Category Archives: Current Events

Watch Your Neighbour, Redux

[This post has been updated both to reflect my evolving thoughts on the performances, and to correct a glaring oversight of description.]

Back in 2008, I wrote about both the prevalence of CCTV camera throughout London, and of the guerilla marketing campaign for the Ausie-import on the telly, Neighbours.  Last night at Menier Chocolate Factory, Pawn attended Pack Of Lies, which, set in the cold-war-heightened intensity of the early 1960s, brought that guerilla marketing campaign’s chief slogan, “Watch Your Neighbours” a quite literal meaning.

It was a savvy bit of genius to revive this play now.  Originally written for a BBC playhouse series in 1971, as Act of Betrayal, when the original events were still fresh in the public mind.  Playwright Hugh Whitemore then adapted it to the stage for its original 1983 run, starring Judi Dench and Michael Williams (real life marrieds).

Highly appropriate in our own times, this story seems ageless.  While we bridle at the thought of spying on our neighbours, we read daily newspaper accounts of Russian agents offing people with poisons, stealing secrets on-line and in-life.  The events of this story could just as easily have transpired today, but by leaving the setting historically accurate (and then some), director Hannah Chissick has chosen to give us a little breathing room, some distance from our own reality.

Based on a true story, action takes place in the northwest London suburb of Ruislip, Middlesex.  The set itself is a near perfect recreation of the classic British two-up/two-down semi-detached homes so common both in London and in the bedroom communities all around England.  Ruislip, itself, is just 5 kilometres from North Harrow, where Pawn was born, at about the time the events recounted in this play were actually playing out.

Pack of Lies — Set

The Portland Spy Ring affair involved a Soviet spy ring gathering intelligence and stealing secrets related to UK & allied (NATO) naval operations and capabilities, and smuggling that out to the KGB, via micro-dots and radio transmissions.  The central figures were businessman Gordon Lonsdale (Canadian), civil clerk Harry Houghton, his moll, Ethel Gee, and others.  Lonsdale was tailed, and observed to make frequent visits to Ruislip, to the home of antiquarian bookseller Peter Kroger and his wife Helen.

MI-5 proceeded to make contact with the neighbours across the street, Bill & Ruth Search, and it was from their first storey window that MI-5 surveilled the Kroger home, and ultimately collected enough evidence to arrest, charge and convict the whole ring.

Agent Stewart talks to Bob & Barbara

Agent Stewart talks to Bob & Barbara in the sitting room

In our play the family is Bob & Barbara Jackson and their daughter Julie, but all of the other names, or, aliases, really, are left as is.  The Krogers, Canadians, are really the Cohens, Americans.  Lonsdale, the Canadian businessman at the center of the ring was, years later, revealed to be Konon Trofimovich Molody, a Russian agent.

The central conflict in the story is that the Jacksons are being asked, if not to “spy” on their neighbours, their best friends, at least to facilitate spying on them, and lie about it, to their friends and their own daughter.  Bob seems ready to accept this; he’s a civil servant himself, bound by secrecy for his work, and is used to submitting to the state on these matters.  Barbara, who admits she has a hard time making friends, just cannot abide that she must lie to Helen.

Barbara and Helen during a dress fitting

Barbara and Helen during a dress fitting

In the moral calculus of the story, the state is to be trusted and the neighbours are not.  That Barbara takes so long to come around to see this almost makes her a Polly-Anna, but is that so healthy a message in a world where it seems our every undertaking is watched, observed, catalogued, accounted for, by someone?  Grocers track our every purchase via our “Club Card” (or the like), Amazon know everything we buy, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter compile vast storehouses of knowledge on us, for sale to the highest bidder.  Cambridge Analytica steal into these storehouses to figure out how to get millions of people to vote against their own self interest, throwing elections for Brexit and US President.  The Russians, not to be left out, stir the pot too, but, at least in the present cases, their targets are email servers instead of submarine plans.  And, amid all of this, one might not be blamed for thinking that our own government is the least of our worries.

Maybe, maybe not.

The most remarkable thing about this production is easily the total verisimilitude achieved in all aspects.  Paul Farnsworth’s set and costumes are stunners!  The flexible Menier space has been configured to support the single set laid out lengthwise along a long wall.  We see the entire ground floor, from the bay windows in front (stage right) past the staircase up, the sitting room, and kitchen, finally the door to the back garden (stage left).  The upstage rooms are fully formed, the downstage rooms represented by their baseboards and door frames.  The furniture is spot on accuracy — the comfy chair, settee, telly, dining table and sideboard all perfect, as is the coat stand in the hall, the kitchen appliances; everything!  Costumes, similarly, are perfect.  Barbara is a home seamstress, and many of the clothes would have been made by her, other than Bob’s suits and the knitwear.  A 1954 Ford Consort sits in the front garden, a proud possession.

The Ford Consort sits out front the home

The Ford Consort sits out front the home

Accents, language, tea ritual, it’s all just right.  Homework was done, and done well.  Not a thing is wrong.

