Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Best Part of My Day

 ... the hedge at the bus stop ...
What was the best part of your day, Rebecca asked last night.

The moment I stopped to really look at this hedge, to see the red of the blooms, a massive profusion of blossoms for a whole block. That was the best part of my day.

Also in the running was walking by the Gorge Cannibus Dispensary.  I had to read the sign twice and then I looked around at the people hanging outside of its doors, or preparing to go in.  At home Rebecca told me that the police have a policy of just leaving it alone until the law sorts out what is going to happen on this front.

Next might be the fact that I took three buses to get to the BC Victoria Transit Lost and Found where the scarf I had lost was waiting for me.   Taking 3 buses to go somewhere really means I can get around in Victoria.  Do you know when a scarf becomes my very favorite scarf?  It is the minute I loose it.  Tens of scarves, even hundreds of scarves, and it is the lost one that I long for.

Earlier in the morning I took the transit to get some drugs at the pharmacy and made a short trip to the CIBC in another spot.  Seven different buses.  Now that is mobility!


Friday, February 26, 2016

Fattoush in Victoria

Below is my favorite salad recipe.

That is not exactly right.

I might have 10 favorite salad recipes.

But this one is easy, fast, delicious and one I do when I need an ethnic salad.

I wanted to make it here in Victoria, but Rebecca didn't have the spice called sumac.  I made it a couple of times without and then it just didn't seem right.  We went to 3 different stores looking for sumac.  Finally Gillian Calder went to an Indian store and asked them to sell it to her out of the back of their kitchen.  They did.  And now!  Fattoush.  This is not the best recipe -- just a fast one I pulled off the internet.  Take a look there and find one that has the ingredients that you will love.




4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes

3 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons (or more) pomegranate molasses

2 small garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons (or more) white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried mint

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt


2 8"-diameter pita breads, halved, toasted until golden brown, broken into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 pound Persian cucumbers, or one 1-pound English hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise

6 scallions, thinly sliced

2 Little Gem or baby romaine lettuces, or 1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4" strips

2 cups (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 cups purslane leaves or additional 3/4"-strips romaine lettuce

1 cup fresh mint leaves

Ground sumac (optional)

Ingredient info: Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice, is available at specialty foods stores and Middle Eastern markets. Pomegranate molasses can be found at some supermarkets and at Middle Eastern markets.


For dressing:

Combine sumac with soaking liquid, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, garlic, 2 teaspoons vinegar, and dried mint in a small bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly, until well blended. Season with salt; add more lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and vinegar to taste, if desired.

For salad:

Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt. Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3/4 of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired.

an ill-roasted egg

We do massive cribbing on the way to the theatre, as we drive to see a new NT Live, this time, As You Like It.  Rebecca has done preparation for all of us and brought the plot into meal time conversations, or at least made us familiar with the names of the characters. She also has 4 pieces of foolscap posted on the dining room door, each of them with famous quotes. In our group, if you  raise your hand when one of these quotes is said in the play, you get a dollar. That is even incentive for me to learn them.

On the way to the show tonight we rehearsed the 7 stages of man: the puking, mewling infant; the whining school boy, the sighing lover; the solider seeking reputation; fair rounded belly of the justice; the pantaloons with spectacles on his nose; and the second childhood, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.  All of us have run into that quotation before, and some of us, even tried to memorize it.  Now all we had to do is recognize when it was said in the play.

What a speech. And what a good way to get the boys to remember part of it – the promise of another dollar.

 Rosalie Craig and Joe Bannister 
as Rosalind and Orlando. 
Photograph: Tristram Kenton

I don’t know when I have ever felt more warmth in a play.

Rebecca said I was laughing all of the time. 

She is right.

Some of the time I was laughing out loud. 

Some of the time there was just a warmth inside of me, recognizing what a gift it is that I can go to a movie like this, something with so much charm.  And then we were home from the show in 17 minutes.  But I am still to wired up from the play to sleep.

We lingered for a while on one of the quotes as we drove home: "truly, thou art damned like an ill-roast egg, all on one side". Having never roasted an egg I came home to see what the internet has to say about such a practise.

In one word: don’t.

Roast the egg, that is.

Being damned has nothing to do with it.

Anyone else go see As You Like It?

