Monthly Archives: September 2003

Catching up Sunday was a full day as has been M…

Catching up

Sunday was a full day as has been Monday. As a result, I’ve fallen behind reporting my activities because I must share time with Paul on his computer, and since both of us have a lot of activities in our daily routine that involve using it, something has to give. Tonight Paul has gone to another event that he must cover this evening (Monday night — remember Berlin is 6 hours ahead of East Coast time in the U.S.), so while he’s away I’m trying to do some catching up with this weblog.

Sunday morning he and I had breakfast at The Einstein Cafe, an Austrian restaurant, where I had an omelette with what the Germans calls “earth apples” or potatoes as we Americans know them. I have just posted some new pictures at my Pbase gallery and these shots (21807040, 21807041, and 21807042) in particular show the restaurant and us there. Notice in this shot (21807041) that Paul’s Dachshund, Maxe, accompanied us to the restaurant, a common practice in this dog-friendly country.

Up until we left the restaurant, our morning was relatively normal, but getting home was no simple matter. Sunday, as it turned out, was the day for the annual Berlin marathon, so the city was blocked off from one end to the other in a way Paul hadn’t anticipated. The 26 mile course formed a circle around the city and we were, unfortunately, within that circle, hoping to get outside of it to get to where the apartment was located. What should have been a drive of only a few minutes took nearly an hour as we encountered blockades at almost every turn. I held my hands over my ears, kiddies, to make sure they weren’t burned by the language that emerged from my companion due to his frustration. But eventually, we got home.

On Sunday night we completed my Blitzkrieg of Culture by attending “Der Rosenkavalier,” again at the Deutsche Staatoper. This one cost me a much more reasonable entrance fee of 12 Euros. This picture, and several that follow, were taken inside the opera house in a hurry without flash. They aren’t the best in the world, but they’ll give the interested an idea what the facility looked like.

Today (Monday) I took what Paul calls a “rubber necking” tour, the City Circle Tour, for 18 Euros. The bus arrives at each of the 14 stopping points along its route every 15 minutes. You can get off and on as much as you like, to take pictures, shop, eat, etc., from 10 AM until 6 PM. If I can find the time, I may make this trip again and this time do more getting off and taking pictures than I did on this first trip. This one served as an orientation tour, giving me a better idea of which sites I want to stop and photograph.

Tomorrow Paul and I are taking a car trip to Quedlinburg, a 1000 year old town about 130 KM from Berlin for the purpose of taking pictures and seeing the other side (meaning “Old Germany”) of this country, and on Wednesday, we’re off to Usedom (pronounced ooh-za-dohm) which is an island in the Baltic Sea off Germany’s Northern shore for a concert that Paul must cover. Therefore, I won’t be posting much, if anything, for the next couple of days. I do hope to get some interesting pictures, however. Perhaps, I’ll be able to post something on Friday, if not before.

Turandot On Saturday, the 27th, Paul and I atte…

Turandot

On Saturday, the 27th, Paul and I attended the German Staatsoper premiere of Turandot, under the baton of Kent Nagano, a much sought-after ticket in the city that night. In fact, in order for me to be able to accompany Paul to this performance, it was necessary for him to pull some strings by calling upon Kent to intercede with the publicity lady through whom he was getting the ticket, since her initial response to Paul’s request was that she could only supply his press-pass and no other tickets. In the end through Kent’s intervention, I was able to purchase a ticket at the outrageous price of 100 Euros, about $120.00. Despite the cost to me, and to those others who were not fortunate enough to be officially covering the event as Paul was, I was delighted for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a premiere in this world famous hall.

It is easy enough to beg, borrow or steal a CD to hear a performance of this opera, the music to which is stirring and beautiful, but to only hear the opera is to experience it only partially. For those of you like me who may not be familiar with opera, it is a combination of all kinds of artistic performances. There is the symphonic performance of the music by the orchestra that accompanies the vocal performances of the characters. Those characters are, of course, acting out a story, the libretto, so their acting is another level of performance art involved in putting on the opera. Inevitably the actions of the characters also involve some level of ballet as well. Finally, because this is a stage production, after all, there is the staging of the story, the sets and costumes and movements of the characters around the stage, which is another stratum of the complexity of the total performance. It is this last component that drew the most attention in last night’s performance, so much so in fact, that its controversial nature no doubt detracted from the overall performance rather than serving to enhance it, as I’m sure God intended when She first conceived the art form.

