On manners at the opera

My wife and I went to see Madame Butterfly at the Vienna State Opera on the weekend. We had pretty good seats. We got some champagne beforehand, as we usually do at the opera, except she was more in the mood for a white wine spritzer and had that, and I had a whiskey (no brand given) because I was feeling macho.

The people behind us were loud, rude, stupid and very excited about the cruise they were booked on, apparently, because they could not STFU about it. One encounters such people at most public performances, including the movies, but this was a first for me at the opera.

Srsly, WTH?

They must have gotten free tickets from someone.

The lights went down, the warning to turn off your phone played, etc etc and still they jabbered on. I knew I had to do something.

The musicians finished tuning. The conductor came out, to warm applause.

Yeah, yeah, Cruise This and Cruise That!

Peace settled over my mind as I made a decision. I felt like a Jason Statham character right before a big action scene, you know, like, where he’s surrounded by all these bruisers in an auto mechanic’s garage — except I was surrounded by old people with canes, and younger people, and improperly-dressed tourists. Even the standing area way up at the top was full.

They were still talking — unbelieveable — when the music started playing, and they showed no intention of stopping. That’s when – right after the first note – I turned and said it:

“Ssh!”

Boy, did that do it. They didn’t say a peep until intermission. Sometimes you just have to take a stand.

We went outside in the intermission. On the way there, I found a big, fat pearl earring and gave it to an usher. If you’re looking for your pearl earring, it’s probably in a pawn shop in downtown Vienna by now.

We did not stay outside for long, because it turns out that’s where everyone goes to smoke.

So the air was better back inside. Good people watching night.

Great performance, too. Downer though, sheesh.

 

Dramas are cheaper than comedies

Man, it’s freezing out.

Winter.

But Odin doesn’t wear his hat when he goes to the store. He doesn’t want to make it any harder for the crows to recognize him, and he thinks a hat might do that. It sure freaks out his cats when he wears a hat.

So, no hat.

He buys honey-roasted peanuts and a baloney sandwich in a poppyseed roll. The crows meet him at the bench. Not immediately. He stands there for a minute eating peanuts before the first one, the grey one that reminds him of a duck, Huginn, appears on a telephone wire and swoops down for a piece of baloney sandwich.

Then the second grey one swoops down from the left and fights over another piece of sandwich with Muninn until Odin tosses them a couple more pieces.

For a while, they all hang out, eating silently.

Odin feels particularly unstuck in the multiverse today. All day, he has been slipping easily from one to another.

He is at a movie premiere with his daughter. Standing in the cinema lobby, they crack jokes and watch people, observing the different tribes that show up at movie premieres – the movie actors, the journalists, the photographers, the fans, the weirdos.

They wonder if they should buy popcorn. They agree popcorn should be handed out free at movie premieres. They count uncanny botox foreheads.

Botulinum toxin is the most lethal toxin there is, his daughter says. 100 mg would be enough to kill everyone in the world.

Like Odin himself, Odin’s daughter is a fertile source of useless facts. This makes Odin smile. He has been smiling all evening.

You might want to use 200 mg, though, just to be sure, Odin says.

His daughter has another thing in common with him, too: she attracts nuts. Odin realizes this when a little man appears in their personal space and asks her if she is an actress in the movie they are about to watch.

She laughs and says no.

The lobby is very crowded and noisy now, and the man talks fast, so Odin catches only a portion of what he says, but he hears him say that a local film festival always shows dramas, but never comedies or action films, because dramas are the cheapest. He has something white in the corner of his mouth.

Probably food.

Is that right, Odin says. He moves to stand between the little man and his daughter.

So they show dramas. And documentaries. Documentaries are even cheaper than dramas.

For a while, he tells them about a movie he recently watched. Odin runs through his entire repertoire of things you do to signal a conversation is winding down, but nothing works.

Finally, Odin says, well okay then, grabs his daughter and walks with her to another corner of the lobby.

At one point, Odin gets the autograph of an actress his daughter and he both like.

At another point, they watch the movie. It is okay. It is a comedy, not a drama, and they laugh a lot. Afterwards, the cast come onstage and talk for a while, then Odin and his daughter go home.

Although Odin is unstuck in the multiverse, he is not entirely without control.

On days like this, he can slip almost effortlessly from one universe to another.

He is in his car, realizing it is snowing.

He is riding a train.

He is someone else, in 1972.

He is a man waiting for crows.

He is watching a beautiful woman.

He is playing Arvo Pärt with his daughter – she plays the piano and he plays the cello. Then they give up and he switches to the singing saw and they play it that way, and laugh and laugh.

He is digging post holes with another man, holding a heavy motorized auger between them.

He is back with the crows.

What say the hanged?

Live it up.

What say the slain?

They say live it up, too.

