Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Maybe we're not all going to Hell after all

From today's Times, a story they should have put on the front page:

As Philippe Quint spent half an hour playing five selections, the cabbies clapped and whistled. They danced in the aisles, hips gyrating like tipsy belly dancers. “Magic fingers, magic fingers,” one called out. Another grabbed the hand of Mr. Quint’s publicist and did what looked like a merengue across the front of the “stage.”

Afterward, the virtuoso was mobbed by drivers seeking his autograph on dollar bills, napkins and cab receipts.

“It was so pleasing to see people dancing — that never happens,” said Mr. Quint, 34, a Grammy-nominated classical violinist. “These people, they work so hard, I doubt they get a chance to get out to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.”

So Mr. Quint took Carnegie Hall to them, in a miniconcert that was his way of expressing a simple sentiment: Thank you.

On April 21, Mr. Quint accidentally left a Stradivarius violin, valued at $4 million, in the back seat of a cab that he took from the airport to Manhattan on his return from a performance in Dallas. After several frantic hours, the Newark police told him the violin had been found and was at the airport taxi stand with the cabdriver who had taken him home. The two connected, and the violin was returned.

“Anybody out here would have done the same thing,” said the driver, Mohammed Khalil, waving a hand at his laughing, dancing colleagues.

...

As he signed autographs, he retold the story of his lost violin and its triumphant return.

“He saw how distressed I was,” Mr. Quint said of Mr. Khalil. “He just gave it back to me and he noticed I was in no condition to go home by myself. So he said, ‘Why don’t I give you a ride home?’ I said, ‘No, no, it’s OK, I’ll take a bus, I’ll take another taxi. He said, ‘No, I’m happy to give you a ride back, because you’re my last customer.’”

As he had planned for months, Mr. Khalil retired from driving a cab the day he took Mr. Quint home.

See also the Times's excellent sidebar on known cases of valuables left in New York City cabs, including Yo-yo Ma, a 30-cent tip, and a Muslim answering the prayers of an Orthodox Jew.

My wife Kate once had the chance to intercept and play a Stradivarius, and the sound brought tears to her eyes.

The puzzle of what makes Stradivarius instruments sound so great is compelling. I'm almost sorry that one of the top researchers to tackle the subject seems to have solved it; one of his new violins, which run in the $15,000 range, beat a Stradivarius in a blind competition, as judged by dozens of professional musicians.

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