VAs you may recall, around 8 am on January 12, 2007, the Washington Post launched a remarkable experiment and sent American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell in street clothes to the L’Enfant Plaza subway station in Washington.
Bell unpacked his 1713 Antonio Stradivarius violin, the famous Gibson ex Huberman he bought in 2001 for around $4 million. He started playing: Bach, Schubert, Massenet and Ponce. The question was: How many passers-by would stop, would recognize that a great master was playing in front of them, would recognize great art?
Bell played for 43 minutes, filmed by a hidden camera. At the “Washington Post” they later counted and came to the following conclusion: Of 1097 people who walked past Bell, seven stopped briefly to listen to him. A boy of about three stayed until his mother pulled him on, as did other children. When Bell put his Stradivarius back in the violin case after three quarters of an hour, he did so unnoticed.
I remembered this experiment, this story, some time ago after spending a few days in a hotel on the beach at Hossegor in south-west France.
You rarely sat alone on the terrace of the small hotel. Usually a young woman sat there, sometimes concentrated in front of her laptop, sometimes with a view of the sea, lost in thought. She was apparently a friend of one of the guys who ran the hotel, but she seemed a little out of place. She wasn’t lying on the beach in the sun, she didn’t jump into the sea, although the waves had been small and harmless for a few days. Nobody really paid attention to her.
Then a swell was announced, big waves were coming, and there was a recommendation on the resort’s website. It would be worth stopping by the beach early the next morning.
World-class sport is to be expected. One of the best surfers in the world will be taking to the big waves, Tokyo Olympics silver medalist, the fabulous South African Bianca Buitendag.
You’ll guess it was the young woman from the terrace, who hardly anyone had noticed. To my defence, and others, it was hard to recognize her as a famous surfer at the hotel. She didn’t have her toy, her surfboard, with her.
The next morning, as she surfed the big waves, she had a crowd, a lot more than Joshua Bell had in the subway station. Sport is easier to appreciate than art. Except maybe for three year olds.