Important Announcement!

Let’s all join together in congratulating FigMince on being published in the Door County, Wisconsin Peninsula Pulse where he was one of the winners of their annual writing competition.  Bravo, FigMince!

It was fun for me, since as I was reading the piece (“Farewell Debut”) I kept thinking that I’d read the story before.  How could that be?  Where could I have read it?  At the end of the story, his name appeared and the mention that he lives on an island off the coast of Australia.  Ha!  Our very own FigMince!

He is a true winner and an inspiration to us all.  I am proud to say his story appeared on this blog some time back.  Very moving.  I’m sure you can talk him into posting it here again, if you bug him a bit.

12 responses to “Important Announcement!

  1. Fig Mince, that story has haunted me since I first read it. The things we say that have unforeseen consequences can have life-altering effects. I love that story and I’m so happy others do too. Congrats. Also, I may as well tell you that I have learned a lot about writing from reading your work, even if I have become profoundly self-conscious about my grammar.

  2. Galelikethewind

    Consider this me bugging you to post a link to your piece. And…CONGRATULATIONS.

  3. Fantastic news ! Congratulations Fig, you make us proud.

  4. Fig, this is fantastic news!! Congratulations!

  5. Um. Thanks everyone. And especially Ann, for posting about the competition back in May. I’d entered a slightly longer version than the one I’d put up on this blog’s ‘First Annual ALWAYCT Blast the Page Festival’, and I’d more-or-less forgotten about it and didn’t know about the result until Ann emailed me. The Peninsula Pulse has it on their website at but here it is anyway:

    Farewell Début

    My favorite soprano? Ah, once I’d never have dared to respond to a question like that. After all, even a woman scorned hath no fury like a diva compared with another. But now, safely retired, I can say without fear of emasculation that the most exquisite soprano I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing was Isobelle Cochére.

    And no, indeed, you’ve never heard of her. Let me explain:

    In March, 1985, still a relatively young man of thirty beginning my sojourn as Music Director with the Opéra Bastille in Paris, I’d just arrived from London and was enjoying the view from the apartment that came with the position when I heard, coming through the open balcony doors of the next-door apartment, an extraordinarily beautiful soprano voice singing the ‘Sempre Libera’ aria from Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.

    At first, despite the absence of any instrumental backing, I thought it was a recording, but when it stopped in mid-phrase and then started again from the beginning of the same line, I realized that it had to be somebody in the apartment singing. But who? It was certainly no established soprano that I could recognize. And yet this was a voice of exquisite quality, far superior to that of any I’d ever heard, and absolutely enchanting.

    By the time the singer had finished, I was so intrigued that I had no option but to go through to the stairwell landing and ring the bell of the adjacent apartment.

    The door was opened by a young woman of perhaps twenty, barefoot and wearing an oversized men’s shirt and faded jeans. I assumed her to be some kind of au pair or housekeeper, and I began to explain in my then-inadequate French that I was new to the next-door apartment and…

    “Bonjour,” she said, breaking into a disarming smile. “I speak English, M’sieur, perhaps more well than you speak French, but I it pleases me to meet you.”

    “Er, oui, bonjour,” I responded. “Was it that bad, my French?” She gave me one of those ambiguous shrugs unique to the French genes, and I sighed sheepishly. “What I was trying to say is that I’m the new neighbor wishing to make myself known to your… er… to the lady who was singing a few moments ago.”

    “Ah, oui, that is me,” she said. “I am sorry, M’sieur. Pardon, because I do not know that someone is now living there. I will be more quiet.”

    “You? It was you singing? The aria? Just now?”

    “Oui. I have often the habit to sing when I am working on the pieces for my diploma.”

    “Ah, so you’re a student. Of course. I should have guessed.”

    “Oui. At l’École des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.”

    “Art? Visual arts? And in Lyon? But that’s hundreds of kilometers away.”

    “Oui. I am here only for taking the care of this apartment of my uncle while he is away until two more months.”

    “But your singing. I mean, you must be studying voice too, yes?”

    “Ah, non,” she said lightly. “I know already to sing from my mother when I am young.”

    “You have a beautiful voice. Have you never thought of a career in music?”

