Saturday, December 30, 2006
New Years Prep
Tomorrow I have guests coming for Sylvester, which is what they call New Years Eve here. It is a big deal, and fireworks are de rigeur for any self-respecting host. The fireworks go on sale in all the supermarkets from the 28th (they are only allowed to be sold on the few days between Xmas and new Years) and most years I buy a big packet of rockets (15 or 20 bottle rockets which is always more than enough).
This year, however, I have only bought one of these, which, when lit, looks like this.
On Thursday I had a big Schülervorspiel (student concert) here. Fortunately I have a big living room with a grand piano. it started off with my youngest student (the prodigal Mina, 8 years old), who played several pieces, including a duet with me and one with my daughter CC who is in town this week from Barcelona.
The concert then continued with older students, finishing with a terrific performance of the Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens by Nils-Arne Schneider, who continues to come to me for lessons although he is really finished and already plays in a professional orchestra in Essen.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The Christmas tree survived the candles. I was very nervous, watching the candles burn right down to the holders, but my hosts are very experienced. In Germany, Christmas presents are always opened on Christmas Eve. Now this has advantages and disadvantages: OK, so you get to rip open the packages 12 hours earlier, but by the time the presents are opened (nearly midnight), everyone is quite tired and the food and drink have perhaps taken their toll. Also, it is so dark, you cannot really see what you have gotten (OK, this may be an advantage too). This difficulty was compounded at my hosts' house by the fact that they have an ironclad tradition that no lighting is allowed except for the candles on the Christmas tree.
My hosts insisted that I was not to bring presents for them, but I did wrap up some things for them, things that I found around the house here that I thought they could appreciate more than I: mostly books. I have far far too many books here, including hundreds that the former owners of the house left when I bought the apartment. Some are quite old and rare, but I am not really a collector and don't really feel like trying to sell them. My kids are not bookies, so there is little point in saving them.
Then there was the embarassment when my Ossie opened her present from me, a fine Turkish backgammon board. Because: her present to m e was: a backgammon board.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Back to Work
It is Christmas Eve, and this habitual procrastinator, true to form, has yet to buy a single present.
Well, that is not true, I did get one for the Ossie, a nice Turkish backgammon set. It was very hard to find one that was not made of imitation wood with the playing board printed on nasty plastic foil. I finally convinced the elderly Turkish man in the 4th import-export shop I visited to sell me the one he had behind the counter (it may well have been his own personal one) by telling him that my girlfriend had an allergy to plastic.
Anyhow this board is the right size and all the decoration and board surface are real inlays. Now if I only knew how to play the stupid game!
Bought a Christmas tree, a small one with roots attached... if I am lucky I can get it to grow on my roof garden. Last time I tried it, it didn't work and died.
It will be the first Christmas without any of the kids at home. Kind of strange really. J is in America, L is between London and Spain, and CC will be with her mother and grandparents.
Must try to get to the shops at some point today (I have some students coming this afternoon) or there won't be anything to eat in the house until the middle of next week (the shops here close early this afternoon and don't reopen until the 27th).
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A Trip to Dresden
Having got fed up with the problems in my back and arm, I flew to Dresden to visit my friend Professor Doktor T, who is head of the neurology department of a big hospital there. Not to mention a fine pianist. Although under normal circumstances he wouldn't have touched a patient with my pathetic medical insurance policy, he assembled his whole team and we had a lovely time doing tests. (Lovely is of course a relative term...) Dr. T. put me up in his splendid villa overlooking the Elbe river, with a magnificent view of the newly rebuilt Dresden skyline. He and his girls in the hospital took turns prodding me and asking questions and sending horrible amounts of electric current through my arms, taking dozens of MRI scans of my spine, and testing my reflexes. Including tickle. The girl on the left is a mean tickler and I accused her loudly of having deeprooted sadistic tendencies. Anyhow we all laughed a lot. I felt horribly guilty because I am not really sick, just have some inconvience with a disk in my neck, and because T. is a friend of mine and boss of the place, I was given priority while I was there, it went so far as that some poor unfortunate Turkish man who had evidently been waiting for hours for a test, and had finally gotten into the examination room and was being hooked up, was summarily disconnected and sent into the hall again while me and the girls went in to do our thing.
Anyhow the tests were all negative for neurological damage, so we put it down to me riding my bike too fast to get to rehearsals. Afterwards, T. and I went out for a real bang up meal and drank far far too much wine.
Then we went into the city and met up with a friend who plays in the Staatskapelle Orchestra in Dresden and had a Glühwein in the Christmas Market.
Then I came home. Now I have to figure out how to explain why, if there is nothing wrong with me, I got off work all last week.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Thoughts in Winter
A nasty pinched nerve in my neck is keeping me from playing the violin this week, so I am stuck sitting around at home wondering what to do with my life. I cannot face going to the Weihnachtsmarkt, although it would be the logical thing to do as I have avoided going for years.
Alternatively I can post on blogs. I don't do this on a regular basis because I usually have too much else to do, but when you are bored it can be fun, if addictive.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The Most Perfect Piece of Music
To me there is only one "perfect" piece, and that is the Matthew Passion by Bach. The Bach just has dimensions that you can never get to the bottom of. It was my favorite already before I came to Europe,and now that I can read the texts and am able to appreciate even more the incredible interplay of text/music images I am even more in awe... I bought myself a copy of the Bach manuscript, it is wonderful to see his handwriting.
