Thursday, January 31, 2008

Intentional Symbolism


focus ... 




During a break I mauled Richard Wagner, who sits legless and proud at the bottom of an extremely long, very European-aristocratic staircase at the rear of the Deutsche Oper rehearsal hall, next to the fire extinguisher. The forgotten quarry of German composers of ill repute! Where is Strauss? Pfizner! Buried beneath the Proberaum where against opera singers' better judgment Christopher Alden today refashioned the Aida Temple Scene (classic vessel for the the serious operatic onanist) into an American Evangelical revival (what?!). It's an exciting time to be hanging out and subbing in for the temple priestess who, fortunately for me, has a cold ...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Getting Propositioned by a 12-year-old Turkish Boy in the Subway is Definitely the Worst of It -- The Rest ist Besser

I try to seem intelligent with just my eyes, here, because the minute I open my mouth, I'm a disaster. The first time I transacted money in public, I was buying a hairclip for $5.95, and I was probably, oh, seven years old. Watching the exchange of money before, I had noticed that there was money given for an item, but then that there was also money GIVEN BACK (strangely enough). I concluded that a buyer intentionally gave more money than necessary (out of generosity?) and that the cashier, determining that the buyer had given too much, then demonstrated her probity by offering back the correct change. GOD WILL THESE PEOPLE NEXT TO ME NOT MAKE OUT SO DEMONSTRATIVELY? WHAT IS WITH EUROPEANS?! For the hairclip, I turned over about $6.06. It seemed about right. I expected to receive 11 cents in return. But the cashier simply showed me how to count out $5.95, and I was humiliated.

More or less the same thing happens to me every time I buy coffee here, which is super good. I like "milk coffee" which is a latte, essentially. But in order to buy coffee, you need to know what size you want (there's a German word for the size I want but I don't know it yet) and whether you want flavor (this word I know--nein) and whether you want sugar, or a hat for your coffee cup (more German) and you have to know what all the gestures mean (do you want a little hat is a kind of cupped hand gesture with an inquiring facial nod). And then of course there's figuring out what a 2-Euro coin looks like. Plenty of opportunity to practice! High marks for Berlin coffee.


I linger over every interaction here, even like buying coffee in the morning. I'm looking for more meaning in these stupid things than I can possibly expect of people. But then, to me, anyone here has the possibility to be somebody, because as yet, nobody is somebody. A small animal in a children's book my mom used to read me loses himself in the woods and to each of the animals he then meets in the book (a deer, a rabbit) he asks with increasing desperation, "Are you my Mother?" I feel like this animal. But then, if anything, I am seeking solitude as well as communication. Work at the opera house (which isn't really work: more like hanging out and watching opera!) has begun and is more or less all the day long (I got off tonight at 8p) with lots of people all over the place (speaking German!)

Did I mention Christopher Alden? Dear Christopher! To be an opera director (the kind I mean is not the kind I want to become, not out of disrespect but only out of artistic preference) you must have a weakness for opera like some other people have for carrot cake. You must go weak in the knees when you hear your favorite melodies, be overwhelmed with excitement, unable to contain yourself from inhabiting the characters that appear onstage, regardless of gender, and be unaware that you are singing along with them at top volume in no great operatic voice. You must be unmanned by opera. Christopher is no end of energy for this sport. Even during totally tedious crowd scenes--here we come to today--where you rehearse the chorus four times through and four times through at least half the cast is looking at their asses. Christopher can be sharp, but he is never exhausted.

To qualify what I mean by the "kind I want to become," my idea of opera (and this is for all the people who have seen me walk out of operas at intermission and have concluded I secretly HATE opera), I wanna do opera small. Smaller casts, smaller places, shorter works. No touring. No big opera houses. No 200-year-old heavyweight works. Well, maybe one or two. Nick, if you're reading this, I was thinking today we should do L'Enfant et les Sortileges. It'd be off the charts. What do you think?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Computer was Invaded by Germans

You can imagine my surprise. I go to "Sign In" to my account in the blogosphere (am I using that word correctly?) and my computer -- my very own -- asked me instead to ANMELDEN. Ha! No, I don't want to Anmelden, thank you (what is going on, here, people!?)

