Noilly Prattle: February 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

pennywise, poundfoolish

Sonia Prina sings Cara sposa from Handel's Rinaldo

   Sometimes Scrooges don't know when to leave the counting house I fear.

        Since Prague is such a walkable city we had become accustomed to getting around town either on foot (mostly) or using the trams and the metro for a very reasonable monthly pass fee. Of course that was before I broke my leg. Old habits die hard, however, and unrealistic expectations about the rapidity of recovery from a broken leg cloud your judgement I reckon.

techie explaining the mysteries
of a smart phone
        I had been stuck in our apartment due to a string of bad weather days that left the streets treacherously slippery with ice and snow. Our son came down for the weekend from London in the midst of this. I had planned to go out for dinner, at least, since I couldn't possibly walk enough to see the sights, which he and road buddy would do together. But the conditions on the streets were too dangerous for me to go out at all and we all ended up doing take out here at the apartment. Something of a lost weekend for me, although it was good to spend some time with my son.

Rudofinum auditorium
        The streets and sidewalks were finally safe enough for me to try walking on them. I also wanted to try getting on a tram. There are different kinds and vintages of trams here in Prague. The newest ones are handicapped friendly in that they are low to the ground and an easy step up to the car. The older ones have three steep steps getting to the floor of the tram—very challenging for a recent broken leg. We were planning to go to a Baroque Ensemble concert at the Rudolfinum concert hall and took the tram for a practice run in the early afternoon. In the end I decided it would be better to go by taxi at night.

Sonia Prina singing an encore
        We called a taxi for 6:30 p.m. which picked us up at the front door and drove us to the Rudolfinum. The concert was excellent and the Italian alto soloist, Sonia Prina, was spectacular doing the agitata (agitated) style typical of Baroque composers such as Handel and Vivaldi. She sang a beautiful rendition of Cara sposa (Beloved wife) from Handel's Rinaldo. I found a recording of it on YouTube. [See link above]

        We had planned to take a taxi back to our apartment, but there was only one unmetered taxi which tend to cost two to three times as much as a metered one. I felt confident enough to try a tram, so we walked to the tram stop. There were no handicapped trams listed on the board and I was too impatient to wait for the next one so I stupidly decided to climb the three steps on an older car. Halfway up, the door that I was holding on to started to close and I lost my step and balance but managed to grab onto a pole for support, when a couple of very kind and concerned gentlemen helped me get back on my feet and to a seat, but I was rather shaken and still had to alight from the tram on the same high steps at our destination stop. I stood with with some trepidation and moved over to the door when the tram stopped. One of the same gentlemen, clearly concerned, helped me down the steps. People can still be good Samaritans it seems, although, if you go by the latest crop of Hollywood flicks since 911, the whole messed up world is in revenge mode. I guess it brings in big box office.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Who are the clowns?

Vesti la jubba -- Luciano Pavarotti

Send in the Clowns -- Sarah Vaughn

CAUTION: This post may seem incoherent and confused. People of unsound mind should stop at this point and just listen to the songs. 

     Once in a while in this mad confusion we call our short time to preen and strut upon the stage of life, things seem to fit like the final piece of a difficult jigsaw puzzle. In a gestalten flash your life makes some sense as the final piece fits into place and the picture emerges. You are stripped to the core, without pretensions, and you must put your complete trust in someone else's hands. Your very life is in the hands and skills of other people, most especially the surgeon and the anesthetist.

      I consider myself an independent and self reliant person. I am said to be arrogant and aloof by friend and foe alike. The former understand that aloofness is a mask I wear to disguise a rather shy introverted fellow and they accept me as I am. The latter don't matter. It is easy to be self reliant and independent when your path runs smoothly (a phenomenon I call the 'Good Time Charlie' syndrome), but when, through accident, or carelessness, or taking things and people for granted your path is sundered as if it ran across the direct path of an earthquake, then you must drop the I-don't-need-anybody mask and accept unconditionally the help that you do, in fact, need to survive a crisis. Knowing this is both humbling and oddly liberating.

       Openly accepting and acknowledging your vulnerability has the obverse effect, contradictory as it may seem, of making you stronger since you are multiplying the number of people in your corner. It goes from the strength of one to the potential strength of an infinity of others, beginning with your partner and expanding out from there. You no longer have to be Atlas bearing the weight of the world on your own shoulders alone. This, I believe, is the most important lesson I learned from my recent brush with loss of mobility due to an accident in which I broke my leg in a city that isn't where I usually live and a language I don't speak. I had to trust in the goodwill and competence of other people and temporarily relinquish control of my own life to them. Having no choice I made the decision without hesitation.

So, what about the clowns?

       We all wear different masks in our interactions with the other (the not I). This is, up to a point, normal. We don't behave the same way in bed with a lover as we do in the barber's chair getting a haircut. Should we do so, our behavior would be considered inappropriate and we would be labeled as, perhaps, socially incompetent at the very least, insane in the worst case. So we learn early in life to wear masks. The consequence, in too many cases, is that we ourselves no longer are aware that we are wearing a mask and loose touch with the core of our own being. We no longer know who we really are. We are the clowns.

