Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday at The Filling Station

They came by the singles, the couples, the handfuls, and the droves. This bright May Sunday morning, replete with possibilities, was filled with the aroma of fresh espresso and the distant, intermittent rumble of a biker, heading out for a morning’s run along the Turquoise Trail, to Golden or Madrid.

But here in Barelas, the heart of Hispanic Old Albuquerque, is an eclectic mix of the educated, the gentried, the cultured, the avant-garde, who have forsaken their Sunday morning sleep-in, or other traditional commitments, and instead have gathered to hear a mix of the spoken word and the live musical performance, in a renovated former garage on what was once the original Rte. 66, the Mother Road.

The Church of Beethoven is neither church, nor exclusively the domain of Ludwig’s bailiwick. It is instead the brainchild – heart child, really – of a cellist and former symphony orchestra conductor turned Neighborhood Arts Program Director, who has had the good fortune in life of being able to realize a long-sought dream of bringing the arts directly to a community, minus the institutional trappings of the conventional art world.

Arriving an hour early, at least, is crucial to gaining the objective of a decent cup of espresso and a good seat. Former garages are not known for their sizable seating capacity, even with the installation of bleacher-style seats and the overflow capacity of a hodge-podge of office and patio chairs.

Serenading one’s arrival, whether by truck, sedan, bicycle or Harley, is a brass band, adjacent to the espresso table, wakening the sleepy neighborhood with a cacophony of jazz, pop, big band and folk.

Across the street are a handful of tenants of a dormitory-style rental house, sitting on the curb in wonderment and awe at the unlikely goings on, appearing obviously unwelcome and uninvited. One must pause a moment and consider that the main body of audience members to this neighborhood arts outreach program live across town from this more humble, economically depressed area. Is it because of the ethnic mix, and obvious affluence, of the gathering, or are there more subtle and complex reasons for why they cannot merely step across the street and mingle and listen and enjoy?

There is no entrance fee, merely a suggested donation.

The printed program is merely a guide, not a roadmap, and certainly not a cultural GPS. Last minute changes seem to be the norm. The main speaker, a nationally famous poet, had car trouble the previous night on the way back from a gig – do poets have gigs? – in the southern NM town of Silver City, and so instead we are being treated to a last minute trio of poets, of whom one has had to quickly run home to retrieve his manuscript. Seated among the audience is a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera, and also the co-owner of a local arts cinema house, the last remaining one in town, after the corporate-owned cineplexes have completed their monopolization of the visual arts.

An electric-powered Volkswagen sits on the grounds, the message “slow moving vehicle, please pass” stenciled on the back. A mongrel cur sits in the shade of the gallery’s eaves; later, during the Two Minutes of Silence (a conscious association with Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate arises), it will wander over to the garage-door-like entrance and suspiciously eye the assemblage.

A baby cries; its mother cuddles it and saunters over to the gallery entrance, out of earshot of the experimental tonal composition being delivered via an Associate Professor of Oboe. During a previous Sunday’s presentation were read excerpts from Kerouac’s On the Road.

After a lengthy piece by J.S. Bach, performed by a trio composed of flutist, oboist and cellist, the audience disperses, some to their vehicles, some to mingle and chat, and others to stand in line for another shot of espresso.


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