Only a few hours, I spend in the living room of one of the best pianists known in South America: Teresita Gomez. I was honoured and shy. While a new friendship for life was created and while I lost myself in time and space, the idea behind the journey and website "Wander the World With Us" was born.
While I’m in Medellin, I stay at this lovely small AirB&B hotel. The small apartment, ran by this tawny old lady with German roots, houses several backpackers like myself. Sometimes the place is so full with guests, the lady sleeps on the wooden bench in the living room just so she can rent out her own bedroom. One of the nights I’m staying there she rented out her room to Angel, a guy from Bogota - Capital of Colombia - and editor of the Colombian magazine El Malpensante. As we are talking, he is pleasantly surprised when he hears I’m a photographer. He asks me if I would like to do a photo reportage to complete a story on a Colombian pianist living in Medellin.
Of course I comply, even though I’m flying out of Medellin in 4 days to do another job a bit more South in Colombia. Angel promises that a friend of his, and niece of my landlady, Margarita will accompany me as a translator. Much needed as the Spanish course I’ve been following for weeks seems to do to little to late.
Only two days later I’m in front of this tall building in the centre of Medellin. I have to admit I’m nervous. When the wooden door opens, Margerita and I walk into a different time. The art-deco interior of the hallway is almost cinematographic and an old Colombian man behind the counter asks us what we want. Margarita explains the situation in rapid Spanish and we’re send to a beautiful wooden elevator with marble inlay. It feels like I’m starring in a ’60 hollywood movie.
When Teresita opens her front door I’m in love at first sight. A big smile and small sparkling eyes welcome me with wonder. Her grey hair and beautiful African dress make her look young and at the same time give her an aristocratic appearance. Her dress refers to the difficult times she once knew as a black woman in Colombia. A hoarse Spanish voice welcomes us in Casa Gomez. A sigaret loosely between her fingers, she walks in and asks us to follow her into the living room, where two master pianos fill the room.
After Margarita explains to her why we are here, Teresita asks me what I have in mind for the photos. I see an opportunity and grab it before it’s gone: “could you please play something for me?” Just before entering the building, Margarita explained to me the stature of the musician we were about to meet; South American Royalty. This might explain the nerves I felt while entering.
Teresita sits down at one of the pianos and starts playing. She plays Chopin as, according to her, this is the man that transformed the piano into a poetic instrument. It looked like half an hour, but it might have been five minutes, before I realised I wasn’t moving. It was like being hypnotised, goosebumps all over and tears running down my cheek. Damn, didn’t see that one coming. While looking through my viewfinder, the room disappears, Margarita disappears and the traffic that tries to compete with the notes that are filling the room vanishes. Time stands still.
When striking her last note, she looks at me and asks me if I got what I came for. i see another opportunity and ask her if she would mind playing the other piano as well. The light is different there and I’m curious about the different between the two concert pianos. By now I really don’t remember the explanation she gave me, all that mattered to me was that she was more than happy to play some more on her other piano. Instead of Chopin, she started with a musical peace composed by a Colombian musician. Even though playing Colombian compositions didn’t go well by the Colombian people, it’s music that she likes and that brought her to Europe to perform. Again I’m overwhelmed.
Before we say goodbye, I ask her to pose for me. An image I saw with my minds eye when I entered her house. Not to be used by the magazine, but for me personally. I ask her to stand in front of me, close her eyes and put a finger to her lips as if she tells me to be silent and listen. After probably thanking her a thousand times, we enter the elevator. I’m ecstatic, I really feel the need to share. Margarita is right beside me, but - even though I really like her - she’s not the one I can share my love for this extraordinary woman with. When we walk outside I light a sigaret and decide to call Maartje.
Even now Teresita and I stayed in touch. It wouldn’t surprise me if we will go and visit her if our travels bring us back to Colombia. Before I left Colombia last time, I left Teresita a small present for Casa di Gomez.The picture I took of her, printed and framed hopefully has a beautiful spot above one of her concert pianos.
Text: Maartje Grond
Photography: Daniel Maissan