Thursday, June 30, 2005
Glamour from yesteryear...
Now, some friends of mine refuse to follow my whereabouts by plugging into blogspot.com and write e-mails instead. I can see the glamour of a direct , personal piece of electronic exchange between firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com but entering each other's spread blogs is a rather more hardcore-type experience. Come on, be a sport!..
The venue for tonight's show...
Last night, those of us present in the Cervantes room of the Westin Palace Hotel were exposed to the powerful oratorial talents of a retired politician. Retired? Once a political leader, now a mass-audience TV personality, how can one dare to assume he has retired from active politics? The Professor says so. We all pretend to believe him.
Very entertaining stuff. The economy is in dire straits? ... the Professor is smiling with mischievous bright eyes.. the figures on Public Finances are dismal? .. the Professor manages a bon mot ... the new New-Europe members are queuing up to leave us embarrassed in comparative statistics? .. the Professor brilliantly takes another oratory rabbit out of his intellectual hat..
A bit like a no-pain, no hard-feelings colonoscopy.. lots of bad news with the sugar coating of verbal pyrotechnics..
A political lecture at this level of a true Tribune's skills becomes stand up theatrics..
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Enacting Lord Nelson
If already in place 200 years ago, would the tabloid press crucify Vice-Admiral Nelson in its front pages? Would some paparazzi be sent hastily to Naples to uncover the "true story" of the forbidden love between the gallant mariner and HM's Ambassador's wife? Would there be heartfelt "confessions" from stunned servants of Emma, Lady Hamilton? End of a career? Trafalgars no longer possible?
The end of privacy for public figures surely comes at a price...
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Horatio Hornblower, the control freak of the Royal Navy (RN) in Napoleonic times, was my hero. Long, long before Valmont occupying that spot.
Hornblower books were genuine adolescent entertainment, the playstation-like quality time of my generation. There was adventure (implying more skill than force), there was history (hard not to become an anti-napoleonist after the third novel of the series) and there was romance too. The first time Hornblower and Lady Barbara Wellesley are by themselves on a West Indies sunset my heart was thumping like mad. I shamelessly identified myself with the courageous and self-doubting commander and was ready to conquer both Fame and the Beautiful Lady.
Monday, June 27, 2005
I went twice to the Teatro Espanol this week, to see Mr. Fiennes performing as Mark Anthony in the steps of the Capitol. "Twice?" - the incredulous Honourable Reader might ask. Twice indeed. If you can do it (and afford it) there's no better way to engrave in your memory something of which there will be no video or DVD or electronic recording of any kind. I did it just a few times, in fact. Among them a "Nutcracker" at the Gulbenkian Foundation, some thirty years ago, where my ballerina-sweetheart at the time had a minor role, and Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the National Theatre (of course!). More recently a Comedie Française production of Tchekov's "Platonov", where I took in successive nights two very different sweet friends. The essence of scientific method (Claude Bernard's "la methode experimentale") is to repeat experiments where only one variable stands out. Everything else must remain constant (like temperature, forces applied or chemical environment) . When the "variable" is the person seated next to you, some original conclusions might be extrapolated from the experimentation.
I was not being rigorous at all. How can one compare cinematic apples with theatrical oranges? The fact is, the praise of the dead Cesar by his friend and chief of staff Mark Anthony remains the most important operative political speech of all times. The bravura performance under such adverse conditions is a masterpiece both in oratory and in manipulative skills. And both are essential to charismatic political leadership. Brando had so much charisma that the Roman populace would follow him anyway. But could Fiennes pull it off? Could he convince his Roman fellow-citizens and the audience at the Teatro Espanol? (Neither Miss Wednesday nor Ms. Sunday had seen Brando, demonstrating that relative movie illiteracy is not linked to a particular generation).
