, might actually seem the perfect choice for such a moment. I wanted something low key, something soothing, and isn't Chris Martin's voice built for just that?

My brain had failed to process one crucial detail- Coldplays songs are, for lack of better description, generally downers. It became rather comical, dragging myself up a seemingly interminable ascent while these lyrics were firmly lodged in my head:
When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse
Because there is nothing but time in the dark evenings on campsites, I examined my fixation with this Coldplay business in excruciating detail. Did I just have a melancholy disposition? Was I being self-defeating, Eeyore-ian? Or worse, did I just like the melody? Had I never even paid attention to the lyrics? And why, what was it in that song that actually served to buoy me up the mountain? Something was carrying me that distance, some unseen force. The questions turned over and over again in my head. Then, I followed the song out to its natural conclusion:
Well, high up above and down below
When you were too in love to let it go
But if you never try, you'll never know
Just what you're worth
I made a million wishes along the way to Macchu Picchu. But mostly, I felt a sense of wonder. Winding around a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, watching sandal-clad porters speed past me with over 40 kilograms of weight on their back, looking back on the vista from 4200 meters to comprehend that I had climbed that height- all of it was cause for arrhythmia. My heart beat so irregularly in Peru. And now, when this silly song that, normally, should either plunge me into melancholia or cause me to roll my eyes violently... when this song floats into my ears, I immediately fall into a nostalgic reverie. Wishes and skipped heartbeats for four days, two weeks, a lifetime- and that, after all, is a pop tune if ever there was one.

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