The performances are all quite serviceable, but it must be said that Finty Williams shines as the troubled Barbara.  Her struggle with the competing loyalties to country and friend, her chafing under the constant presence of MI-5 staff, and her effort to persevere and raise her daughter not to lie, are almost too much for her to handle.  Williams makes us ache for her.  Similarly, but with less of a splash, Chris Larkin as Bob brings us a perhaps overused canard of a submissive British husband, ruling over his home while submitting to his wife and cow towing to his superiours.  He delivers this less than complicated character with sufficient realism to bring us along, and he is obviously troubled by the jam his wife is in.  Jasper Britton, as Agent Stewart, seemed to muff a couple of lines, but that may just have been affect.  Otherwise this was a tight ensemble, midway through a six-week run, comfortable in the piece and their roles, but not sloppy comfortable.

All in all, this was a lovely night at theatre, and a potent story for our times, even if it is based on facts nearly 60 years old.

Lord Adonis Has His Say

From the Guardian newspaper this morning comes this story, with a term I’ve never heard before:

Philip Hammond is being urged to earmark £7bn for new transport links in the “brain belt” spanning Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes in next week’s budget, and persuade local authorities to build the first new towns in half a century.

Brain Belt, that sounds like something a neurosurgeon installs to knock back the intelligence of an overly smart fellow.  Donald Trump had one installed sometime in the mid-80s.

17 November — Commemorate The Velvet Revolution

In an ironically Big Brother-ish twist, this was the greeting I received from the local ISP when I tried to surf to the Washington Post this morning:

You have attempted to visit a foreign site!

Today, just one click, but before 1989 it was difficult to look beyond the border.
The arbitrary abandon of the Republic was punished freedom for up to five years. If you did not shoot a border guard right when you tried.

Freedom is not a matter of course.

That is why we November 17th commemorate Velvet’s anniversary Revolution, and we are glad that we can bring you free communication with the whole world in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Learn more about November 17

I want to continue freely

Yikes!  That last line contained a link to escape this freedom-loving portal page.

Okay then, commemorate I shall.  But first, some coffee!

Retro Decorative

Sometimes it’s not just the things we remember, memorialize, preserve.  Sometimes it’s how we choose to do so which has a larger meaning.  Berlin, it strikes me, would be perfectly happy to put the Wall firmly in the rearview mirror of history, but there is a tourist draw there, and that cannot be ignored.  There is also that tendency, so strong in the wartime and post-war generations to Never Forget.

Europeans, in general, have long memories, when they wish to, and short ones when it serves them.  Italy, until recently, flirted for several years with a strongman president, in Silvio Berlusconi, for example, even though there are still people living who remember Mussolini.  Germany, which for generations has lived a kind of collective, historic shame for the way it treated neighbors & citizens alike during WWII, but then just elected to parliament a far-right-wing party for the first time since then.

As I commented to a friend, just before leaving on this trip; The last time a far-right party sat in parliament, my family’s home was bombed.

So, went to get a transit pass today.  A day pass for transit is 7€ and a Berlin Welcome Card, a tourist-focused offering, is 19.20€ for 48 hours.  Since I leave at 11:05 Sunday, I opted for the latter, as it was noon by the time I left my flat, and 48 hours would be just the right time frame.  I would have needed three day passes (they expire at 3AM after purchase) for the same coverage.

Off to the BVG I went, in search of said pass.  It was a harrowing experience, fraught with language barriers, but I ultimately found an obsequious clerk who claimed I had “Perfect German” and sold me my pass.  Now why couldn’t those flustered, German-only speaking public servants before him have just been as fawning?  One is left to wonder.

I hopped the S-Bahn (above ground trains, as opposed to U-Bahn, which are subways) and headed up the right bank of the Spree to Museum Island, where, as one might have guessed, the museums are.  I traipsed around there for a while, before coming to the conclusion that I really didn’t feel like spending my day inside a museum (or five) so I wandered over to the nearest tram stop and headed to Alexanderplatz.  This is a bustling square with malls and open air shops; fairly touristy.  Strolled around there in the light rain a bit, then down into the U-Bahn to ride home.  It was a nice little jaunt into the city, and away from the bleak neighborhood within which I’ve been cloistered so far.

After some lunch, a change of shoes, and a little catch-up, it was back out into the bleak side of things for a bit.  I had decided to check out the East Side Gallery, which is the largest preserved stretch of Die Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall), at 1,316 metres long (just short of a mile).

To get there, I walked down Köpenicker Straße to the Watergate (a music venue) and then crossed the river.  Along Köpenicker Straße is a lot of bleak, a lot of angst and a lot of broken.  Here’s some images from that stroll.  First, however, a little out of sequence, is an eloquent rejoinder to the hopeful logo above:

In case you cannot make them out clearly, or don’t recognize the reference, those items along the right side of the image are 100€ notes.  The rush from national reunification to what is widely perceived as subjugation to the European Union — the loss of the Deutsch mark (a formerly unrivaled store of wealth); the partnership with, and economic support of poorer neighbors, like Spain & Italy; the surrender of sovereignty to a continental body — for many still bitter from years of Soviet rule, the Euro has come to represent all they hate about the powerlessness state in which they find themselves.

Now, onto the bleak:

Heroin Kids

Heroin Kids

One sees these Heroin Kids print ads (above) all over Berlin, and given the opioid epidemic in the US, can be forgiven for thinking they’re part of a hip awareness campaign.  Nope, they’re just what they say, Ignorant Fashion.  Click the image to see more of this dreck.

