Some pianos ARE too awful to play!

This morning, I drove into Tombstone early, hoping to beat the heat and the crowds. Spotted mining archeologist  Carey Granger and had a chance to ask him some additional questions, including, “Wait — they had two ice factories in Tombstone? How did they make ice?”

He said they used ammonia and fire. “Did you ever read Mosquito Coast? They used the same system.” When I talked to my husband later, Don said the same thing. “Oh, it’s just like in Mosquito Coast!”

I read that book, too, years ago, but I’m damned if it was the ice machine that stuck in my mind. Guys…

Anyway, I went looking for a bigger spiral notebook,  because I’ve already filled the little one I brought from home, and came across the Bird Cage Theater, which is a very nice little museum now. (We were encouraged to take pictures, which I did, but I have to get permission to post them. I’ll try tomorrow.)  There was an amazing old piano — a strange configuration I’d never seen before, and a manufacturer I’d never heard of. It came around the Horn by ship to California and then by mule to Tombstone, where it was played as part of a 5-piece “orchestra” for theater productions.

Well! I went back to the lady at the register and pleaded for permission to go past the little fence around it and play. She said,  “Okay, but not for long.” I told her the longest piece I know by heart is only two pages of music, and she told me to go ahead.

So there I am,  in the actual real place that Doc Holliday and the Earps once frequented, sitting down at a piano that John Henry Holliday his own self might have played, and I began Traumerei, which is the only piece I can reliably play from memory.

I didn’t expect the piano to be in tune, but I didn’t expect it to be THAT bad! The first measure has a pair of Fs played together, and they didn’t sound like they were from the same planet, let alone the same note two octaves apart. I tried a few more measures, but it really was awful. Like: totally random notes, not recognizable as a melody.

For more than a year, I’ve indulged in a little “Tombstone” movie fantasy, where I’m playing Traumerei, and someone semi-quotes from the movie, “Who is that? Fredrich Fucking Chopin?” And I could say, “No. This happens to be by Robert Schumann.” Instead, I got to feel just as frustrated as Doc was in my novel, walking away from a piano too terrible to play.

[Thank you to Steve and Marcie Shaw, of Great American Adventures, for trying to find me a piano in Tombstone. There is a Chickering square grand in the courthouse but its keyboard is under glass, and it’s probably just as badly out of tune as the one in the Bird Cage. Still I appreciate the effort, Marcie!]

Spent the rest of the day exploring the route Doc would have ridden to Charleston. Took lots of photos, stopped to write lines of POV inner dialog, etc. Very useful (are you listening, Mr. IRS Man?) and I’ve already discovered things in the first 80 pages of  The Cure For Anger that will need to be corrected. I had been to the Tucson area prior to this, and assumed the flora was the same. Nope. Hardly any cactus around here. There are vast regions of what I think is mesquite (will check on that tonight) and occasional spiny horrors that look like a giant bowl of  satanic daisies, but no suguaros at all, even on low mountain sides.



3 thoughts on “Some pianos ARE too awful to play!”

  1. Just f**king wonderful, Mary! Not even from the same planet — yup. You see why I recommended an electric piano…

  2. Satanic daisies? I love it. I’m guessing the ocotillos. Broomsticks with thorns, we have them at the mine entrance. Yeah, the desert here is the Chiuahuan desert, higher altitude, while saguaros are found in the Sonoran desert. Different environment. The green stuff is chaparral, which consists of creosote bush, catclaw, whitethorn, and some mesquite. The cacti consist of barrels, prickly pear, cholla, and a lot of ocotillo. At one point, it was grassland, but it started to change as Tombstone boomed and the land was overgrazed and every stick of wood was cut. The riparian environment around the San Pedro River changed the most, the trees were completely razed, and the character of the river was drastically altered. It used to be wide and slow, now it’s narrow and fast, when there is water there at all. Charleston used to be on the banks of the river (so did the old Spanish garrison at Terranate, near Fairbank) but now it’s atop a bluff, maybe thirty feet above the current riverbed. Big changes, over the years.

  3. Saguaros have a limited growth range, normally around 1100 to 2200 feet above sea level. There are not a low desert plant such as the prickly pears, the octotillos, the barrel cactus, or the dreaded cholla (man those hurt when you get them in your ankles!)

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