    “Merci, but non, I wish always only to be artist,” she said, then frowned. “Ah, but I am impolite. You would like perhaps to enter and take some coffee?”

    That’s how I came to meet Isabelle Cochére, and within very little time we became lovers. She was a fascinating young woman – twenty-two as it turned out – sometimes as exuberant and innocent as a child, at other times more sophisticated than most worldly-wise women twice her age, and often a beguiling combination of both. Over the next few months, she introduced me to everything that I’d hoped for in Paris, and made the experience even more extraordinary by singing for me in our private moments together.

    She had an amazing repertoire of works she knew by heart. And whatever she sang, she brought her own exquisitely unique interpretation to it. There’s no adequate way to convey to you how she sounded or what she did with her voice, beyond perhaps glibly saying that she’d re-invented the soprano.

    I tried to convince her to consider singing as a career. I offered to arrange a place for her in the chorus at the Opéra Bastille, but she wasn’t interested. When the Opéra-Comique announced its annual auditions at the beginning of May, I begged her, virtually harangued her, to try out for them, but she just laughed and shrugged it off.

    “Why would I sing for others?” she asked one night when I’d been laboring the subject yet again. “I sing only for me. And now also for you. That is enough for me, why is it not enough for you?”

    And indeed, that’s a question I’ve asked myself too often over the years since. But you must understand: I was in that awful transitional age when the energy of youth distorts itself into ego-driven ambition before maturing into some semblance of wisdom. At the time, it seemed to me almost criminal that she wasn’t exploiting her remarkable talent and sharing it with the world – and the fact was that I’d become obsessed with the idea.

    Which leads us to Act Two.

    Towards the end of May, I invited some of my colleagues and their partners to a small soirée in my apartment, and of course, Isobelle was to be there as my guest. And in some mad Machiavellian moment, I also made sure that the company’s rehearsal accompanist, Jean-Luc, was invited.

    Late in the evening, I made the expected speech thanking my colleagues for their help in my settling into the company, then announced that I had a special treat in store for everybody – that Isobelle would sing the ‘Casta Diva’ aria from Bellini’s ‘Norma’. It was one of her favorites, and I was hoping – no, I was certain – that the positive response that I was anticipating from my guests would convince her once and for all that she had the potential, and to my mind therefore the obligation, to sing professionally.

    She was standing across the room from me at the time of my announcement, and the stunned look on her face should have warned me that I was making a serious mistake, but I crossed to her and took her by the arm to escort her to the apartment’s baby grand where I’d already installed Jean-Luc with the score of the piano accompaniment for the aria.

    She shrugged her arm from my grasp. “Non,” she whispered to me under her breath. “Non, chéri, I wish not to do this.”

    “But you must,” I hissed back. “They’re all waiting. Please. For me. I’ll be embarrassed in front of my new colleagues if you don’t.”

    She glowered at me, but let me deliver her to the piano as Jean-Luc began the introduction – just a one-bar arpeggio repeated a couple of times. Except that he had to play it over and over again – three, four, five times, six times – while, for a heart-stopping eternity, it seemed as if Isobelle was never going to start to sing. Then, when she eventually did, I didn’t need to see the hurt and confusion in her eyes, because it was painfully audible in the flat nothingness in her voice.

    Around the room, my colleagues were looking embarrassed, staring at the floor, the walls, their drinks, anything to avoid eye contact with each other – and especially with me. And who could blame them? As far as they were concerned, their new Music Director was inflicting upon them some insane delusion that his amoureuse could sing.

    But then, almost miraculously, everything changed. Between one line and the next, Isobelle gave herself to the music – surrendered to its flow and immersed herself in it. I believe that it was simply impossible for her not to sing as beautifully as a piece of music deserved.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, in Bellini’s opera, the ‘Casta Diva’ aria is a prayer for peace sung to the moon goddess by Norma – and as such, it’s an imploring, reverential piece. But that night, with her eyes closed and one hand on Jean-Luc’s shoulder somehow channeling her emotions to his fingers, Isobelle transformed it into a soul-rending lament full of sorrow and loss.

