On September 5, we fly to Europe for 11 weeks for Dawn's Sabbatical. We will be tourists, but we will be making videos. Some will be short video movement poems. In the past they have been silent, but we are thinking about Irish music for the one we are going to make in the Burren, in Ireland.
Sometimes I write and Dawn comments, sometimes Dawn writes and Icomment. Sometimes we extend the other's ideas, sometimes we argue a little. We are starting now to write because we need the practice. Just
remembering to write is a skill. We write mostly for our friends and family, but we invite everyone to join in.
In case you're wondering, "silent video/movement poem" is a term I
invented for the recent artistic work we've beendoing that envisions
the human figure as a small and/or highlyintegrated part of various
natural environments. We've made several short pieces of this nature,
some in Kyoto, some in Maine andMassachusetts, one on the Ligurean
Coast of Italy Where I was lucky enough to be an artist-in-residence at
the Bogliasco Foundation. The videos are generally quite short and move
very slowly, with the body often being hidden and slowly revealing
itself. Lately we're opening up to a lighter, more humorous take on the
with the possibility of incorporating sound or music.
The trick-or challenge-for us will be
how to do an eleven-week trip in various parts of Europe that
incorporates three different artistic projects...and to actually take a
vacation for part of that time too. We'll talk about the other two
projects later. We still have a few totally unplanned weeks in there
because we're waiting to hear back from some European friends that we
want to see sometime during this trip, but don't yet know where or when!
We visited Susan and Andy at their beautiful
Maine and made a short video to warm up for going to Europe in the
fall. It was fun and , as hoped we made a lot of mistakes to
learn from. The biggest thing that I learned was that you have to
schedule breaks with the same rigor as if you had a large film crew,
otherwise, I start to work faster and faster for no real purpose.
I also learned that you have to say rolling with a big smile so
that when you listen to yourself during the editing, you don't wonder
who the grouch is.
Sometimes when you travel you just go, and sometimes you spend a month in preparation. This trip will definitely be in the second category. Buying and testing equipment, renting cars and
places to stay, getting the house taken care of. The list seems endless. We are trying to get a chip and pin credit card, but we have already been on it for 6 weeks, so the chance of success is dimming.
Tonight, we are practicing going out late to hear Irish music. The band Lunasa is playing at the
Burren in Somerville<, second show at 9:30 which is late for us. I heard
them when I was on the stage crew at Boarding House at the Lowell Folk
Festival and thought they were great. We would like to get
permission to use one of their song for our Irish version of "On the
Rocks" which we will be making in the actual Burren in County Clare in
Ireland. Since we are planning to shoot in the early morning, I
guess we will have to sleep in the middle of
the day in order to go out to hear all the great music in Kinvara where
we will be saying.
August 1st, 2012 (top
I worked on the stage crew for these guys at the Lowell Folk Festival and then listened to a CD of theirs, (Shay, meaning Six). None of that prepared me for being out front, 12' in front of the mic line, when they unleased their onslaught of Irish music in our direction at the Burren in Davis Square in Somerville. I am not talking about volume, though there was plenty of that, but rather pressure as in a force that required us to lean forward into the music The energy derived from the five players going full tilt on their own instruments to create a wave of sound that wasn't like the ocean surf with its obvious organization, but rather like the turbulent waves of a flooding rocky stream, never quite the same. It felt like it welled out of the strength of the Irish past even as it explored the future of Irish musicality.
Kevin's stories in between were the necessary counterweights to balance the great evening. On the way out we talked to Kevin about getting rights
to use their music for one of the videos we will make.
Kevin was very generous about inviting us to use some of their music
for the video we'll make in the real Burren in Ireland. He said to
contact his manager about details, so we've done that.
August 29th, 2012
Our preparation in all phases of the trip continues. Somethings we now know more about, somethings less. Francesco at the olive farm in Sicily has answered a lot of questions but can't say yet when the harvest will take place. It now might be as late as November. That would give us October to decide where to go. Berlin is back in the picture as colleague Denise says we must go there. I am thinking a week or two near Naples would allow us to study Italian a little and then take the ferry to Sicily.
We talked to a hiking guide about helping us to find a location in the Burren that will suit our needs. We will meet with him the day after we arrive, but after we go to the farmer's market in Kinvara to stock up on food for the week.
And we finally sent out our email invitations to our friends, family, and colleagues. Welcome all.
We have made the sync tracks that we allow Dawn to know what each character is doing when. We have spend a lot of time on this and it gives us a chance to see how we each approach this process differently. Acceptance is all.
Last week Dawn worked as a teaching artist at a retreat held by the Boston Arts Academy. I shot some documentary footage there and that's when I learned that I had to buy an organizer so that I could see that all the slots were full of their items and that we had everything.
The lists get checked off: car maintenance, insurance riders, containers to hold all the bits of equipment like chargers, adaptors, filters, cable and rubber bands. Credit card notification, rain gear, trial packs, costumes, spare eyeglasses (required in Italy), international drivers permit.
September 6th, 2012 (top
Last Sunday after seeing the grandkids we got up at 6. Monday at 5. Tuesday at 4. And on Wednesday morning I got up at 3, Dawn lagged a little and sleepy head that she is got up at 4. I was trying to acclimate us to Irish time, but I think I only succeeded in sending us into some nebulous international time. Aer Lingus did not serve breakfast on the plane, so we didn't get our coffee until after we got on the bus to Galway slept 2 or 3 hours and rented a car from Budget on Eyre Square.
But I am getting ahead of myself, because before they didn't give us breakfast, they gave us seats 20 rows apart when we checked in. She said we might be able to get someone to switch seats and we thought we would get to the gate early to start working on this, but instead, after a very nice couple of brandies at the bar with a couple of Irish pub owners from Wrentham we got there late after everyone had boarded. The woman at the gate, Lena, was able to switch us close to each other and the stewardess inside did the rest, so we sat together in row 12 and were able to hold hands on take off and landing.
After coffee, we stopped by the Victoria Hotel where we will be staying for a night on on way back to Dublin. I told the guy at the Desk that we were just stopping in to take a look and try to get a quiet room. I told him a traveling story about cross country skiing in Quebec where we stopped at restaurants in the afternoon where were going to eat that night and talk to the owners about what was on the menu and maybe pick a table and then when we came back it seemed like we were regulars (nearly). The guy at the desk said, "Well it works" and gave us a big room on the top floor.
Then a SIM card for our phone and some Euros for Liadiane and we were off to Kinvara, driving on the right side of the road in the garage and on the left in the rest of the country. Everyone that we had met so far had been super nice and we were relay to be in our renovated stable where we we be for a week. (Well, maybe the hostess at the bar at Logan had been a little surly, but you never know what her life is like before she gets to work).
September 6th, 2012
Liadain's cottage is just as pictured, with old walls about a foot thick. She's a lovely person and had the placed stocked with Burren smoked salmon, Irish bread, coffee, tea, butter, eggs, jam, etc. Stephen did a great job driving here from Galway, shifting with his left hand, staying left and looking rightwith an occasional reminder from the co-pilot to engage the clutch. (Of course, when we first got in the car, we went to the wrong sides by habit of the driver being on the left, not the right!)