I loved the following in no particular order:

1. the flock of sheep, their moving around, and I had to laugh when Celia had trouble moving through the flock.

2. the music was astonishing. To steal a line from the play, "O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful, and after that ...[wonderful]".

3. hard not to keep one's eyes on Patsy Ferran (Celia). Rebecca remarked that there were times when the close-up was on someone else, but she was wanting to watch Patsy a bit more. And Rebecca is the one would caught the fact that Ferran played Jim in Treasure Island.

4. the sound effects in the Forest of Arden were magnificent.  On the way home, Rebecca tried some of them:  imitation, the highest form of flattery.  She was good with the sounds of a forest.

5. Rosalie Craig as Rosalind aced it for me. I was wondering how she would after I read an article naming the famous people who have also played this role: Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave.

6. The forest as a prop was marvellous and the scenes changed so smoothly in it.

7. The dancing at the end was such a nice way to tie a bow on everything.  Into this I should lump all of the wonderful eye-rolls, shoulder shrugs, hip flexing and wild arm gestures that moved the play along.

8. And the fool was a fool for fools.  Wonderful acting.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Country Seed Bread -- 3 loaves still

keep out of dog's reach
Ours is not the only house with a dog that steals bread when it is left on the counter.  But enough was enough last week.  It was Rebecca and I who only pushed the loaf half way back on the counter earlier this week.  I thought Alex had been home when I saw half a loaf was gone.  But the dog was hiding, and no one else had been home.
... my style of barricade ...
This is why I put a sign on the bread today, as well as built a barricade out of my bread pans in case she tried to jump up to get it, as she has in the past.

This is the best bread in the world, Alex told me as he was eating some for dinner:  some with honey on it, some along side the sausages he had cooked, some along with the tortillini and some with cheese.  "Could you give the recipe to my mother?"

That phrase made me laugh.  Yes, I will give the recipe to everyone.


Inazo Nitobe Memorial Garden

....running water and tall grassses ...
Rebecca and I went to her friend’s house today to deliver some Gravol to her.

Laurie was sicker than Rebecca had imagined so Rebecca bundled her up and took her to the hospital.

Thinking it was better for me to be walking than sitting in the waiting room I enjoyed the warm sun on my face and a stroll around the hospital sidewalks.

As I turned one of the corners I ran into the charming Inazo Nitobe Memorial Garden, a collaboration between a Japanese and a Victoria architect of the most charming kind.
Earlier Rebecca and I had stopped by Save-On Foods and I had lingered in the cut flowers section, breathing deeply in and out until I was afraid I might hyper-ventilate on the smell.

The same thing was true of me in this garden since so many of the spring blossoms are out.

Add to that smell, which I only know at that level if I walk into a florists shopw, the sound of the water flowing over the rocks and the beautiful colours.

I could only be disappointed when Rebecca came out to say it was time for us to return home.

There are better pictures on the internet of these gardens than mine – but the ones shown here are mine -- capturing the memory of a lovely walk.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Preparing for ... As You Like It

‘A combustible duo’:
Patsy Ferran, left, as Celia and Rosalie Craig as Rosalind
Photograph: Johan Persson
Spoiler Alert

We are preparing to see As You Like It on Thursday.

Our preparation involves looking at the ten top quotes and learning the plot line.

This is not easy for every time Rebecca tries this pedagogy she is greeted with cries of spoiler, spoiler from her boys.

They want to be absolutely surprised!

middle?  Mark Benton who will do the famous
"All the world's a stage ..."
Perhaps only Rebecca and I will look at the spoilers, a story of feuds between two different sets of brothers.

I go a step further and look at some of the reviews:

The Guardian's Susannah Clapp gives us "out with merriment, in with humour".

The Guardian's Michael Billington says "love gets lost in a forest of chairs".

In The Telegraph Dominic Cavendish pillories the play with "I felt I'd aged four score years."

Good or bad, the reviews always make me want to go.

Arta who is trying to remember that "one (wo)man in his time plays many parts...." 

Artists' Theatre Collective presents Ann Frank

From Marcia Bates:

Artists' Collective Theatre
presents an adaptation of
Anne Frank
Gabe is playing Peter in The Diary of Anne Frank on these days:

26 March 1:30pm Saturday
26 March 7:30pm Saturday
27 March 7:30pm Sunday
30 March 7:30pm Wednesday
31 March 1:15pm Thursday (school matinee)
2 April 1:30pm Saturday
2 April 7:30pm Saturday

Link to tickets:

Only come if your able to and want to, no pressure!

