As noted elsewhere, I took a train from Berlin to Prague on Sunday.Â Here’s some snaps from that trip.Â These were taken with my phone, out the window of a fast moving train, so don’t expect high quality.Â First a farm field.
Now some snaps of riverbank villages along the Elbe,
Rounding a long curve, my gaze was drawn to the nearby hilltop, and the old mine buildings there.
Once I got to Prague, I had to figure out how to find the tram, and then get to the flat.Â All in a cold rain, in the dark.Â Yuck!
I got settled in, located a nearby restaurant, and went for a warm meal.Â Being famished, chose Chabad Grill, 50 feet from my flat, Kosher, in Jewish quarter. Suspect it’s a front operation for Mossad, or other Israeli terrorist organization. Ordered beef Stroganoff, served atop basmati rice, with a side salad.Â The food came quickly, and was quite good.Â The salad, like most simple side salads here, was tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers, diced up, dressed with a simple oil & vinegar.Â Quite good and refreshing.Â The Stroganoff, made kosher, was light and just the right portion.Â The rice was perfect.
Then to the nearest grocery, for a few morning items.Â Took this snap on the way there:
You might have noticed a small pile of sand on the left side.Â Most of this neighborhood has similar works underway, which looks to be fibre optics being installed.Â A bit anachronistic, no?
Finally, in this series from Sunday, is a single shot from the square outside the grocer.
As I’ve said, I spent the daylight hours Monday & Tuesday in classes, so took only one photo that whole time.Â One of the things I love about Prague is that there is so much art, it’s everywhere.Â The Bohemian mindset, at least from ages back, was that the Austrians were artists and the Bohemians were artisans, craftsmen.Â Go to the National Design Museum and you’ll find tons of Austrian glass, but virtually no Bohemian ceramics, for example.Â That’s not art, that’s decor.
Here’s an example of urban decor, then, from the pavement I was walking on.
I know Hedda Gabbler very well.Â I stage managed a production in college, lo those many years ago, which entails memorizing the entire script (not just one part).Â I’ve seen film versions of it; saw Milwaukee’s own Theatre X present it 35 years ago, saw a production in Amsterdam the summer of 2016 (supertitles).Â I know the story, so wasn’t really lost in the words.
This lovely little theatre is just a 6 minute walk from the flat, so easy-peasy.Â I got there early, paid less than $15 for my ticket (320CK) in the 6th row, center.Â The stage was stark.Â One set, a sitting room, with an exposed lavatory upstage right and another upstage left.Â There was a table mid-stage, some “pit group” type seating downstage right and a patio lounge chair downstage left.Â A Lexan (Perspex, Plexiglas, what have you) wall defined the back of the stage, a large projection screen above it.Â A digital clock displayed in the top corner.
Another Lexan wall divided the stage left from right, about two thirds of the way over from stage right.Â The table pierced this wall, half on each side of the stage.
I already got the metaphor.
Ibsen is famous for a couple of things.Â One is for being the first playwright to focus on total realism in his text and settings, his characters and their lives, even in the realization of his productions; sets, lighting, costumes, etc.Â All was to be as real as possible.Â The other is that he almost exclusively wrote about the sorry lot of women.Â His leading characters are women, both in Hedda Gabbler and The Doll’s House.Â Like his fellow Swede, August Strindberg, he saw great unfairness in the roles society allowed women to hold, and he pushed back against these in his plays.
Hedda is a fierce creature, she grew up the pampered pet of her strong and important father.Â Now she is married off to a bumbling professor of philosophy and bridles at the restrictions of married life.Â She has always been the one in control with the men in her life (and there have been, continue to be, a few) and just cannot stand the wifely role of subservience and home life.
The smaller, side of the stage, the right, from the audience’s perspective, was for Hedda.Â The large space was for everyone else.
In the production I saw in Holland last year, a similar effect was created by the brilliant set design which was a triangular prism defined by three huge vertical blinds.Â A prism which was a prison.Â All the characters besides Hedda could walk in and out of this space, but she was forever held within it.
So yeah, I got the metaphor.Â It seems nobody can handle Ibsen without steeping the whole thing in metaphor.Â Well, hang on, there’s a ton of it here.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the men in this Czech production are all presented as effeminate buffoons.Â They’re like a middle-aged, cross-dressing version of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers of the old comix.
As for Hedda, while she starts out in a shift, she’s soon wearing pants, and for the remainder of the show.