    In my thirty-odd years of music, in my entire life, I’ve never experienced – and I know I never will again – anything like those few minutes. Here, now, speaking about it nearly two decades on, I’m on the verge of trembling just from the memory.

    By the time she’d finished, almost inaudibly moaning the song’s last lingering note as some kind of long drawn-out sigh of anguish that seemed to hang there forever, she had tears and mascara running down her cheeks. There was a palpable collective exhalation of breaths from her audience, but otherwise the room remained absolutely silent – so silent in fact that I remember hearing somebody’s high heels en passant in the late-night street two floors below.

    Then, after a moment that seemed to last forever, Jean-Luc raised his left hand to the hand Isobelle still had on his shoulder, and whispered a choked “Merci, Mam’selle.”

    She responded to him with her own murmured “Merci”, and without looking at anyone, walked away from the piano, through my stunned colleagues, and towards the door. As she reached it, the room erupted with wild applause, whistles, and shouts of “Brava!” and “Encore!” – all this from some of the Parisian opera world’s most blasé professionals – and then she was gone.

    So, yes, inevitably we now come to Act Three. Except that in this particular opera, there’s no real resolution – just the obligatory tragedy.

    She was indeed gone. Without trace. From her uncle’s apartment, from her école d’art, and from my life.

    When her uncle eventually returned in the middle of June, he regretted being unable to help me. Non, he did not know where she might be. Non, unfortunately he had no idea how to contact her. Ah, she had always been the proud and headstrong girl, and his favorite niece because of that. Oui, he would most certainly tell me when he heard from her – if, as M’sieur would of course understand, such a thing would be her wish.

    But despite my asking whenever I contrived to encounter him on the stairs, he was still claiming not to have heard from her when I moved on from the Opéra Bastille to Milan nearly a year later, by then glad to be leaving Paris and its constant reminders of her, and my sheer stupidity.

    Mind you, all operatic heroines – Tosca, Mimi, Carmen, Aida, Butterfly, and Norma, of course – resurrect themselves for at least one curtain call, no matter how seemingly final the ending of their stories. And so it was with Isobelle.

    Twelve years later I was in Quebec, touring the British National’s ‘Rigoletto’ across North America. One afternoon, I’d taken a break from the interminable new-venue rehearsals, and while walking around the city, I found myself in a small, otherwise deserted artists’ cooperative gallery, and…

    And I heard her.

    I knew immediately that it was Isobelle – the voice couldn’t have belonged to anyone else. In a back room somewhere beyond the gallery display area, she was singing Carmen’s ‘Habanera’ – and, with that individuality I remembered so well, singing it not as the tempestuous challenge that Bizet had intended, but instead as a light and happy song of childlike joy. It was absolutely beautiful, and I stood there in the empty gallery, silently enthralled, until she finished.

    Indeed, for long minutes after she’d finished.

    Then, because I knew that I’d always love her, I did the only thing I could.

    I whispered “Brava, ma chérie” – and, understanding that my own performance could never deserve an encore, I left.

    • Mind you, if you want to see some really good writing (and just in case you didn’t see it), check out Jeff’s late link at the bottom of the previous prompt.

      • Allan – thank you very much for our kind words.

        I remembered your story from its original post here and went back to read it again. I marvel at the softness of it, the angst within the characters, and the bittersweet ending. I read several lines and say to myself, I would never have thought of that. I tip my Stetson to you. Jeff

  6. Congrats, FigMince, on another job well done!!!!

  7. Lovely, Fig! Congratulations on the win!!

  8. Hey Ann,
    Just trying to get in touch with you for old times sake. Friended your old neighbor from Marshfield, Gail. She told me you’d moved to Door County.

    Tracked you to this site. Would love to hear from you directly and see how you’re doing. And your family.

    Email me when you get a chance,

    • Hi Kathy!
      Yes, this is the only place (besides my three online writing classes) where I show up on the web, so I hope you don’t mind if I reply here. Are you still in suburban Chicago? John retired in 2010, and I’m still teaching online which is a great job. I keep this blog for fun since I’m teaching seven days a week for A number of my old students show up here to see if my latest writing challenge is something they want to try. Are you working? So good to hear from you. –Ann

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