Looks like a striking piece of chalk street art, but really an ad for a Windows app which encodes long functions or “macros” onto adjacent pairs of keys (hence “keySstroke”) such as <s> and <x>.  Much of the polished street art one sees around is actually advertising, it seems.

Above is the (recently) burned out shell of a squat.  The pavement out front was littered with charred remains of mattresses, chairs and the like, and an acrid, smoky smell hung in the air.

The following series of photos are all of SOBR’s It’s Time To Dance poster project (Facebook page here).  I stumbled across this, but others have been following this artist’s work for some time.  There’s a pretty good article on the subject here.

One striking element of this poster art is that by this time it’s coming loose, like the girl’s head right below.  These loose pieces flutter in the wind, animating the work, and giving it at once an air of impermanence, fragility and energy.

Above is a current squat, a campground really, which was active as I walked by.  The sounds of loud music, argument, discussion; the smells of cooking, car repairs (reeked of acetone) and more.  The slogan Solidarität Mit Linksunten translates as Solidarity With The Bottom Left, which sounds like some sort of softened anarchy to me.

 

Another piece of street art verging on advertisement.  This directing one to the artist’s web page, where books and more are on sale.

The Wall fell, as it were (actually was opened) on 9 November 1989.  The first construction on it was on 13 August 1961.  So in the greater scope of history, the wall has been gone almost as long (28 years and 2 days) as it stood (28 years, 2 months, 27 days).  It is still recent history, but it soon will just be history.

Update: Mon 5 Feb 2018: Today is the day that the wall has been down for as long as it was up.  Longer, by the time anyone reads this.  As the Washington Post reported:

On Monday, Berliners celebrated a once unthinkable occasion: The Berlin Wall has now been gone for longer than it stood. But on the same day, the city’s authorities confirmed the discovery of a previously unreported stretch of the wall in the district of Pankow in northern Berlin.

It had already been discovered by a man named Christian Bormann in 1999, but the now-37-year-old Berlin resident kept his discovery a secret for almost 20 years as German authorities kept erasing more and more remnants of the city’s division.

“Berlin wasn’t ready for this discovery when I came across it,” Bormann told The Washington Post.

Following are some photos of the East Side Gallery wall segments, but first a juxtaposition, viewed from the Schilling Bridge, looking north:

Just views from one side of the bridge and the other.

Here’s some wall shots.  Remember, most of this graffiti is not historic, but an “artistic” response, years later, to the wall and what it means (meant):

Please see more on Thierry Noir, below.

Oddly enough, as one approaches the end of this stretch of wall, and a luxury office/condo project underway, one finds this warning placed in a gap:

It translates as “Guarded at the hands of City Control.” Brrrrrrr

The following image shows a segment of the wall from an area I walked both on my way home from East Side Museum, but also just a few days ago.  I include it here for historical context, and due to who took the photo.  First the context.  As you can clearly see here, “The Wall” was in fact a “wall system.”  It most often is comprised of two walls, with a “no man’s land” or “death strip”, on the east side of the Wall, here follows the curve of the Luisenstadt Canal (filled in 1932).  This is the exact same area I ventured along in the first post of this trip.

This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

The maker of the above photograph, Thierry Noir, is also the artist who made the final wall painting shown above.

Something Borrowed, Something New

One pleasure, in my book, one can glean traveling in a different country, is the sample of their culture one gets from their media.  These days that is primarily television, newspapers and print advertising.  Take my last post, for example, on Posters.  Posters are both ubiquitous and populist.  They are put up by bar bands (Bar Stool Preachers) and humongous, multi-national brands (Nike) but they provide a lens into the sensibilities of both the local district and larger culture in which they are erected.

Nearly every person, other than me, on the flight here from Frankfurt (45 minutes in the air) was reading a newspaper.  I having already consumed the International Herald Tribune at the airport, the only English language paper on offer.  These are true “broadsheet” papers here, other than the occasional tabloid (der Spiegle) so when all those in a “three across” row are reading, the leafs overlap and rustle.  Now this avid digestion of the news may be due to the fact that Lufthansa, which dominates FRA the way that few American airlines dominate a particular airport, has racks of free copies liberally sprinkled throughout the airport, but many American airlines either place piles at their gates, or have carts on the planes.  No, I think this is a cultural item, and it is encouraging.

But, as I don’t read German any better than I speak it, I didn’t delve into the papers much beyond an idle page-flip in the airport lounges.

So now we get to television.  The set in my flat, a Sony, is connected to some sort of Free Satellite service, as is common across Europe.  This one has no Internet component, however, which is also becoming common, so I have no access, for example, to YouTube, or Netflix.  There are precious few choices in English, which shouldn’t shock.  There’s a channel which airs BBC news for part of the day (not sure which, yet) and then reverts to scrambled MTV-HD other times (how one determines that MTV is scrambled is beyond me, but the telly assures me it knows).

So what does an American, with just a few memories of those four years “studying” German, watch on telly?  Well, there’s the ever-present Bloomberg mix of business and news “Intelligence,” which, in these fraught times, is both unnerving and strangely welcome.  Unnerving in how they smoothly and glibly finesse a question about tax avoidance (the Paradise Papers imbroglio) and yet pay attention to climate change (with Syria joining the Paris accord, only the US may be outside of it).