When you are seated in row 5 at the center-left side of the stalls ( or in row 4 in the center-right side) the whole experiment becomes extremely unfair to cinema and to Uncle Marlon. Ralph Fiennes gives it all and displays the full range of skills of an exceptional actor. As all demagogues know the trick to move the masses is to pretend to be one of them. Brutus couldn't hide he was addressing the Forum from a patrician, albeit democratic, perspective while Fiennes/Mark Anthony was the portentous demagogue, making the audience feel his real grief for the loss of Cesar and simultaneously taking political advantage of the sympathy generated by precisely that moving exposure of his emotions. Modulation of volume output, histrionics and, above all, the absolute mastery of rhythm and timing made the difference. (The almost metronomic quality of timing is the foremost quality of all great populist political speeches, not mattering if taking place in Nuremberg during a NSDAP congress, or in the Central Squares of Castro's Havana or Peron's Buenos Aires, or at the Westminster Parliament - dear Old Winston being probably the best orator of them all).
Deborah Warner's mise en scene of "Julius Cesar" is breathtaking. Playing with our shared imagery and experience of contemporary political leaders (the "suits", the hungers-on), of mega rock concerts (for many the sole experience of a rally for the masses) and of contemporary military interventions in Kuwait and Irak (Brutus in "Desert Storm" batlledress is awesome) , Ms Warner brings the play into immediate political relevance for us. Brilliant and much more effective than any documentary or journalistic research with an agenda.
The Plaza de Sant' Ana, where the Teatro occupies a side, was tropical rained on Tuesday, echoing the wondrous rain in Rome just before the Ides of March. On Sunday, pleasantly and invitingly warm, theater goers decided to have supper there. It took ages to get the tapas of anchovies and cheese, and a client who had arrived much later than me, who was seated at a neighbouring table, got his food much quicker. But then again he was Mr. Ralph Fiennes..
I am very thankful to the Honorary Caliph of Moraleja and his Persepolis wife, to the Hunting Crusader and to smiling Otter for the quick progresses I have been making in the sociological study of the Vieja España.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Nice picture, hey?
An Honourable Reader asked me recently if I was conscious that the general content of my blog indicates that I might be falling into madness. I told the Honourable Reader I was not aware of that. Another Honourable Reader told me that in a recent get together my blog was visited. Here’s the reaction: “We all smiled. Nobody could understand a thing”. Yet another Honourable Reader asked me to be frank in my answer to a question he was going to put to me. The question was: “The self-glorification and exhibitionism of your blog are deliberate or you just don’t get it?” I replied that it was not deliberate, it’s just the way I am, I suppose. A number of Honourable Readers congratulate me on the pictures. Most of them only see the pictures anyway, not bothering to read the text. That’s alright with me. I enjoy the process of selecting and editing the pictures almost as much as writing the texts.
I hope all Honourable Readers can understand the paragraphs above.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Two Missing In Action buttons...
A Ball for debuting in Society is an anachronism.. everybody surely agrees on that? ... Wouldn't it be better to splash in the liquid wonders of my beloved Lisbon instead? But, as we all know, blood is thicker than water.. and what if all the balance of the Universe could depend on that Blue Danube smile on Daddy'sDaughter face?.. would one risk a bizarre catastrophe in the Southern Hemisphere, with giga-mega casualties, just for the sake of complying with the rules of the Anti Debutation League?
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
One less sudoku to solve in the world...
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Sofonisba Anquissola's "Felipe II" (1573)
Thanks to the invitation from the Visiting Soprano, I found myself seated, Friday evening, at the excellent butaca 4 of row 7 in the stalls of the Teatro Real watching "Don Carlo".
This 2001 production is very much a "Mise en Scene d'auteur" . Hugo de Ana, is not only the Director but also both the Scenographer and the Costume Designer. The sets are about grandiloquent Renaissance grandeur, to make us - the mere subjects of the Sovereign- share the awe for the personification of Imperial Power. In that sense the story of Don Carlo becomes a Mythology. Felipe-Jupiter presiding over the whereabouts of nymph-goddesses (like Elizabeth and the Princess of Eboli) and demi-gods (like Carlo and Rodrigo). The dark "Grand Inquisidor" is the only god-like figure that can be said to be in the same league as the King.
