Monday, May 30, 2005

Recuerdos de Madrid

[So, a while ago I said my rant was in progress, and then admitted it was a lie. Well, it really is in progress this time. I left my copy of last week's New Yorker at R—'s house, etc, etc...]

Madrid is, as you may have heard, an incredibly beautiful city. The weather during my entire stay was very warm and very dry—my skin is clearer than it's been in months, and my hair (which is longer than it's been in years, fyi) was easy, breezy, beautiful. Anyway, Madrid is lovely. I think it has a lot to do with the feel of the street life; as you walk around, you see all thee people sitting out on benches or in cafes. Sure, this has a lot to do with the weather, but even when it is nice in London, there aren't very many places to just sit, at least not in central London. The streets are also very wide, in a way that they most definitely are not in London. San Francisco, incidentally does have all those very wide post-1912 boulevards, but again, not the places to actually sit while on them. (Any benches would be taken over my the homeless, etc.) Speaking of which: how's Octavia Blvd coming along, my San Franciscan friends?

In the end I decided that the Spanish-language sources about Garcia weren't really worth my time (and they're held in the British Library anyway), so any vestige that this trip was even partly motivated by work was thrown out the window. Thursday I went to the Prado, which may indeed be the best museum in the world, as it claims to be. The Garden of Earthly Delights was bigger than I imagined it would be, the Goya Black Paintings (including Van Twee's favorite, the "Half-Buried Dog") were more disturbing than I imagined they would be, and Las Meninas in person still packs a punch despite its over-familiarity.

Thursday night my indispensable host (herein known as the Spaniard) had received press tickets the gala concert for the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra. For the occasion the official patrons of the orchestra were to be in attendance, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Asturias. As readers of Paris Match or the like will be aware, the Prince of Asturias (the heir to the thrown—the title is equivalent to Charles being called the Prince of Wales) recently married this woman, now the Princess Letizia (don't forget to lithp the "z"), who was a television news presenter and the daughter of trade union activists, and the granddaughter of a cab driver and a fishmonger. She is awesome. Anyway, the prince and princess arrived amid a hail of paparazzi flashbulbs. It felt very... grand.

The performance of Mahler 2 which followed was pretty much lackluster, despite a really lovely "Urlicht" by Jennifer Larmore. Alas, the Spaniard was not feeling well... something he ate, we guess. You know that moment in Mahler 2 where the entire orchestra falls silent, and you hear the sound of a solo horn from off-stage? Imagine that delicate moment, if you would. Now imagine that moment, accompanied by the sound of my friend running to the exit, stumbling, and vomiting on the stairs before reaching the exit. Oh yes... (And PS, I got handed the task of writing the 500-word review for that he was supposed to write... if you look on the right day (maybe Tuesday?) you can read it while it's still free.)

By the next day, he was feeling fine. We went to the Reina Sofía museum, where Guernica is. It's a beautiful museum, in a converted Army headquarters. Guernica, I have to say, was maybe something of a let-down. Much of the collection was not that interesting, but it was good to walk through with the Spaniard, because he could tell me which of the Spanish post-war artists were fascists, which weren't fascists but took fascist money, which claimed to repressed but actually weren't, etc. etc. Friday night we saw the Bernice Reagon/Robert Wilson collaboration based on Flaubert, The Temptation of St. Anthony (I think some of you saw this in Brooklyn, yes?) It was good, but not great—I'm wondering if there were more awe-inspiring stage effects and machinery in the original mounting that couldn't be toured overseas. But the music was mostly great. Bernice Reagon herself got up and sang a little during the curtain call. She rules.

Saturday we wandered around, went to the Royal Palace (which is totally lovely—somehow incredibly lavish, but on a more human scale than Versailles). The Spaniard only got one press ticket to see Pappano conduct the London Symphony Orchestra on tour (Bernstein, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov), so I took a nap before meeting up with him again to spend an evening in the gay neighborhood, Chueca. There, I randomly ran into an acquaintance from San Francisco. Yes, really. Even 5000 miles away, I cannot escape the little village that is my SF social circle. It gets weirder: the guy was in Madrid with a Spanish friend, who—you guessed it—went to college with my Spanish friend. In Santiago de Compostela. Am I more than three degrees removed from any homosexual on the planet?