In this age when seemingly every institution of modern life, from the grocer on the corner to the websites we visit and the governments which surveil us, all want as much “Intelligence” about us as possible.  Bloomberg, then, to us average, non-dues-paying Joes, gives us that ephemeral sensation of parity.  Just for a moment, we know a thing or two about a Saudi crown prince that maybe he doesn’t know about us.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the surfeit of wildlife shows, which are almost universal in that one needn’t, really, know what the narrator is saying to understand that that Tasmanian devil was trying to schtup that other devil (who seemed none too glad, and later, pregnant in the southern winter, just sulks in the cave dwelling).  Animals schtupping is universal, so we easily overcome the language barrier and settle in as the animal-world voyeurs we all have been since those early petting zoo days (or is that just me, too?).

Oddly, most of the wildlife shows here are dubbed British or American episodes, rebranded into some new travelogue-ish scheme, which have their own books and other assorted follow-on products available for order.  Given that the dubbing technique in the video is to mute the narrator, whom we can often see right on screen there, and slather the German language dialogue over the top, one is left to wonder; these books, is the original English-language text over-struck or Sharpie’d and then German text inserted?

In one particularly touching scene in an otherwise run-of-the-mill special on primates, the narrator, a casually dressed African-American gentleman, sits near the bush observing a mountain gorilla and its young, who are foraging and stripping some vegetation for a snack.  The pappa gorilla ambles past, making a big show of ignoring the human, but the juvenile just can’t seem to pass by without an exploratory move.  The young ape skitters over and, reaching out tentatively, grasps the man’s hand, as if to confirm the same-ness of these digital appendages.  The narrator, overcome, says (barely audible in English) “Well that was amazing.”  Over his voice, however, we hear a string of syllables which goes on so much longer that import martial arts films come to mind.

As with the wildlife shows, the plentiful bounty of police procedurals one finds on air here are most often poorly dubbed presentations of American, or more often British or French shows.  Prime Suspect, Life on Mars and others proliferate.  Every effort is made to completely erase the original dialogue and cover it with German.  This strikes me as odd.  In my experience it’s not at all unusual for European broadcasters to option each other’s programming, but it’s almost always subtitled, not dubbed.  When I watch Forbrydelsen — the Danish show which was remade by Fox, for AMC, as The Killing — or any of a number of other, brilliant European programmes on British telly, they are always presented in their original language and subtitled.  Not so here.

Last night, for example, while reading the New Yorker, I had on, in the background, a couple of episodes of the single-season British show Life On Mars, starring John Simms as a disoriented, time-traveling cop plopped down in a mid-’70s Manchester station house.  A success in the UK, this somehow failed in a US remake, a couple years later, on ABC.  In this German dubbed edition, in which evidence centred largely around team scarfs for Man United, the whole topic of team fealty seemed oddly detached.

So why is it that the Germans prefer dubbed to subtitled foreign programming?  One is left to ponder.  At first blush, it’s easy to assume that the length of German language words might preclude subtitling, without needing to skip text or fill the screen with it.  The tendency, in German, to compound words together certainly does make for longer and longer strings of text, that’s for sure, but let’s take the example of the Danish/Swedish co-production Broen|Bron (Bridge) from 2011.  The series opens with a body found on the Øresund bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmö, right in the middle, so detectives from each city’s police forces, Danish inspector Martin Rohde (Rafael Patterson) and Swedish Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) must cooperate on the case.  The characters, he a gruff, slovenly womanizer and she an autistic, precise, exacting, clueless to social cues and oblivious to common sexual mores, are meant to reflect each country’s perception of the other.  Thus the entire show serves as a sort of split group social catharsis.

It’s a good show, as reflected by the fact that, after having shown it, subtitled, to warm reception, British and French networks Sky & Canal+ teamed up to produce their own version, The Tunnel, starring Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in the British and French roles, as Karl Roebuck and Elise Wasserman, respectively, with similar cross-cultural stereotyping.

Likewise, FX remade the series as The Bridge, for American and Mexican audiences, with the American being the uptight one, casts Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir in the lead roles, again as stereotypes.

Interestingly, the original team wanted to set this on the bridge connecting Detroit to Toronto, rather than El Paso and Juarez, which leaves one wondering what the social contrast would be.  No doubt the American would have been the rude one, which would go against the grain of FX’s parent company’s politics..

The reason I mention all of these is that there are at least four versions (a Russian/Estonian version was made, too) the Germans could have chosen to remake, and they chose not the original Danish/Swedish, but the Anglo-French.  Why this one, one wonders?  Is it that the Germans prefer tunnels to bridges?  Or is it the ease of obliterating English and French dialogue (yes, in a first the original was bilingual) with German versus some difficulty doing the same vandalism to Danish and Swedish, or American English and Mexican Spanish?

Well, that’s the something borrowed, for sure.  Here’s the something new: Crusti Croc Flips:

Crusti Croc Flips

Crusti Croc Flips

These are like Cheetos or any other such extruded corn puff food, but what makes these stand out is the Erdnuss (peanut) variety.  Imagine a low-sweetness version of that peanut-flavoured breakfast serial that you’ve seen other people’s kids eating (Puffins or Gorilla puffs, or Cap’n Crunch).  They’re really quite good, but one feels there must be something wrong here.  Rather than turning orange, one’s fingers feel a little… smudgy?  Not sure how to describe it.

