Sunday, June 29, 2008


In New York there is the most extraordinary tolerance for extreme lifestyles, which exist on top of each other, in plain view in the streets.

But there is a strict and unyielding class structure, immediately apparent. The rich dress one way, the poor another, the middle class another.  The younger generation tend to wear their shirttails out, and the branding on the tshirts signals their financial status.  The middle class strivers tuck the shirts in, again here it is easy to spot the financial level. The rich tend toward clothes with obviously ironed creases and looks of infinite disdain.

I cannot afford the clothes that they wear but I am working on the disdainful demeanor.

So far with little success.

(the picture by the way doesn't come from New York, but from a smallish city in Germany, but it was taken last week during rehearsals for the New York project so I feel entitled to put it in here.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Leaving the plane: the humid heat rushes at you like a Turkish bath. Inside the airport terminal the smell is identifiably American Institution, a mix of metallic and permanent air conditioning.
The passport people are scary. Intimidating from the first contact, they try to provoke. Not a pleasant experience. Necessary? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly not invariably necessary. I explain to the musicians I am travelling with (many of whom are arriving here for the first time) that these guys are trained to do this, and that the average American is friendly and trusting. Like me.
The hotel is a Holiday Inn, verging on seedy. We are a big group (50) and they haven't prepared the roomkeys. Jetlagged and exhausted, we huddle around the reception counter. There is a leak in the ceiling and some of us get damp.
I am happy to report though that the room itself is perfectly adequate, albeit with a rattling noisy airconditioner. (The Ossie, who will arrive later this evening, will hate that.)
I walk down the street an savor the unique experience that this city always provides. Beside me, on the street, a whump and metallic crunch and the unmistakeable sound of a taillight being pulverised. The drivers involved honk furiously at each other and scream invectives in some unidentifiable languages. No one bothers to look. One of the drivers races away, hurling insults. The other (a taxi) curses and then drives off as well. In Germany this would have drawn a crowd and involved several police cars within 2 minutes, here (apparently) it is normal.
I go into a deli, order a tuna sandwich. It is made with virtuoso speed in front of me, and sliced with surgical precision.
The best tuna sandwich I have had in my whole life.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Soccer Mania

I am not a sports fanatic. Anything but. My idea of extreme sports is fifteen minutes of Frisbee in the park.

Living in America, I never watched sporting events. But I love the national soccer championships that come up every 2 years. Soccer is a much better sport than American football-- you can actually see who is playing and the players don't spend most of their time holding their crotches. The last World Championship games were in Germany (including some games in Cologne); this year the European championships are in Austria.

Tonight is a big one for Germany: they are playing Turkey. Germany should win it, but you never know. Anyhow there is great excitement and anticipation, but everyone is also slightly worried that there could be post-game violence (if, for example, there are some disputed fouls or goals), so most of the timid souls among us are going to watch at home. Like me.

I am going to watch with my lodger Max and some of his friends, and my Ossie and some colleagues from the orchestra, and maybe my cute Turkish pianist.

Who am I rooting for? Well, neither one is my favorite because I prefer a kind of elegant or stylish playing style and both of these teams are more grim power types. I am for Germany because I live here and for Turkey because they are the underdogs and are considered second-class citizens here.

Just hope it is a good game.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Vacation!! kind of...

Last night was the last day of a dreadfully stressy week. I don't know how I survived it. I don't even know if I have survived it.

It should have been an easy week, the last few opera performances before our season ends tomorrow. The plan was, a week off here to recuperate and do some long-outstanding home repair assignments, then off to an idyllic Bergpension in the Austrian Alps, just underneath the Grossglockner Glacier. 

Alas, greed and curiosity have changed that.

Got a call from an orchestra near here, asking if I would be free to do some rehearsals and performances. No, I said, I am on vacation. The manager said, Wait, we are doing an opera by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, a fairly obscure German composer. (He didn't know it, but I happen to be a big fan of Zimmermann's works). Which one, I asked. Die Soldaten, he said.

Now I have always been curious about this piece, which was composed around 1964 and labelled unplayable, unproduceable, unsingable, and hell to listen to. But it was written about a mile from my apartment, and I have had a moderate success playing other pieces by him.

I couldn't imagine, though, the smallish orchestra in B playing this piece-- first, they never play opera, only concerts, and second, it requires a truly monstrous number of players and singers, more than a dozen percussionists, piano, harpsichord, 2 harps, 2 organs, jazz band. And the piece is physically, technically, musically, mentally quite impossible. The manager admitted that it had taken the orchestra about a year to learn it. (Remember that a normal symphony concert is generally rehearsed and performed in a week). 

They gave me 2 days to look at it.

But I am doing it, because I suspect it is a masterpiece, and:

We are doing it for 2 weeks in New York City!!

So far it is ruining my health and my love life. I have been running back and forth on the train to B for rehearsals every day (it is about 70 miles away) and having to race back here for evening performances. My dream of having mountain expeditions will have to be put off for another year (because I have to go directly from New York to my teaching in Croatia).

The next lot of rehearsals will be in New York, and I have 5 days to try to sort things out before I fly.

But I couldn't say no. We have a nice hotel in Manhattan and a whole lot of time off while we are there. 

Life is full of surprises.

Key Wars

The war of the Key Service Armies is ruining our front door. Weekly (more or less) furtive figures slink from door to door and paste their little ads on the doorframe, but first they scratch out the names and telephone numbers on the 20 other little ads for emergency locksmiths. 

This has left our front door littered with scratch marks and vestigal stickers. I am thinking idly of calling all the numbers on the list and telling them that their rivals have just defaced their pristine sticky. 

Let them kill each other.


Monday, June 16, 2008


Do you listen to the BBC Radio 4? I have been listening for, well, about 30 years I suppose, and I love it.

But one thing always irritated me: the coverage of Cricket. Interminable, tedious, arcane, waffling, pretentious, and --even after 30 years-- absolute gibberish for me. 

I never bothered to learn what the game was about, or even vaguely what the point is in the game. I only knew that one game could last days and days on end, and was (even for the live commentators) so inutterably tedious that most of the commentary had almost nothing to do with the actual actions on the field (I mean pitch) but were stream-of-consciousness ramblings by some self-satisfied commentator with an irritatingly plummy voice and an English accent dating from around 1935.

But, astonishingly, I continue to keep listening (sometimes for as much as a half an hour) even though the descriptions have no meaning for me whatsoever. Wickets, overs, century, 190 not out, ... all these terms have not been sorted out in my head. 

And now of course I am too proud to read up on the subject, and even though my ex-brother-in-law is an avid (the English would of course say a keen) cricketer, I refuse to ask anyone to explain the sport to me. 

A jolly good waste of an airwave, I say.

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