Andean music always transports me to the precipices of romantic longing and melancholy.
Pre-Columbian flutes affect the soul powerfully. They once caused me to fall for an Inca princess whom I barely knew in Arizona, but I have already written poetry about that . . .
This is a different true story about a friend who was also affected by forces from the Andes.
I will let you decide whether for good or ill.
When I was a senior in college, I met with a young woman who is part Swiss/part Ukrainian. Natalia is a beautiful person. She has some Tartar influence in her dark hair and cheekbones. She has an intellectual restraint that renders her even more alluring. She is fluent in French and plays the violin. We met through my brothers who knew her from their high school. This story is like an onion, with layers of unforeseen complication and strange coincidence. I met Natalia during a volatile stage in my life, reacting against Christianity and trying hard to be a nihilist. I failed miserably, by the way . . .
I invited her to go see Out of Africa. This was 1985, and the film had just been released. It had special meaning for me, since I lived in Kenya for six years and am familiar with Karen Blixen’s account, having visited many of the places mentioned. We left the theater partway through the film and enjoyed a stroll in the spring air, obeying hormonal dictates. Thus, we began a romance.
I recall visiting her home and going to various museums around Boston with her. Natalia is principled, smart, European in her demeanor. We had some memorable moments, half drunk, in a bar in Harvard Square. At that time, I was submerged in satanic texts such as Les Chants de Maldoror, along with poetry by Baudelaire, and Gerard de Nerval. I preached my surreal and sinister madness to Natalia. She was mildly interested. I remember playing Black Sabbath’s greatest hits for her and raving about it while drinking heavily. Natalia politely refrained from judging me for the nutcase that I was at that time. Eventually I returned to my university, to graduate by the skin of my teeth, and Natalia moved on into her senior year of high school.
After graduating and spending a summer working in Alaska, reading Crowley and trying to align my chakras, I returned to Concord MA, where I had first known Natalia. I began a job as a van driver for mental health outpatients at a group home. I entered a difficult phase of my life, trying to work my way out of Marxism, superficial Satanism and New Age compulsions. I was extremely depressed and oppressed, spiritually. I suffered a massive breakdown, finally receiving Christ as my savior in February of 1987. I began attending a charismatic church in the outskirts of Boston at that time. Very zealous in my newfound Christianity, I prayed fervently for Natalia to get saved. I invited her to visit my tongues-speaking prophesying congregation. She actually took me up on it and came along to a Sunday service. Natalia was open-minded and tolerant in her encounter with my charismatic end-times church, but she let me know it did not make sense and was not for her. Notably, a woman named Diane was leading worship music at that time. Seventeen years later, Natalia would work at Diane’s health-food store near Concord, and attend the same church, never realizing it was the congregation I had dragged her to, but that comes in later. It was July of 1988. I was living at home. My parents were about to leave the U.S. to work in Indonesia for several years, and I had to figure out where I would stay and what the future held for me.
I joined a Judaistic commune and moved into a townhouse in Dorchester, convinced that I had found the true church of loving community and discipleship. My parents left New England for their stint in Indonesia. I settled into life at the commune in Boston: hard work and health food among hairy messianic followers. After a few months went by, I invited Natalia to visit me there. She came to see me and enjoyed the ambiance but said it was not for her. She was as amused at my raving about the gathering of the Twelve Tribes of Israel as she had been about my French satanic poetry. I lived in that commune/cult for nine months before going AWOL. The group-think finally got to me and the Judaizing inwardness of the place was oppressive. After spending a monastic winter in a farmhouse in Maine, I decided to hitchhike my way through the United States, to live life as a nomadic adept. I still thought about Natalia regularly. I was on the road for almost three years, blissfully alone with God in the western U.S. It was absolute freedom.
I later worked at a Christian discipleship ranch-house in Colorado, and from there spent time in the Arizona wilderness as a caretaker for some land owned by a pastor connected with the ranch-house ministry. Many adventures, much time on the road with the Lord.
Eventually, I returned to Concord, and decided to call Natalia’s mom to find out where she was. By now it was 1996. She informed me that Natalia had married a Peruvian musician, Narciso, and played violin in his Andean folklore band. She told me they were performing live in Harvard Square that night, and suggested I visit her. I went to see them on a warm New England night in Cambridge.
I recall the humidity and the grimy walls of Harvard Square. I heard the notes of Andean melancholy carried on the summer air before actually locating the band, who were playing in the overhanging shelter of a storefront on Massachusetts Avenue. After the show, I approached Natalia, who had gone completely native in Andean folkloric dress. She played both violin and drums in the Inca band. She was glad to see me and told me she had a newborn child, named after one of the sacred peaks of the Andes. Gesturing to someone in the shadows, she called her to come out to meet me.
This is my mother-in-law visiting from Peru and that’s my newborn son, Illimani.