Well, I like them, so that’s what matters.

Poster Impressions — Berlin 2017

Here’s a few images of posters festooning the area around my flat:

Large wall painting, just past the Lidl shop

Astroturfing from Nike, on Bethaniendamm

Kind of want to see this show, based purely on the opening act, Barstool Preachers

More Nike astorturfing

Are these before and after illustrations?

Not a poster, granted, but street art along Melchoirstraße.

Need to know more about this one…

I’ve got no idea

Translates as “The Truth About Monte Verita”

I am trying to get to see The Truth About Monte Veritá, as it sounds right up my alley.  Here’s is how it’s described:

An interactive expressionistic silent movie installation and a live performance, inspired by dadaistic poetry and Rudolf von Labans eight efforts and movement theory, the piece focuses on the artist colony “Monte Verità”, one of the most significant sources of alternative movements in the 20th century and place of utopian escape.

And here’s a video trailer:

Update: I’ve heard back from Dorky Park, and there is a ticket with my name on it waiting for Saturday’s performance.  I can’t wait!! 🙂

Who wouldn’t love to see Pussy Riot?!? Can’t make it, however. Bummer.

An Odyssey

The youth of Europe spoke today with a United voice. A voice at times strident, but more often hopeful. They scolded and coddled, preached and implored. They came from across the continent to speak together but separately. They appealed to our better angels, after reminding us we still have them. Mostly, however, they made clear that it is they who are our inheritors, and they shan’t be denied.

The European Parliament, you might ask; The British? Nee, I speak of An Odyssey, an audacious undertaking by Platform European Theatre Academies, PLETA. This group, along with ITS Festival, Europe by People, and others, brought together eight leading European Theatre schools for this production. Each academy produced a piece for an island from Homer’s tale of venture, nostalgia and return.

Our Odyssey began near a small dog park, next to a ferry launch, about a mile from Centraal Station, Het Stenen Hoofd. At the appointed hour a small squadron of brown-shirted youth arrive and start to bark orders at the audience. These students of Theatre Academy Helsinki TEAK put us on a forced march to Calypso, where we are ridiculed and cajoled, made to march in strict lines, then taken into small groups. Pawn finds himself with a group of 8, sitting around a refugee campfire, where our brown-shirt guide tells us that she will soon put us on a boat out of here, but first we are to partake of a brief ceremony; she is to make for us a pot of coffee, which we will share together, before never seeing each other again. As she prepares the pot of coffee over a propane stove, she sings us a Finnish song, and then explains the lyrics in English. They are of separation and finality.

This isn’t just any Odyssey, you see, This journey is informed by Europe’s current refugee crises. Here is a brief excerpt from the programme:

This project represents a unique connection between future actors, mixing cultures, languages and artistic expression into one vision; to create a performance that mirrors the humanitarian challenges we face today. Never before has the need for tolerance, openness, and respect felt more urgent than now. I believe that a better world is possible, and that anyone can contribute, regardless of religion, beliefs, colour of skin or sexual orientation.

-Andreas Koschinski Kvisgaard (Student Westerdal, Norway)

From our imaginary Calypso, we are led to a ferry, which takes us through Amsterdam harbour and deposits us on the banks by the Tolhuistuin cultural compound. This is where the rest of Homer’s islands will be. But first, along the way, we are provided wireless headphones (Sennheiser Outdoor Cinema, for the curious amongst you) through which we hear seabirds and music, voices and more. We are told a tale of Poseidon, how his bureaucratic duties as God of the sea are boring and wearying him, and how, finally, he lays down his trident and retires. This portion of the presentation is by Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich.

This overwhelmed yet bored Poseidon is based not on Homer, but Kafka. When we finish our journey, however, we are led into the Tolhuistuin compound where we are met by flashy, bikini-clad girls with selfie-sticks and few barriers. They in turn lead us to a boisterous man lounging is a small pool, where we are allowed to share in the Champagne. Suddenly a woman appears in the windows above us and launches into a speech about globalization and corporate responsibility. Inspired by the text of a speech given by Cor Herkstroter, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the rhetoric here deplores government for demanding too much from corporations, and encourages it to get out of the way and let corporations do what’s best; “scrutinizes the Janus-faced Europe of today, whose values of openness and solidarity are being ground down by the very bureaucratic manchinery designed to protect it.” as the programme tells us.

Near the conclusion of the speech, some White Power nationalists filter through the crowd and commence to shout and chant. They sweep through the crowd and over to a small clearing, where they roust a refugee from a tent, and proceed to rough him up, under the gaze of a black-trenchcoat wearing religious figure. The refugee is finally thrown into a shallow grave, and that’s the end of the Cyclops, brought to us by Akademie Teatralna, Warsaw.

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Latvian Academy, Riga, bring us Phaiacians. Rather than the purely theatrical techniques used by the others we have seen heretofore, this group share with us some cold, hard facts. Latvia is a country of 1.95 million people, and have accepted a mere 80 refugees. Even if they take their full allotment over the next decade, that is only 700, fewer than half of which are expected to wish to stay. The citizenry may be up in arms, but the country faces severe depopulation, having lost over 10% of the population in the years since the Iron Curtain fell.