Careers in Science: Deontology

The deontologist looks at the cat that woke him up. How can such a young cat be so huge, he wonders. The other day the deontologist opened the back window so the cat could climb in and he (the cat) fell off the fence before he reached the window, he is so fat. Not fat, exactly, though, just… huge.

The deontologist feeds all three cats and enjoys the few minutes during which huge cat is distracted by food and not walking figure eights around the deontologist’s feet. The deontologist thinks about everything he wants to do that morning: practice cello for half an hour in the cellar, meditate, do yoga, water things in the garden, feed the tortoise, and a number of other things.

His wife and kid are sick, though, so he postpones his new regimen of morning cello practice until the weekend.

He does the other stuff, though. And push-ups. See, the deontologist saw a website where a young woman describes teaching herself to dance in a year, by means of obsessive practice. The deontologist is all fired up.

Outside it is cool and looks as if it might rain, or might not. He puts two sections of the wooden fence his daughter is painting onto sawhorses in the back yard, as they are too heavy/bulky for her to move around.

The plum tree is heavy with green plums. The pie cherry tree is full of ripe pie cherries and blackbirds. The apple tree is full of green apples. The row of strawberries is over, but there will be raspberries all summer, and the grape vine is heavy with green grapes.

The deontologist checks on the vegetable garden at the rear of his abundant back yard. There is a big green zucchini hidden among the weeds, and a couple yellow zucchini. There are two big cucumbers ready to go. His vegetable garden is, at this time of the summer, most abundant in zucchini, mosquitos and slugs. He considers whether zucchini are the slugs of the vegetable world.

The slug traps are full of dead slugs, dozens of them, all drowned humanely in beer.

He spies a few ripe cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes. The big beefsteak tomatoes are starting to change color. But tomato and cucumber season won’t really get going for another week or two.

At lunch, the deontologist walks to the noodle shop and buys a takeout thing of chicken and rice. He walks around and finds a bench under a tree where he had shared a sandwich with two crows earlier in the week.

Two minutes later, the crows are back. The same two crows – a large, grey-black one and a slightly smaller black one. The larger one seems more intelligent because it is more cautious. It won’t come any closer than two or three meters. The smaller one comes up within five feet of him. The deontologist throws them a couple pieces of chicken after making sure it is not too hot.

Crows are always so surprised when he is nice to them!

The crows move away when cars drive by, but come right back. They leave for longer when someone walks past with a dog.

The deontologist wonders if there are hygiene rules against sharing your lunch with crows inside the city limits.

He throws a little rice into the gutter for grey crow, but it lands too close. The deontologist moves a couple steps away so the crow can eat the rice.

There are laws against feeding pigeons, he knows. Pigeons are degenerate birds, rats with wings, but certain people get a kick out of them.

The deontologist prefers ravens and crows.

If there were coyotes in Vienna, he’d feed those too.

But there are no coyotes in Vienna.

Bees

Last week was busier than I like. I can tolerate going out about once a week, and I was busy every single day last week, due to a rare alignment of regularly-scheduled events (yoga class, cello rehearsal) and occasional, random cultural events (theater subscription, concert subscription 1, concert subscription 2, interesting concert 3).

On Monday, we (my wife and I) watched a performance of Anna Karenina at the Volkstheater in Vienna. Although I was familiar with the story, I found it very hard to understand the actors. It was a good production, the Volkstheater is generally a safe bet since Michael Schottenberg took over there as manager, we’ve been fans of his for decades. I slept very little, although I get up pretty early in the morning.

Tuesday I had yoga class. I slept very little.

Wednesday we went to the Beriosaal at the Konzerthaus for a live performance by the ensemble Phace of a new musical piece composed by American composer Gene Coleman to the 1926 Japanese silent film A Page of Madness, using both Western and Japanese instruments, if there can be said to be such categories. It was very good and I slept very little.

On Thursday we watched Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the Grosser Saal of the Konzerthaus, performed by the Collegium Vocale Gent / Herreweghe. They were very good, the orchestra played period instruments (I noticed Baroque celli and a viola da gamba – which had a wonderful solo). It is interesting to observe how the crowd varies from event to event. It can be youngish/middle-aged and snooty but trying to appearcounter-culture, or old and cultured and somehow less snooty, and so on. The Bach crowd struck me as quite elderly and generally well-to-do or at least well-dressed (there was a lot of jewelry on display, though), quite slender in general, and very slow-moving until the concert was over, at which time they were t the coatcheck very quickly.

Friday’s event was the most interesting for me – there is a series in the town of Krems called Imago Dei, concerts in the Minoritenkirche there. We watched a performance by cellist/composer Frances-Marie Uitti, the ensemble Extracello, and Buddhist monks; the event consisted of a Buddhist Puja ceremony (ceremony to honor the creative spirit?) and composition(s) by Uitti. For this performance, Extracello tuned (according to the program) their cellos to unconventional tunings, and played primarily open strings and flageolets (which resonate longer than when you are fingering the strings), and Uitti is famous for playing with two bows in one hand. I expected her to do that to be able to play all 4 strings at once, but she somehow manages to coordinate the two bows in unexpected ways and it was quite fascinating.

