Our good friend and long time forums member, pianist/author/actress Robin Goldsby provided the following for our newsletter. I decided to post it here as well.
An excerpt from Robin Goldsby's book, Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl
Courtesy of Bass Lion PublishingThe Princess
There’s a buzz in the castle lobby this evening.
Visiting dignitaries from a faraway, exotic land checked into Schlosshotel Lerbach last month, and the staff is still pretty excited about having them here. The entourage, which includes a real-life princess, has taken over a dozen of the best guest rooms. Her Highness hails from a part of the world where women, especially royal women, are seldom seen in public, and her presence has bumped the Schloss intrigue up a notch or two. The princess has her own airplane and a fleet of luxury cars and drivers. I see the cars every weekend when I arrive for my piano job—they are shiny and black and royal looking, and parked in formation in a roped-off section of the inner courtyard. The princess has a private entrance to the hotel, and the staff sets up screens so she can negotiate her way to the elevator without anyone seeing her.
Schlosshotel Lerbach has a Michelin three-star restaurant as well as a top-rated hotel kitchen, but the princess has brought her own cook, dishes, and silverware. Several members of the entourage staff a private royal kitchen, built exclusively for the princess in one of the upstairs hallways. I’ve heard from the housekeeping department that Her Highness’s wardrobe, delivered via a large truck, includes new robes and dresses for each of the hundred days she’ll be staying with us.
I never see Her Highness, but I know she’s here—the scent of myrrh wafts from her living quarters into the main hall of the castle. I daydream while I play the piano and wonder if she’s listening. I’ve tried to learn some popular songs from her country, but it’s almost impossible for my Western ears to adjust to the odd intervals and rhythms. I wonder if she has the same problem with my music.
I’m on a first-name basis with Her Highness’s security team—not that anyone needs security in this place. I check out the bodyguards, disguised as customers, and wonder if they’re packing heat. I could have used a couple of these guys back in New York City—Manhattan hotel lobbies are breeding grounds for stalkers, perverts, and con artists. Nothing criminal ever happens here at the Schloss, except on the nights when they have murder-mystery dinners. Still, it’s nice to have the security team around. One never knows when a flying espresso cup or a plate of fois gras might endanger a guest. Or me.
The hotel is filled with purple and dark-pink orchids, because the princess loves them.
Inspired by the spring evening I start my set with a song I wrote called “Magnolia.” A guard sits by the fireplace and drinks tea. I wonder where he’s hiding his weapon.
Between last night and this evening, the magnolia trees in the park have bloomed, perhaps in honor of Her Highness. The black swans, Kongo and Greta, are swimming around the little lake, and an early spring bride—resplendent in a sugar-plum-fairy dress—has entered the castle from the terrace and graced the lobby with her presence. The brides of May possess a certain sophistication not found in the high-summer brides. They are calmer—more confident and serene. Maybe the scent of magnolia relaxes them.
I play for the bride, I play for the princess, I play for myself, and I play for my daughter, Julia, who has come with me to the Schloss this evening. She also plays the piano and may well be able to sit in for me in a few years. But tonight she’s not particularly interested in music. She’s hoping to catch a glimpse of the princess, even though I keep explaining that no one ever gets to actually see her.
“How can you be a princess if nobody sees you?” she asks. “Isn’t that the whole point?”
“Maybe so,” I say. “Who knows—maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll appear.”
“Wow,” she says. “It smells great in here.”
“That’s myrrh. It’s the princess’s incense. She’s here, even if you can’t see her.”
“Yep,” she says, taking a deep breath of the perfumed air. “There’s a princess here. I can feel it.”
When I was Julia’s age I often fantasized about living in a real European castle. I believed that somewhere beyond the limits of my happy childhood there was a palace with my name on it. My full-service castle included drawbridges and moats, swans and walls of crumbling stone, bathtubs overflowing with bubbles and rose petals, a long staircase for royal entrances into the main hall, and a ghost to humor me and scare away the bad guys. A child of the sixties, I called myself Princess Jackie, after Jackie Kennedy, my idea of an American princess.
Now I’ve landed here, not exactly in a Camelot kingdom of knights and Kennedys, but in a castle that almost looks like the one from my girlhood dreams. I wonder why I’m here. Have I found the castle or has it found me? I’m sitting behind the piano at the base of the very staircase I once imagined, playing songs for little girls and their grandmothers, young men and their brides, for a genuine princess and her royal family, for my own daughter. I feel as if a small part of my childhood—the dreamy part, the part I thought was gone forever—has returned.
The Schloss park is a Kinderparadies with lots of giant trees to climb. Julia’s brother, Curtis, once got stuck in a whomping big willow on the castle grounds, and, right in the middle of my sensitive arrangement of “Moon River,” I had to leave the piano and climb the tree to rescue him. He ruined his new down jacket, which had gotten stuck on a sharp branch high in the tree, preventing his descent. I ruined a fancy black dress that snagged on the same branch when I unhooked him. This is one reason I hardly ever bring the kids to work with me.
As I play, Herr Jaschke, the general manager, greets Julia and tells her he’s about to add a new duck to the family of rare birds swimming on the castle lake.
“Would you like to take pictures?” Herr Jaschke asks. “It should be interesting to see how Kongo and Greta react.”
“Of course,” says Julia. “I would love to!” She brought her camera hoping to get a picture of Her Highness, but she’s too proud to mention that. Besides, in lieu of a princess picture, a duck photo might be just as good.