I don't know if you have heard the "matthew passion" but the opening chorus has this hypnotic bass line, at first you think it is unchanging but when you listen carefully it is ALWAYS changing, like watching a flowing river, the same but with infinite variety and deep sadness (the choir is singing, "Come and share our mourning" and the second choir is interjecting with "Who?... How? ...Why?") and then in the middle of it, the boys choir sings a hymn tune in counterpoint, their pure voices carry a simple tune, singing "O Lamm Gottes unschuldig": that breaks your heart every time.
I remember being knocked over by this even the first time I heard it with an amateur group in California, and I had no idea what the text was, but the music alone carried such depth of emotion that I didn't feel I needed to know the text. But knowing the meaning of the lyrics brings a whole nother dimension to the piece. One choir is grieving, the other is expressing disbelief and anger, and the children sing of hope.
Looking at the autograph score, yet another thing comes out-- there are no lyrics in the line for the children's choir; that is, the melody was so well known that the line itself carried the meaning (sort of like hearing the opening of the Beatles' "Yesterday" without a vocal line: the words come into your head automatically. And--get this!-- Bach writes the entire rest of the Passion in black ink, but the boys' line is in red. When I first saw that, I burst into tears spontaneously (much to the astonishment of the proper Germans who were travelling in the train with me at the time).
Thursday, December 07, 2006
A Most Embarassing Experience
In Germany, swimming pools will almost always have a sauna area attached; it is tradition to go swimming before having a suana and anyhow the swimming pools have discovered it to be a handy source of extra income. We paid at the entrance— the fees are charged for how long you want to be in for and whether or not you want to use the sauna rooms— and went through the turnstyle. (By the way, in Germany it is not usual to have a fitness studio attached to the sauna; this is an American custom, I think.) Then we went up to the changing room area.
I said, „ OK, I will change into my bathing suit and we will meet at the pool“ and she said, „Why? We will get changed together“ „what, you mean the changing rooms are communal?“ „Yes, of course, why not?“, she said.
And when I say communal, I mean it— rows of lockers and no chance of privacy. I am not morally offended by this, but still find it vaguely embarassing to peel off with a bunch of strangers standing around.
My Ossie is quite the other way about this, and will strip at the slightest provocation. Which she did, soon standing stark naked and impatient as I tried to find out how to work the locker system.
„And what do I do about my glasses?“ I asked her. I am quite helpless without my glasses, but on the other hand I felt that wearing nothing BUT glasses would stamp me as a pathetic voyeur. „Just leave them here, I will lead you around“, she said. Maybe there is a book on Swimming Pool Etiquette in Germany, but I have not read it.
Anyhow, clutching my towels and bathing suit, but naked, I followed her into the shower area, which WAS segregated. Seemed odd to see people going into the shower rooms naked but coming out with swimming suits on. But, evidently that is what you are supposed to do. (I noticed that many, but not all, of the people did have bathrobes on. Next time, I will take a bathrobe.)
We jumped into the swimming pool, which was very clean and well kept. And, fortunately, quite warm— I hate cold water. You can swim from the indoor pool through a kind of plastic door into the outside area, quite a delicious experience in December. It was a full moon, and despite it being December, it was not too cold. Well above freezing anyhow. Great, I thought, this is going well.
Then we swam back inside, and headed through the labyrinth to the sauna area. She said, „We will start with the Neck Sauna“. I had no idea what a Neck Sauna was, and still don’t know if that is the proper word for it. We stripped off our bathing suits and went into a little semicircular room with odd sort of alcove seats set in the walls. We sat on our towels on the seats, and a man came in and put large paper shawls over our heads, tearing holes to put our heads through, and clamping them against the sides of the alcove seats with wooden holders. So we looked like a semicircle of nuns in white habits, just heads poking through. The bath attendant said, “Twenty or thirty minutes is enough”and left. The seats were not especially comfortable: green ceramic seats, and the backrest was a kind of cage of wooden slats, and between the slats and the wall was a layer of hay or straw.
Soon there was a kind of gurgling sound with steamy interjections, and we got a blast of hay-smelling steam from the back of the seats. Very hot. I whimpered, “I am not a lobster!”, and my Ossie said, “Isn’t it wonderful? Just sit back and enjoy!” Do lobsters enjoy their time in the pot, I wondered idly. And this I was supposed to endure for a half an hour? Not wanting to offend anyone (no one else was complaining, and I didn’t want to appear a sissy) I went into my Zen mode and tried to concentrate on something else. She kept insisting that this was marvellous and didn’t it feel great, and I made sounds which wavered between noncommital and incredulous.
Somehow, and I still don’t know how, I managed to get through twenty minutes of this. Then we went towards the little pool that was part of the sauna complex. I started to put my swimming suit back on but got the most contemptuous glance from my Ossie that I realized I had committed yet another unforgiveable faux-pas.
A quartet of young people was coming towards us. I, not having my glasses, couldn’t tell what they looked like, but I tried to look nonchalant and experienced. Suddenly, one of the girls said, “Don’t we know each other?”
Now, one of the things that you do if you are nearsighted and don’t have your glasses on, is: you have to move in close. Which I did, and I am very nearsighted. I am trying to recognize this person, I could see already she was blond, but I had to get closer, to see she had nice firm breasts and so on, but then it clicked: she was a girl who had been in one of my classes about 4 years ago. “ I almost didn’t recognize you without your glasses”, she said.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
A Difficult Week
It is quite a bit better today, (I am back at the computer at least and did some teaching), so (just in case this is just a brief respite from the suffering) I will put these pictures up.
My youngest student, but incredibly talented: Mina has Serbian/Armenian parents and an aunt who plays in the Berlin Philharmonic. She studies violin with me but also plays a mean piano.
And a couple of pictures from the Cologne Weihnachtsmarkt, very commercial and crowded but the Belgian Waffles with whipped cream and cherries are to die for.