Ah, yes. I'm in Germany, where the German never stops, and it's exactly like the feeling you have when you start a foreign film on the DVD player at home and lose the first scene entirely fiddling with the remote to get the subtitles to come on. But permanently. I wish to God I had thought to buy some kind of guide book, city map, phrase book before leaving Chicago. What am I gonna eat when my gum runs out? Oh, Lord, the things you never knew you loved: my taxi raced by a Dunkin' Donuts yesterday and my heart leapt out of my chest, slamming into the taxi window pane. D 'n' D! Starbucks? Is that a Starbucks?!

A few good things:

1. Ratatouille is viewable up to three times through. I watched it on the plane (three times).
2. Brussels is gorgeous in the dark (although leaving America at 3pm on Thursday was like being shot out of a canon into space. The daylight fades rapido.)
3. People here seem to think I'm Swedish.
4. Berlin weather is foul as expected but it's in the forties. Chicago: 0; Berlin: 1.

A few bad things:

1. Women in Germany leave the seat up on the toilet, or at least that's how it's done at the opera house; I'm getting the hang of this.
2. Germans will cut you off in line quicker than a cat fart. (Or, something to that effect: my grandma pulls out comments like this all the time and when I look at her in fear she says, "what?! You don't know that expression?")
3. I'm insane with loneliness. It's to be expected.

By the way, keep the "I have a friend in Germany, his/her number is" emails coming. Much appreciated. Love. Much love.

Monday, January 21, 2008

R. Goode & The Man Who Sent Self-Awareness to the Dogs

You've at least heard of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, the Oliver Sacks novel where you get to read about all the strange and wondrous people Sacks worked with as a neurologist. The man who did mistake his wife for a hat (made annoyingly into an opera by Michael Nyman in 1986) had something called visual agnosia. Oh, Oliver, how I wish you were with me on January 20, 2008. I made the acquaintance of a man in need of a diagnosis, sitting Center Right, Row F, Seat 122 at Orchestra Hall. Even with my lack of neurological training I believe I correctly identify in him the rare, not-quite-human condition called, I-React-Strongly-And-Loudly-To-Absolutely-Anything-Just-Try-Me. 

The galleries at Orchestra Hall are, it's probably fair to say, a place where you need to expect the unexpected. Children bark like dogs, and you--you're hovering in your seat 3 miles off the ground. Strange things begin to happen. Below me, Richard Goode walks onstage looking like William Pitt the Younger about to deliver a speech on parliamentary reform--is that a powdered wig?

When the Hall lights dimmed to alert the gallery tenants that the show was starting, the seat on my left remained unoccupied. Down the aisle to my right, however, a new spectator had just come into view, straining to see where might his seat be. There were open chairs plainly available at the far right end of my aisle, but he would not be happy there. Ah, no, only the chair to my left would do. Clearly overcome by a journey that drew him past many knees, my new neighbor sat heavily in the seat to my left, declaring at top volume, "hm-mm-mm!" Then, turning to the stage, He with heavy disapproval muttered, "mm-gmm!" For the next hour, this involuntary audio accompanied every aspect of poor Mr. Goode's performance. 

Goode's Bach, no doubt, only revealed the depth of his musical ignorance: "Mn-ruhm!" (Puh-lease!) Goode paused too long turning a page: "mm-nm-ay-rrggmm?" (Can he really be using a score?!) Goode paused too long between movements of the Beethoven: "MM-mmmk!" (What can he be thinking?!) Of what use is plain, good English when cave-speak will do as well?

Needless to say, it was a short concert for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

To You My Friend

Thursday is the leaving day.  As yet no news to report (on how I mix up the German word for PLEASE with the word for an unspeakable act, and confusion ensues, etc.). Coming soon.

Till then, 

1. Check out an article written by an extremely sweet guest at the most recent salon, a reporter for the University of Chicago magazine:

2. Read my Disclaimer:

Gentle reader, I never wanted to be a blogger. I seek, however, to avoid the identification, MASS EMAILER, a loathsome person who writes dissertation chapter-length emails and--by including you on their loathsome list--expects that you will be amused by their detailed nonadventures. My mother, father and I used to note that in films there is never any going to the bathroom, any shopping for extension cords, never any toenail cutting, no problems with the garbage disposal that require a plumber who doesn't speak English, and so on. Why? Films thoughtfully veil from us from ordinary boringness. The MASS EMAILER does the opposite, exposing you to the by no means necessary evils of his daily grind. Tender reader, I promise to shield you from the drudge of the mass email. While in Berlin, this DIARY will contain updates on what's going on in my life and head and you may read however often or seldom as suits you, starting now. (For those in my music department, by blog I do mean FIELD NOTES.) 

3. A dedication to going away:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.