The production design is like David Lynch collaborated with Eddie Izzard, with a little R Crumb thrown in for effect.Â There’s the strange omni-present lady upstage, behind that Lexan wall, who serves as a narrator of sorts, a few times during the show, while changing from a “slutty nurse” outfit to sailor duds and then nun’s habit.
Or the flat out (or flat up) sex scene between her and that same ex-lover
By the end of things, however, all of these men are stripped of their feminine finery, either literally, in the case ofÂ Eilert, or have changed in to (mourning) suits, like Tesman, Hedda’s husband, or Judge Brack, the gadabout.
You see, Hedda, trapped in her marriage, pregnancy, society…feeling powerless, exercises what power she has by preying on and playing with those around her.Â She ruins who she can, but ultimately is ruined by them and herself.
The downstage stage lift provides near tectonic effect, and a final resting place.
This was a splendid production all around.Â The costuming was cartoonish, almost too much so, but grew more and more somber as the evening progressed.Â The performances were brilliant, and I can say that without having understood more than “yes,” “no” and “please” (“ano,” “neh” and “proseem”).Â Lucie TrmÃkovÃ¡ was downright bewitching as Heda, and I could have watched her all night long.Â Robert MikluÅ¡, as Eilert was amazing.Â The rest of the cast shone just as bright.
The visual effects — videotext scrolling by, with various language’s versions of the seven deadly sins; snow falling; big, bold comic book style “Bang” and such — not so great, but certainly not a defect.Â The lighting was effective without being intrusive, which could have easily happened.Â The set, all metaphor as it was, worked well.
For those of you who’ve grown curious at the silence, I am now in Pargue, having arrived here Sunday evening via train from Berlin.
The train ride was lovely, mostly along the Elbe, and I have some out-the-window photos to post of that.
We got in late Sunday afternoon, greeted by a cold, spitting rain, but the flat is lovely & warm.Â It’s in the Old Jewish Quarter, and both picturesque and convenient.Â More on that to come, too.
I spent the last two days, Monday & Tuesday, locked up in training (the real reason for this trip) in hotel meeting rooms, virtually from dawn to dusk.Â So, today, Wednesday, is really the first day I’ve had to enjoy Prague, and the weather cooperated with beautiful sunshine from about noon until 4pm.Â A little bit of bright joy.Â I took advantage of that and took a tram along the Vltava, walked about on the west bank for a while, had late lunch and then took a tram back up the east bank and back home.
Great food discoveries on this trip include Meda snacks, by Canto, which are light and airy and no doubt terrible for you, but so yummy and addictive.Â Also, there’s that amazing smoked string cheese, korbÃ¡Äiky. It’s thin as a whip and knotted into little bundles.
Many more photos and stories to follow.Â Just wanted to get in touch from:
Sometimes it’s not just the things we remember, memorialize, preserve.Â Sometimes it’s how we choose to do so which has a larger meaning.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â A day pass for transit is 7â‚¬ and a Berlin Welcome Card, a tourist-focused offering, is 19.20â‚¬ for 48 hours.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â Now why couldn’t those flustered, German-only speaking public servants before him have just been as fawning?Â 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.Â 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.Â This is a bustling square with malls and open air shops; fairly touristy.Â Strolled around there in the light rain a bit, then down into the U-Bahn to ride home.Â 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.Â 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 KÃ¶penicker StraÃŸe to the Watergate (a music venue) and then crossed the river.Â Along KÃ¶penicker StraÃŸe is a lot of bleak, a lot of angst and a lot of broken.Â Here’s some images from that stroll.Â 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 100â‚¬ notes.Â 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:
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.Â Nope, they’re just what they say, Ignorant Fashion.Â 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>.Â Much of the polished street art one sees around is actually advertising, it seems.
Above is the (recently) burned out shell of a squat.Â The pavement out front was littered with charred remains of mattresses, chairs and the like, and an acrid, smoky smell hung in the air.
One striking element of this poster art is that by this time it’s coming loose, like the girl’s head right below.Â 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.Â The sounds of loud music, argument, discussion; the smells of cooking, car repairs (reeked of acetone) and more.Â The slogan SolidaritÃ¤t 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.Â 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.Â The first construction on it was on 13 August 1961.Â 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).Â 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.Â Longer, by the time anyone reads this.Â As the Washington Postreported:
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 confirmedÂ 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 discoveryÂ a secret for almost 20 years asÂ GermanÂ authoritiesÂ kept erasing more and more remnants of the city’s division.
â€œBerlin wasn’t ready for this discovery when I came across it,â€ 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.Â 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.Â I include it here for historical context, and due to who took the photo.Â First the context.Â As you can clearly see here, “The Wall” was in fact a “wall system.”Â 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).Â 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.