       The night after my release from the hospital for broken femur surgery, we were scheduled to go to the opera to see Mascagni's Cavaleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. I was looking forward to it, but, during supper at our apartment I began feeling nervous and apprehensive about venturing out in public the day after my release from the refuge and safety of the hospital. My normal, pre-epiphany, stance would be to say nothing and wear the mask of I'm-fine-and-raring-to-go. I definitely wanted to go, but I didn't want to bear the burden of pretending, so I told road buddy the truth of what I was feeling. She simply gave me a nod and pat on the arm of sympathy and understanding and thus took some of the burden from me and I actually stopped worrying and felt more confident that I would be able to enjoy the performances. They were both excellent productions (with a slight edge in favor of Cavaleria); I was just enthralled by the acting and voice of the mezzo-soprano who sang the role of Santuzza in Cavaleria Rusticana. But it was I Pagliacci that started the train (confusion) of thought that is ending in this post.

       I Pagliacci, (translates as The Comedians or The Clowns) and depicts how the stage and life blend into tragedy because of the necessity to wear the mask and put on the show. The main aria Vesti la jubba, (by Luciano Pavarotti linked above) entraps the man into wearing the mask rendering him unable to deal with a love triangle provoked by a jealous Iago type character.

      On a more happy ending note, I was also reminded of another allusion to the masking phenomenon. A Stephen Sondheim song that exemplifies and amplifies the missed and/or crossed signals that pass, out of reach, between, usually, people who belong together but don't realize it until some crisis or crises occur, and they realize that they have been the fools themselves. I refer to Send in the Clowns. One of my favorite versions is by Sarah Vaughn linked above.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Been away....

....haven't seen you in a while. How've you been? 

Straight rip off from a Dave Mason song, herewith acknowledged, because these particular lyrics fit just right. *

     Not to put too fine a point it, I was in hospital for almost two weeks with a broken leg--the horror of horrors for any traveler. I was just discharged this morning.

       I toppled over while doing one of my yoga exercises, balancing on one foot, hands in praying position. Lost my balance and missed the post that I use to grab in just such an event. Landed squarely on the femur near the angle where it connects to the ball and socket joint to the left hip--writhing in pain, shock and disbelief, my whole skeleton buzzing and vibrating. (I did the same thing, albeit not while doing yoga, half a lifetime ago and spent three months in hospital in traction; my arm was broken as well in that fall.)

       Spent an agonizing day first in denial: "I can move it so it can't be broken," trying to stand but impossible, crawling to the sofa to hoist myself off the floor. Trying to walk again to the bathroom with road buddy's help, but that proved excruciatingly difficult. Coming out of the bathroom, felt dizzy and faint, and slid down the wall back on the floor whimpering and whining out of control. Road buddy tried to help me stand up again but, couldn't be done. I literally dragged my butt with my hands about 30 ft. back to the sofa and managed to pull myself back up onto it.

       At that point there was no more denial possible, I knew it was broken and needed immediate medical attention. The next several hours were spent on the phone to our travel insurance company until, finally, we made them understand that I couldn't walk and needed an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. After interminable hours of waiting and anxiety a doctor finally arrived at our old apartment at about 8 p.m. and confirmed that the femur was fractured. She called an ambulance service and they soon arrived and carried me out to the ambulance barely dressed for the cold, planked me in the courtyard freezing and shivering and just about out of my head. Finally, they got me into the ambulance and to a hospital emergency room not too far from our apartment. I was interviewed, examined, x-rayed, set up to receive a drip infusion and scheduled for surgery the following morning to implant titanium rods and screws to reset the bone and allow me to begin rehabilitation the second day after the surgery.

      And that's why I've been away, in case anybody noticed.....

      Of course, I didn't have the presence of mind to bring my camera, which is breaking down anyway. I did do a little very rough sketch of my roommate the other day. This gentleman seems to have had some kind of hip surgery, but just lay in bed all day either dozing or staring at the boob toob that was on from morning to night. He was able to walk with crutches, I saw him do it, but seemed unmotivated if not, in fact, unable. Rehab is hard. You have to exercise and practice walking or the legs will lose muscle tone and begin to atrophy. I worked hard and made sufficient progress to be released today. We've moved to a new apartment with an elevator. Not as charming as our old convent digs, but practicality overruled esthetics this time. The new place is a loft, 1-bedroom, brighter than the old place.

* We Just Disagree
   Dave Mason

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

got negatively "evented"

     event n. - something that takes place, an occurrence 
     evented v. - something that happens to you (I'm making this up as I go along) 

     You can appreciate an uneventful flight: not too much extreme turbulence, no funny unexpected noises from the normal whining of the engines, no sudden bang or thud on takeoff, no smell of burning ozone coming from the cockpit, no sudden drops of several thousand feet or meters, etc. The absence of all these constitutes an uneventful flight.