And the staging was met with mixed reactions during the curtain calls that the cast and crew took after the performance. Only the person responsible for the staging, Doris Doerrie, received a mixture of applause AND boos as she came out for her curtain call. The reason is best summed up, in my opinion, as the anachronistic nature of the staging. The opera as you would learn if you bothered to look it up (try here) is set in China, and the main character for which the story is named, Turandot, is the ravishingly beautiful princess for whom suitors risk death in order to win her hand in matrimony. The Emperor, her father, has set forth three riddles that potential suitors must answer before being deemed worthy of her hand in marriage. The problem arises when they are NOT successful, since in that case they are beheaded. In fact the story opens as the Prince of Persia is awaiting death because he failed in the task. Now, if you think about it, this story is hardly believeable … UNLESS you think of it as having occurred way, way back in history, at a time when the hand of a princess wasn’t nearly as devalued as it would be today. Potential riches and life-long exalted estate in the empire MIGHT, but only might, temp some poor devil to seek that prize at the risk of losing his head. Today such behavior for the chance at marriage, the longevity of which is dubious at best, would be unthinkable. So, for this conceit to be believeable, it requires that the setting be at some much earlier time in history. Yet, that was not the case with last night’s production.

With all that as the background, you might begin to understand whence came the boos. The staging of last night’s performance was set in contemporary times, and the various evidences of that were a 30-40 foot tall cell phone on which the image of the Ice Princess (Turandot) appeared and on which the eventually-successful suitor, Calaf, “typed in” the answers to the riddles to win her hand. She lived, I kid you not, in the belly of a giant teddy bear, the symbolism of which never did become apparent. Ping, Pang, and Pong, the ministers of the Empire, took off for a picnic on mopeds with their “honeys” and proceeded to “get it on,” as it were, with them (in simulation of course) in a meadow on mats that the young ladies had brought with them. The relevance of this particular staging was not immediately or even subsequently apparent. The Emperor appeared in a brown plastic suit and green tie, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out who he was supposed to be because he was dressed more like a used car salesman than like an Emperor. The fact that the staging of this performance drew so much attention to itself, and even in my description of the performance occupies so much space, is evidence I think of the fact that it was a distraction rather than an enhancement to the performance.

Fortunately, despite the distractions of the staging, the music and the other aspects of the performance were superb. After the show we had an invitation to a reception buffet following the performance at which we made a perfunctory visit before skipping out and heading home about midnight. All things considered, I was quite impressed with my first premiere.

A sip of culture … through a fire hose Last …

A sip of culture … through a fire hose

Last night Paul and I began what will be a series of four nights during which I’ll be magically transformed by the process of immersion into “el hombre del mundo” and a cultural elder statesman. Well, maybe not, but at least I’ll have doubled the number of operas I’ve ever attended and seen performances in some of the world’s most notable symphony halls and opera houses.

Thursday night we attended a performance of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, conducted by Kent Nagano who, like everyone else worth knowing it seems, is a friend of Paul’s. The program that the Symphony performed was wildly varied, a characteristic of Kent’s programs Paul tells me. The evening began with a performance of the San Francisco Polyphony by Gyorgy Ligeti (1923 – ) a modern, atonal and frankly puzzling work. I remarked to Paul that I kept waiting for a song to break out, but it never happened. The group performed well under the Maestro’s leadership, but despite the precision and skill it must have taken to play together when there was no apparent melody or chord structure, I can’t say I liked the piece. The highest praise I can pay it is to say that I found it interesting, which regrettably damns it with faint praise. The second piece, Beethoven’s Concert for Violin and Orchestra with the soloist, Viviane Hagner, a wisp of a young lady with immense talent, was much more comfortable for me because of the more traditional “song” structure. There was a melody, harmonies that “felt” right and the violin soloist coaxed magic from her instrument. The evening concluded with a rip-snortin’ performance of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a piece that almost everyone has heard the beginning of but too few have heard the ending of. I believe this was my first hearing of a performance of the entire piece. The evening was varied and entertaining and to top everything off, Paul took me back stage where I had the chance to meet Kent Nagano himself, who was very personable, down-to-earth, and who had the absolutely softest hands I’ve ever shaken. Don’t know what he uses Ladies, but whatever it is you need to get yourself some.