…in which intrepid Pawn goes looking for a Fairy Tale park and finds himself lost, missing a concert in the end…
The name says it all…
This morning began oddly, and just went downhill from there.Â Firstly, I awoke at 03:30, wide awake.Â Having not gotten to bed until 00:30, this wasn’t so welcome a development.Â Giving up on willing myself back to sleep, I arose and spent the next couple of hours writing, which is its own reward, after all.
Back in bed by 5:30.
Stirred at 11:30 by an incoming text message, but then remained in bed until 12:30.Â Now caught up on sleep, arose again.
Having had a prodigiously busy autumn, with travel all over the US, many weekends worked-through, many weeks of 60 or more hours worked… part of the reason for this trip was to relax and catch up on sleep, reading and personal time.Â I am certainly getting that, but do feel some guilt that I am wasting the opportunity of being in Berlin, when what I’m doing here could have been done in Cudahy, fer cripes sake!
Okay, friend PK has recommended a visit to MÃ¤rchenbrunnen, Am Friedrichshain.Â This is a Fairy Tale sculpture garden originating about 150 years ago, which has waxed and waned over the years, due to expenses, vandalism, wars, etc.Â Finally restored in 2006, it sports a lovely grand fountain, in a classic Venetian style, formal hedges of which any British would be proud, and other incidental magic.Â All of this on just the corner of the first public park built in Berlin.
I checked the online guides on Berlin transport for information on transit day tickets (7â‚¬/day) and sizing up the landlord’s handy map to local attractions, like the BVG transit ticket stop, and out the door I went.Â Strolled up Heinrich-Hein StraÃŸe towards the BVG, but never found it.Â Did find a post office, and use the ATM therein, but decided that I would keep strolling, since the best information I had was that the park was just over a mile away.
I found the park just fine, and found, too, that most of it was boxed up to protect from the cold, so it was more a garden of wooden crates than a vibrant fairy tale fountain.Â Oh well.Â Snapped some photos of said crates, and headed back homewards.
Okay, not directly homewards.Â I could easily have retraced my path.Â I still have short term memory, after all, but I was already out and about, and figured I could venture into the heart of Berlin a bit more, and then swoop south, across the river Spree, back to Heinrich-Hein StraÃŸe.Â Not so easy, it turns out.
See, my phone, it doesn’t seem to get data access here.Â It should, it’s supposed to.Â We pay an extra monthly fee for global roaming — voice and data — and I know voice still works, since I keep getting robo-spam calls here, but no data!Â Without data, no functional GPS.Â The GPS still knows where I am, but Google maps has no maps to put that little blue dot on, so I’m just a dot in the sea.
Having come to expect my phone to know where it is, I hadn’t bothered to bring an actual map with me )what foolishness!) and so ended up consulting bus-shelter maps to wind my way back.Â That didn’t work so well, either.Â Drats!
It was about 14:30 when I left on this quest, and about 15:20 when I left the park and headed back home.Â It was 17:30 when I finally stepped back on to Heinrich-Hein StraÃŸe, and into the Sushi For You shop.Â My feet were sore, my pride bruised and my appetite whetted.Â I ordered sushi — Lach Menu, which was two nice nigiiri sake, a sake maki, 2 Alaska maki and 2 inside-out kappa/sake maki.Â All that for 14.40â‚¬, or about $16.Â Great deal, and well packaged to make it home, with loads of soysoÃŸ, wasabi and ginger.Â Yum!Â Also stopped at Edaka for some oranges, snacks, & sweets.
Home by 18:00, at last, and as I removed my shoes I knew there was no way I was going to make my previously booked programme of Stravinsky, Schoenberg & Haydn at the new Pierre Boulez Saal.Â Oh well.Â Like I said, the whole purpose of this was to rest and relax, and that’s what I’m doing.
Lessons learnt; Don’t rely on phone.Â Bring up trip in City Mapper, which does a good job of caching local map tiles, so if one loses data access, what’s in memory is at least somewhat useful (this is ultimately what got me back on track).Â Get over hesitancy to talk to the locals, which was caused by surly store clerk on day 1.