West Village Theatre (near pumphouse theatre but it is not pumphouse)



Walking to Class

... putting down the umbrella to take a pic ...
Rebecca walked to class this morning while the sun was still shining.

I saw the dark clouds begin to gather and by time I was ready to walk to class, the raining was falling.

Rivulets of water were along the road and I side stepped the ones I could and walked through the narrowest places when it was impossible to miss the water.
... having to get closer ...

I went without the walker, since it seemed like too much to push it and hold an umbrella. 

When I got to the corner of the university and began to cut through on the asphalt path I noticed that it was built on a slant so that the water would always be running off of it.

When I cross over a small stream, I had a flashback to streams of that size in London.

I would stop when I was there to take a picture to remind me of that place. I wished that I could do that again, but the umbrella in one hand and the camera in another seemed like too much to manage.
... me and my umbrella ...

The walk home was gentler. The rain had stopped. I still carried the umbrella but this time it was closed.

I stopped along the way to see the cherry trees breaking into blossom and had to stop and take pictures of flowers on a low bush that were just too much for me to pass by.

A beautiful world here, when it rains.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Chinese New Year a la Hebe

I have always loved Chinese New Year.

Perhaps because it can be conjoined with my own love of Chinese food.

But still, what celebration can be as good as one that involves giving money, one that involves drums and a Chinese dragon, and one that involves streamers and dancers.

Perhaps I get Chinese New Year mixed up with my love of food, Chinese food.

Even the regular supermarkets in Victoria celebrate the new year with decorations along their ceilings, and with bringing out foods on the display isles that I don't see during the regular parts of the year.

Even rice becomes a feature with bags of it along the isles, all at a saving of some sort.

Add caption
Am I the only one who loves to linger at the bok choi.

Or who gets a heady feeling when the chui choy is in my hands and I can imagine chopping it up and adding it to a chow mein.


A trip to China town and a chance to walk up and down the isles of the stores, look at the tea pots, touch the decorated pottery, look at the jade, see if there is a stand on which to put a small jar or a decorated tin of tin. Yes to happiness that Chinese New Year is here again.


Carving a Chicken Grandchild Style

.... thank you Save-On-Foods, for roasting this chicken ...
Rebecca often brings home chickens from the store, two that have been spiced and roasted, and that makes getting the evening meal ready quite fast.

Add some vegetables and the meal is done. Duncan likes to have someone else carve off the meat for him and no wonder. There are strings to cut that bind the legs to the body of the chicken, the chicken is slippery and scoots around when it is touched, it has to be lifted out of the container and to the cutting board, and who can tell where to cut first on the chicken. Even worse now, the chicken comes in a bag and not packaged in the stiff styrofoam container of the past. There is just something nasty about slipping it out of the bag, for the question is, slipping it out and onto what.

After we finished perfecting our crème brulee skills last week, the next sensible task for Duncan and me seemed to be to learn to carve a chicken. I haven’t had any lessons but I am not afraid of picking up a boning knife and getting the meat off of the chicken. I have the power to engage with the bird, just no skills. Now I know that U-tube is the most wonderful place to learn just about anything. Bonnie loves this way of learning for that is where David learned to make a bed. Now he tells his dad exactly which way the sheets go and how far to turn them down.

I like utube in the instance of cooking, for there is more than one way to carve a roast chicken. Duncan liked to watch Gordon Ramsey’s rendition of carving the bird. I like Mark Bower’s demonstration from the French Culinary Institute. We watched a third video, just to get the technique right and to stop the discussion of who had given us the best demonstration. One thing we do agree on is that we are going to try to do it with a carving fork, should we be so lucky to find one in the kitchen. In the final analysis, the trick is to cut the pieces and get them onto a plate so that there will be portions of the chicken for everyone. And without the meal looking as though we have just disintegrated the chicken.

Now that Duncan and I have done that homework, I am waiting until Rebecca brings home another roast chicken … or perhaps two.


