I’ve arrived in New York at the start of my ten-week US sabbatical, with my violin but without my beloved tortoiseshell-mounted Hill bow. On advice I decided it was too risky to bring it through customs. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) rules, tortoiseshell that can’t be proven to be antique – over 100 years old – can be confiscated and destroyed. Mine is by Barnes so is probably made in the 1920s. The tortoiseshell may be older than that, but without being able to find an expert willing to swear it, there was always the possibility that someone at customs might take exception – even with a certification, according to some stories. A few people told me that this is now a real problem for people travelling with bows and the application of the rules is patchy enough to make it all into a bit of a lottery.
After much hand-wringing and wondering whether to listen to those who said I should chance it, I decided to play safe and brought my spare carbon-fibre bow and a crooked one my brother lent me. I walked straight through customs without so much as a glance from the guy at the desk. I almost wanted to tell him, ‘Look, I don’t have any tortoiseshell! There are no dead reptiles about my person.’ Maybe I could have got away with bringing my bow after all, but the risk was too high. The very thought of some uniformed official destroying my Hill frog brings me out in a cold sweat. I’d be really interested to know what experiences other string players have had with tortoiseshell bows, though, not to mention ivory.
Anyway, I’m here now and looking forward to discovering more about America and the exciting string things that are happening here (and practising the violin, of course), so I’d be very happy to hear any suggestions.