One pleasure, in my book, one can glean traveling in a different country, is the sample of their culture one gets from their media.Â These days that is primarily television, newspapers and print advertising.Â Take my last post, for example, on Posters.Â Posters are both ubiquitous and populist.Â 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.Â I having already consumed the International Herald Tribune at the airport, the only English language paper on offer.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â The set in my flat, a Sony, is connected to some sort of Free Satellite service, as is common across Europe.Â This one has no Internet component, however, which is also becoming common, so I have no access, for example, to YouTube, or Netflix.Â There are precious few choices in English, which shouldn’t shock.Â 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?Â Well, there’s the ever-present Bloomberg mix of business and news “Intelligence,” which, in these fraught times, is both unnerving and strangely welcome.Â 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.Â Bloomberg, then, to us average, non-dues-paying Joes, gives us that ephemeral sensation of parity.Â 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).Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â The narrator, overcome, says (barely audible in English) “Well that was amazing.”Â 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 orÂ French shows.Â Prime Suspect, Life on Mars and others proliferate.Â Every effort is made to completely erase the original dialogue and cover it with German.Â This strikes me as odd.Â 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.Â 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.Â Not so here.
Last night, for example, while reading the New Yorker, I had on, in the background, a couple of episodes of theÂ single-season British showLife On Mars, starring John Simms as a disoriented, time-traveling cop plopped down in a mid-’70s Manchester station house.Â A success in the UK, this somehow failed in a US remake, a couple years later, on ABC.Â 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.
Likewise, FX remade the series as The Bridge, for American and Mexican audiences, with the American being the uptight one, casts Diane Kruger and DemiÃ¡n 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.Â 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.Â Why this one, one wonders?Â Is it that the Germans prefer tunnels to bridges?Â 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.Â Here’s the something new: 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.Â 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).Â They’re really quite good, but one feels there must be something wrong here.Â Rather than turning orange, one’s fingers feel a little… smudgy?Â Not sure how to describe it.
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 MelchoirstraÃŸe.
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 MonteVeritÃ¡, as it sounds right up my alley.Â 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 â€œMonte VeritÃ â€, 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.Â I can’t wait!! 🙂
Who wouldn’t love to see Pussy Riot?!? Can’t make it, however. Bummer.
No, not really.Â Ich bin in Berlin, is more like it.
Got here yesterday afternoon and am still settling, as it were, ensconced in a flat on Heinrich-Heine-StraÃŸe, in the old Soviet sector.Â Here’s a Google satellite map of the area, with the path of the old Berlin Wall superimposed on it:
Berlin Wall near Heinrich-Heine StraÃŸe
My flat is near the intersection of Heinrich-Heine StraÃŸe and KÃ¶penicker StraÃŸe.
Flats along Heinrich-Heine StraÃŸe
Took a stroll this morning down through the housing estate to the Engeldamm, which is a lovely curved incision, dug out of the earth (a long-ago, long-abandoned, canal project) and planted with linden trees and decorative shrubbery.
St. Thomas Kirche from Engeldamm
This was a no-man’s-land for the 28 years the wall was standing,Â Â Now it’s lush and well loved by dogs.
Just over a week ago the US held a national election. Then we fled the country.
That’s the simple version of events, but it’s really never the simple version, now is it?
The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Prompt off the ORD runway, quickly through LHR border control, and little turbulence in between.
Our first real encounter with a local was our cabbie on the way from Paddington to our flat in Southbank. Upon hearing our accents he asked if we were happy with our election outcome. Further discussion revealed that he was a firm Brexit supporter, entirely due to immigration fears. Had we told him we intended to settle, however, I’m sure he would have welcomed us, given our colour.
As with our last team visit here, X & I hit the ground running, as it were, with a show our very first night: Wordless! a jazz concert cum lecture put together by illustrator Art Spiegleman and jazz musician Phillip Johnston. It’s a history of the graphic novel layered atop a jazz sextet performance. Great stuff.
He opens with the works of Lynd Ward and moved on to Frans Masereel, H.M Bateman, Otto Nuckel, Milt Gross and Si Lewen. Spiegelman closed with a new, short, autobiographical sequence — Shaping Thought — which he introduced by referring to “America taking a nihilistic mudslide to apocalypse!”
But prior to our theatre experience at Barbican Centre, we stopped in at their Martini bar.
This garish pod of craft cocktailing is a holdover from the Designing 007 exhibition from a few years back.
Our bartender, a willowy waif, starving artist type with blackened fingertips, stringy hair and not the slightest whiff of pretension about him, took our order (Â£5 happy hour!) and then tendered his apology thus: “To all of my American customers I say, `I’m sorry’.” He then proceeded to whip up a couple of truly spectacular drinks. Dowsed the ice in a rocks glass with vermouth, chilled the Martini glasses with ice water, added spirits (vodka for X, gin por moi) to each glass after draining off the vermouth, and then stirred with ennui. Finally decanted into the now cold glasses, the drinks were served sans garnish (at our request) and met with accolades by us both. I think it was the ennui that did it.