Sunday and Crème Brulee

Creme Brulee Part II started with a trip out to see Matt Bower, a French cook, demo how to skip the mistakes we made last time. It is clear three areas beat us.  We beat our egg yolks for 3 minutes with a mix master -- mistake number one -- too much air.  We let our cream get too hot, mistake number two.  We didn't temper the egg yolks well enough.

Armed with all of this knowledge, we went back to the kitchen.

Having watch chefs used the vanilla bean and extol the virtues of heavy cream, Duncan started to crack eggs again, the heavy cream and vanilla by our side. We revised our original recipe so that we were making less volume, but the ingredients were about the same proportion.

We use the Aunt Bonnie rule with food – that is, if we make a mistake, it is OK and no use mourning when the whole egg gets dropped in with the separated egg whites. Either fish it out or start again – what is the cost of an egg when a person is learning to cook.

We used the method we had seen on utube, even to filling the ramekins close to the stove and pouring the hot water bath in, so that we didn’t make a mess as we carried it to the oven. Perfect crème brulee. We should have taken a picture.

And the blow torch? A big wow to the carmelized sugar on top. One of the methods had called to use a finer sugar on top of the ramekin, so I cleaned out the coffee grinder, and ground some white sugar into a finer form.   I am a good sous chef.  Duncan had seen the cook knock the sides of the ramekin to get it to spread evenly, so that worked out perfectly. Only the last two of the portions didn’t get done?

“Why?”, I asked

“My fingers are a little raw anyway and I got the blow torch too close to this hand,” he said, raising his fingers for me to see. That is fine. Seven out of nine finished beautifully.

I am calling that 100% on learning how to do creme brulee.


Seton Visit

Kelvin Johnson and Dave Wood
Moiya and Dave Wood went to see Kelvin at Seton Place, their first visit there.

"An amazing place," said Moiya.

"We had lunch with Kelvin in the dining room, and listened to him say that not only does he have a big TV in his room, but that Rebecca surprised him with her engineering skills and put together the stand it sits on."

She put together the stand, and she arranged for him to have the cable channel that trumps all other cable channels:  The Smithsonian Channel, a joy to watch.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Creme Brulee

.... concentration is everything ...
Duncan owns one of the tools in the kitchen.

The butane torch.

Mainly used to put the sugary crust on crème brulee.

He has been wanting to make it so this after noon we got together in the kitchen and put the recipe together.

Everyone who bakes knows that the first step is finding the recipe and getting the correct ingredients in the pantry or the fridge.

That alone can put a halt to some recipes.
.... captured it!  the yolk is separated from the white

A case in point is that I have been looking for sumac for weeks, wanting to make fattoush. 

What is fattoush without that final ingredient, even though it is listed as option.

It is not optional, as attested to by those who have had the salad with sumac and without.
... which shell to use to try to pick out stray bits of shell? ....

Crème brulee is easier – some egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and whipping cream.

Maybe a double boiler and for sure – the blow torch.

Duncan was the egg separator. Six eggs gave him a chance to practice doing two things: scooping bits of shell out of the white; trying to pick up the yolk from the white when his attention got off of separating the two and he cracked the whole egg into the waiting pyrex dish.

Blame that on what you will, I have done that more times than he ever will, recovered the yolk and gone one.

“This is a disaster.”

He was right.

We added the hot cream to the creamy egg yolks too fast.

We tried a bit at a time. Mmm.
... five eggs cracked, one to go ...

Scrambled eggs in cream.

Straining the concoction wasn’t enough to save it, though we went on and baked what we could.

Even the baking was a disaster with the fat separating out on top. 

Duncan wants to use that blow torch. That, after all was the whole purpose of the experiment.

We are going to try to do this again.

So much went right, that I don’t want to give up yet.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Daffodils on San Lorenzo


I found Rebecca out picking these daffodils from beneath my bedroom window.

And this is the bouquet after a few days and she has pulled out the older ones that started to die.

While others are experiences sub-zero temperatures, the rain falls in Victoria, greening the lawns and washing down the roads and sidewalks.

The people here do not gloat.  They just wish for the next few weeks to arrive when the flowering bushes will leave the air redolent with the smell of Spring.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Friday night Duncan called to see why no one was home.

Yes, 7 pm Friday is late for everyone to still be at work, so we gathered up our materials and headed for home – or at least to pick him up and go to Tsukino-con 2016 at the University of Victoria campus.