Where does this take us? What is the point of blogging this thoughts, the Honourable Reader might ask.. Well, as I said to Tatiana in the after-performance supper, we are in Lost Empire Syndrome (LES) territory all over again. States that have at some point acquired Imperial status of world significance, and then return to normalcy, produce spoilt unbalanced child over-bragging about the uniqueness of their heritage or forever whinnying about insufficient attention paid to them and their unique country. (I am told that in a recent launching of a new book on the Escorial Palace a Ministerial Authority said with utter seriousness that "without referring to the Escorial one cannot understand the history of Spain? the history of Europe? the history of the World". That is the type of LES-related delirious hyperbole I'm talking about).
LES is a fate that affects all of us who had their glorious "moment" (as they say in script-writer's lingo) in History. That includes my own, I rush to say. Many clever things have been told about Britain/Classical Athens enlightening America/Ancient Rome as a new role for LES-ridden UK; or about the world power projection of the European Union Project as the new chance for LES-affected France; or the megalomaniac celebrations of S.Petersburg Centenary as an obvious compensation for the acute form of LSE Russia is experiencing since she has lost Soviet Union-related Superpower Status.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Ms. Guryakova ( http://www.stanislavskymusic.ru/english/opera/stars/guryakova/ )
in a recent production of Die Fledermaus
The Honourable Reader of this blog has been promised some first-hand account of the inner loins of the Teatro Real and he should not be kept waiting.
Tatiana had put my name down on the list of people to be granted access to the backstage area and I duly followed on. Immediately after the clapping and the "Bravo!" shouts died down, I follow my instructions. As I leave the Stalls I turn right, then right again after the small Cava Bar and walk through two successive varnished wooden gates, like upper-deck doors on a nonchalant cruise liner. ( As I walk briskly I keep remembering my other example of theatrical speleology, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow).
A young attendant, with a black T-shirt with the logo of the Teatro Real and a red scarf that reminds one of the Red Pioneers (the Stalin Youth) asks with kindness: "And you are a visitor to...? ". I smile, check that are three little clusters of people on that corridor, and decline the name of the Guest Soprano. We are in a neat passage-way with the Main Stage right next to us. Signs both in English and Spanish give strict instructions like the ones you can see in a small factory or in the wings of an Iberia Airbus.
(To get to sanctum sanctorum in the Bolshoi I had to be escorted by a member of the Staff of the Royal Ballet from the deepest foyer-bar of the Theatre until a security manned toll gate on a narrow confluence of corridors (one would have taken us to the Artists' Entrance, another to the Dressing Rooms). Miss Smile, feeling an accomplice in crime, has warned me to act like an old trooper since she had had no time to get me a Pass. I use my spy-like skills of supreme self-confidence (or should I say my experience as gate-crasher of VIP areas in trendy Oligarchs-only clubs?). The Security Guard decides to concentrate on the timid customers of his Check Point Charlie instead. I can spot the cavernous huge stage of the Bolshoi and the tiny passage we are asked to take.)
The conductor, Don Carlo and The Grand Inquisitor plus my very own Queen Elizabeth of Valois pop up in the corridor, utter a beginning-of-summer-holidays brief comment (like " This is it. No more classes") and engulf themselves in their respective dressing rooms. Well, not the Maestro ( no make-up to remove). He deals with his visitors straight away. Time passes, all clusters have dissolved, I remain in the corridor, where a CCTV monitor shows the quick progress in stripping bare the Main Stage.The black T-shirted Red Pioneer makes some inquiries in low voice at the door of Tatiana's dressing room, signaling that her visitor is now waiting outside. She returns back to me with an apologizing smile "Ms. Somethingova is having her shower".
( Mentally back to the Moscow Opera, I remember that when I walked through the passageway, going down first and then upwards into some pre-historic iron steps, the stench of cat piss was unbearable. The SwanLake Princess had warned me about it, with a mischievous smile. The dressing room was delerict but full of the right atmosphere. More like Barnum Circus on the road around turn of the century than serious operatic gilded palace, but charming. I could see members of the Russian staff, baboushkas with generous bosoms and varicose legs, carrying the enormous dresses of Odile, of the Princess, and of all the velvety anybody who was anybody in that production.)