For your viewing pleasure, I will include a few Uitti links here:

her website

Video 1 (Vimeo)

Video 2 (Vimeo)

Video 3 (Vimeo)

It was an interesting week, but it was too much for me and I will be digesting this for some time to come. A lot of images and ideas were poured into my head while I was in a trance state this week, as if the creative spirit unscrewed the top of my head and poured in a basket of bees, which now fly through my mouth and make honey in the empty spaces inside.

(PS: as you can see in the videos, Uitti has an ALUMINUM CELLO from the 1920s. With an awesome dent.)

Dear Younger Self,

Tuesday 22 January 2013 sounds like the distant future, because of the three at the end, maybe, but it feels like the present – mundane and ordinary; cold (we got a lot of snow), dark right now, a little frustrating, a little disappointing but at the same time surprising, fulfilling and hopeful. I have met a few people, and figured out that people are wonderful in many ways.

Furthermore, future technology makes it possible to share mundane details of strangers’ lives, which makes them seem familiar, almost friend-like sometimes, except when they get excited about spectator sports. I still can’t understand getting excited about spectator sports, with the possible exception of water sports such as diving, swimming, or ice-skating.

Here we are in 2013 and yet the future still has not arrived; we have no jet-packs, flying cars, underwater houses or widespread telepathy. There have been some suprises, on the other hand – above all, telephones, which can be used to take photographs, or watch cats fall off fences, among other things.

Mostly, the present just goes on and on, and the past gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Some diseases are cured, some grow less virulent, some more, and new ones are discovered. Man’s still gotta die, it seems.

Parasites, widely conceived, are fascinating, and you should study them and do something with your life, but you won’t. You will study a variety of things and eventually take two BA degrees in Economics and German just to get things over with, and wander away from academia. This is a mistake from the regular point of view, but: you have a beautiful life here in 2013, and it was created by your mistakes as well as your victories. Your wife and children are beautiful, your house is warm, they just got new machines at the gym, you have a good physical therapist and a good cello teacher.

Yes, you are learning cello! At this age! You might learn wet-plate photography next, who knows. Life remains surprising and often in good ways, but it is always the present, at least so far.

January 23, 2013, though – that’s another thing entirely. That’s the future, I’m sure of it.

I played the cello last night

I played the cello last night.

I had a cello lesson last night in the backroom of a music store near my house. It is a small shop crammed full of fascinating instruments. If I have time before my lesson I stand in front of the singing bowl rack, hitting the variously-sized singing bowls with the little hitter things, wishing I had spare money for a couple, and a few other things. I wonder if it drives the woman who runs the shop crazy, or if she is used to it.

The backroom is the most crammed-full room in the store, with lots of merchandise boxed on shelves and a carpet on the floor, and just enough room for my teacher to hold lessons. I couldn’t say if the acoustics are good there, or bad, although I supposed if they were terrible she wouldn’t be holding lessons there.

I have been learning a cello sonata by Benedetto Marcello. We sat there last night, playing it, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t sound beautiful.

Not just better than the previous lessons. It sounded really nice.

I always low-ball and so on but I had to smile while we played and think, this is what I have been taking lessons for ten years for.

Twelve years, whatever.

Although, it wasn’t actually why I took lessons. I took up the cello thinking I might learn something about the cello, and appreciate music better; get a peek through the window into the House of Music or something.

I thought I’d try it for a few years and give it up.

So it wasn’t exactly the attainment of a goal last night, it was more like a pure, unexpected bonus, that blessed little moment.

I would have hugged my teacher afterwards, but the room was small and I didn’t want to knock over a cello or freak out my teacher.

So, yes, despite jetlag and so on, I played the cello last night.

Thanks, Alena.

Thanks, Uncle Phil.

Thanks, Ruth.

Thanks, family.

Thanks, friends.

Thanks, life.

Metropolis

Alpha and I watched Metropolis at the Konzerthaus in Vienna last night, while a 66-piece orchestra played the music. It was neat. I didn’t fall asleep once. Metropolis was shortened rather drastically after release, and the original version was lost, I guess. The film was (IIRC) restored in 2001. Then a longer version was discovered in Argentina, so it was restored again. The Argentine version was, however, only 16mm so there are quality and cropping issues. The discovery of the longer version also made it possible to restore the score, pretty much, which had also been incomplete.

Or something.

I should be a journalist, shouldn’t I.

We will be seeing a few more silent films with live music at the Konzerthaus, we bought a subscription. I really like the idea of composing film music, so I am looking forward to seeing them.