'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Mystery of the Mandolin

Today Robin is in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, but I am going to tell you about exciting developments, on the mandolin front, that occurred over the weekend.

Little over 4 weeks ago Robin was in Sorrento.
Whilst walking the streets, he found a very nice antique shop, and in the window was a beautiful Mandolin.
If you remember, I blogged about it at the time, 'Sorrento a Mandolin and a Music Box'.

Well, on his return from that particular trip, Robin was furious with himself for not buying the magnificent instrument.
The more we researched the luthier Nicola Spoto, the more we realised that an opportunity had been missed.

But then we started looking at the various photographs that Robin had taken whilst away.
Sure enough, there was one of the mandolin, in the shop window.
Unfortunately neither the name of the shop, or the street, were in the image.
We were very frustrated.
As we zoomed in, and out of the picture, I noticed a parasol, shading a table, which must have been from a cafe or restaurant...
We zoomed in further.
Sure enough, it was, and it had the name of the restaurant, printed on it.
So, we then found the telephone number for the restaurant, on the same street, as the antique shop, that housed the mandolin.

The next part I left up to Robin.
He called the number.
Now Robin does speak a little Italian, enough to get by on holiday, or to buy basic provisions.
However, this conversation was way beyond your average Italian phrase book:

"Hello, I'm calling from England. Do you know if there is an antique shop on your road with a mandolin in the window?"
Ermm, we didn't really get very far, although they did exchange email addresses, as one of the employees, due in later in that day, spoke a little English.

Next step, call the tourist board.
Here we had a little more luck.
We were able to make ourselves understood, and even sent the picture of the shop that we had been studying so closely, to help them identify the area.
We also told them that if they did find this place, to tell the man that Robin would be back in Sorrento on June 21st, and ask him to keep the mandolin for him.

For a few days there was no further news, and we beginning to think that the poor people of Sorrento had humoured us, then gone away thinking the English are crazy.
But then a message.
The man at the tourist board had located the shop, and told the owner when Robin would be in. He also said that another local man had been in saying the same thing! (Obviously the chap at the restaurant had been as good as his word.)

By now we were beginning to feel hopeful.
But also, concerned the the antique dealer would start thinking that there seemed to be a lot of interest in this instrument, and maybe he should put the price up. Inadvertently we may have created a demand.

So, it has been with increasing anxiety that Robin arrived in Naples on Saturday. He got up early and went ashore.
He then caught the first ferry around the coast to Sorrento, which is a journey of 40 minutes.
As he retraced his steps through the lovely streets he was still not quite sure whether the instrument would still be there.

He found the shop.
No mandolin in the window.
He went inside and introduced himself.
The owner beamed, opened a drawer, and pulled out the beautiful instrument, still in its original case.
But he still had to examine it closely for any damage, warped neck, that sort of thing.
As he played it, two passing tourists came in the shop and said they had been drawn in to see where the lovely sound was coming from. They also added that he would never regret buying it.
Inspection complete, Robin was very pleased to find that it was in near perfect condition.
Made in 1888 and kept in the same family for generations.
Until now.
The deal was done and a very happy Robin left the shop.

As he had a couple of hours to wait for his return trip to Naples, he found a quiet park, sat on a bench, and played away.
I suspect I shall be hearing a lot more of the mandolin on his return home.
Once back on board the QM2, he was able to send me a photograph.
As you can see it is a very ornate instrument:

Although I don't as yet have one of the case, this is its protective cloth:

So now I have to wait a few more days until I see it for myself.
But my faith in human nature has been restored.
The fact that 3 complete strangers were prepared to put themselves out for a rather odd request, is a wonderful thing.

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