As we walked into the campus from the parking lot Duncan was 10 metres ahead of us, all of the way.

He has been to this conference in previous years and I know that feeling -- hurrying ahead to go to something that was good in the pasgt.

Rebecca’s faculty card gave us entrance to the Artists Alley and the Vendors Hall. The merchants were selling tsukino items: pins, posters, calendars, badges, wallets, knives, stuffies, costumes – all of us had a chance to buy all of the merchanize our wallets could afford. A person has to have interest in anime for interest in this conference. I was agog looking at the costuming of the participants: the women dressed to the nine’s, the men as well. Everyone wigged, in leotards, cloaks, lacey dresses – the merchants and the participants. I came home to look at the online programme to see if I wanted to go to the conference for the day. Rebecca convinced me that my shallow knowledge base would not make this the place for me to be for the weekend. She bought a lovely bag to carry her law books in. Duncan bought some gifts and a picture for himself.  With some training, I might like anime.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Goya: Visions of Flesh and Blood

 The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca. 
Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga
"There is no way I am going to miss the Goya Exhibition from London and now in the theatres via Exhibition on Screen," Rebecca told me a few days ago as we calendared to go to the theatre on Thursday night.

"And I am gong to take my boys.  They can sit through 2 hours if I pay them."

But today she got an invitation for dinner on the same night, one with her friends who have come to the island for a few days.


I don't care.

I still have the interest in going and went to take a look at the review in The Guardian.  Time Out also prints a telling review.

 The Family of the Infante Don Luis de Borbon, 1783-4. 
Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Imagse

It is not the image of "The Family Infante..." that made me stop and look at the photograph, so much as all of the people in front of it.

How many exhibitions does that remind me of?

Ones where people were lined up in rows in front of the painting.  The heat of all of their bodies.  The inability to move without brushing by people. Powerlessness to get up close to the paionting.  An aching feet and stiff back long before I want to leave the exhibition.

I won't miss any of that when I sit in the movie theatre and see all of these painting on the screen.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kitchen Renos

... getting close ...
Surgery was quick and clean.  Getting better took a little longer.

Now the renos on my house are nearly done.

I am ready to go home.

A sink needs to be cut into the kitchen and the stove put in place.

But it looks like I am able to move back into my space in March.

Looking good, isn't it?


Banking in Fragrance

We stopped at the TD bank. When I got out of the car I was overwhelmed with a floral fragrance. If all things were equal, I would move to Victoria. I want to be able to afford the house across the street from Steve and Rebecca. What holds me back is knowing that if I came, I would also need to bring a gardener to mow the lawns and prune the bushes. Why wouldn’t someone want to live here? The air is redolent with fragrance in February and I can’t tell where it is coming from.”

Rebecca bent down to pick the tiniest flower from an innocuous low shrub and showed me a small blossom, powerful enough to fill the parking lot.

One of nature’s uncommodified gifts.


Lulu - a second run

 ...the two of us at the theatre ...
 ...trying to get the marquee of LULU into our selfie ...
One of the best surprises this morning was meeting Gillian at the National Theatre Live Opera.

She had decided to come, unbeknownst to us and had purchased her ticket ahead of us.

We arrived at the theatre with 8 minutes to spare – just enough time to settle into our seats.

This encore was 9 am – a surprise to Rebecca as well who slipped out of bed thinking she could get in one hour’s work done before we left for the theatre. Everyone lives like that – looking for the time to do a 20 minute job, a 10 minute job, or even a “what can I get done in 90 seconds job”. No, there was only time to grab a banana for food at the intermission, and a piece of bread for breakfast. Sufficient, but not a full scale healthy breakfast. I am keeping to the rule than anything you eat is breakfast, as long as you eat it within 2 hours of getting up.

This was my second viewing of Lulu. I knew I was going back after the first presentation. There is a big why not question if a person has the expendable income and the time and interest. On the second viewing I spent more of my time watching the visuals projected on the screen behind the actors. Marlis Peterson get the five star award for her portrayal of Lulu in this film. She acts, she sings, and she is incredibly flexible, doing one of those moves where she bends down to pick up a piece of paper, but she only bends at the waist and her arms can touch the floor. Everyone seems to be lithe at the opera’s these days. That would be except Schigolch (Franz Grundheber) in Lulu whose first appearance at the Met was over 50 years ago. When he came on stage for his bow he was doing an exaggerated shuffle but he still can do as the younger people in opera and the theatre who are now climbing up and down ladders or running up and down stairs at a rate no 70 year old can manage.