     On the other hand, eventful trips are the ones you remember later on. But, there are events and there are events. One of the worst nightmares of a tripper is that your wallet will be lost, misplaced or stolen. So, I got "evented" the day before yesterday. I somehow dropped my wallet at the Tesco supermarket in Prague, where we are staying for a couple months.

     There's nothing to make your day, or evening, like losing your wallet and nothing like it to put you in a self-ass-kicking headspace. Not to mention the stress of taking care of the important details, like canceling your credit card, reporting the loss of certain ID cards to the police and embassy, having a replacement credit card sent to you in a country that is not your "home of record", etc. Thank God for Skype and it's ability (for a fee of course) to call land line and cell phones. Didn't cost a dime to call the US from Prague since the toll free 800 numbers work on Skype from anywhere you are on the planet. A series of calls to our credit card company and we had arranged to cancel the old card before it could be used fraudulently, get a new card and arrange to have it sent to and picked up by us at the Prague FedEx terminal, all without using up any of my cash credit. God bless the Internet and its myriad applications.

on the mend
    The worst is over and I was able to relax enough this evening to go out walking in Old Town and find a very good local restaurant a little off the beaten path. The place is in a converted brickwork-arched cellar, warm casual atmosphere, local customers and simple but delicious food. I knew I was in a good place by the matter of fact attitude of the man I raised two fingers to to indicate a table for two. That beautiful gentleman shrugged and pointed to a table for six already occupied by two--an inoffensive take it or leave it attitude. We took it and were delighted that we did. Here is the restaurant's address; if you're ever in Prague I highly recommend it.

U Knihovny means "at the Library" named for the proximity of an old Jesuit library.

                                    Restaurace U Knihovny
                                                             Veleslavinova 10,  Prague
table in center of picture was our table

Sunday, February 3, 2013

...but is it opera?

Vladimir Franz [Wikipedia]

      OK, full disclosure, I have long been a fan of science fiction. But I had never heard of War with the Newts by the Czech writer Karel Căpek. My first contact with the piece was the working of the novel into an opera of the same name by Vladimir Franz, known informally as the “tattoo man.” You can see why on the right.

      The gist of the story is that some, shall we say, educable, mutant newts found in the South Seas are trained by humans to dive for pearls. Eventually the newts multiply and overpower humans in the conflict over land usage.

      The story is simple enough, but the story proceeds to focus on the human need to deny reality, and it's blindness to the harmful things humans do to themselves. The story pits the individual against the group. The group, being the group, establishes the zeitgeist, the perception and definition of reality. Obvious deviation from the group ethos, by its nature, threatening to the group, becomes labeled “heretic”, or non-conformist, etc., in order to keep the group oblivious of their constant denial of reality. Bobby, the young boy in the show, shows us the result of what happens when you can't deny reality any longer. Complex, I know!

*Bobby become
half newt
      My point here, though, is that this opera (at the Statni Opera in Prague) wouldn't work if you only saw it on one level. There is the music: dissonant, noisy, irritating, enchanting, the very well-paced music moves along with few dead spots—here annoying, there mesmerizing and compelling. It kept me focused and involved. It was fun and, at least one time, poignant. Above all, I think it works. It leaves you feeling uneasy; the intention of the composer I believe.

*overweight and badly dressed
     The stage set is fairly elaborate and colorful as are the costumes, which, I sat there thinking, reminded me of something familiar, then it occurred to me that they could be either a conscious or unconscious spoof of overweight, badly dressed Americans. Obviously another subtly amusing level of what is going on in this opera.

      It is, in fact, a remarkably astute satire on human nature in the 21st Century. I'm sorry to say it's not very flattering to us humans. But I enjoyed it, it kept me interested right through the curtain calls. But, with an amalgam of musical genres of popular music seemingly mixed in, and the use of microphones (although for effect in certain scenes) you can't help but wonder if this is really an opera you are attending or a music hall, or watching TV or.....but it doesn't seem to matter much. It was fun!

cast and conductor of "War with the Newts"

* publicity photos from a critical article on the opera on the Internet

Friday, February 1, 2013

golden town -- Prague by night

     Just a few photographic impressions walking through town to go out to dinner. 

     The lasting impression you get of Prague at night is the golden aura that seems to permeate the old city. It is achieved by the simplest of techniques, yellow light bulbs in the street lamps that mimic the old gas lights of the 19th Century (the photos do not capture them well). Not a harsh blue-white fluorescent light in sight. 

Naprstkova - our street in Old Town
Moldau River and eastern end of Karlovy Most (Bridge)
Smetanovo Street along the Moldau
western end tower of Karlovy Most - Prague Castle in background
Rudolfinum - Czech Philharmonic concert hall
Prague Castle

eastern end tower of Karlovy Most
arch in eastern tower with beggar in lower right
night club to the right of the east tower arch