Sometimes at night, I hear such wonderful music playing, only to realize it’s all coming from my own mind. I’m composing invisible, inaudible rhythms and beats, sounding out percussion and strings and always, always a piano chord or discord to fit the flow of the world as it sits. But I’m not a musician. I can barely play an instrument. And it’s not always at night.
That may make it seem more like some kind of movie soundtrack to life, but it’s never so clearly bombastic or manipulative as some big budget affair. It’s just sounds, sometimes veering towards a Viennese-like concerto. Sometimes much more modern, a driving thrum. Even here, at the edge of the world on a spit of land in Patagonia, there’s a stillness filled by low cello and some kind of synthesized bass. Maybe one day I’ll be able to chart it, convert it into real sound waves, something everyone can understand.
The opposite is true with languages. Especially since no one understands each other when you speak, not so with music. When I was very young in New Guinea, I could speak (as a kid speaks) at least three languages, plus scraps of one or two others, depending on babysitters. It helps that young minds are so malleable. Also, that PNG is home to thousands of distinct tongues.
When I got a bit older, I learned what it was to be polyglot (fluent in many languages), and I became obsessed with the idea. My mind took to it like some take to molding clay or to building toys. Conversational language is pretty easy once you get the hang of it three or four times; a lot of them are linked by some root language, it’s just the slang or idiom that’s hard to get. I think I’m up to twenty. I believe that Krebs is still the record holder with a hundred and twenty. Impressive, though I don’t think of him as an idol.
And I bet I sound like a boring old teacher, but I throw some emotion and expression into it as well. It helps at border crossings, expat bars, and first contacts. People aren’t that different when they speak, when they’re just bullshitting. Or when they’re surprised or suspicious or angry.
Which, when you do the kind of things I do, go the places I have to, happens pretty often. That’s my other uncovered talent: finding things. Generally people, other times just an uncanny knack for knowing where a group of creatures might be or something valuable might turn up. Not a great art detective or ethnographer or anything like that, but I just voyage out when someone asks (and sometimes pays) me to, or on a rumour of some interesting thing, and a few weeks later, there they or it are.
Which leads me to the start of this, making the proverbial trek through the wilds, into that forever intangible Amazon basin.