Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday Present

The Ossie, not only a terrific musician, but a talented illustrator, gave me this painting for my birthday. It is of one of her kitchen cabinets, she loves this traditional German ceramic style, the cups are around 100 years old but still in daily use. We usually drink our morning tea out of the cups on the lower left...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

That Cruel, Cruel American Administration

This turned up on the BBC Website this morning:
The US has banned exports of iPods, fine wines and fast cars to North Korea
as part of the punishment for the country's nuclear bomb test last year.

Now this is sure to have Kim Jong-Il shaking in his boots. Especially since his fav tipple (cognac) comes from France and the iPods are all made just down the road in China. And if you want to drive fast in North Korea, you certainly don't want to do it in one of those overweight Detroit vehicles.


Yeah, today we celebrate that annual reminder of encroaching mortality...
I am honored to share a birthday with Mozart and Lord Byron, only it is a sobering thought that at my age, they had been dead for decades but despite that had produced quantities of timeless masterpieces.
Today promises to be unboring though: four hours of rehearsal this morning, listening to a competition where a student of mine is playing this afternoon, and performance at the Opera this evening.
Afterwards, the Ossie has promised to make me a nice meal. I will need it.
Nearly resisted the temptation to buy myself a birthday present... had an hour free yesterday and bought a new coat (lovely black wool and goretex, half price!), a new pair of pjs (desperately needed), and a phono preamp (so I can listen to my record collection again). Happy Birthday me!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Any Answers?

Blogger and the Opera browser don't seem to get along very well. I think I will have to use Internet Explorer to create entries, otherwise the formating doesn't work. Anyone else have this problem? (Firefox is also unreliable for this).


A pamphlet was shoved under my door: "Citizens of Cologne! How we are going to prevent the building of a huge new Mosque in the center of our City!"
There are plans to erect a huge central Mosque for Cologne's Turkish population, actually quite a sensible idea given the numbers that live in the Ehrenfeld district. But (understandably) there is local resistance... I think not on religious or racial grounds, but because this would make the district more or less offically Turkish, and thus drive down local property values.
The pamphlet goes on to say: Es drohen gravierende Lärmbelästigungen, Massenaufmärsche, Parkplatzprobleme und lautstarke, sich ständig wiederholende orientalische Lautsprecherdurchsagen sowie eine Menge sozialer Sprengstoff. (There will be unbearable noise, mass marches, a paucity of parking spaces, and extremely loud Oriental loudspeaker announcements, repeated over and over, as well as a whole range of potiential social problems).
One of the things I like about Cologne is that there is such a mixture of cultures here-- and unlike other multicultural European cities, there is very little ghettoisation. My neighborhood is about 2/3 German, the other third being mostly Turkish and Italian, with a sizeable Russian component (the American population here is less than negligible, myself included).
I can understand the concerns of the local people, but of course as an Ausländer myself, I don't want to get involved in racial stereotyping. My concerns are not over the number of foreigners in the city, more that I resent that smoking is still allowed in our tiny cafeteria in the opera. And because it is a municipal building, any municipal employee has the right to eat (and drink) there, so we are a welcome retreat for not only the visiting opera stars, but for the local firemen, meter maids, and sanitation engineers. I almost always refuse to go into the cafeteria, so me and many of my like-minded colleagues are reduced to standing in the hallway during the rehearsal and performance breaks, where (ironically) our only table is the top of the cigarette machine...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Berlin, part 1

We went to pick up Cousin Elias at his house in the Prenzlauer district of Berlin. We had been told to advise him in advance of our coming, that we should "tell him to hang the bell out". He lives in one of the numerous "Besetzte Häuser" (illegally occupied houses) in Berlin. When we pulled up, I rang his bell, which was a length of string coming down from his window. The string was attached Rube Goldberg fashion to a rocking chair in his room, on the chair an empty beer bottle. A primitive but effective doorbell.

He sleeps on these boards, his "bedroom" accessible via an ancient ladder.

He is in Berlin studying electrical engineering. I didn't see any books in the room, which is anyhow very difficult to navigate due to myriad found objects.
Electricity is available in his room (but not in most rooms in the house) but I was afraid to ask him where it was coming from. Heating is effected with a tiny coal burning oven in the corner.
He lives here to save money, but also by choice... his parents are both working professionals, and the tuition fees in German universities is roughly$700 per year.
I asked him how he came to be accepted into the house (it has 50 occupants, who share a single kitchen). He said he had to be recommended by a resident, and then had to cook a meal for the entire community; this was a kind of entrance exam. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Storm in Germany

In America, it would be called a hurricane.. but here, there are no hurricanes, so it is just a storm.
I managed to get to work-- we did a performance of "Barber of Seville" by Rossini; the show went very well but 3 orchestra members didn't make it and about half of the audience was also missing because of the weather. The German train system had shut down completely, something I have not experienced before. (Fortunately, the trams were still running-- I didn't have the nerve to ride my bicyle, which I usually do).

Batten down the hatches

There is supposed to be a huge wind and rain storm coming today and tonight, I need to go out and check what could blow down or off my roof terrace before it really revs up (my terrace is 5 floors up and not terribly well secured). It is already raining and blowing pretty fiercely, even though it is still early in the morning and the brunt of the storm is expecting in about 12 hours.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More trivial pursuits...