The Indian Runner Duck—a rare breed known for running instead of waddling—has been sitting in a box in the purchasing office. Within an hour the emotional moment—the release into the wild—will take place. Her Highness has been given the privilege of naming her. After many high-level discussions between hotel management and the princess’s staff, a decision has been reached. Her Highness has chosen Sally, a fine name for a duck.
Julia goes outside to prepare for the grand release by hiding in the bulrushes on one side of the water. I keep playing, because the bride is posing for pictures with her family in the lobby and it seems appropriate to provide them a soundtrack. I play “Night and Day.” The very young wedding party does not recognize the song—they wouldn’t know the difference between Cole Porter and Nat King Cole—but the groom smiles and places a glass of champagne on the piano.
When the photo session concludes, I head outside and stand on the terrace, waiting for the duck release. Herr Jaschke and a member of the royal security team carry the box to the water’s edge. They wave toward the terrace, but they’re not waving at me. Her Highness must be standing above me at the French doors to her suite. The duck-release team opens the box. Sally jumps into the water and glides across the lake. Indian Runner Ducks are lovely—white with gray and tan markings. Sally isn’t running, though, she’s swimming, and seems to be content.
But then, before the eyes of the rosy-cheeked bride, numerous castle guests, and my innocent daughter, one of the male ducks—a large Mallard named Dagobert—jumps on Sally and starts to have his way with her. Duck rape. Horrible. Run, Sally, run! Sally does not run. I look at the security guard, half expecting him to shoot Dagobert, or at least dive into the water and tackle him, security-guard style, but he does nothing except watch the show along with everyone else.
An uncomfortable silence, penetrated by occasional squawks, falls over the castle grounds.
After Dagobert finishes his waterfowl foul play with Sally, he swims away, puffed up and cocky. For several moments I think Sally is, well, a dead duck, but she recovers and begins paddling—cautiously—around the perimeter of the lake. I wonder what Her Highness is thinking. I wonder what Sally is thinking. I know what Julia is thinking because I see her extract herself from her hiding place and stomp back up toward the castle.
I return to the piano and play “Come Fly with Me.”
“Well,” says Julia as she plops into one of the leather sofas next to the fireplace. “That was stupid.”
“Did you take pictures?” I ask.
“Are you crazy? I’m not, like, one of those National Geographic photographers. I could hardly watch. Poor Sally. What a stupid night. I came to see the princess and instead I have to watch that? Geez.”
I drift into my second set, playing a medley I call “Songs I Know in the Key of A Major.” The wedding guests have moved into the salon for their nuptial dinner. I hope they’re not having the Canard menu. The night mellows. Lovely people in various shades of black and gray pass through the main hall.
I watch my daughter take in the scene, her eyes darting to the staircase, still hoping Her Highness might show up and save the evening.
I’m in the piano zone when all of a sudden Julia jumps up and yells “Nosebleed!” She bunches her scarf over her face and sprints out of the hall.
Never ever take your kids to work.
I keep playing. Julia has frequent nosebleeds, particularly in the spring. She knows what to do and has reached the age where she prefers to attend to the problem without my help. These are not drip-drip episodes, but projectile nosebleeds. They alarm everyone except Julia. I finish the song, discreetly wipe a few drops of blood from the floor, and head down to the ladies’ room.
Two elegant women, a blond and a redhead wearing head-to-toe Prada, have Julia stretched out on a long marble counter. They’re applying cold compresses to her nose. Julia is trying to be polite, but I can tell she’s amused by the attention.
“Excuse me,” I say. “I can take over now. Thank you so much for your help.”
“This isn’t normal,” says the blond, completely ignoring me and checking Julia’s pulse.
“I think we should call an ambulance,” says the redhead.
“I’m okay,” says Julia. “It’s just a nosebleed! But thank you for your help.”
“Where’s your mother?” asks the blond.
“I’m her mother,” I say.
“Aren’t you the pianist?”
“Yes, but I’m also her mother.”
“It’s true,” says Julia. “She’s my mother.”
“Very nice music.”
Another stream of blood gushes out of Julia’s nose. The ladies step back to avoid soiling their designer dresses.
“Thank you,” I say.
“May I get up?” asks Julia.
“This isn’t normal,” says the blond
“We should call an ambulance,” says the redhead.
“I’m okay,” says Julia.
“I’m her mother,” I say again. We’re on a loop. “These nosebleeds happen all the time.”
I assure them she’s fine, thank them several times, and, finally, they return to their lemon-grass-infused dinners. I will send CDs and a formal thank-you note to their table before we leave. I watch Julia clean her face, and the two of us scrub down the counter and wash basin.
On our way out we walk past the piano. “Mom,” she says. “Do you think princesses have nosebleeds?”
“I’m sure they do,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “Nosebleeds and princess dresses are not a good match.”
“You know, people once believed that royal blood was blue.”
“Well,” says Julia. “That rules me out.”
“I don’t know, I think you can still be a princess if you have red blood.”
“Do you think Sally is okay?” she asks.
“Let’s go see.” We step outside.
Sally cruises the lake as if she owns it. Perhaps she’s the Buttercup Blondeau of ducks. Or maybe she’s a duck princess. Dagobert is on the lawn having a snack. Kongo, Greta, and the other fancy birds, longtime residents of the Schloss park, swim in choreographed circles around Sally, giving her space but staying close enough to make her feel at home. It’s the welcome dance of water birds, and we watch as they swim together in the dusky light.