Bells and Bulbs



PRICE $278,000 in 1998

SQUARE FEET 4,200 [1905 two-family house]

OCCUPANTS Natalia Paruz [musical-saw player and bell ringer]; Scott Munson [composer]

Your neighborhood stores have gallon bottles of Blast Punch and bags of Sky-Bounce Balls. What’s behind me? It moved! [Natalia] It’s a cat. We have five. We bought our house in ’98. Yes, it was a huge decision. We were newcomers. We checked out a book from the library. We read that we had to do a marble test on the floors. If the marble stays, the house is OK. With all the houses, we had a marble. We wanted to buy a one-family house. Everyone said that the price difference was negligible and you can rent out the top. We didn’t want to be landlords. But we are.

There are 700 bells in this room The saw is my major instrument. My minor is bells. I ring English handbells at a church here in Astoria. I am a soloist. I also ring cowbells. But they’re in the basement.

Are the saw and the bell an Israeli thing? You grew up there. No. I used to be a dancer. I came here when I was 15 to be a trainee with the Martha Graham troupe. I was hit by a taxicab and I suffered permanent injury to my spine. To cheer me up, my parents took me on a trip to Austria because The Sound of Music was my favorite movie. As a kid, I watched it a million times. They brought me to places where the movie was shot. I went to see a show for tourists. A guy was playing a saw. It’s the only instrument that when you play it, the entire instrument moves.

Almost human. It sounds like a woman. I wanted the guy to give me lessons. He said, No. You have to learn yourself. I got a saw from my landlady. At the time I was living in Astoria, not here. The saw was really rusty. The bells? The bells—OK. [She takes a breath.] Same trip to Austria, I heard the cows outside the car, bells around their necks. In the old days, the bells deterred predators—wolves, foxes. Scott? I’ve known him forever. We met at the Lincoln Center library. [Scott] I used to work there. [Natalia] I’d come to check out the music. I tried to play “Happy Birthday” for him with the bells. [She shows some of the bells, which are shaped like apples, windmills, and women in ballgowns.] See, the clappers, they’re shaped like feet. [We look at pictures of her family in Israel under the glass on the desk.] [Scott] Her mother was a concert pianist. I’m from Litchfield, Connecticut.

All those big white homes. I’m not from one of those. [Natalia] Our house only had two owners before. The neighborhood was Irish.

Let’s go to your garden now and down the path. We got tomatoes here. Beets, radishes, turnips, and kohlrabies. [Scott] The bulb grows above the ground.

Gardens are always so metaphoric. [Natalia] See that contraption over there? The cucumbers will climb up on the legs of this [wood-frame] contraption and the vines will stretch along the top. This is the red lettuce, the green, the chards, and mustard. Over here there was a living hedge with roses of Sharon. But I knew that it could be grown to be a tree. I trained them to stop thinking they were a bush and to realize that they can be a tree. Look at them now. They’re 12 feet tall. Here we have a peach tree grafted especially for small spaces. One branch gives peaches and the other is supposed to give plums though it looks like a peach. [Scott] We call it a pleach. [Natalia] Then we have lavender. This lemon balm—rub it and smell your fingers. Over there, we have regular mint. Israeli mint is milder. [Scott] The leaves are softer. [Natalia] Of course there are bells hanging. We even have a squirrel. [Scott] One year we had a raccoon. [Natalia] A pheasant. [Scott] We had a pheasant. [Natalia] There’s basil over there, I forgot to mention. It’s not important.