The wizened old Indian woman held a baby in her arms. She smiled at me as I wrote down Natalia’s phone number. I wanted to catch up on all that had happened in her life since our spring romance a decade earlier. She invited me to visit her apartment in Central Square. I recall entering the second-story room and seeing Natalia there on the sofa like a beatific vision. She was radiant. We chatted for about forty minutes. I remember she was eating a bowl of cornflakes, and looked like a goddess. She was seated with voluminous gauzy drapes on each side of her. Breeze was caressing the curtains as she spoke to me, and the moment was transcendental. She told me about her life in the band. They had played before the UN, at a Clinton White House event and at the opening ceremonies for the summer Olympics as I recall. I was amazed at her new life and musical achievements. I said goodbye after our conversation and left. I would not hear her voice again until 2006
Years went by. Thinking of girls I had known, Natalia always seemed to come to mind as one of the most appealing. I couldn’t even believe I had known her when I considered her talents and her beauty. I was envious of her new life of productive motherhood with her Peruvian husband. Of all my old acquaintances, Natalia seemed to be the only one who had found a creative niche in life using her gifts to participate successfully in music. She had found her perfect love and become a radiant mother and an Andean princess . . . or so I thought.
In 2001 I had returned from Arizona to live and study In Maine. I was pursuing certification as a Spanish teacher. One day I noticed a poster on the supermarket door in town: Natalia’s band was going to perform live in a community youth center near where I was living with my parents. I was elated. I hoped I could meet them after the show, invite them for a drink, learn about Peru, and catch up with Natalia. But when the band performed a brief show, there was a different woman playing violin. The group left abruptly and I had no way to find out why Natalia was not there playing with them. I found the band’s website and sent a message, asking if they could provide Natalia’s email address to me. I mentioned that I was a friend of hers and had recently seen the performance in Maine but had missed her. For several days I received no reply. Then, a week after the performance, I did get a curtly professional email from the band’s press secretary informing me that Natalia was no longer a member of the group, had not been one for over two years, and her address was unknown. I wondered what had happened.
In the meantime I took a trip by bus from Seattle to Central America, in order to tutor English while studying Spanish. I stayed there almost a year and met, then married my Nicaraguan wife. We returned to live in Maine where I resumed working in public schools. From time to time I would search for Natalia on the internet, until one day I found her living near Concord, as indicated by a property deed. And then I found something really bizarre:
Natalia had commented online concerning the death of Dianne B. who was one of the worship music leaders at the first church I had attended after being born again back in 1987. This is the same church I had brought Natalia to before losing contact with her. Natalia was described as having been working and managing a health-food store owned by the now-deceased Dianne. It appeared Natalia lived apart from her band-leader husband near the store. I could find no further information, nor a way to contact her. I continued to wonder what had happened.
It was so strange that Natalia had wound up working with the worship music leader from the church I had dragged her to seventeen years earlier. As far as I knew, Natalia had little interest in Christianity. She probably was unaware that Dianne had been in the same church since the congregation had moved several times to different rented spaces. And then the sudden death of Dianne . . . I had played drums with Diane and her husband in the church band briefly, before joining the commune. I had been over for dinner to their house once or twice. Her husband was a teacher at a prominent New England Music School, and I remembered them as a vibrant Christian couple with several kids, very friendly and welcoming people. The fatal accident occurred early in January of 2004. My wife and I moved to Connecticut later in the same year. Months later, my mother informed me that Natalia had called and left her number for me to call.
When she picked up, I was happy to tell her about my new life as a Spanish teacher with a one-year old son. When I asked her why she had not appeared with the band recently she recounted a horrendous testimonial:
Narciso was a violent and borderline psychotic abuser. He had controlled, terrorized, and beaten her so badly her spine was damaged. He had a split personality. He would smile and cavort with dignitaries in front of crowds then threaten to throttle her in the coatroom between shows. He was a trained special forces soldier and bragged that he could kill with his hands if he wanted to. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe this, coming from the one person I thought had found marital stability and a harmonious artistic life. She informed me that both she and her two children required post-traumatic stress counseling after the divorce, and that she had obtained a permanent restraining order against Narciso. It was after she left the band that she began working at the health-food store where she met Diane and some other Christians. Amazingly, (praise God!) in the midst all of these upheavals, my friend Natalia had also become a saved believer in Christ. Sometime after this, her mentor and employer was killed in a car-crash in New Hampshire. Natalia, now fluent in Spanish, spoke with my Latina wife for a while and we said good bye.
The story does get weirder, bear with me.
Several years later, by now around 2008-2009, I searched online for news of the Andean musical band in light of my new information about the band’s leader. I found that he had written a song about Natalia that became popular in Perú before they separated. I also found more disturbing information. I could include links to this sordid tale but I will refrain. After parting ways with Natalia, Narciso was charged at least twice with sexual molestation of minors, including filming an underage band-member with a hidden camera in her shower. He also groped a girl he had known since infancy, whose parents were fans and benefactors of his folklore band. Legal action was brought against him in both cases.
I recently spoke to Natalia and corroborated the main events of this narrative. She did not know that I knew Diane who had been a worship-leader and her employer at the store. Natalia attended services at Dianne’s church unaware that she had visited the same congregation 15 years earlier. This story has significance for me because Natalia is one of the few acquaintances for whom I have prayed fervently, asking God to bring them to salvation in Christ, who has been born-again and now professes faith. It took fifteen years longer than I had hoped, and Natalia has had to suffer along the way, but she is a vibrant Christian. My story is also a warning regarding soul-stirring multi-culti music and goes to show that prancing Indigenous flute-players from the mystical heights of the Inca peaks are not always what they appear to be and must be vetted first. Lucifer also played his instruments exceedingly well.