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Vintage piano given Valentine's Day deadline

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The piano was delivered to its bluff-top perch under cover of fog nearly two weeks ago. It is scheduled to leave this coastal enclave in a burst of flames on Sunday.

In between the fog and the fire, musician and sculptor Mauro Ffortissimo has been treating his neighbors to an illicit outdoor concert series grandly dubbed Sunset Piano. Chopin, Debussy, a tango or two. The performances are timed to end the moment the sun sinks below the horizon.

He plays to cyclists and dog walkers, babies in strollers, his landlady in a folding chair, the charmed, the perplexed. Every night the battered baby grand has sounded just a little bit worse as the elements erode the aging, al fresco instrument. Every night, the audience has grown.

Ffortissimo (not his real name, but you probably figured that out already) had hoped to serenade the residents of Half Moon Bay for a month. But it didn't take long for reality to intrude on the 50-year-old artist's well-laid plans.

Two days after Ffortissimo and friends rolled the piano out to a scenic spit of city land, a code enforcement officer sent a warning via email. Someone had complained.

No permit, no piano.

The 90-year-old Estey "appears to be an unauthorized encroachment onto public property," wrote Lamonte Mack. If you can't prove the installation is authorized, he told Ffortissimo, "please remove the piano — and platform — within 10 (ten) days."

That made the deadline Valentine's Day, an occasion to celebrate love, if not misplaced musical instruments.

The artist legally known as Mauro Dinucci has taken the bad news in stride. Asked about the end of the piano during Tuesday night's crowded concert, he crowed: "Woo, hoo! Valentine's Day! Bring chocolate!" and promised that "before we burn this baby, we give it one last boat ride."

Thursday will be the piano's last scheduled bluff-side concert along the Coastside Trail at the end of Kelly Avenue. Friday, Ffortissimo said, he has been invited to play the instrument at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club.

Saturday he'll give a sunset performance on the water, a nod to the piano's earlier owners who once sent it from California to Panama and back by sea. Sunday he plans to set the piano ablaze in the flower-strewn field behind his studio.

"The idea of the burning," Ffortissimo said, "is a cremation, to liberate the piano from its physical form … I just hope it won't be a 'Spare the Air' day."

Not everyone is as happy as Ffortissimo about the piano's upcoming freedom.

Mayor Rick Kowalczyk, who has yet to hear the Sunset Piano himself, said he was trying to "see if I can't get something done in the short term to allow Mauro to stay." Kicking the Estey off of the bluff, he said, "feels a little bit like a child has a lemonade stand and the city shuts it down."

On Tuesday evening, more than 100 music lovers gathered round as the sun — and the temperature — dropped. Two women danced together on the grass. Wine was sipped and beer chugged. Children ate cold pizza. Shorebirds glided by.

Far away from Half Moon Bay, President Obama was preparing to give his State of the Union address. Christopher Dorner was thought to be shooting it out with police.

But here on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Susan Swanson of Redwood City poured white wine from a blue metal flask as Ffortissimo played Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor." She'd read about the piano performance in the local newspaper, she said, "and it's the kind of news I like to read — good news.

"This to me is everything," said the trying-to-retire office manager. "It's a perfect moment. Once in a lifetime maybe. It's so odd, isn't it?"

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