An inquiry into the cause of the previously mentioned blackening of his fingers revealed him to be an art student, who just that afternoon had been dying paper pulp. Pawn suggested rubber gloves for future such projects.
Saturday, coincidentally enough, was the Lord Mayor’s Show day, which consists of a flotilla up tthe River Thames followed by a procession through the streets of The City, and culminating in fireworks from Victoria Embankment at dusk (an early 5pm here). Despite mist and drizzle we slogged our way across the river and up to Ludgate Circus and got prime viewing just as the procession approached.
The City of London these days most often refers to the financial centre of the country, but has historical roots dating back to Roman times. Indeed the London Wall — remains of the original fortifications of Londinium — define what is also called The Square Mile or, simply, The City. Even as the monarchy arose and various stages of city and state grew around it, The City has remained fiercely independent. The Lord Mayor does, however, extend the occasional invitation to the monarch to come and visit, and this is one such occasion.
The procession is comprised of various guilds and orders, Masons and Joiners, Nurses and Accountants, as well as military units, government bodies, municipal grandees, etc. It was a joyous event, that’s for sure. Here’re some snaps (note: coming soon).
Finally a repast at Slug & Lettuce in St Mary Axe, and a meet-up with our friend A. She had been fighting through obstructed traffic to try to get in some long postponed shopping, and seemed glad for the burger and tea we had waiting for her. Then off to Whitechapel and Thick Time, an exhibition of works by William Kentridge.
X & I had enjoyed a large retrospective of the South African’s work, several years ago, at MoMA in New York. This smaller exhibit focused on recent works, including environments, films, animations, book-arts and studies for an opera, Lulu, which, coincidentally, we were to see in two day’s time. A was tickled to learn that!
There was a lot to like, and some to love, in this compendium. Of particular note was the large installation, The Refusal of Time.
This collaboration with a team of artists comprises sound, light, video projection, a large “Breathing Machine” and more. It was truly a stunning, enveloping experience. Other favourites include the many artist books on display and the film Second Hand Reading. The exhibit closed with another installation piece, smaller and more theatrical, Right Into Her Arms, which included footage, imagery, illustrations and sound from the workshop process for Lulu.
It was wonderful to have this little taste of this work prior to seeing the show.
A “Supermoon” hung in the sky as we traipsed uptown to Islington and the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) for a Sunday performance of Rigor Mortis, an Irish two-hander of recent vintage. Jazz Dancing Criminals brought this stiff little one-act, fire breathing, chest thumping, pogo-sticking, drug addled, funereal farce to the Hope for it’s British premier following a successful run of its earlier “incarnation,” Urbs Intact Manet in Waterford, Ireland.
A drunken tosser has pinched his late friend, casket and all, from the mortuary, he discovers when he awakens, hung over, to the pounding on his door from his equally dissolute mate. They proceed to wok their way through a monumental pile of cocaine and a couple cans of stout as they wake their friend and debate what to do with his remains.
Irreverent, loud and at times barely indecipherable, it was a fun 75 minutes of Irish mayhem. Thumbs Up!
NPG have Picasso Portraits on special showing, so we went and saw it. Lovely stuff, as one might expect. The real treat here, aside from the expected and widely known masterpieces, such as woman with hat and self portraits, were the small sketches from his youngest days.
Often meant as throw-away pieces, these are little gems. Whimsical and light. Unfortunately, no good samples on the web to show here.
Lulu, the aforementioned opera directed and designed by William Kentridge, is based upon “the Lulu plays” by Frank Wederkind, by Alban Berg, and completed by Friedrich Cerha (English translation by Richard Stokes). This production originated at Dutch National Opera, and last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The fourth producing company is Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Each country providing a new cast, the real attention getter is the stunning, almost literally, as in hit-you-over-the-head, visuals; a combination of projection, props and constantly unfolding set (set design Sabine Theunissen).
Here are a few images from the production (most from ENO, but some from other stagings):
“Solo Performer” Joanne Dudley
Lulu is 3Â½ hours of discordant music, striking imagery and implausible story, but a wonderful time. The “Solo Performers,” Joanna Dudley and Andrea Fabi nearly stole the show, but Brenda Rae, in the title role, was amazing, as was James Morris as Dr ShÃ¶n/Jack the Ripper (yes, really).
Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.
As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.
It is breathtaking!
One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.
Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.
This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:
Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.
Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.
Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:
But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.
So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…
It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:
A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna
I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.Â There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.Â This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.Â Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:
Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .
What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!