Took a short walk into Kinvara, a small town right on the bay, bought a couple of supplies, dropped into one of the eleven pubs for a pint and chatted with the bartenders, Padraig and Ros. We had all good intentions of returning for a 9:30 traditional Irish music performance but didn't make it out of the cottage after our supper into bed early. It's a bit cool here, but we are lucky to have no rain so far. Apparently August was very wet.
Looking for a Video Site
September 7th, 2012
Friday was a "mission exploratoire" kind of day. I had read that a particular area of the Burren had wider, deeper "grykes" in the "clints", that is, deeper fissures in the sedimentary limestone "pavement", maybe places where a body could hide and appear suddenly for our video piece. Called Mullaghmore or Mullach Mor, it's an example of the particular strange kind of geological formations that the Burren is know for. 'Tis a magical kind of place, with moonscape-like barren rock, striations of color depending on the time or circumstances that part of the rock was pressed into shape by the elements and geological forces. The Burren also has lots of pasture, some private houses (outside the national park), dramatic bays and seacoasts and an incredible variety of flora and fauna. So many wildflowers are still in bloom.
Anyhow, we picked a site and spent a lot of time figuring which scene would happen where. Got home and looked at our test shots and decided the camera angle was wrong and maybe we should consider another site.
It wasn't that the site was wrong but the camera set up was wrong. Not enough rock, too much sky, the watcher was too small. We decided to go back to the same place and spend a little time adjusting the set up. The one nice thing was that it was next to the road, so we didn't have to hike with all the video gear and we could use the car to recharge batteries if necessary. The background of the two mountains was very nice and the sun would be moving toward front light as the day progressed. Sun? Yes the forecast was the an afternoon of full sun and temperatures of 68 degrees.
After looking at the video, we headed for a well deserved dinner at Keogh's in Kinvara. It was nice to have someone else cook and serve and clean up. The crab cake appetizer, the sea bass and the chicken were good as were the wine and beer. Ros took care of usagain and said she would be in early to open the next day and then off to London for her other job as stewardess for BA. We drove into dinner rather than walk because Dawn was feeling a little under the weather. She would have to perform the next day.
Before we went looking for a site for the video, we walked into Kinvara. Later, I received an invitation to sail in Boston Harbor (group email). I sent a short response.
"Yesterday, we watched a couple sail off their mooring along a stone wall in the little harbor of Kinvara, Ireland,in the lightest of winds, pushing the boom out to catch the wind as we walked to the Friday morning farmers'market, Heaven."
I think the Heaven was the great cheese we bought at the market. Everything was great there but it was the cheese that made you roll your eyes.
On the Rocks
September 8th, 2012
We will finish this day later, but for those who saw "On the Rocks" shot in Maine,I just wanted to upload a video still of the "tourist" in her new location in the Burren.
The fish was sole that we bought at the market on Friday, but didn't eat for dinner. It was delicious and full of the energy and protein that we would need for a day that began when we left the house at 10 AM and returned at 9 PM. I know I told Laird that I didn't think we could shoot for more than 4 hours a day, but we didn't have a choice because of having to lock the camera position and what the weather looked like for the rest of our stay.
The Roads and Driving on the Left
September 10th, 2012
The following applies to the Burren which may be a world to itself. When we got lost and got on a National road on our way to Coole Park it was a different world. There each lane was as wide as awhole local road and we ran into some construction where they seemed to be making the road wider. -
"The 'cow road', which still has to be as wide as two cows, one standing parallel and one normal to the road."
After a half an hour of Wikipedia research, this is the line that stood out. The roads are not ancient, not Roman, they are Irish. What we have been driving on for the last couple of days are local roads, defined as any road that is not a National or Regional road. Quoting from the 17th century law:
New roads had to be at least 30 feet (9.14 metres) wide between fences and drains, with a 14 feet (4.27metres) wide graveled surface
What I think is that the fences are still there and they have widened the road as much as possible inside of them. These are stone walls and the speed limit is about 50 m/h which isn't bad except when you go around a curve. This is rain drenched Ireland so the walls are overgrown with trees and bushes that are pruned back by the left hand mirrors of the cars passing by. The Regional Roads don't seem any wider but they have 100 k/h (62 mph) speed limit. Dawn is going crazy as I gauge my position on the road by the sound the the tree leaves hitting the side of the car.
I pull over a lot to let the locals pass by but, I love it. The automobile has not gotten sway over the landscape. As you drive, you see the road ahead as a track that fits into the landscape. Eminent domain has not knocked down the walls to create a landing strip through the Burren. The walls of Ireland, which dominate the landscape, will be there after the automobile is gone and the oil with it.
"Burn fat, not oil" reads a sign advocating bike riding that we see as we drive into Kinvara everyday from the west.
I love it all.
I have a sense that I am borrowing the land rather than owning it as I drive through the landscape, that we are traveling an old place with a new vehicle, even when we drive at twenty-first century speeds, that they have not mowed down their patrimony to create a bermed eyesore. Looking down on the Regional Road 67 to Galway from Abbey Hill, it is nearly invisible until you see a car travel down it.
About driving on the wrong side. Dawn helps a lot. "Stay left!" is a rallying cry. The corners are the strangest. Trying to find the oncoming traffic and then the correct lane can be harrowing. But inside the car is where my world has been altered. The mirror is left not right as is the gear shift. Thankfully the clutch and gas have not been flipped. I am curious to see how this will affect my driving when I get to France on Friday.
I paid for the CDW, chicken that I am, to have a slightly more ease of mind as we cover the byroads of the Burren.
September 12th, 2012
We are having fun and working hard and falling behind on our writing. We will do our best to catch up.
Today, we made an off the cuff video that I am calling "Cottage". I am sure that Dawn will have a better title by the time we finish working on it. It uses an Irish pipes solo. It took a couple of hours and it was different to be able to move things around to fit our ideas rather than working in the rocks of the Burren that are so fixed. Furniture could be moved, lanterns slid over an inch. Lighting was still mostly fixed though we could put the shades up and down. We finished at three and scrambled to get ready for Liadain O'Donovan, our landlady whom we had invited for tea at four. We walked into town for pastries and came back to finish the clean up
This piece we made today was a bit of a recovery from a tough day Monday when we had a two-hour window, late afternoon, to drive back to Mulloch Mor, shoot some establishing shots for the Burren "On the Rocks," and find a site, set up and shoot a whole other idea...that included me in a long, silk, flimsy white dress out in the cold and wind, walking barefoot on the limestone. We had some technical difficulties and mis-communciations so we both got a bit grumpy.
Taking yesterday "off" was a great idea. It was cold and windy but very sunny. We hiked up Abbey Hill which rewarded with fantastic views all around after an hour's climb. The combination of stretches of limestone "karst," pasture, village, and bay views made me feel like I was standing in the middle of a panorama postcard of Ireland.
We kept a keen eye out for leprechauns. Then we went to Coole Park, the estate of Lady Augusta Gregory who is mainly remembered for her work behind the Irish Literary Revival. The estate served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures. Much of the land is being returned to its "natural" state except for a beautiful walled garden. It couldn't have been more different from the Burren (short of being tropical or desert). The dense forest was actually cozy after the open, starkness of the Burren. It felt familiar too, resembling forests and woods of New England, like places where my brother and I would build shelters in uprooted trees.