The troupe scheme how to entice the refugees, represented by one young man, to stay. They compose little songs and practice being friendly. The song starts to take form, “Welcome to my country, here you don’t belong. Welcome to my country, here you can go wrong…” They eventually get it right, but the whole effect is to poke fun at the efforts by well meaning progressive forces to coax a reluctant populace to see the benefits of immigration.

Ask many people if they’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and they may say yes, but they probably only know the story of the Sirens. Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of the ship, and then bung their ears with wadding, so they may safely traverse the shoals around the island of these temptress singing maidens. Odysseus becomes the only man to hear the Sirens’ song and survive to tell the tale. Thomas Bernhard Akademie, Salzburg, presents this island to us, with a mixture of dance, spoken word, song and music. It is keening and rich, overlaid with language in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English:

The history of the occident is also the history of tying down the body and the musicality of its languages and hence a history of bodies that get in panic when they are confronted with the otherness of the voice or the voice of the other.

This scene attempts a rhythmic-repetitive bodily and musicalized retelling of the triumph over the jeopardy of the voice…

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We watch all of this from a room fronting a canal, the performers on a barge, the musicians in the room with us, video screens providing various translation, full and partial.

Next up we are dragged by a frantic, jubilant woman, to a new space, her island. She is Circe. Erasmus Hogeschool/RITCS Brussels bring us a raucous and bawdy rendition of this island of lions, wolves and pigs. In this version we are serenaded by In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and what amounts to a lurid and yet lyrical dance, which in turn tells us the story of debauchery offered and escaped. This was a truly stunning and unnerving interlude, and quite moving. Doesn’t seem to say much about modern Europe, or refugees, but that’s fine with me. We deserve a break!

Toneelacademie, Maastricht, next bring us Underworld. For this we are led to the mezzanine of a small studio theatre space, where we are looking down into a pit. This stunning piece uses a phalanx of video projectors, painting the floor and walls of this sunken chamber. Odysseus enters the underworld, represented here as a placid pool of water dotted with stepping stones, a small geometric island in the centre. When Odysseus steps onto a stone, the ripples he releases show us the lost souls trapped beneath the surface, tangled webs of bodies trapped in eternal struggle for rest. This is by turns disturbing and alluring.

I cannot even begin to describe just what a gift this revelatory experience was. It is immersive and voyeuristic, knowable and mysterious, beautiful and ugly, all at once. When Odysseus pulls Theresius from the lower depths, and they step out onto the water, the surfaces of this CGI disappear, and we are left only with the underlying mesh scaffolding upon which all of this imagery has been constructed. The effect untethers us, leaves us adrift without reference or anchor. It was profound.

The actors and the CGI are perfect together, bound to each other by 3D-scanner coordination, to great effect. I suspect we’ll see more of this in live performance, for it brings the promise of video augmented live performance to a level Pawn has certainly never seen before.

Return. No Odyssey is complete without return, right? That, after all, is what separates Odyssey from misadventure. Here we find return in a quiet glen, where Odysseus is first confronted by suspicious descendants of those left behind so many years ago. But he is eventually recognized, first by his loyal dog, and then by the rest, as who he is. Westerdal, Oslo, present this with masterful sound design and finely choreographed movement. It is triumphant!

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An undertaking of this scope and scale would be laudable in the best of times, but what makes this piece so extraordinarily suited to this time, to this moment, is the events of recent days. Not a week ago, even, England and Wales have dealt what could be a lethal blow to the European project. Last night, parties unknown deployed automatic weapons and suicide bombers in the Istanbul airport, killing 41 and injuring over 200. Funerals have already started and we don’t even have final casualty counts.

It is against this backdrop that these students have spoken, have sought a voice which says No! They want Europe, they love Europe. They embrace this ideal of shared cultural norms with separate histories and traditions.

One cannot experience this and not find hope for our future, regardless of the orange-haired monsters in our midst.

Looking Backwards

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On June 26, 2016 2:40:27 PM GMT+01:00, R wrote:

Nic,

When people find out you’re an American, are they asking “what are you
thinking?”.
When I was in Canada, one guy said “what are the American people
thinking.  A lot of the world looks to the US for leadership”….
Have you gotten any reaction????
Geez, if you say you’re American…. “what are you thinking with Trump”
If you say you’re British…. “What are you thinking with pulling out of
the EU”
Good time to be out of the country??…. “what were you thinking”

What was I thinking? What were they thinking?!?

To get a sense of just how quickly things are moving over here.  Since I left my London flat @ 6:45 this morning, 8 10 11 20 30 31 Labour MPs have resigned from the “shadow” cabinet, and at least 10 more from various leadership positions.  They’re resigning so fast I have to keep updating this post!  So far that’s about half the entire shadow cabinet.

Labour & Tories are both now in leadership struggles, as are the Greens. Lib Democrats have sworn to return to the EU, if elected (fat chance of that).

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Meanwhile millions (Pawn included) have signed an online petition demanding a mulligan on Brexit.  That now seems to be getting a new portmanteau, CNN are using REGREXIT, but I think that should be ReBrexit, or maybe just Oops!  Seems not all signatories are legit, however, so an investigation is underway:

Despite Vatican City, a tiny city state, having a total population of just 800, over 39,000 residents of Vatican City appeared to have signed the petition.

