We stumbled upon
this classical guitar contest going on
on the fourth floor of the music building—
We slipped inside, sidling in
to some empty seats in the back, feeling vaguely
wrong. There were two guitarists up on stage
facing off like boxers, but seated, each holding a guitar
in the classical manner, left foot higher
than the right, knee in the curve of
the instrument where it flared like the hip of a lover.
One guitarist played while the other listened. Then
they switched. Then two plain-clothed men
bearing new guitars as gingerly
as if they were bombs to be defused, or sleeping babies,
handed them to the guitarists, took the used ones
off their hands, and bore them with the same solicitude
offstage. Then the same musical pieces
were played, more guitars brought out, and the same pieces
repeated. That’s when it dawned on us, the guitars
were competing, not the guitarists. The wares
of classical guitar makers from all over the world
were competing here, and the audience was filled
with luthiers, and classical guitarists looking—listening—
to buy their next axe. It was the strangest feeling,
like all this time we’d been looking east
while everyone watched a sunset in the west,
or like we’d been listening to our own wristwatches
while everyone else knew time did not exist.
First place went to the Spanish, second to the Czechs,
and third to an American from San Antonio, Texas.
Afterwards, in the lobby, the only way to tell
the classical guitarists from the other mortals
was their unusually long thumbnails.