Wyona said she went to see the opera live in Calgary – a composer who has the lush melodies of Mahler, she said. Berg of Lulu was a student of Schoenberg so there was dissonance for the whole four hours. I would hear a theme repeated and hope to hear it again, but then there would be another and then a third so all I could do was gather themes, never really take hold on any of them. Kettridge, the visual artist, said that he had to listen to the opera four times to get a start on it … and then eight times to get a feel for the images he would paint for the backdrop. Lulu is not music I would turn on to peel carrots to in the morning, nor to put on for an evening for easy listening. This is music to listen to with a score in hand, or to see performed and let the visuals and the sound work their own magic.

So … now I have seen it 2 times. Six to go.


Into the Woods

From Rebecca:

The evening started with a quick run to MacDonalds with an Alex who hadn’t eaten all day and was about to make up for it. Ben and Duncan were along. There was much discussion of glycogen and insulin and all things chemistry. As we left MacDonalds the police were outside talking to street people, asking them to be considerate in their use of language and not to swear. Alex thought the police instead should be considerate and buy the 2 men a hot meal. “Think of the children,” the police said.

The musical was put on by The Canadian College of Performing Arts. The show was Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Seeing the show was a first for Ben. The rest of us had seen the show a couple of times in the past. I tried to give Ben the story in advance but Alex and Duncan were adamant that I not do that. To quote Alex, “Mum, you will destroy the rising action.” A good time was had by all. There were highlights that we had to discuss afterwards. Cinderella’s sisters were played by two men. The two princes were, of course, fantastic, both of them having agony so much painful than yours. The princes arrived on on scooters, rather than horses. They were also exceptional leapers, the right hand straight ahead, the left arm back at the same angle, making the audience laugh. Alex’s favourite character was Jared Crocket, from Duncan, B.C. who played the father and the steward. Ben’s favourite line was that when a person is into the woods, nothing is good, nothing is bad, you decide what is good and wrong no longer matters.

On the way home all of the boys agreed that the words “into the woods” is a deep metaphor, and one to use in life. This was their collective decision.  Ben had never heard of theatre in the round. We were there early enough to inspect the set while waiting for the show to begin.  He had never seen a revolving stage.

At the end of the night all of us can finish the line, “I really hate to ask it” ....  with ... “do you have a basket”.

We stopped by 7-11 on the way home. All of the guys in the car are well over 6 feet high but still like to go down the candy isle and get pop out of the soda machine.

Rebecca on Lulu and Pandora's Box (or, A Morning At the Opera)