Oh, and that petition they’re all signing?  It was actually started by a Brexiteer, who thought it would give Leave a hedge against a razor-thin Remain vote.

My favourite story to come out of this is Cornwall, which voted Leave by over 56%, yet then turned around to complain that the UK had damn well better make up for the large share of EU funding they now stand to lose out on.  Cut off your nose…

Region was on course to benefit from £2.5bn of funding between 2000 and 2020 but voted 56% in favour of leaving EU

This is largely in line with the Washington Post story which has stayed on their most circulated list all weekend long, “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it.”

WaPo also has a similar thread about Tilbury:

Tilbury is one of England’s poorest places — and one of its most Euroskeptic. More than 72 percent of voters here and in surrounding Thurrock voted for Britain to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum. Few places voted more decisively.

But by Sunday, the initial excitement among some pro-Brexit voters had already started to disappear, making room for worries about what’s next for an increasingly divided Britain.

Some in this town of 12,000 have also begun to wonder whether they had been misled by politicians advocating to leave the E.U. amid a campaign marked by negativity on both sides.

“I was swayed by the rhetorics, but if I had thought this through, I would have voted to stay in. I would certainly do so now,” said Antony Kerin, 38, who was watching his daughter at a newly refurbished but empty playground.

But then again, Brexit may just never happen at all.  This meme was forward me by A:

The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.

The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?

Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?

Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.

If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.

The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.

When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.

Indeed. This seems to align with a point which R put forward in re: the Trump campaign:

He has been running this like an episode of the apprentice…..

This is what I see happening, Trump has talked to Reince Priebus, saying “I’m a winner and I don’t want to be associated with loosing causes.

“I can’t win the election in the fall, I don’t want to be seen as a “looser”, so I want out.”

That’s why he hasn’t been raising money for the fall election…

That’s why the Republican party is pushing this “Vote your conscience” idea with the delegates.

Trump won’t get the nod on the first ballot, he’ll clam it’s been stolen from him…

“I’ll sue…I’m going 3rd party…” bla bla bla

He’s going to try and fade away still being a “Winner”, who got things stolen from him in a rigged election.

Yikes, pretty detailed scenario there. In general, people who try to predict what Trump might do are the only bigger fools than those who try to understand what he does.

See what I did there?  Drew a direct comparison between Trump and the whole tawdry Brexit affair?  I’m hardly the only one doing it.  Some have even suggested Trexit for the Trump effort.  Yetch!

But back to Article 50, that’s a few paragraphs in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty which defines the precise manner of leaving the union.  The first step is to invoke this article, “A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention” (emphasis mine), and when that happens is the real question.  Cameron won’t do it.  He’s stepping down.  BoJo has said he wants to take things slow and deliberate.  The EU wants it to happen now, and are even investigating whether they can trigger it.

But just to be sure, Brexiteers are starting to walk back their most audacious claims, like that huge savings for National Health.

Then there are those who propose that even it Article 50 is invoked, it could be blocked.  Nicola Sturgeon, Scotish First Minister is one such pol:

Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that the Scottish parliament could block the passage of legislation necessary for the UK to leave the EU.

In an interview with the Sunday Politics Scotland, she said that “of course” she would consider asking the Scottish parliament to vote down the legislative consent motions required for the legislation.

In her fifth major political interview of the morning, Scotland’s first minister told the show’s host, Gordon Brewer: “If the Scottish parliament is judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland, then the option of saying we’re not going to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interests, that’s got to be on the table. You’re not going to vote for something that is not in Scotland’s interests.”

Asked if she could imagine the fury of English people who voted for Brexit if Scotland tried to block the UK leaving the EU, she said: “I can, but it’s perhaps similar to the fury of many people in Scotland right now as we face the prospect of being taken out of the EU against their will. I didn’t create these situations. I’m trying to navigate the best way forward through them.”

So now Pawn finds himself in the Netherlands, which is actively considering Nexit, I kid you not.

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As a matter of fact, until early 2015, there was a Eurosceptic party here named, ready for it? Article 50.  It hasn’t gone away, just merged with another party, For The Neatherlands.

Never a dull moment, as my British father used to say…

[Update: This post has been updated to reflect the current number of Labour shadow cabinet ministers who have stepped down]

The Mourning After

On 06/24/2016 03:13 PM, DB wrote:

You are really in the thick of it. Just reading a bit about it this a.m. Thanks for your blog posts. 


I’d love to hear your interpretation of what this means. Is it the most conservative faction that wanted independence. Is this about immigration as much as anything?

Anyway, enjoy. Looking forward to your next report.

D,
Yes, quite thick things are here.  I’ve just come from the Book Arts Book Shop.  When I got there all the talk was of the collective hangover people feel today about this.  One gentleman had spent the entire past week campaigning for Remain, and said he hadn’t slept yet.  Tanya, the proprietress, complained, “I talked with my neighbours, I talked with my friends.  Everyone I know voted Remain, so what more could we have done?”

She then announced that it was her birthday, and she did intend to celebrate, despite the long faces all around.  I do believe I helped in that undertaking, buying a pile of books.  “I feel like shutting the store and going to celebrate right now!” she exclaimed.  “You say that every time I’m here,” I replied. “That’s because you spend so much.”