So today's video was a first for us; it was shot indoors. My primary interest in the last few years has been fitting the human figure into various natural environments in an unobtrusive, slowly revealed way...trying to envision humans as a small integral part of nature rather than the dominant force we humans seem to have become. We had practiced the "woman in the white" piece in Liadain's cottage because it had been raining and we wanted to find some way to try out ideas. When we looked at the rehearsal shots, there was something arresting about that figure right here in the cottage. Stephen said, "We could do a piece in the cottage, " and today we did! It seemed to flow naturally. We re-arranged furniture, experimented with camera angles and use of natural light, refined my choreographic ideas, shot it five or six times, and it turned out to be something oddly pleasing to both of us. While tea was brewing, we showed it to Liadain, who seemed to be quite moved by the work. . . a relief to us since it was her space that inspired and contained the piece that we made. Stephen, I like the title "Cottage".
The tea was wonderful. We sat outside and talked for two hours about dance, art, children and grandchildren, San Francisco, New York, our schooling and our upbringing, Kinvara and the wonderful weather we were enjoying in the sun. Liadain is a beautiful woman, about our age, with gray blue eyes and a feeling of soft strength about her. She looked like an actress. She took us inside her place to show us the work that her late husband, Gordon Cook, made for her and the world.
Afterwards, we took a stroll down to Connolly's for a pint and some brandy where we got to sit in front of a turf fire. It burned quietly, warmly and without out smoke. We were told that it was Tommy's Turf, from the farm of the young bartender's family. We met a school teacher from Boston -- not Boston, Mass but Boston, Ireland, a small community, in the Burren, where we had actually been a few days earlier when we stopped to look at the map and get ourselves less lost. It was very small and when I asked her what the population was, she responded, "It's declining". She explained that the young ones that would be the mothers and fathers of a new generation on the land are leaving for London or Australia.
She was a very pretty blonde woman with her hair up in a very elegant fashion. She was nursing a cold with what looked like to be a brandy. That is how we met, she came over to warm herself by the fire. After a short beer, Dawn thought she might like one also and put me in charge of getting it. So, I walked up to the bar and asked her what she was drinking. She put her hand over her drink and said, "Not for me". She thought I was trying to buy her a drink! Her husband is sitting
next to her, her daughter is reading in the next seat and I am asking her what's she having in the most casual way. It took us a little time to sort things out but I did find out without being punched in the nose and returned safely to Dawn's side with her brandy and my second Guinness.
Dinner was a collection of things to empty our refrigerator, eaten by candlelight.
September 17th, 2012 (top
The vendage starts today. It is 6:30 AM here and we are having our coffee, thinking about breakfast and getting ready to go over to the Vineyard
to start shooting the grape harvest. It is totally dark out at the moment, but we expect some sun soon. They will start at 8 AM and work for about 4 hours before it is too hot to pick the grapes both for the harvesters and the grapes themselves.
Yesterday, we went over and played around with the camera and the beautiful light. We tried some ideas that Dawn had brought with her and some things that come out of the space. The vineyard looks across a broad valley to the hill town of Castelnau de Montmiral and we will try to get it into some shots without the intervening electrical wires or automobiles. We are trying to avoid shooting too much in the middle of the day, both because the light is not as good and it gives us a chance to come back here and have lunch and our various travel chores, (laundry, shopping, etc.).
When we arrived on Saturday, we went to dinner with Chantal and Claude, the owners of the vineyard. We started with drinks outside around a small table with the beautiful view and then a delicious soupe de Pistou at the dinner table. They are wonderful, totally enthusiastic about their organic wine. Barbara who joined us for dinner is one of the many people who have come to train in organic farming and in fact, that is how their son Bastien met his wife Rebecca from the United States. She lived across the street from us in Newton and that is the connection that brought us to this place.
A Day Off
September 19th, 2012
We got the day off today because of some rain. We slept in and went to the market at Cahuzac sur Vere where Valery sold us some wonderful vegetables which Dawn cooked up into a wonderful dish which we ate with a wonderful view. Actually, we didn't get the day off because we downloaded video and started editing them to give us an idea of what we should shoot tomorrow. The Sauvignon Blanc is done and we are on to the Merlot. If I had a bucket list, one of the items would be that a winemaker in Southern France would dip a glass under a press, fill it and offer me a taste. So now there is one less item on that list. We have labelled the harvesting crew L'equipe (team) de la Tronque and we have joined them. Tomorrow we work an eight hour day to make up for the rain out and I have prepared a salad from instructions from Valery who also told me in French something that I have always believed, that you must use color to create your dishes. I feel immensely vindicated.
Actually, Valerie said that color is the first thing one notices in cuisine. It's kind of a visual advertisement for the aroma and taste to come. I made a version of ratatouille, but the tomatoes we bought from Valerie's local organic farm were SO tasty, I could only put one in the mix and had to eat the others raw. Even the big red beets are fabulous raw, sliced thin.
Tomorrow, it's back to getting up in the dark around 6:00 a.m. The sun doesn't appear until about 7:45 a.m., but then it stays light pretty late. I've been doing a mix of helping out with the vendange because i think that the choreography IS the work and doing some abstract shapes and movement sequences based on the gestures of the harvesters (vendangeurs). I made a couple of naive errors at the start, like harvesting a pail of table grapes instead of the Sauvignon (they were in the same field) and using a pail that was from the cave...which the vigneron kindly explained to me later was reserved for the juice only. We're also trying some wacky, surreal moments in the vines and hope that they will have a place in the final video. I suspect that there will be more than one "product" from what we're shooting; maybe something more in the line of documentary and something else more in the line of "art."
End of the First Stage
September 22nd, 2012
Yesterday, we showed a rough cut to the harvesters of what we might do with the footage. In the next entry I am showing the people that we worked with over the past week. Now we are waiting for the merlot to ripen. I have spent the week as a hand waving mute because I don't speak French, so I prepared a couple of sentences to thank them and practiced til I could get through them. The hardest thing I have done so far.
PS. The merlot didn't ripen when we were there so we didn't get to shoot its harvest. Probably okay, we have enough.
September 23rd, 2012
We have a lot of video clips and are in the process of logging all 580 or so of them. I am learning how to edit in the camera, dividing and removing useless parts. Watching the video now in Menton makes me a little sad to have left all those people.
Well the last two weeks in le Tarn were quite wonderful. We felt so welcomed and included by the Leducs and the whole "equipe du vendange." Last night as we were driving by their vineyard to have a farewell dinner with them, I felt a little pang of missing them all already, the people as well as the place. In the process of all the video-making, we became vey intimate with "la vigne." It is a beautiful location on a hill with sweeping views.
I think we shot enough material for a about two or three different pieces.