I spent the morning at the movie theatre watching the Live at the Met production of Alvin Berg’s opera Lulu staged by William Kentridge (thanks Gillian and Arta for coming with me!) Here is the trailer.  It was four hours of what felt like an atonal musical assault. 
Maybe that seems a bit unfair. It was amazing.  I loved it. But I also left it feeling wrung out.  It left me thinking about the narrative story, the visual field and the musical soundscapes.  There was much there that was unexpected. In the face of everything unexpected, I felt very much  grounded in the experience of the story.  
Louise Brooks as Lulu in Pandora's Box
For maybe ten years, I taught a Law and Film Course using Pabst’s 1928 silent film classic, Pandora’s Box, which is also the story of Lulu. The arc of the story in both the opera and the film is similar. Lulu, a femme fatale, is taken in by (and 'takes in') man after man. Always, Death follows in her wake.  In the end, Jack the Ripper has to be brought into finally quell the threat that she poses to men and women in the world around her.  As Orit Kamir points out in her excellent analysis of the film (in her book, Framed: Woman in Law and Film), it is as if one serial killer has to be brought in to finish off another.  
Lulu dancing with the Countess Geschwitz
Having seen the movie so many times, I was prepared for the narrative which situates woman as Pandora, as responsible for the introduction of desire, disease and death all around her.  No surprise.  Fabulous story for feminist analysis.  But today was my first experience with Berg's adaptation of the story. 
Of course, musically, it is a complicated piece of work.  Not much in the way of easy melodies, or catchy tunes to carry you through.  But it was not just the difficulty of the music.  There was also so much that was unexpected in the production. The visual field was staggering. The back stage was used cinematically with layers of film, newspaper texts and images whipped on and off throughout the piece. Opera these days is always subtitled, so I am accustomed to reading the libretto text, so it was not really a big deal that the opera is in German. But I did feel conscious of how rapid my eye movements were because of how lush the background scene was, how rapidly the images moved and how it drew my eyes away from the narrative text up to the visual field. It was a visual field that completely matched German expressionist painting style of the ‘30’s.  But it was cinematic, and always in motion.  And as my eyes were continually being pulled across the stage, i could feel a matching rise in discomfort in my body.  I suppose in some ways that is what I mean when saying it was an assault both of sound and of image. 
The opera is astonishingly visceral. It does operate in multiple registers.  In addition to the musical language, and the visual field of cinematic expressionist art, there are two  characters who are silently on stage throughout.  
Joanna Dudley, holding a position in Lulu
The first is Joanna Dudley's character, who appears first as a pianist sitting at the bench, dressed in an outfit that is evocative of Pabst’s 1928 film, like a character in black and white. As the opera moves forward, the character we initially believed to be a pianist begins to perform as a dancer, sometimes drawing our attention during a scene change and also seeming to provide an exteriorization of an inner feeling, thought or moment that belongs to Lulu. The second silent character is Andrea Fabia, who appears as a tall and gangly waiter whose body contorts into shapes that  capture the feel of something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Young Doctor Frankenstein, or even the musical Cabaret. He often appears delivering the weapon that will deliver death. These two characters provide a silent and physical language giving yet another register of experience.

So, for example, when Lulu is seducing the artist behind a screen, Joanna Dudley's character is out front, sliding her stocking up and down, spreading her legs open and closed, and weaving her body in ways that suggest a dance of sexual seduction, a dance that carries the feeling of 1930’s German expressionism. There is a certain angularity and almost a violence of line in her body and movements. Throughout the opera the movements of the dancer, of this 'interior Lulu', are marked by this sense of hold, legs askew in certain positions and very uncomfortable positions held with a sense of agony or tension, that as a viewer I kept noticing I was feeling in my own body, the discomfort of the hold.  This resonates with Kendrick's decision to show Lulu throughout the opera with a piece of paper covering her heart with an ink line drawing of a breast - but which is its stylization, also appears as an inverted fermata, the musical indicator “to hold.” Again, the feeling of the silence was almost physically violent at times. It was almost like an interior psychological space, exhausting watching the bodies contort and be held in stillness. It is like a third language being played out on the stage. 
I was particularly struck by one difference between the film and the opera. In the cinematic version, the Countess Geschwitz sacrifices herself for Lulu in order to enable her to escape to London.  In the operatic version, the Countess Geschwitz stays close to Lulu to the end.  The Countess, like many of the men who swirl around Lulu, is also desperately in love, a love that Lulu never requites. 
Geschwitzt pledging to save Lulu

Near the end, as Lulu takes another customer to her bed, a customer whom we as the audience suspect to be Jack the Ripper, Geschwitz remains on stage, singing.  Having  considered throwing herself into the river or hanging herself, she determines to go on, to leave her broken heart behind, to return to Germany, to enrol herself in the university, to study law (you heard that right...Law!?) and take up the fight for women’s rights. 
After Geschwitz has articulated this decision, we hear Lulu scream, and see the backdrop screen is covered by splatters of India ink, like blood.  The murderer comes out from behind the screen and then also kills stabs Geschwitz in the belly, expressing himself to be a lucky man to have had such a chance (two victims, not just one).  Even more than with Pabst's film, Berg's opera captured such a field of woman-hating.  Leaving the theatre, feeling the exhaustion of the musical and visual assault, I found myself thinking about the profound woman hating that structures both the opera and the film. Of course, many of the men around Lulu also die, but there was something quite powerful about the final scene involving this double killing of the embodied sexuality of a woman and the embrained core as well through Geshwitz: the act a denial of the productive agency of either a woman’s body or mind.
Of course, a person can read a film or an opera against the grain. I think it is certainly possible to read this film with great affection for Lulu and indeed to see her as a powerful character asserting her own will and her own morality, against the pattern of constraints and limits on her. She gives freely, both her sexuality and her money, but reserves the right to make her own choices about when she will or will not give those gifts. The background screen both captures something of the cruelty in the text, the cruelty of inter-war Germany, maybe even inter-war Europe to be precise, and the cruelty of the world of erasure in which Lulu lives. She is constantly misnamed by those around her: Mignon or Eve. And the text makes visible the ways in which she is a shifting object constructed by the desire of all of those who circle around her. You don’t have to go too far into psychoanalytic theory to find these themes. But the backdrop does make visible the ways she is a projection of those around her and made to pay for the gap felt by those who seek her to grasp something in her that they themselves had tried to place there.  The opera foregrounds commodification, set in the period of the economic crash which mirrors nicely the fact of value itself being a projection, rather than a tangible thing. Very much like Lulu is read by those around her.
The music student in me sees that the opera was lush, beautiful and there is every reason to see it. Marlis Peterson, like Louise Brooks in the cinematic version, completely occupies the role. At the same time, the significant woman-hatingness of the piece left me reflecting on strategies that different people use in the face of cultural narratives that carry such deep distain for and fear of women.  What would it mean to just turn away from these stories? I am not sure there would be any opera left to see if a person took that approach seriously. Maybe the best one can do is read the story in a way which makes visible the ways that these narratives, while projections, are none the less projections with tangible consequences.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Into the Woods - live

