We recently found ourselves at a farm in central Peru. For several generations, the farm has been in the hands of an Italian family, one of numerous European clans that settled in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries after Peruvian independence, and enjoys a peaceful, river-valley setting.

One of the possessions most prized by the family is a violin, which travelled with the first generation to immigrate here decades ago. It’s a handsome reminder of their European heritage, but it now sees the light of day only rarely. None of the family plays the violin, and so the instrument sits in its case until they welcome a visitor with the facility to scratch out a tune. This last happened five or more years ago.

Every family possesses such heirlooms, treasured despite a mysterious past and a dormant present. The difference with this one is that the violin is said to be a Stradivarius; not made by the master, but perhaps by one of his sons. Nobody seems entirely sure of its provenance. But a typewritten document from 1984 makes a strong argument in its favour, and attaches to it what would have been, 30 years ago, a healthy value.

The same document, written in Spanish, offers guidance to the effect that ‘It will be a nicer violin if it is played for an hour every day’. Sound advice for all string instruments – we aren’t relishing the period when we have to bring our own fiddles, mandolins and guitars back to life – and we were nervous about discovering the violin’s condition. When we opened the case to find two scruffy bows, one with no frog and the other ragged with neglect, our apprehension seemed justified.

The fiddle, though? Stradivarius or not, given both the length of time since it was last touched and the rusty ineptitude of those doing the touching, it sounded rather nice. After an hour or so, it started to come out of its shell, and it became easier to hear how, in the care of somebody who knew what they were doing, it might really sing. That said, whether Stradivari (or his sons) would have approved of the ham-handed versions of ‘Arkansas Traveler‘, ‘Star Dust‘ and ‘Niel Gow’s Lament for His Second Wife‘ with which Will was obliged to serenade the family is another matter altogether.

(Will would like it placed on the record that if he knew Ruth was recording this straight-out-of-the-case racket, he’d have made more of an effort to get the notes right. Other excuses are available on request.)



from Oxapampa, 19, Peru