At first, I was timid about interacting in any performative way with the harvesters. I felt like the work WAS the choreography, so I just worked alongside them for a few hours, learning the techniques for finding, cutting, what not to take, etc. Eventually Stephen convinced me to get in there with them and copy/respond to what they do, making the gestures more abstract, grabbing their rhythms and postures. We played with my stillness against their activity, or my slow motion cutting into actual harvesting or very fast gestures. We also did some late afternoon shots in that beautiful low light of the "woman in white" strolling through the vineyard and the "mysterious lady of the vines." I wanted to explore the kind of melding into or hiding in the vines like we had done in the other silent video/movement poems in which the body is hidden at first and slowly revealed. It was a totally different experience in the vines at it was in the rocks of the Ligurian or Maine coasts. A vineyard carries such weight of "terroir, "of history, of the whole long process of growth, harvest, fermentation, and finally drinking of the wine. "Everything is in the grape," is what Claude would say, explaining how an organic vigneron works. They add nothing, no sugar, no yeast, no flavors. They work very hard to allow or encourage the particular grapes to become very particular wines. It's an entire attitude where pride in the natural products of the region supercedes commercial gain and their wines are distinctive and delicious.
September 29th, 2012 (top
We are (ostensibly) en route to Nice via train. At the exit from Marseille, we have stopped for a half hour now. There is another train in front of us that has some problem. Hence, we will miss the connecting train to Menton, and I will have to call the woman again who is supposed to open the studio apartment for us there.and it is gray and raining! Now we just heard an announcement that we will be one hour late, if we're lucky, I guess.
In fact, we weren't lucky. We ended up taking two different locals from Aubagne (near Marseilles) to Menton From Cannes, it was 18 stops. I also got us off at the wrong station in Menton so Leila, our contact called us a taxi who didn't really know where we were going but got us near enough to drag our suitcases us Rue de Conception and then Rue Palmier (pedestrian ways) to our apartment three hours late. Evonne, who lives on the ground floor was waiting for us, let us in after some commotion of finding the right key and then gave us a bottle of wine and some food from their own kitchen because the stores were closed and we looked and were exhausted. We drank the wine and ate the bread and cheese with olives and ham.
We are right next to Italy, in fact, we can walk to Italy for coffee. We were planning to go on to Italy, but finally our frieds in Paris made contact with us and we are headed back to Paris to see them. The Olive harvest in Sicily is late so we are lind of hanging out waiting for the olives to ripen. We hung out here in this old town and looked at the sights and took a one Euro bus trip into the hills for awander about and to have lunch.
We are carrying a lot of camera equipment, so we made a video. "Escaliers" was our first walking home video. No there are five (if you include "Bridge" which is more just hanging out and waiting), all of which can be seen on Dawn's Website.
Dawn Kramer.info/Recent Work
(Look for Stairs and Walks.) The above photo shows a set of stairs that we shot at. The final video is in black and white because the color got messed up shooting in such a dark atmosphere.
Review of the Apartment
We loved being in the old village in Menton, We really liked being away from traffic and the pedestrians down on the Promenade at the same time walk down to one of the two beaches in a couple of minutes. There are many ways to get down and I recommend trying them all. It is pretty much like living in one of the hill towns that you visit like a tourist.
We loved opening the windows when we got back and looking out over the Mediterranean and the tile roof tops of the town. With the shutters opened the light poured in. We loved looking slightly down on the bell in the steeple as it rang the hours, starting at 7 AM and the Angelus. You can see the bell starting to swing before it gets up enough steam to hit the clapper. The kitchen is well furnished and we cooked dinner every night and many of our lunches while usually stopping for a pression or a Ricard before dinner. We stopped at Jack's if we wanted to have an ocean view or at the Bar du Cap at the East end of the Pedestrian street if we wanted to people watch, but there are a hundred other possibilities.
Here are of couple of things that you should know to allow you to judge if the apartment is right for you.
It has a steep, uneven staircase with characteristics of a spiral staircase.
It has a quirky feel to it because it has a lot of art and possessions in it that belong to the owner.
The studio has many chairs and fold-out beds.
You are living in a hill town, so after hiking to Italy or Cap Martin you do have to climb up the hill.
The location is spectacular.
Another thing. We were late coming in, by three hours, and the agent arranged for us to be let in by the people who lived below us. We got a very warm welcome which was really needed after a nightmarish day on France's Train system. Also, after the trains being three hours late, we got off at the wrong stop and had to take a taxi back. Make sure you get off the train at the main (first) Menton station, NOT Gare Mention Garavan.
We are Americans and we don't know whether we will get back to the area but we would definitely stay there again.
October 7th, 2012 (top
We arrived yesterday evening after a long train ride from Menton. We got the TGV in Nice but it wanders about the Riviera for a couple of hours before finally getting on its horse and whisking us to Gare du Lyon. We took two RER's to the 14th and after a medium walk we in our place on Rue Cels.
The place is small and spare but perfect for our needs. We are staying near the Pedestrian Street Rue Daguerre and the stores there will more than take care of us for the next week. We ate out last night, but now are about to go out and shop for dinner. We walked by last night a store that makes fresh pasta and that will be my first stop.
Later we will meet up and catch up with Malek.
October 9th, 2012
Ah, Paris! It's great to be living in a different neighborhood from where we usually stay. The 14th arrondissement. is a wonderfully lively, diverse neighborhood with one of the best market streets in town: rue Daguerre. We pretty much shop every day and have found good places for all the various parts of a meal. We tend to eat out at lunch because it's less expensive and cook at home for dinner.
Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day, so we spent it strolling around the Jardins du Luxembourg and sitting with our faces in the sun. There were so many families enjoying the park. The kids sail those lovely little boats in the central pool. Each rental boat has the flag of a different country. There were also a couple of grown-ups who are clearly into the scale-model making or buying of beautiful sailboats.
They sail them with a remote control or radio device instead of the traditional sticks that the children use to push their boats into the wind.and everything was blooming! The gardens looked like it's mid-summer. Spectacular.
Then we made the mistake of walking through the 5th arronsisement, past St.Michel, Notre Dame, etc. and it was wall-to-wall tourists. More English, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, etc. heard on the streets than French! It was impossible to find a Café seat in the sun to have a coffee. Finally, in dire need of a coffee, we went to Café Lutece on the edge on Ile St. Louis and in the shade where two small coffees set us back 10 Euros! Eventually we headed over to the 11th to meet our friend Malek
who took us to his friend's beautiful pastry shop and had the la menthe (sweet mint tea) that is traditionally drunk in Algeria and other North African, Muslim countries. Delicious.
Today we found our way to Gare du Nord (See photo)
It looked more like a ride at Disney World. The patch of blue on the floor is the lighting, not floor paint. SB) and took a suburban train to Enghien-les-Bains to see an exhibition of work by the Belgian artist Thierry De Mey. I had taken a five-day workshop with him in LA at Dance Camera West several years ago. He does a lot of film work with Anna Teresa deKeersmaker, also some with William Forsythe. This exhibition was a fascinating combination of video installation focused on the traces that dancers' movements leave, floor plans that the public could follow (some out in the streets of the town), and three ambitious films presented in triptych form with lush music by Ravel and Debussy. Very brave to tackle a version of "Afternoon of a Faun," but that was done quite beautifully. The Ravel music was almost too much for the other two pieces, but the environments and the dancing were gorgeous.
October 14th, 2012 (top
The weekend before coming down to Sicily, after we left Paris, we spent some time with our friend Elena in Padua. We had probably the best dinner out that we've had since being in Europe, and Sunday Elena cooked us lunch and dinner at her place. In addition to a really tasty risotto with leeks that takes about an hour of stirring while cooking, she made a "salty cake" (torta salata) with tomatoes, cheese, seasonings, and olive oil in a pastry, and a couple of different vegetables. The ricotta-filled canolis for dessert were the topper! Some really nice northern Italian wines went with everything.
