Igor owns the Music Shop in old town Bratislava. We met Igor shortly after moving last September. Wandering the far back streets of old town, we stumble upon a narrow street with a single store; the “Music Shop”. The shop is actually not directly on the street.
There’s an exterior door, a common area, a handful of steps, and an interior door. It’s nestled with a handful of businesses. I almost didn’t bother. Stopping was a lark, we weren’t interested in buying music.
The shop feels like a library in a wealthy home. Music, in various forms, ladens the shelves from floor to ceiling. The floors are polished wood and the ceilings have the dome shape found in Renaissance period buildings. It feels homey. The man behind the desk is about 50, wirey, energetic, and speaks fluent English (we learn later he also speaks fluent German). Classical music is playing. He helps us understand how to figure out which venues have concerts (easier said than done in a city which translates little to English), when the orchestra will return to the renovated Symphony Hall (February), and how to get information on the Central European Classical Music Festival in November. He introduces himself as Igor.
We share that we had seen a piano concert in the Mirbach Palace. I marvel at how 100 or so seats in the small venue with a ticket price of 3 Euro could cover the costs. The pianist travelled from England. The money from the ticket sales would not cover his airfare. Igor casually explains that the government in Slovakia underwrites the arts. Otherwise, music would be the exclusive right of the rich and not enjoyed by the modestly paid middle class. I like this thought. It’s a nice priority in a country where subsidy equates to sacrifice.
Igor offers us coffee. I consider leaving, fleeing. I’m from New Jersey where my scam artist antennae serves me well. I consider a polite, “I’m sorry, we’re meeting friends, perhaps next time”. But instead, I simply reply “yes”. My husband looks at me like I am having a seizure. There is a small table for two in the corner. Igor makes coffee in his small kitchen and brings out cookies.
I learn Igor was a professional classical singer in his day, was born and raised in Trnava, Slovakia and is a genuinely nice guy. When he talks he is animated. Life gives him boundless pleasure.
He shares a book he bought at a used book store in old town on the churches of Levoca. He carefully flips thru the pictures – proud of the treasures of his home country. We talk for perhaps 30 minutes. He tells us that earlier in the week he saw the world-famous opera singer, Cecelia Bartoli, at the National Slovak Orchestra Hall. It was a “breath-taking” performance which he describes using the vocabulary of a professional musician – words like resonance and range and timbre. The tickets cost 220 Euro. I figure Igor, with his nondescript jeans , button down shirt and thinning brown hair, must be doing quite well.
It turns out, Igor entertained a couple of men during the week with coffee, cookies and conversation. I’m sure he did it out of kindness – a man happily working surrounded by his favorite things and sharing them. The men were, unbeknownst to Igor, the backup musicians for Cecelia. They went outside and made a call returning with news that three tickets would be waiting at “will call” that night for the concert. Igor’s eyes widen as he shares this story. He is a squirming mass of animation. He marvels at his good fortune and shares that he could never, in his wildest dreams, buy tickets at that price.
Igor gives us a CD recording of himself, with others, recorded during a church performance. We ask if we owe him for the coffee or the CD, but he says they are given “with his pleasure”. We buy a few CDs from Slovak and Hungarian composers before finally making our way back to our wanderings. I’m glad my skeptism of Igor’s intensions didn’t cut short our visit. I realize I need to open myself to the thought that people may be as nice as they seem, that their hospitality doesn’t disguise a hidden agenda.
Igor promises if we return later in the week, he’ll have a book for us on Slovak history. When we return, the book, Igor, coffee and conversation are waiting for us. Igor is a man who lives his passion. It shows on his perennially smiling face. His often empty store is never quiet. Classical music is always playing. There are two tables where he serves his “friends” coffee.
One day we stop by and Igor is working on a neighboring house – a massive renovation project. His head pops out of the upstairs window – he is covered in dirt. We encourage Igor to keep working, we’ll return again. We just want to say “hello”.
It is no problem. Igor shrugs and smiles, “Work will always be here, but friends stop by just now and then.”
Categories: Insiders Bratislava