Tonight (Friday) we attended the second of our “let’s get Perry some culture” performances and heard Sergei Rachminoff’s Vespers, performed a capella by a professional choir, the Rundfunkchor, under the Direction of Tonu Kaljuste. In preparing for this trip I had borrowed a CD (thank you Steve Backiel) of the Robert Shaw Chorale’s performance of this compilation of pieces, so I was prepared for it. The music is beautiful and I can put it no other way, soothing. I knew that if I were the least bit sleepy I’d doze off during the performance, because it is often soft, always smooth and seldom startling. So this afternoon I got about an hour’s nap before the event, and I was able to stay awake through the whole thing — something I’m grateful for because it was extraordinary. The approximately 40 professional musicians performed flawlessly, and the appreciative but comparatively small audience gave them several curtain calls for their exceptional performance. My buddy and cohort, Paul who isn’t feeling well this evening, wasn’t so lucky as I at tonight’s performance and he did succumb to his weakened condition and dozed throughout the evening. He did, however, wake up for almost all the breaks in the music as the audience cleared its throat and shuffled in their seats, but after those brief interludes, he quickly returned to the arms of Morpheus once the music started back up.

Next up? The premiere of Turnadot tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to it.

For those of you who are more into pictures than words, I was able to get a few pictures posted at my web gallery this afternoon at this link, Berlin 2003.

“Sit at my feet … ” One wonders why anyone w…

“Sit at my feet … “

One wonders why anyone would travel halfway around the world and present himself with the opportunity to see long-heard-of places and things and then resist the urge to leave the place where he lays his head at night during the visit. But the opportunity to sit at the feet of a witness to some of the most significant events of the last half century, one who is both willing and imminently capable of relating his memories of the people and events of those times, is simply not to be passed up just to go sight-seeing. I have that opportunity during my visit here with Paul. He is a skilled storyteller who spins a yarn that makes the mention of the famous people he has known and the things he has done entertaining as well as educational.

He used to be fond of saying in the ILink Writers group, “come sit at my feet, dear boy,” in prelude to his recalling his times with the likes of Lotte Lenya, Aaron Copland, Tennessee Williams or Dorothy Parker. The opportunity to “sit at his feet” is the primary purpose of my visit to this his chosen home country, and I’m soaking up every minute of it.

This morning as he was working away on his latest piece for Musical America while permitting me to look over his shoulder as he worked, he turned around and caught me reading a book. He asked what I was reading. I told him it was one of the books from his shelves, a collection of stories and poems by Dorothy Parker, and that became the occasion for about a 20 minute diversion in which he related the story of how he met the sharp-tongued Ms. Parker and of how “his” Dorothy was considerably different than the common image others had of her.

Just as he had pulled himself away from that probably-welcomed momentary break from his professional writing obligations and turned back around to the computer to finish up his article about the new $72 million opera house in Erhurt, Germany, the phone sang out, announcing a caller. (I say it sang out because here in Berlin the telephone doesn’t just “ring” but instead plays an arpeggio of musical notes, similar to, but not as obnoxious as, the cell phones in the U.S.) The caller at the the other end was Kent Nagano, the conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, who was calling to thank Paul for his support in connection with a recent dust-up with a critic here in Berlin. That is a story worthy of its own entry, but for the moment, Kent’s call only served to underscore the thoughts that I was writing at that very moment about the value and importance of sitting with Paul while I have the opportunity and listening to him share his stories about the wide and varied circle of friends he has. The statues and buildings will be here for a long time; people like Paul and conversations with them are far more important and regrettably more transient.

Since those early years of my childhood sitting on the front porch and listening to my father and grandfather, “Daddy Perry,” tell stories of their hunting adventures, their youth, and probably a few even drawn solely from their imagination, I have always enjoyed oral history. It’s one of the curses of so-called 21st century progress that diversions such as video games, the computer or the television occupy the minds of young and old alike and we sit inside air-conditioned houses watching them alone rather than on the front porch in search of relief from the hot summer nights with nothing to occupy us but conversation with one another. The only stories we seem to tell each other any more are those we make up as excuses for why we are too busy to engage one another intellectually. These times with Paul are like those on the front porch of my youth, and they are similarly precious.

“The Storm Clouds Gather” … with apologies to W…

“The Storm Clouds Gather” … with apologies to W. Churchill

We awoke this morning to clouds and chilly temperatures. I had brought short sleeve shirts and short pants and a couple of pair of dress pants. If the turn in the weather persists, I’ll be wearing my dress clothes the rest of my time here since Fall seems to have descended on Berlin overnight. Of course, it’s as true here as everywhere else, the weather seems to change by the hour. By noon, the skies were sunny again, though it remains somewhat chilly.

My great adventure of today was trying to get these damn American Express traveller’s checks cashed. Paul and I spent about an hour and a half this morning trying to locate a place that would exchange them for Euros without charging an outrageous surcharge for doing so. One bank wanted 8 Euros (the equivalent of about $10.00) per check for each exchange. I passed, so the search continued. Then someone told us that there was an American Express office somewhere near the Wittenbergplatz where they would exchange them for free. Paul dropped me off on the corner and said the Amex office was around the corner and up one flight of stairs, yet when I got to the area he had specified, no American Express sign was anywhere to be seen. So I asked a shop keeper if she knew where the American Express office was and she pointed me off in the “right” direction and told me it was about a 5 minute walk. I walked … and walked … and walked, etc. and still no signs of the Amex office.