We went back to see the fabulous Giotto frescoes in the Capella Scrovegni (painted on those walls between 1302-5,) Now you can only go in after being in some kind of dehumidifying chamber, and only with twenty-five people at a time, and only for fifteen minutes. I remember being entranced by this artist's work when seeing reproductions back in my college Art101, and then seeing them for real fifteen years ago when we spent a week in Venic eand Padua. They do not disappoint. They've been cleaned up more since our last visit. I only wish I had my binoculars with me so that I could see the detail in the expressions of the painted figures up high on the walls. Giotto had such rich palette not only of color but also of expressions of human emotion.
October 21st, 2012 (top
Now we are at the Azienda Agricola Taibi, staying in the "farmhouse" that is really a very nice country home for the family. The olives are beautiful, and we got some really nice shots of them early in the morning when two of the workers were loading them from the tractor into the big crates on the truck. We were able to shoot from the rooftop deck above the house, maximizing the effect of the sunlight on the green and purple fruit.
Last night the water seemed to disappear from the house. I hoped it would miraculously return in the morning (thinking of the film "Jean de Florette" where the lack of water was the main issue.) I didn't want to bother the family last night, so this morning we got out early to shoot some overhead, early light footage of the mysterious woman in white, then came back and called Francesco about the water. He called his wonderful 81-year-old father who drove over here pretty quickly to open the garage and turn on the pump. Why the pump stopped is one of those shoulder-shrugging Italian moments. He asked if we had had breakfast yet, and I figured out that he'd like to have breakfast with us. Stephen whipped up an omelet (bless him) while Gherlando explained family history to me by walking around the room and introducing all his ancestors, photograph by photograph. He is gracious enough to try to slow down and/or repeat some phrases so that I can get most of his Italianor or so I imagine!
We find fascinating similarities and contrasts between the grape and olive harvests. Certainly the actions of repetition: carrying, dumping, transferring of the fruit are very familiar. Yet the primary posture in the olive trees is standing, leaning somewhat back and looking up to comb the olives off the branches. In the vines, the posture is mostly bending over or kneeling to reach the grapes. Both tasks are hard on the back. The two youngest workers here, Angelo and Alio, do the heavy lifting, that is they gather up the nets full of olives and lug them over to the tractor/truck and hoist and dump them into the hopper.
We've been working with a group of five, although another team has started the harvest also to try to keep ahead of the rain that is expected on Thursday. Lucky for me, Giuseppe and Salvatore both speak French because they spent years working in Belgium. The economy is pretty poor here. They told me that very few folks have steady work or can make enough to raise a family hereall because of "the organization." There is an election soon, and we've been seeing small signs that say something like: "A vote for the Mafia again is a vote to humiliate Sicily." or one cautioning against taking money for your vote.
Thoughts on Italy
October 22nd, 2012
Today we went to a small communal press where one of the workers brings his own olives to be pressed into oil. It's a fascinating, loud, procedure, including a conveyor belt that takes the olives up into a washing device, a centrifuge, and a separation of the oil, water, and mushy remains. The odor in the building is intense and wonderfulif yon happen to like olive oil. I asked what happens to the rest of the olives (the remaining meat, skin and pits.) He took us outside, behind the building to see a large overhead pipe spewing out a dark colored pulpy mess right onto the concrete where a front loader later picks it up. We thought that maybe they made soap or skin oils from this detritus, but no, that's the stuff that turns into what's often called "pure" olive oil, as against the extra virgin. Not only is it clearly inferior in quality, but it's also kind of dirty. I've always heard that cooking with the "pure" is better because it doesn't burn as quickly as the extra virgin, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I want to put any of that stuff in my body.
I'm realizing that it may be days before we can post any of this. We were supposed to have a pen drive connection to the Internet here at the farm but it didn't work. It would have cost almost 100 Euros to buy one that would work, and then we don't know if it would work elsewhere. So we thought we'd go to various Internet Cafés. It turns out that they are few and far between, or aren't working, or aren't open when we think we are. It's amazing how dependent we are on net access for everything from finding the next place to stay, to add minutes to our cell-phone, to paying for reservations. So as of now, we're leaving here in a couple of days and don't have any fixed plans for what's next! Not to mention that we're out of e-mail contact with family and friends. Pretty soon it's going to be I-Phone time for us, at least for the next trip.
Last Day at the Olive Farm
October 31st, 2012
Today was our last day at the olive farm. Although it rained and no work could be done, we had the planned lunch for the workers anyway. Yesterday, Dawn and Francessco bought meat for the event...Pork chops, chicken wings, but these chickens must fly because they are bigger than a chicken quarter from home, two kinds of sausage, a two handed load. They brought bread and accessories, and wine and beer appeared from somewhere. From lighting the wood under the oven to the last photo, a good five hours, 95% in Italian, Dawn was in overload as was Francesco.
Since we are on the subject of meat, I would like to talk about butchers. In Paris, I bought a couple of chicken breasts and He gestured if I wanted them sliced. I always say yes, and he sliced them into 8 pieces of thin breast that sauteed up in a pan in two or three minutes. the taste was, of course delicious. Now in Sicily, the butchers are showing off. In Raffadali, two breasts of chicken became one long slice of chicken breast. I felt like it was a magic show. It needed two women in net stockings and top hats for the butcher. Two days later, the butcher across the street repeated the show with even more flair. It seemed like pulling rabbits out of a hat.
If you happen to be in Raffadali (not exactly a tourist town), and you need Internet access, come on over to Movida! It's really congenial Café/Bar on the main square, run by young, friendly people.
Alessandra was a great host/barkeep. People hang out here a long time over a couple of drinks (like us). It's kind of an oasis for us because we went on a several-day search for wifi that worked!
November 1st, 2012 (top
Not only do we not have a GPS, we don't even have any maps. So we lurched across Siclily today using photographs we have taken of other peoples' maps or we stop at maps on billboards and take pictures of those. Mostly we follow signs to cities we think we going to and it all worked well enough as we landed at the end of the day at the Fisherman's House at the far end of Letojanni, a small community next to the way more famous Taormina. It is somewhat like being in the 14th in Paris (More like the 114th), but the price was right.
Enna is an old hill town in the center of Italy and since it had distributed the map that we photographed, we stopped there for lunch. We managed to find a place to park (next to a large cemetery) and walked up the hill looking for the center of town and a restaurant. We found the top, but no square, no restaurants, just modern housing. So we wandered down the other side til we found restaurant central along with lots of students who began appearing, also in search of lunch. A woman who seemed to be practicing her English took pity on us at yet another billboard map, but we got lost trying to follow her directions.
So we ducked down and alley and were invited into a restaurant by the cook, down eight or nine steps we followed and he showed us the two pastas that were available for lunch. We picked out which we wanted and sat down. The food wasn't great but it was a lot of fun. He put a plastic bottle of wine on our table that he had made, and when I complimented him on it, he made the "Yet it's okay but" sign and brought out another plastic bottle half full of wine. He communicated in Italian that this was a year old as the other was only a couple of months. It was better, but the young wine was okay too.