Later that evening, we went to a straight hipster bar, La Via Lactea, where the Spaniard knew the bartender and could get us free drinks. The very best kind! Can I take this moment to complain about the absolute, complete worst thing about the United Kingdom? The absolute, complete worst thing about the UK is the legally-mandated 25 centiliter shot of liquor. In every bar in the country you are legally required to sell this thimbleful of alcohol as a "single." (I guess some bars give you 35 cl singles—big difference!) The point is: you can imagine my joy and delight and when I saw, in Madrid, the bartender get out the bottle of liquor and just pour it into the glass. For several seconds! Bliss!

As the Spaniards are famous for, the streets were still bustling at 4am, when we took a taxi home.

Sunday's outing was to El Escorial, Philip II's attempt to replicate the phenomenon of Versailles, keeping the nobility in check by drawing them all to a palace away from the capital. In a bizarre move that perhaps sheds light on some deep aspect of the Spanish character, the massive, massive building he built for this purpose is not a lavish pleasure-palace like Versailles, but rather it is the most depressing building I have ever seen in my life. It is absolutely monumental, and absolutely austere. Even the paintings, including some clear masterpieces, were painted in an enforced aesthetic of dark, dark sobriety. For example, the altarpiece of one of the smaller chapels is a Titian, and a really wonderful Titian at that. But it is also the single darkest Titian I have ever seen, portraying St. Lorenzo being burned alive on a grill. Did I mention that the entire castle is laid out like in the shape of gigantic grill, in order to recall the instrument of the patron saint's martyrdom? Cheery!

Oh and then there are the tombs—the only part of the castle that could be described as lavish. All the kings and queens of Spain are in single, very small oratory. It's hard to describe how creepy this is. elsewhere in the palace all the other princes and what-not are entombed all in a line. The royals who died before puberty are all placed in this big round marble thing that looks like a wedding cake. I took a picture of Don Carlos's tomb, which is, in fact, directly across from Elizabeth de Valois! [Non-opera people: ignore this shocking revelation.]

I should also mention that the Spaniard was deeply affected emotionally by all this weirdness. He said more than once, "the most powerful empire of the world memorializes its power by building... this!" In summary: El Escorial is way fucked up.

In light of a previous entry on foreign travel, you may be wondering if how I dealt in a country where I hardly spoke the language at all. The answer is: badly. I hid behind the Spaniard at all times. I tried to be discreet about this, but I probably wasn't. Why am I so afraid? And is this something I should just learn to live with about myself, or something I should actively try to fix?

Update: Trip to NYC officially scheduled. I arrive Monday June 20 and leave Sunday June 26. FYI...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Big Weekend, redux

Big weekend was big. And super fun!

Friday I became completely lost trying to find Club Kali. But I eventually got there, and it defies description. Everyone there was simply having such a great time, and of course the music was absolutely fantastic. There were drag queens in saris. I got felt up, unbidden, by a Sikh.

Saturday I met up with this American, R—, before the Eurovision thing, and it was one of those moments where, fifteen minutes into the conversation, it was clear we were going to be very good friends. As a commentator of my last post pointed out cryptically, his situation in London seems to bear a superficial relationship to a regrettable episode in my own life, but you may set your mind at ease, since in fact he has is quite a different beast. I've known a few of these boys in my life, enough to form a very distinct species: the gay boy who shacked up very early. He is 23, and has been living with his boyfriend for more than four years. It's interesting, because he has, in fact, missed out on certain key elements of the "shared gay experience" (a contentious concept, I know, but a real thing nonetheless). At the same time his charmingly domestic life is almost unimaginably distant from how I lived at 23, in a way that I'm curious about. (And, as certain readers know very, very well, my current relationship to the dream of domesticity is... conflicted.)

In any case, he's great. We shall spend more time after ¡mi viaje a Madrid!

Eurovision was a complete wash, because every fucking gay bar in Soho was charging an exorbitant cover for the privilege of watching TV in their establishment. We went from bar to bar, with no luck, and so we just started drinking, and set off for Bethnal Green earlier than planned.

