Around the year 1996, I used to go on all-day trips from the University of Puerto Rico campus, where I studied, to walk around the very-walkable, elegant, 500-year-old colonial city of Old San Juan. I’ve always enjoyed the colonial architecture, the pastel colors, and the Mediterranean-like Spanish ambiance of the place. Sometimes I would also go to the nearby posh Condado neighborhood, to visit a few of the stores there that I liked.
Today, I am an author, but back then I would spend the day in bookstores and cafés mostly, as books were like magic carpets to me. I was majoring in French, and so I had access to content in English, Spanish, and French, and–like our late friend Jaako whose final good-bye blog was a very warm and personal, biographical account of how he was addicted to books written a couple of days prior to his death–I’ve always loved the pleasures of learning and reading.
It was during that time that, while visiting a bookstore that I loved in Condado, I noticed that they were frequently playing the Alegría CD by Cirque du Soleil. I was particularly haunted by the hysterical, operatic song Mirko, which I’ve always supposed was used during the most dangerous gymnastic performances in order to keep the audiences emotionally rapt. I asked the book store clerk what was that strange music that they were playing, and immediately bought the CD. The sound was matched by the sickest clowns I had ever seen, which were depicted on the cover. Cirque du Soleil may have set the standard in many ways for circus music, art, and performance, but–at least as far as their musical output–I have not yet heard a collection more magical or more beautiful than Alegría.
After a few months of non-stop exposure to this music, many of my friends–some of whom were art majors and went on to teach art, even art therapy–adopted and learned to love the music as much as I did. For years, we have built memories with it.
In the past, I’ve written about the song Vai Vedrai in relation to the death of Robin Williams. Another waltz in this collection of songs was Valsapena, which was sung in both French and Spanish and contains within it a beautiful fairy tale.
The CD included a tango in Spanish sung by a lady whose native language was obviously not Spanish, but this didn’t matter because she had an enchanting mermaid-like voice and I couldn’t stop listening. Her name was Francesca Gagnon, and she’s likely the reason why there will never be another musical experience like Alegría–which means “joy” in Spanish.