Dawn came back from the bathroom and I explained what we were drinking and we went on with the rest of our meal, finishing with coffees at the end.
On the wall was a plaque from the city congratulating him on forty years of service at the same location. Later he explained that the plaque had been there for ten years and actually he had been there fifty years! And he worked hard. For the first half of our meal he was the only person there, cooking the meals and then bringing them out. Later, his wife appeared and helped. We took pictures and had pictures taken and took other people's pictures with their camera and oogled over the little baby that was brought in who turned out to be the cook's three month old granddaughter.
We asked the German couple how they got there and their story was the same as ours. A wrong turn, an invitation, a why not and lunch is served. At the end, he billed us for a wine, and we took what we hadn't drank, (the older one) and the water.
Hanging out at the beach
Letojanni is a small seaside town, down the hill from the famous, beautiful, and well-touristed Taormina. Our friend Malek had memories of a Sicily trip in the 60's and said Taormina was a "must." It is indeed a beautiful old hillside town, but so packed with souvenir shops, gelato places, etc. that it reminds us of the entry way up to Mt. St. Michel, in Brittany perhaps the most visited place in France after Paris. Saturday afternoon we took the cable car up there, walked around, and went to a free mandolin, guitar concert in the 17th century church.
The concert was free, but the beer and Campari Spritz that we had were 15 Euros, NYC prices. It turns out that we didn't have to rush through our drinks because the concert started at least 15 minutes late as there was a Mass in the church that got out late. The music was pretty nice. It made me hope that we'll get to hear more live music before we leave Europe. We enjoyed that so much on other trips: being in small churches, or big opera houses, hearing music performed live.
Slightly run-down seaside places in the off-season can be a bit depressing Letojanni is no exception, but the longer we're here, the nicer it feels. On day one, we took a "morning dip" in the Ionian Sea in the early warm sun, with water the perfect temperature. The next two days were kind of stormy and unsettled, with an almost full moon so the waves were huge, and the drop-off severe. Guess we're getting older because we didn't dare go inwith no one else in the water, no lifeguards, etc. Today we're sitting at a neighborhood Café with books and laptop; the sea is calm, the sun is out, and think we'll hit the beach this afternoon.
Meanwhile, we are thinking about all our East Coast family and friends and hoping that all are safe, and that he megastorm Sandy has not wrought too much havoc in your lives.
Yesterday we took a road trip towards and around the famed live volcano. Mt. Etna. We went to Gole Alacantra, a deep gorge with walls of volcanic basalt and limestone (?), incredible rock formations. Unfortunately, you cannot do the gorge walk by yourselves but have to pay for a "guide" and go with a small group. Still, it was a beautiful place. Twas not the season to try to climb Mt. Etna; pretty cold up there. After the gorge, we did a long road trip which ultimately took us on the Sentiero di Vino, the wine route. The country was beautiful, much more lush and green than other parts of arid Sicily, with vegetable farms, citrus orchards, as well as olive orchards and vineyards. Still, even driving through this lovely terrain, there are stretches of road completely littered with trash. Stephen's theory is that people have to pay for trash pickup, so they'd rather just take their trash somewhere and dump it themselves. Not sure this is true. Here in Letojanni, they actually have an elaborate recycling program, much to my surprise.
No map yesterday either, but we managed with only one wrong turn. We just kept Mount Etna on our left as we drove and headed for towns we had read off the roadside map. We had lunch in Randazzo; from their sign a center of wine production. It is Northwest of the mountain which creates a lot of rain as it lifts warm moist air 10,000 feet into the air to create an almost constant cloud.. so you can grow lots of produce here and the west side has a large forest protected as a park.
Giaconda was the name of the restaurant and it was very nice with maybe twenty tables and we were the only ones there. We had a small meal but it was very good. A spinach ricotta pasta in pistachio sauce for me and a mushroom soup for Dawn. The cover charge was 4 Euros while the two glasses of wine 3.5. Especially odd since they did not provide any bread. A Monday in a week of declining tourism - we were lucky to get anything at all.
We have also been planning the rest of the trip while we are here. This means plane reservations to Florence and a place to stay (In an apartment rented by Alessandra near the Duomo) and figuring how to get to from all the airports. And then on to Berlin for eight days, renting a place from Peter. I still have to get some reservations to fly to Dublin and a B&B there before we fly back on the 20th. It is much easier not having to park in Raffadali as we could just walk to a bar to do all our business here.
Last night after dinner, we walked back to our house past the cemetery. It was all lit up for All Hallows Eve. Later Carmen came by to give us our boarding passes that she had printed for us and she asked us to dinner at a restaurant that we had just returned from. She was in all black for Halloween and looked great.
Today is All Saint's Day and on the way back from dropping off our recycle we walked in the local cemetery. Thousands of flowers, the morning light and the mist from the pounding surf made it the most beautiful cemetery that I have seen in Europe.
November 2nd, 2012 (top
Two different worlds.leaving Lettojanni yesterday morning, the folding-up end-of-season, Sicilian seaside town (We had a drink at the "Ciao-Ciao" place on the beach one evening; the next night we strolled by, and the entire place was gone, struck like a theater set until next summer!) and arriving in Florence. Our apartment is on Via Cavour, with a view of the Duomo from its little terrace.
We walked only about fifty yards last night,and there we were right in the midst of the Piazza Sta Maria dei Fiori with its Duomo, beautifully illuminated. Somehow we weren't prepared for the magical aura of the place, or for it to be so close by.
Tears came to my eyes, partly from the beauty of it and partly from memories of other times here. I've been in Firenze three times before, but memory plays strange tricks. i was here at age 14 on a trip with my family, then at 20, on a trip with college friends (and fresh out of Art 101 at Wellesley), and then with my 14-year-old daughter when I was an artist resident at La Napoule in France. In that last visit, I remember being disappointed that the Brancacci Chapel with its beautiful Massacio frescos was closed for cleaning. We saw it today, including the Expulsion from Paradise, filled with emotion-and now with the later-added fig leaves removed from Adam and Eve's now not-so-private parts.
Any of you who may remember my choreography "Marsupial Moments" might remember that I used the postures of Adam & Eve in Masaccio's fresco for the centerpiece of the slowly moving line of people behind the main action. It was my former student Roxann and Michael Shannon who did those roles, dear Michael, may he rest in peace.
When I return to see art works that i saw and admired long ago, my mind always envisions them as being front and center in whatever space they inhabit. It happened with Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy in Rome, and it happened again today. The Brancacci chapel as a whole was beautiful, but it was the Expulsion that most impressed meso I imagined it at eye-level in the center of the space. In fact, it is a slender panel high up on one side of the chapel. We also got into the Medici chapels with the Michelangelo sculptures of "Night and Day" and "Dawn and Dusk" on the tombs themselves. Michelangelo made marble turn to flesh and muscle. "Dawn" is my favorite, not just because she's my namesake, but also because she's a muscular, robust female figure, but still has an amazing softness about her in marble!