My thoughts on this are still resolving.  I think, for the short term, there will be much upheaval.  The financial markets are a mess, and a recession is widely anticipated.  Some have suggested the pound sterling may ultimately lose as much as 30 – 40% of its value, although the BofE seeks to ensure it will not.  The FTSE will doubtless continue to suffer, although at present is up for the week, mostly on the strong pre-Brexit trading volume.

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Cameron’s resignation, pending until a vote can be organized — first within the Tory party, and then, perhaps, nationwide — sets up an epic power struggle.  Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, is widely expected to stand for PM, and just might win.  Meanwhile, in Labour, there is already a call for a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, and challenges have been mounted.

This all in just the past few hours.

Scotland have threatened secession, again, but will no doubt succeed this time.  SNP, the standard bearers of Scottish independence, control over 70% of the Scottish parliament, and Scots voted overwhelmingly for Remain.  They feel more tightly bound to Europe than England lately.

Wales, while not asking to leave the UK, have demanded assurances on funding levels.  They feel England forced through this referendum, and even though they voted Leave by roughly 60%, they are now complaining about the effects of that.

And this all in just the past few hours.

See what I mean?  The dust has hardly settled, and already ever sharper lines are being drawn.  France, Holland, Greece, Denmark and more are queuing up to Leave now, too.  If that happens, the entire experiment is as god as over.  Marine le Pen has already called for a French exit, Frexit I guess it will be called, or perhaps Fraisser, to introduce a new, French, portmanteau.  Last country out, please douse the lights!

Similar nationalistic parties are surging all across Europe, and if their main economic and security apparatus crumble and fall away, what is to stop another march towards war?  We already see borders being closed against each other; crude characterizations of the other in the press and campaigns.  Waning religious majorities in France and elsewhere are waking up from decades-long slumbers to discover that in fact a significant portion of their fellow countrymen worship differently than they do.  Intolerance on one side is met with intransigence on the other, and vice-versa.

Then along comes Donald Trump to rub salt in the wounds.  Thank you The Donald.  May you choke on haggis.

UK leaders are variously calling for immediate invocation of Article 50, or a more deliberate course, leaving such actions for the next PM, who, in any event, wouldn’t take office until October, earliest.  The EU, meanwhile, are impatient, like a jilted lover.

A senior EU leader has confirmed the bloc wants Britain out as soon as possible, warning that David Cameron’s decision to delay the start of Brexit negotiations until his successor is in place may not be fast enough.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, told the Guardian that EU lawyers were studying whether it was possible to speed up the triggering of article 50 – the untested procedure for leaving the European Union.

“Uncertainty is the opposite of what we need,” Schulz said, adding that it was difficult to accept that “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”.

“I doubt it is only in the hands of the government of the United Kingdom,” he said. “We have to take note of this unilateral declaration that they want to wait until October, but that must not be the last word.”

Sounds like the UK may come home some day soon to find their clothes dumped on the curb.

Okay, this started out as a note to you, but it seems to have grown into my next blog post.  I haven’t even taken time to enjoy my new artist books yet!  I’ll be sure to share them when I return.

Ciao!

Brexit and Breckage

What hath we wrought, indeed.

It is 8:26 in the morning, and David Cameron has just resigned.  That is not the first fallout from yesterday’s vote for the UK to leave the EU.

“A seismic moment for Britain.” “A crushing, crushing defeat for Britain and for Europe.”  That’s just two of the responses heard on the BBC.

“Shares in Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland have both fallen by 25%.” shouts the Guardian.  “…the FTSE 100 is now ‘only’ down 400 points, or 6.4%.”

Things started off on a good foot for Remain, with Gibralter coming in at midnight with 19,000 Remain and 822 Leave.  But then came the narrow lead in Newcastle on Tyne, at just 51/49%, much lower than expected; then Sunderland, with a significant triumph for Leave.  With turnout numbers of 65 – 75% across the board.

By 01:00, the pound was in free fall.  After having been bid up to $1.50/£, it quickly fell to $1.34.  This has stabilized slightly, but still hovers near that 30 year low.  Not even during the financial crisis in 2008 did it suffer so.  Gold, on the other hand, and the dollar, are bolstered.

The shit storm here has only just begun.  I worry for my friends. A, Australian by birth, not seeing a future for herself in a non-European UK, talks of returning down under.  El & Is, the brilliant women behind Artellite — parent company of Degree Art and Contemporary Collection — have built a thriving business due in no small part to the open borders and markets of the EU.  Will they be able to continue to exhibit across the continent as they have?  Fraught times ahead.

For myself?  I will mourn the loss my EU citizenship.  I am proud of my UK passport’s banner heading, European Union.  It feels good to be a citizen of these two large democratic blocs, the US & EU. I have not exercised EU citizenship much — visits to the Czech Republic and Netherlands not withstanding — but this Sunday, as I disembark from the ferry in Holland, I will once again exercise the freedom of movement so central to the EU dream.  My UK passport expires April 2017.  Will its replacement contain that EU banner? This is not yet known.  British PM Cameron is expected to invoke a clause to grant a 2 year period during which the ties between UK & EU are fully severed, and my renewal comes during that window.

Enough for now.  “A new day has dawned, in Britain,” the BBC news reader, who has been up all night, just intoned.  Indeed, and that way monsters lay.

My next stop on this European tour is Holland, widely considered to be the next most likely to vote for EU exit.  Sigh…