Back in The Plaza del Oriente, a short energetic woman leaves Tatiana's Dressing Room with an imposing dress, obviously weighting a ton, and rushes towards a staff only area. She returns shortly afterwards, enters the room and extricates herself again, carrying a new dress (the Coronation one , I think). She repeats that again, this time carrying the final dress of the Queen, the one that follows the Prado portrait inch by inch. I'm at last invited to enter the Soprano's private quarters. A well-lit spacious cabinet with a en-suite bathroom, like a neat room in a private clinic. One wall is occupied by an holywoodesque mirror framed by light bulbs, another by a vertical Steinway and the third one has a cosy two-seats burgundy red sofa where I'm seating right now.
I congratulate Tatiana-Olga for her performance, feeling that she's eager for approval but at the same time too much exhausted to listen properly. A bit like congratulating an athlete after the full ten thousand meters. She's ready to leave and we go out taking a different route, with Russian language around us, because of the retiring Grand Inquisitor finding us. We leave by the Artists' Entrance, with sleek aluminum electronic card-operated revolving bays, like Metro station ticket-reading devices. We found ourselves in the warm night of the Ciudad, and think of a starting place for "tapeo".
( As the Princess and I leave the Bolshoi, through the old and modest Artist's Entrance opposite the TSUM commercial galleries, the ambivalent Moscow night calls us to supper. )
Sacrilegious manipulation of the Guernica
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Sofonisba Anguissola's 1565 portrait and a modern-day live version
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Camilo, D. Camillo and Camilo
( A bit far-fetched, I agree with the Honourable Reader. To be able to distinguish in the hypertrophied pixels above the features of three distinct Camilos. The severe spectacled face of Camilo Jose Cela... Fernandel with a priest's bonnet immortalizing Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo.. and the typical features of a nineteencentury gentleman-writer, Camilo Castello Branco.. They are related, the three of them, to that quintessential English double-edged expression "Joe Bloggs? ... Ah! Joe Blogg is a character". Meaning that the grey colour is an honourable pursuit in life and flamboyance or any kind of fuss, although a source of dinner-party enjoyment, should be best avoided. The two writers , "characters" in that sense themselves, were of course responsible for giving life to a gallery of characters who were "characters" in their own right. And Don Camillo... what a "character" ! )
Why am I in Camilo mood, the Honourable Reader might ask? Something, no doubt, to do with yesterday's dinner-party, where the ghost of Nobel Prize winner Cela could easily be invoked. A charming hostess, with a blessed mix of Galician and Andalusian blood, something like a strong-headed Aries mellowed by a Pisces ascendant... Old Spain manners all around... a white-suited Georgetown-educated Bogota beauty... a nice white-dressed Lady aware of the existence of Tula (Russia) for moving reasons... a distinguished couple of inhabitants, until recently, of Belgrave Square's diplomatic Arcadia... a smiling Manager-Engineer nostalgic of the Colombian verb "rumbear"... The by-the-pool pavilion a perfect set for the almost square-shape dining-table where goat cheese morsels, curried langostinos and mint and chocolat postre slices followed one another with perfect rhythm.
Each dinner-guest can/could be turned into a "character" if the literary need arises... Camilo Jose would have understood that... Camilo too...
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Pomegranate / Granada/ Romã
"Still Life with Fruit"
The morning blood of raspberries
chooses the whiteness of linen to love.
Morning filled with sparklings and sweetness
settles its purest face upon the apples.
In the orange, the sun and moon
are sleeping hand in hand.
Each grape knows by heart
the names of all of summer’s days.
In pomegranates, this I love—
the stillness in the center of the flame.
(Selected from "Forbidden Words: Selected Poetry of Eugenio de Andrade." Translated by Alexis Levitan, published by New Directions)
Monday, June 13, 2005
The Greatest of us all...
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
A South-Pole inhabitant
Norway is birthdayparty-ing: one hundred years old as an Independent state. I do like Norway and for many reasons, including some non-bloggable ones. Their most celebrated hero is Amundsen who, playing fair, first discovered the South Pole. A land towards which I must confess a special interest since I'm the proud owner of a taxidermised Penguin (Ysmail, depicted above) from a species that used to overpopulate the area.