The apartment is great. It is on the top floor and the little terrace looks down on the inner courtyard. For years I have been peeping into these courtyards through their entrances in the major cities of Europe wondering about the life inside. Now I know a little. Here in Florence it is an illusion that the all the buildings are the same as in Back Bay in Boston. Their fronts tend to be the same height, but in the back, some are lower, thinner than others, and the differences create gardens and car parks, places for cedar and olives trees and a friendly jumble that is difficult for an architect to reproduce. There are no alleys here that rip through the privacy of these places. Cavour is a fourteenth century Street and one can see it if you look above the ground floor with its twentieth century retail shops.
Art, Now and Then
November 6th, 2012
Election day at home. We jumped through a ton of hoops to get to vote absentee, but our ballots only showed up in Sicily on Saturday. By the time they'd get sent to us in Florence, and we voted and sent them back to the States, it would be irrelevant. It would be really nice if the government could find a way to make absentee voting more actual.
We are full of trecento and quattrocento art! At the Uffizi, you can stand in one room and see three amazing versions of the Madonna, all the same size and format, yet each showing the individual artist's vision: Duccio, Cimabue, and Giotto, late medieval/early renaissance heavy hitters! By the time we got to the room with the Botticellis, later 1400's, the famous ones, "Primavera" and "the Birth of Venus", the tour groups were so intense and pushy that I gave up trying to get close to these paintings.
However, I called Stephen over to see an "Annunciation" that brought tears to my eyes. It was relatively small, Botticelli's Cestello Annunciation (1489-1490). It was the only one where Mary's face looked serene when hearing the news, her body expressing ambivalence by forming a beautiful oppositional curve, with legs and hips moving to the edge of the frame and upper body, gently pushing hands, and face moving towards the center of the frame. The angel on the other side of the painting seemed also more friendly than in other versions, and the center of the painting vibrated with the energy between them. The annunciation is apparently a very popular theme in Florentine art. It is fascinating to see how many different interpretations there are of this one moment in Biblical lore.
The Uffizi arranges its rooms in chronological order so that you can really see the development of perspective, plasticity, style, etc. from medieval to renaissance times. However, I was really upset that THREE rooms were closed to the public, and we had not been told beforehand. Those rooms happened to be the 1500's, where I imagine most of the high renaissance works liveLeonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael. Leonardo's "Adoration of the Magi" was out on loan anyway. We saw one Michelangelo "Holy Family" and one lovely Raphael, but that was it. Then we were on to Caravaggio and the 1600's. Then they took us back downstairs into the 1300's and 1400's again where they had assembled a temporary exhibit from their own collection that meant to highlight lesser known artists who were contemporaries of the great Giotto and Massaccio. By then, it was overkill!
Today we got to the Academia by 8:30 a.m., and there was no line at all to get in. At the Uffizi, we had paid an extra 4 euros each on top of the 11 euros to get a reserved entry time. It was wonderful to see the Michelangelo sculptures again, the giant David having been cleaned up since I was last there. The unfinished "slaves" or "prisoners" are still emerging from their blocks of marble, underscoring somehow the Zen concept that the art work is IN the material, and it is the artist who draws it out, a collaboration between material and artist.
David is really big. Whatever you have seen in books doesn't prepare you for the moment that you walk into the room. I guess size matters. Dawn and I have been talking about art from a viewpoint of acting and overacting. David is all method. He is very cool. There is no acting in him at all. Even with all the movement in the Botticelli, they are not really acting either. A very private moment. I noticed today looking at the reproduction that there is no dove or energy rays from God. They are on their own and it looks it.
They have a program called"Arte torna Arte" in which they commission contemporary artists to make work that responds to the older work housed in the galleries. Some of the results were wonderful: For example, Giuseppe Penone's "Nel Legno", a wood sculpture in which a slender tree emerges from a large rectangular block of milled lumber, still "unfinished" as are Michelangelo's surrounding marbles. Bill Viola's 2001 video "Surrender" is a powerful vertical diptych of two flat screens, one with a man in red, one with a woman in blue, looking pained and leaning, apparently, toward each other. They ultimately submerge their heads in water and come out dripping; then we see that we have been looking at their reflections in the water the whole time because the video shows us the distortions in their bodies caused by the disturbance in the water. This work is placed amidst a room filled with crucifixions, descents from the cross, and other painful subjects in religious art. The most recent addition to the contemporary works there is by Antonio Catelani. At first, it did not "get" me. A bunch of aluminum tubing shaped in a circle with random ends sticking up, lying flat on a low block. However, when I walked around it and really looked, not just at it but also into the center of it, I saw that it perfectly framed a reflection of the overhead glass dome skylight that was illuminating David. Like the Robert Irwin show that I had seen in NYC in June, this artist is making us look at the space with fresh eyes, seeing something a new through his work.
November 8th, 2012
Today is our last day in Florence. Last night we went out to dinner at a little restaurant where the patron sang his way around the tables. A big man, he filled the room as he walked around. At one point he was singing Whitney Houston, I think in honor of the young woman customer who resembled her. It was a surprise when she sang a very good Whitney right back at him with all the embellishments. Got a round of applause from the rest of us.
The waiter was a thin man, Valentino, who was a buddhist and a perfect foil to his boss. He took care of us, figuring out what we should eat. Even so, after the first course came out, Dawn was able to cancel her second course because there was no way she would be able to finish it given how big the portions were. A rollicking night and the food was good especially the pasta with sauce of wild boar (although the beef in a thick balsamic vinegar sauce wasn't bad either. See Photo.)
The guy who will clean the apartment after we leave is showing up with our printed bus tickets and boarding passes that Alessandra has printed for us and then we will push off for Berlin to find out what is cooking there.
November 12th, 2012 (top
What a change from the intimate old world ochre of Florence to the monumental, gray world of Berlin! Of course, time of year makes a difference. It's cold here now. When we ride by the big Tiergarten on the bus, the leaves are all beautiful fall colors. However we're staying in an apartment on Straussberger Platz, in the former East Berlin, one of the large platzes built during the eastern reconstruction after the war. These are large, block-like "Soviet style" apartment buildings on Karl Marx Allee. The price was right.
However, inside is all white, with blonde wood floors, Ikea-style chic, somewhat spare, but large and light-filled. If I didn't have such a lousy cold and back problems, I'd actually be able to do some decent yoga practice on this floor. Such activity has been very limited in the small apartments with tile floors in Italy. We also have a huge, beautiful Sycamore tree right outside the living room window. It does wonders in softening up the view of the eight-lane Karl Marx Allee that was built for impressive military parades in the days of Soviet/East German rule. The tree is probably around my age, with some leaves already yellowed and fallen and others still green, an apt metaphor for my morning meditation.
We got here so late and were so tired last Thursday that we went to our local Trattoria Vesuvio, just downstairs and next door. It was actually a wonderful Italian meal (just a lovely arugula salad and two excellent pizzas with the house red) but so ironic that we were still "speaking" Italian with the server on our first night in Berlin. My German is really non-existent except for the basic greetings and politenesses. I just don't have it in me to try to grapple with another language at this point. Many folks in Berlin are really good with English, thankfully, but most signs, and often menus, are only in German.
Friday night we had a lovely meal with Berlin friends of a close friend/colleague of mine. It was at a Chinese restaurant in the Charlottenburg area of the west side, called "Good Friends." Most unusual and delicious Chinese food! We actually haven't eaten "typical" German food since we've been here but we must before we leave.