Unskinny Bop was so fun. I tried, and failed, to bed a bear cub. I slept on R—'s couch (thankfully sparing me from night bus hell). Sunday morning, R— and I sat in a Hackney cafe (pronounced "kaff"), ate the traditional English fry-up, read the paper, took the bus to Oxford Street, walked through shops, and saw Star Wars. After the movie, I launched into a frankly embarrassingly enthusiastic attempt to explain to R— how the structure of the movies relates to the Ring cycle. (Summary: it would be better if Return of the Jedi ended with the apocalypse.)

Coming soon: Now that Van Twee has posted a revolting cautionary tale about the hermeneutic dangers of gay essentialism, AND a lively debate was flickering on related questions chez Smearcase, AND I finally got around to reading that awful, horrible, wretched, no-good, and simply fallacious New Yorker article about how all the fags are diseased and miserable these days... I sense a rant coming on.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Big Weekend

First, a bit of preparatory reading for prospective attendees of the Eurovision Brunch. Who knew that a pop song brought down the Salazar dictatorship in the 70s? And you have to admit, "Yes, Yushchenko/Yes, Yushchenko/This is our president" sounds pretty catchy, no?

I've been to the Peking Opera three nights in a row. Totally stunning. The crowds of philistines who leave each night at intermission while complaining loudly in borderline-racist terms have ceased to intrigue me, and now simply infuriate me.

H— is taking me to Club Kali Friday, which is something I think I should go to before I die. Also to do before I die: the North London Greek/Turkish gay disco night called, perhaps predictably, "Hopah!"

Saturday, Eurovision (in a gay bar on a big screen), 8-10ish, then I'm off to Bethnal Green for Unskinny Bop, which, as regular readers of Greg's London Ramblings will recall, is the mostest-funnest dive bar dance party I've been to in this country.

Sunday afternoon, I'm meeting up with a new friend, a homosexual from the internet, who is a 23-year-old artistic American ex-pat. Now, J—, you know no one could ever replace you! But... he may be, in fact, the new J—. This boy (we'll call him R— until we come up with a more descriptive pseudonym) seems to be feeling a tiny bit claustrophobic in his relationship with the boyfriend he moved to the UK to be with. I can be of service! We'll see how it goes.

Monday: no plans. Tuesday: housemate's dance performance. Wednesday: ¡Hola, Madrid!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Bits and bobs"

"Bits and bobs" is a nice little bit of British slang, don't you think? To return to a post from very long ago, my thoughts on various idiomatic expressions are hardening... I've been particularly annoyed by "mates" recently. Is this a way to avoid saying "friends"?

I bought shoes on eBay. Yes, these are the shoes that J— told A— to buy. I got carried away in the bidding, as one does on eBay, but they were still a great deal in the end, and it wasn't nearly the level of getting carried away as happened in my now-infamous shameful episode with the antique perfume bottles. (I don't want to talk about it.) Anyway, they are the most beautiful shoes I have ever owned in my life. (Yes, even more beautiful than the two-tone spectator wingtips stolen by a certain ex-boyfriend who shall remain nameless...)

If you are ever freaking out about finishing a bit project, and are looking for websites that will lull you into a stupor for a while, may I recommend the American Apparel pseudo-pornographic online catalog. I know, I know, it is very crass, cynical marketing indeed. But godDAMN those are some hot hipster-trash models. (Note that there are video clip both in "archived photo collections" and accompanying individual items inside the catalog.) I mean... a poorly-groomed beard, hairy belly, AND eyes that point in two different directions?! I'll take that in a medium, please.

Finally: this is the worst single piece of writing I've laid eyes on in weeks and weeks. (Scroll past the inoffensive Midgette thing, down to the second review.) I mean, seriously. "You must decide"?! I'm sorry, I though YOU were the reviewer, Mr. Holland. And if anyone can explain to me what this sentence even means, I'd love to hear it: "The absence of sighs and exhalations common to traditional music establishes a sense of frozen time." WHAT? This is the New York Times people! The paper of record! WHAT THE FUCK!

Yesterday I saw the National Beijing Opera Company of China. It was really fantastic. Many people left during intermission, and there's no denying that Peking Opera can be a hard sell, but seriously, it was great. I was trying to think of how I would convince these people to stay (and, in addition, to stop laughing at manifestly unfunny moments), but it's hard, because they were reacting negatively to really fundamental things about the genre—the vocal style, the melodic language. Perhaps a good thought-exercise for future music pedagogues... They're doing a different work each night for the rest of the week, and there are a lot of rush tickets, so I'm planning on going tonight and tomorrow, unless I get a better offer.