Am trying to get around the Google Sketchup program (enables you to make 3-D models)-- it is a very capable thing but the interface is murder if you are trying to do things accurately.
Anyhow, I spent far too much time today between rehearsals and practicing starting to make a model of the apart-ment. Have got one floor more or less sketched out, only 2 to go. I won't try (yet) to put in the floors beneath us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


After we both received backgammon sets for Christmas (from each other), the Ossie and I have now started to play regularly. Neither of us had played before, so we are learning by doing. It is mildly addictive, and great for playing before going to sleep, there is something very relaxing about it. It is,of course, a dice game, and so a little bit mindless, but not so mindless that you feel guilty about playing .
I would like to recommend it to my boys as an alternative to clubbing but they are apparently more interested in sex. Silly, really.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I have an ongoing hobby: Photography. Being around musicians so much, I end up taking pictures of a lot of musicians. Sometimes they get married, and it happens that I am there to take- yes, pictures!

A strange situation cropped up yesterday: my orchestra were doing the dress rehearsal for a concert, I was not actually playing (the orchestra is very big, and we never all play at the same time), but I wanted to hear the rehearsal in our magnificent hall, the Philharmonie in Cologne.
After the rehearsal finished, instead of rushing off home like musicians always do, there was a flurry of activity on the stage, and I found myself witnessing a wedding. Our favorite recording engineer, Jens, had bent a lot of rigid German rules and was allowed to get married on the stage. And the orchestra provided the background music. Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, the prelude to the third act of Lohengrin plus the wedding music from Lohengrin were done, conducted by our music director, Markus Stenz.

I happened to have my camera with me (actually, I nearly always have a camera handy) and took some pictures from the stage. The bride (blushing) was a cute blond from Latvia, but I didn't know her.

One of the office managers from the Philharmonie came up to me, quite grim, and said, "You know, those pictures cannot be published!" which surprised me, because everyone knows I take pictures around here.

Jens was very grateful that I had been there to take pictures, but when I asked if he wanted me to put some on the internet so he could share them with friends and relatives, he became quite agitated and said, "Oh no, my wife is a kind of big celebrity in latvia and the press there are desperate to have pictures."

I was too embarrassed to ask why she was famous (or even what her name is), but I overheard someone else saying that she played the organ. And thanks god for Google, by putting together organ and Latvia, i could work it out.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What I did get done...

Long talk with my mother (via Skype... thank god for new technology), frustrating because she couldn't work out where to plug her headphones in the laptop and so I had to talk through the echo of my own voice. I want her to go see a show by Tom Brosseau, who is a young folksinger building up quite a career. He has a lovely voice, and more to the point, he is a former student of my mother's, and he told her he would never be where he is now without her help while he was in school.
Mailed package to Barcelona.
Practiced for some concerts.
Sent my favorite laptop to Berlin. This was agony, I really like the machine, but L. needs it more than I do.
Grocery shopping, load of laundry, Christmas tree moved onto the roof garden, pine needles between the living room and the roof garden hoovered up.
Organized accomodation for 6 people in Croatia in July.
Took pictures of some of my clothes (don't ask).
Thought hard about doing my taxes.
Cleaned out my fridge.
Spent a lot of time on the phone: with lawyers and so on about a flat I am buying... I have signed the purchase contract, but there is an unusual situation with the house: the apartment block is a condominium, but the association doesn't own the land it stands on, only leasing it. But the landowners insist on looking at every potential apartment owner and have veto rights. This would be complicated enough, but in addition, the land is owned by an association of descendants of the original farmer who bought the property, and the association (in order to avoid taxes) are based in Cypress. Now we are trying to figure out whether they are obliged to fly to Germany to sign the permission papers, or what?? Anyhow it is going to delay the procedure.
Then a long talk with L in Berlin, who is frustrated because he is Music Director of the musical, and is writing some of the songs, rehearsing the singers and choir and the band, doing the arrangments, etc etc etc, but the actual nominal composer is sitting in Vienna and refusing to let L change the songs to suit the singers and players that he has to work with. Things are at an impasse, the singers are all for his changes but the composer (probably trying to protect his royalty payments) is blocking all the variants, but is too lazy to go to Berlin to see the problems for himself.

Anyhow: I got most of the things done that I wanted to, except for the taxes, which was the most important. Typical typical.

What I intend to Accomplish today

Trying a new method: if I publicly announce what I hope to get done, maybe I will actually do most of it!
I tend to get so easily distracted... I generally get a lot done in a day, but it is often not the things that really need doing. 
Today I hope to:
(Check this space tomorrow to see if anything actually was achieved)


Happy Birthday CC

Cordelia turns 9 today, I will call her when she gets home from school.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Back to the Grind

Doing rehearsals for a new production of "Barber of Seville"... nice light "feel-good" music, the singers not all great though. The leading soprano has a heavy vibrato that ruins the belcanto-- she tends to hit a note and then vibrate about a fourth lower. Besides, she has appalling rhythm.
This morning I will be rehearsing with the stage for the first time, am curious to see what the production looks like. 

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years and Resolutions

New Year’s came as it always does in Cologne: with about an hour of unbroken fireworks. The weather was fairly kind, it is unseasonably warm and the predicted rainstorm kindly held off until the middle of the night. The above video is not very professional, but it gives some idea of the view from my apartment. I had 6 guests, a decent number, and we had no embarassing pauses in the conversation. The Ossie had a performance so she didn’t get here until around 11, but by the time she did arrive we had all the food out and a nice fire in the fireplace. We managed to get through a bottle of wine per person, about normal here. The menu was tomato soup and turkish bread and chips and cheese and sausages and many desserts.
It is that time of year again: the New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions made with solemn ceremony, usually broken with only the slightest pang of regret within days or even hours. We usually make some feeble promise to limit the self-indulgences, to be good and patient with those we are tempted to not be good and patient with, to focus more on the things we want to be remembered for.
I am going to try this year to try to keep the promises I make to people, which necessarily involves perhaps making fewer promisesPosted by Picasa

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