Saturday we went to the Hamburger Banhof Museum, a big collection of modern art like Warhol, Rauschenberg, Lichtensteinwere kinda blown away by the three huge 3-D pieces by Anselm Kiefer that bore no resemblance to my memory of the linear drawings of his that I had seen in the past. It's a vast, endless space with a lot of Beuys work and video documents of his performances. They have plenty of temporary contemporary work too, but we misunderstood the closing time so had only time to really experience one artist's work.
Sunday we hit the Gemelde Galerie with paintings from 13th throughout 17th centuries from all over Europe. It's a gorgeous space. We got up close and personal with some wonderful Giottos, Botticelli's, Raphaels, Rembrandts, Breughels. The place felt practically empty! So different from the packed Uffizzi Gallery with its hordes of group tours, etc.
This museum has its galleries laid out in a double horseshoe configuration with the empty space of the horseshoe being an empty room that they call the meditation gallery. It is not quite empty. It has columns and a low fountain (Walter de Maria) about two thirds the way to the other side of the hall and benches all around and every gallery on the inside of the horseshoe has a door opening onto it. You are never far away from anything.
We are now officially "museumed out." Plus we both have lousy colds. Today we slept a bit late and didn't get out of the apartment till almost noon. Berlin is hard to "find" or to "pin down." It has so many different neighborhoods. We found one today that felt a lot more intimate in scale than where we're staying and had interesting small shops and Cafés still lots of italian, and in that particular hood, also Japanese eating places. We visited a Jewish cemetery with a memorial sculpture and plaque out front. There were also two small bronze plates in the sidewalk, engraved with names of two people who were taken from their apartments there in 1943 to Auschwitz. Grim reminders. We will visit the Holocaust Memorial before leaving here.
Even with all the college students back in their rooms, Berlin seems to me to be a younger city. Not a scientific observation, but as we walked around yesterday north of the TV tower it was more like the village in NY.
There is a lot of construction going on here and modern buildings are everywhere. The public transportation system is wonderful. We have passes for the week, so when Dawn gets cold, we just hop on a bus or tram and look at the city from their warmth until we are ready to go out again.
November 14th, 2012
We kept seeing signs for some kind of local music concert for yesterday, but could find nothing about it on the internet. After we had walked in the tiergarten, a very beautiful park in the middle of the city, I led us to the nearest bus stop which turned out to be the concert Hall we found a group of people just leaving the aforementioned concert. Oh well.
But I had found a jazz performance in our neighborhood celebrating the group's new CD. Simon Kanzler, on the vibraphone, with a drummer and bassist and a guest saxophonist. It was an under-thirty crowd but in age and size and we may have been the only people there that the band didn't know. Good music, "Intellectual Groove" said one reviewer. It started at 8:30 and we were done by 10. Two stops on the U-bahn and we were home.
I have found ways of getting to places in Berlin without going through Alexander Platz, which is the Times Square of this part of town. We are slowly learning our way around. Berlin doesn't have the crazy density of food stores and Cafés that Paris has, but it keeps up with the number of upscale shops. As we walk around near our place on Karl-Marx-Allee, we find more neighborly areas than on the street itself. It is a city that is being created or recreated in front of our eyes. I think that I could count about twenty construction cranes from in front of the Hamberger Banhof, about half of them moving. The weather has improved which keeps us happy.
November 18th, 2012 (top
The "neue arkhitektur" in Berlin (new since 1989) is amazing and varied. Everything from Gehry to Renzo Piano, to Gropius (older, but still innovative-looking), many German, European and NY architects represented. There's a palpable sense of the city re-building itself, both physically and psychically, since the wall came down. So much history there, right under our feet...and all during our lifetime, with the now 6 or 7 year-old memorial to the holocaust victims a grim reminder of WWII.
On our last night in Berlin, we went to se a performance at Dock 11, a dance center for teaching and performance in an old loading dock in the Prenzlauer district. There were three solo artists. Two of them made stunning, arresting work, each in such a different way. The evening reminded me, once again, how good art (in my highly prejudiced opinion) evokes, rather than describes. The third performance was certainly competent technically and had a concept, yet it was "telling" us too much somehow in a form that was not clear. The first two found the form appropriate to each of their concepts.
Now Dublin; couldn't be more different from Berlin. It is crowded, chaotic, loud, not perfectly clean, with a speedy energy. Berlin was never crowded; maybe at rush hour, a few people had to stand on the U or S trains, but there never seemed to be traffic build-ups, never a mass of people to navigate through on a sidewalk like here in Dublin, or NYC or Boston for that matter! In Berlin, no one jay-walks; they wait for the crossing sign. No one plays loud music or gets into loud conversations on the subway. To be sure, we didn't ride the U-Bahn during the wee hours when maybe the club scene folks kicked things up a bit.
Anyhow, back to Dublin. We're sitting in a "typical" Irish Pub, although it's owned by Koreans and is adjacent to their food place. The bar snacks are spring rolls and Kimchee veggies instead of chicken wings. Dublin is small and densely packed with people and experiences. Even though our BnB (The Parkway) is not in the town center, we walk everywhere. Today we returned to the Hugh Lane gallery, a fabulous place with a few famous impressionist paintings as well as a lot of Irish art of high quality and temporary exhibits of contemporary art of all kinds, but focusing on Irish artists. Also, some Francis Bacon and his actual studio, transplanted from England and donated by someone i imagine was his lover (dunno for sure.)Just heard a wonderful chamber music concert there (the FREE Hugh Lane galleries.)...made me realize how seductive to "music visualization" (from Balanchine to Morris) are the motion, space, tossing melodic motifs, layering, harmonizing, inverting that we heard in Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert today. To hear acoustic chamber music in a "chamber" as against a large concert hall is a wonderful experience. The sound was rich and full, whether a trio of Clarinet, piano and Viola (Mozart) or a trio of violin, viola, and cello (Beethoven), or Schubert lieder with piano and soprano (and clarinet for one piece.) The whole event was very moving for me. The singer made me think of my Norwegian grandmother whom I never knew. She was blonde with a ic mezzo figure and a gorgeous powerful voice. I am always amazed how the power of sound waves emanating as a configuration of notes in time can be so emotionally affecting.
Monday, the night before we went the the Abbey Theater to see a new work called Quietly. It was in Preview so we had no reviews to go by. It was on the Peacock Stage which is their Black Box. Two 52 year old men meet to rehash what happened in this very bar when they were both 16 years old. The Polish bartender links the play to the present. I am not ready to say what I think yet, but I I do know that I was disappointed in the lighting. When they came up, I looked the lighting 101, Stanley McCandliss, Warms form one side, cools from the other. Very little effort to make it feel like a pub.
The audience was very young. I would guess that 90% were not alive at the time of the incident that they talked about in the play. I think that this was the audience that the play was written for.
Tonight we go to see My Cousin Rachel, something we think will be at the other end of the theatrical spectrum.
November 20th, 2012
We leave Dublin today...after a whirlwind of theatre, art, music, food, and of course, Guinness. If we could have written ALL our thoughts, feelings and experiences, our blog would have been endless. Such is the nature of travel; we will undoubtedly realize even more later how much we have learned as reminiscences appear in the middle of our daily lives back home. Happy travels to all of you; may we all be ambassadors of peace.
I second the 'motion.