Everyone of my friends in San Francisco should go to Brian McC's Eurovision Song Contest Champagne Brunch this weekend. Seriously, it is guaranteed to be super fun. Write me for details if you don't know Brian personally...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I'm still alive

Dear everyone who had the bad luck to try to talk to me in the last few days: I am so very sorry you had to see me like that, all paralyzed with anxiety and obsessive thoughts of my own incompetence. I can get a little high strung when I feel I'm going to be judged. And when don't have any SF high-rollers to hit up for Klonipin. (Kidding! Just kidding!)

I should explain: I was under the impression that I had been asked to give a 20-minute talk. I realized about four days before I had to give it that I was a one-hour talk. As all of you assured me, it was, in the end, fine. In fact, certain people were very complimentary. Although, in the end, I'm not happy about what I actually produced, that was not because I said anything wrong, but rather because there's just so much basic stuff that I wanted to do to actually support my argument that I just hadn't gotten around to doing. The paper also had a introduction that set up promises that were not carried out, a conclusion the summarized yet another non-existant paper, and a three page digression in the middle from a whole 'nother project ("meanwhile, thirty years later...")

In the end, it was a good experience, both because it taught me that I can, in fact, get over my anxiety, and because the Garcia stuff now has a beginning, a middle, and an end, which means, even though I have exactly the same amount of work to do before it's finished as before, it feels a whole lot closer to being a real chapter.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


My 45-minute paper at the IHR Monday will be so, so bad. I am a bad musicologist. I sit down and try to put something together, and nothing happens. The thing is, I realized with a shock that, while I had convinced myself that I just needed to cobble together various things that I have already written, in fact there is a whole lot of thinking that I have yet to do. What the hell have I been doing the last, like, four weeks? What is all this useless prose that I have cranked out?

On the positive side, no one I care about will be there.

I went to Paris, then came back. Notable moment: walking down the street with P—, we run into a friend of P—'s that I've never met. We exchange pleasantries, and, before I really have the chance to say anything at all, P— says, "Greg parle bien le français, mais il n'ose pas." I mean, it's true, but I was still annoyed at him for broadcasting it.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Okay, so my essay on the intractable double bind of the gay culture of totay is totally in progress, and oh boy will you enjoy it. It will be even better than my classic essay "Scooby Doo Made Me a Musicologist." You will be totally stimulated, intrigued, or enraged. Or not. But either way, not today. (It is not, actually, in progress, either...but I've been, um, thinking about it.)

On Saturday we had a fun house event—one of my housemates made dinner, then all four of us sat in the living room and watched the broadcast of the Kylie Minogue concert, recorded live in London last week. It was fascinating, mostly because all three of my housemates knew all the words to all the songs, including songs that I'm pretty sure I have never heard in my life. It is impossibly to communicate how big Kylie is here, and instructive to consider why she hasn't (and I would argue couldn't) become a huge star in the US. My thoughts on this matter are ill-formed, but it has something to do with the fact that Kylie, while a superstar, is actually not a huge personality. In a way, she is very blank as a public figure. This is not a contradiction in the UK, as I believe it would be in the US.

(Incidentally, the concert was kind of bad... sort of cheap-looking, with attempts at grand spectacle that just fell flat. There were some good dresses, though)

We all got really drunk, and we ate a few hallucinogenic mushrooms. Have I mentioned that shrooms are legal here? You can buy them in just about any store in Camden. Seriously, like, even shoe stores sell them. This is due to some legal loophole which made dried or processed mushrooms illegal, but left fresh ones unregulated. The loophole is in the process of being closed, however, so by July (or thereabouts) shrooms will be "schedule A" along with crack and heroin. People who make drug policy are so smart!

By the way, the shrooms were really weak—I got a little giggly and confused, and felt as if the sofa had become very large, but that's about it. While I was drunk, I wrote a long-ish email to a complete stranger explaining my thoughts on the fact that my constituency, historically represented by Labour, has been taken over by the cute-as-a-button LibDems. The next morning I was surprised to discover the email in question was both coherent and mostly free from spelling errors. Wonders never cease!

