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The days go by, but time seems to stand still for the
hostages and the terrorists.
This South American country is blanketed by a garua, or
dense fog, for several months each year. One morning, the terrorists
and the hostages find that fog has completely enveloped the vice
president’s mansion. When they look out the windows, they can see almost
nothing of the outside world. The combination of entrapment in the
house, necessary idleness, and dense fog affects people’s sense
of time. The narrator says, “The day no longer progressed in its
normal, linear fashion but instead every hour circled back to its beginning,
every moment was lived over and over again. Time, in the manner
they had all understood it, was over.” People feel as if they’re
waiting in a train station.
The hostages and the terrorists begin to enjoy some aspects
of their lives in the mansion. With Watanabe’s help, Hosokawa starts learning
Spanish. The terrorists continue to march around with their guns,
but the hostages recognize that most of the terrorists are children,
and act in a parental manner toward them. Iglesias, the vice president,
sees the badly worn boots of one of the youngest terrorists, Ishmael,
and tells him to replace them with a pair of tennis shoes from his
wife’s closet. The terrorists find a globe and ask the hostages
to show them where they are from. These terrorists, young and unworldly,
are impressed by the roomful of international visitors.
Most of the terrorists have come from poor rural or jungle
villages, and the opulence of the vice president’s house amazes
them. One day they find the television and stare at their reflections
in the screen. Some of them have seen broken televisions before,
but none of them have ever seen one that works. When Thibault, thinking
to amuse them, wanders into the room and turns on the television
with the remote control, the terrorists are so alarmed that they
release the safeties on their guns, and one of the terrorists slams
Thibault up against wall. When they realize that he simply turned
on the television, they put down their guns. Watching TV becomes
a consuming pastime of theirs.
During this time, the hostages discover that two of the
terrorists are girls. Beatriz and Carmen have concealed their gender
under army caps and fatigues, but once their secret comes out, the
hostages soften even more in their feelings for the terrorists.
In general, everyone feels affectionate. The vice president and
a compatriot, Oscar Mendoza, banter about their past love exploits
and their infatuation with Coss. Coss starts to have feelings for
Hosokawa, around whom she feels quiet and calm.
After about two weeks of captivity, Coss decides that
if she will be a hostage for an extended period of time, which appears
to be the case, she needs to start practicing her singing again.
Before she can begin, she needs a new accompanist. Watanabe and
Iglesias ask if anyone can play the piano. Finally, Tetsuya Kato,
an executive in Hosokawa’s company who is known as a good numbers
man, comes forward.
The narrator explains that in Japan, Kato always rose
early and practiced the piano for an hour before going to work.
He always kept his passion for the piano a secret. Now Kato sits
down and plays. Everyone in the room listens and is moved. “Encore,”
the priest calls out after Kato finishes his first piece. “Encore,”
Carmen, one of the two female terrorists, repeats. Kato looks at
Carmen when she says this, and as if in response to her request,
plays another piece, and then another. Carmen is moved. “No one
had ever played a piece of music for her before,” the narrator says.
At the end of the chapter, Kato and Coss agree that they will practice
together every day.
The fog that settles over the vice president’s mansion
separates the mansion physically and symbolically from the outside
world. Time stops marching forward and seems to stand still or even
circle back on itself, which deepens the impression that the people
in the mansion inhabit a separate world.
Patchett suggests that intense emotion does not exist
easily in settled, mild lives. It takes a strong character, perhaps
even an artistic genius like Roxanne Coss, to express intense emotion
publicly and in normal life. Most of the characters in Bel
Canto keep their passions hidden, or at least cordoned
off from the rest of their lives. For instance, in Japan Kato hid
his talent as a pianist because he considered it important to have
“another life, a secret life,” separate from his work. Only when
he is released from his normal life does he allow other people to
see his passion. The vice president’s mansion is like a protective
cocoon in which Kato can safely open his heart to others.
Even the protection of the mansion would not have made
Kato spontaneously reveal his talent. The particular request for
a pianist was needed. Without that request, the narrator says, Kato
probably never would have come forward. This suggests that the impulse toward
public artistic expression is fragile and easily lost.
Artistic impression is also a way to wordlessly express
feelings that are too deep or painful to talk about. When Kato plays
for the group in the mansion, he thinks of his wife and children
asleep in bed. As he plays, he expresses the “love and loneliness
that each of them felt, that no one had brought himself to speak
of.” Kato’s audience listen “with hunger” to the music.
Coss’s singing and Kato’s playing makes the already-softened terrorists
and hostages feel more strongly that they are living in a timeless,
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bel Canto!