... sitting at my desk wonder what can I find in my mind to blog about ...
After Rebecca said a few things about Into the Woods I wondered what was left for me to say. 

This morning at the opera the person who gives the pitch to send money to the Met to promote more learning in the arts said again, “There is nothing like hearing opera live, so come, visit us at the Met or support your local opera.”

I always want to say back to her – nope about coming to see the opera. I love what you give me on the big screen and sitting back of the third balcony can never be better than what I get here on the IMAX screen.

By night I have changed my mind. There is nothing like live theatre or opera, even at the student level, which is what we saw tonight. The actors were perfectly miked. The music was done by a band. There were many firsts for Ben – he had never seen a live orchestra on stage before. At the intermission we discussed which other musicals had been written by Sondheim. Ben found the answer on Google: Gypsy, West Side Story, Sunday in the Park with George, and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. These are musicals Rebecca grew up on. Then Rebecca and I stayed up later, after the show was over to see some utube clips of A Little Night Music, one of his other musicals.

The auditorium in the school had no concession but one that travels on a four wheeled cart so the intermission food could only be coffee or a muffin. The seats were hard – like the folding ones at church. The shifting action gave us some opportunity to twist in our seats, since the beanstalk from which Jack sang was behind us. I wondered if the boys would even know what a clothes line was, when the baker’s wife was taking clothes off of it, since all of them are too young to have ever had one hanging in their own back yard. But they didn’t have any trouble catching the humour in the fun couplets. Nor the other ideas in the text. For example Cinderella’s prince says, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere”. That made the boys laugh.

And they loved the witch’s advice in the song “Children Will Listen”: “Careful the wish you make, wishes are children. Careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free. Careful the spell you cast, not just on children. Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see and turn against you. Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen ….”

Lulu in the morning. Into the Woods at night. Hard to have had a day much better than this one.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Water in the Microwave

Steve asked what water was doing in a measuring cup in the microwave. I had warmed the two cups of water o add it to the yeast and other water that was proofing. Too bad I forgot to put in those last 2 cups. That was the reason that my batch of bread was smaller than usual.

There are so many ways to forget to get ingredients into a recipe.

I bought a jalapeno pepper expressly for the purpoase of adding it to a Thai Cucumber Salad that I have come to love. I even got the hot pepper out of the crisper and onto the counter to be cut.  I found it long after the salad was eaten, still in its position near the knife.

I have looked at brownie batter and thought, “What is going on with these ingredients; they are so thick.” The idea that the melted butter for the recipe was still in the microwave, never passed through my mind until I found it long after I had put the brownies in the oven.

I do not think missing some ingredients is a problem of age, but one of mutli-tasking. Did I put the salt in this recipe or not, I think, after 1,000 other thoughts have gone through my head.  But now I have no way to test the measuring spoon it should have gone in, for it has measured spices and oil besides.  I would not be able to tell if some salt was lingering there.

A miracle when the food is prepared just right.

 That is, if it has over 5 ingredients.

 I can get that far and still remember.