I'm going to Paris on Wednesday. For no good reason at all. I can't actually afford it, but I'm doing it anyway. I'm more than a little embarrassed about this. Oh and I'm coming to New York in July. And Oxford tomorrow. And I'm reading a paper at the IHR in a week. Ah, hectic-go-go-nonstop-jet-set lifestyle!

Thursday, May 05, 2005


I hear you loud and clear—there will a well-considered essay on why the gays have lost their way. There will be copious references to Daniel Harris. [Warning: extremely bad website design.] Other topics to be considered include: my dinner parties, sex with bears, and this website.

But before that, more self-indulgent personal news! I have had a platonic date with a gen-yoo-wine British Upper Class Twit! He speaks like William F. Buckley Jr! He has his own studio apartment in über-posh Kensington (where Madonna lives), which, he informed me, used to be his "father's shag pad." His father, perhaps predictably, now lives in Hong Kong. In fact, he is not at all a twit, but he is 23, and perhaps not as worldly-wise as he thinks he is. Which is sort of charming. Oh, and he's the first British person I've met personally to fulfill the British stereotype of very, very bad teeth. He's a musicologist writing a Master's thesis on Luigi Nono. (Hey kids! Let's play "find the irony"!) Updates as they occur. I believe he will be referred to herein as "The Upper Class Twit." I could grow quite fond of him.

Also, are we all aware that my Adriessen essay is up and running? There is one glaring factual error that slipped through the editorial process, and one sentence which I would like to be rephrased, so if you have any problems with it, just imagine it is one of those things, okay?

Bizarrely, within a day of it going up, I received a long (long!) email from the author of one the books under review. She was, basically, happy. Inasmuch as she didn't actually threaten bodily harm. Heh heh.

It is election day! Since the British general election was not greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm as a blog topic, I shall keep my thoughts more or less to myself. Know this, though: elections are way, way different here.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Opern auf englisch

A—'s visit was absolutely wonderful. (Technically, he's still in town, but now staying with another friend.) On Thursday we ended up spending more than 4 hours in the V&A, and that included skipping quite a great deal. Friday was the most beautiful spring day, so we walked through Hyde Park, then had lunch at Harrod's. (And if you thought $20 for a cocktails was wacky, check out $20 for a pastrami sandwich...)

After having seen no opera since the BF's visit, I saw two operas in two days. In fact, since the second was a matinee, it's more like 2 operas in less than 36 hours. Both were at the ENO, and both in translation, and I have to say, after the second one, I suddenly "got" why people want to see opera English. Yes, yes.

In the end, it probably would have been better to talk A— to Twilight of the Gods rather than to Lulu. Lulu was very good, particularly the phenomenal Lisa Saffer in the title role. (She is known to me personally from my time at what G— recently aptly called "the opera company that dare not speak its name.") Other singers ranged from adequate to bad.

Sitting though the six hours of Twilight on the other hand, was pretty much like getting punched in the gut over and over again. In a good way. The idea of a modern-dress Ring seemed so tired, and the idea of Wagner in English seemed so... improbable—my expectations were very low. But the result reminded me (once again) that things like modern dress or minimalist sets or whatever are only as good the stage director makes them. And when you have a director who can actually move bodies around on stage, who can create stage pictures that instantly communicate something both direct and complicated about the drama, who can get big, powerful, physical performances out of the singers—well, let's just say that I really didn't think that you're actually supposed to be weeping uncontrollably during the immolation scene. (This amazing director, incidentally, is apparently Emma Thomson's mother.)

Also: It was closing night for the production, and so during the curtain call, the entire orchestra got up on stage with the conductor. We're talking about the orchestra for Götterdammerung here, folks. That's a lot of people. After such a thrilling afternoon/evening in the theater (3pm-9pm!) it seemed somehow very right.

Y'know, I'm getting tired of writing here only about things that actually happen to me. Sometime this week I think I'll try to do a more expository thing about life here. Potential topics include: The decoration of my room. The British general election. My current position against gay "identity" and for gay "culture." On second thought, now that I type them, all three seem rather dreary. Any preferences, folks?