Finally I asked someone else if they could direct me and they indicated it was on Bayreuther Strasse, which, if you could hear the German pronunciation, sounds more like boy-roy-ta strasse, so I went looking for a street that I thought might be Boyroyta Strasse. After a long and anxiety filled walk I saw the sign for Bayreuther Strasse and thought I was home free. Not so fast, fat man. On that street I saw no familiar blue and white American Express sign, so I pondered what to do. Would Paul give up on me and leave, figuring I’d somehow find my way back to his house? Would I be lost in Berlin forever? I felt a bit like a small child who has gotten separated from his parent in a department store and can think of no solution but to cry at the top of his lungs in the hope that some kind soul will take pity and help him find his mother … but I resisted the urge.

Instead I asked one more shop owner where the American Express Office was and he said, “about 100 meters down the street on the left.” With renewed hope, I made my way over those hundred meters triumphantly and hurriedly and there I finally found the office. I exchanged my $200.00 for �168.44 and felt damn lucky to get away with that much. There was no surcharge, thank goodness, but the exchange rate was 1.187400 Dollars to the Euro.

The greenback ain’t what she used to be folks! And neither is the American Express traveller’s check. Feel free to leave home without them.

I was lucky, however, in procurring a CompactFlash card reader for a mere � 8,99, which for those of you back home is about $10.00, and that included the required USB cable. Now I should be able to get the pictures from my camera to the computer and ultimately to my photo gallery website. Once I’ve had a chance to get something posted, I’ll provide a link from this website. If I can ever get past the “getting ready to start to commence to begin” phase, I may just be able to enjoy my visit to Berlin. Life, as they say, is what happens while you are making up your mind!

But for now, that’s enough of this coverage.

Greetings from Berlin At last I have arrived in B…

Greetings from Berlin

At last I have arrived in Berlin, but it wasn’t easy. The flight aboard Air France across the Atlantic was one of the best I have ever had. The service was impeccable and the meals were in the finest French tradition.

However, once I got to Charles de Gaulle airport, the “fun” began. I had only 45 minutes between the flight from Atlanta and the one leaving for Berlin and I didn’t make it. The French require you to pick up your luggage from the baggage carousel and go through customs before rechecking your baggage for the next flight. When I realized I wasn’t going to make the flight, I tried to call Paul to let him know that I wouldn’t be on that flight but I found I couldn’t negotiate the French telephone system. I bought a 7.5 Euro telephone card for the purpose, but when I called his line all I got was a busy signal, so I couldn’t communicate my dilemma.

Fortunately, he doesn’t live that far from the Airport (Tegel) so he just went home and came back for the next arriving flight. As we drove home, he took me on a quick tour of some of the major sights here in Berlin — the Brandenburg gate, the Victory Tower, the Tiegarten, Unter den Linden, and several other places of interest. I must return to take pictures, so I plan to take a tour bus around the city and let the tour guide explain the various places. But that will be later in the week.

One forgotten piece of essential equipment was the USB cable for my camera with which I download my pictures from the camera to the computer. It is safely back in Knoxville. So for the moment, I’m unable to get any pictures into the computer and onto the Internet, but I’ll persist and eventually, I hope, I’ll be able to supply more than just narrative.

Berlin is very warm, in the 80’s, and there are trees everywhere. I’m truely impressed with how green the city is, even in the major business sections. Paul tells me that all the trees (Linden) on the Unter den Linden were destroyed during the war and that all the foliage there now has grown up in the almost 60 years since.

One disappointment is that when we went out to dinner last night and I tried to buy dinner with an American Express traveller’s check, the waiter was unfamiliar with them totally, so I had to resort to plastic, the universal monetary language. Oh well, from now on it’s to the bank to convert these traveller’s checks to Euros so that I can speak the native monetary language. The Germans and I will both be pleased I’m sure.

The frenzy of departure Someone once said, “if it…

The frenzy of departure

Someone once said, “if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Well, I’m now down to the last minute, and much remains to be done before I board my flight. I have confirmed my reservations with Delta, so barring one of them being full and therefore bumping me to a later flight, I should arrive in Berlin by 3:00 PM on Sunday. Next entry to this weblog will on Sunday and made while 4580 miles from home. (This tool can be used to calculate distances between cities all over the world.)