Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Edinburgh is okay / My computer broke again

So, I'm managed to calm down quite a bit since leaving for Scotland. It's actually quite lovely, though it seems very, very small to me. And no in an "I'm so acclimated to the big city" kind of way. It really is small.

How is it that I have lived almost 28 years, and yet have not until now experienced a real youth hostel? It's not so bad -- certainly not as rowdy and filthy as I imagined it might be -- and for £12 a night I can't complain.

The performances so far have been worthwhile, if flawed. In the case of the Klinghoffer, so deeply flawed as to be almost irredemable, but that just gives me more to write about... It is too bad, though, that the production that actually brings out (rather than ignores or actively tries to surpress) all the elements and contradictions of the work remains, as far as I know, unrealized.

I had a failure of self-restraint at the vintage store. When I post about the shoes (which, yes, I will) I will also include my beautiful, beautiful new vintage swim tunks. No, I will never them. Yes, just owning them makes my life more glamorous.

In other news, my goddamn computer is borken. Same problem as before. Of course, it breaks as soon as I arrive in Edinburgh, leaving me computer-less while writing these reviews. Dammit dammit fuck fuck fuck.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I am feeling overwhelmed

I am so tired right now that I can't include any detail at all, but there are various people who need to know where I'll be, or why I'm not returning phone calls, or whatever. So here it is: Wednesday A— Victorovna arrived and we had dinner and walked around and then I heard an undewhelming reading of Górecki's third late at night with the lovely B—. Thursday I spent cleaning, Friday KT arrived, and we ended up out until three at Popstarz. Saturday the inimitable Rach arrived, and we ended up out until two at Duckie. Today we went sightseeing. I got so, so tired.

Tomorrow we leave for Edinburgh, where I'm reviewing four shows for Mundo Clásico, and trying to keep up with L'ist stuff (only one post last week = I am a slacker), and oh hey maybe I should do some dissertation writing which hasn't happened in a week and a half. I hope KT and Rach don't read this, because it is completely not their fault, but I feel like this is not the right time for me to be leaving town. I haven't taken care of my visa (long story), my fellowship check, several very important work emails and several more social emails. And don't even talk to me about the job search.

I get back to London a week from today, although I may leave a day early. BQ arrives less than a week later. I am feeling overwhelmed. This is, like, the opposite of a vacation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


So, you know how I'm always bitching about my crap bank account that doesn't do anything. It turns out that it is now official! The BBC reports that the kind of bank account I have actually does no good for anyone. There was a report on the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning about this. Why I wasn't interviewed remains a mystery.

There's still one thing though. I really do understand why poor people can't have credit. But the news story never explains the big question: what in the world does having a check book and a debit card have to do with credit? It seems to me that these are simply matters of convenience, and that withholding them from poor people is simply, well, punitive. Punishing them for being poor. Maybe I'm missing something...

Saturday, August 20, 2005


So I've never really done a "bloggish" thing like this, but David has passed, like a viral infection, the task of listing ten tracks I'm into right now. Other bloggercizing people I know have already done this, and (I admit) it was actually pretty interesting to read what they listed. Everyone seems to play fast and loose with the instructions, but I list them here regardless:

List ten songs that you are currently digging ... it doesn't matter what genre they are from, whether they have words, or even if they're no good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying right now. Post these instructions, the artists, and the ten songs in your blog. Then tag five other people to see what they're listening to.

1. The Chrysalid Requiem by Toby Twining. I'm only half joking when I say that I'm mad at everyone I know for not informing me of the existence of this piece three years ago when it was released. Seriously. Extended vocal techniques, weird gender stuff, catholic ritual... it's like he wrote this piece for me. Dear everyone I know: it's on iTunes. Buy it right now. The "Te decet hymnus" is worth the $9.99 on its own.

2. "I Have Had Singing" by Steven Stametz, perf. Chanticleer. See, here's where I utilize the "it doesn't matter if it's no good" clause. Because I know this isn't all that good. I woke up one morning, I think having dreamt about the first (and last) time I heard it, which was at a concert when I was in high school. I didn't even really know the title. Now I feeling like hearing it about once a day.

3. Concerto in Slendro by Lou Harrison. Sometimes you just need to listen to Concerto in Slendro. Frequently this happens on the train.

4. "Che, Tango, Che" by Astor Piazzola, sung by Milva, "Live at the Bouffes du Nord," 1984.

5. David Daniels singing "Tout Gai!" from the Ravel Chansons populaires grècques. It's sunny in London these days. When I'm in a particularly good mood, I might just start singing this in the street. Not too loudly, though.

6. Joni Mitchel, "The Last Time I Saw Richard." There was a paper about this song read at the last AMS. I didn't hear it. Could do this in karaoke, I ask myself?

7. "Father Knickerpopper," Chubby Checker.

8. "Mr. Dabada," Jean Carlos. Thanks a million, Pinkyring, for getting this stuck in my head for days and days...

9. The Leçons de ténèbres by François Couperin, as performed by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, sung by Sophie Daneman and Patricia Petibon. Eternally on heavy rotation chez Greg.

10. "Who is it," Björk.

Hmm... it seems that I am not listening to a lot of rock right now. This is a fairly recent development. I wonder why?

So, now I'm supposed to pass on the task to people. So... Tender-Flakey-Crispy-Bakey, 'Tasha-no-longer-in-Nepal, E in Jpn, Van Twee, and Rachel: y'all are it. (Well, if you want it....)

UPDATE! Jon, if you want, you should do like Pinkyring did and post 10 songs in the comments.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I have met an elderly Venezualan woman

[My computer is fixed. Hooray.]

So, tonight I got a rush ticket to see the Ballet Nacionál de Cuba perform Giselle at Sadler's Wells. I've seen them once before, doing Coppélia in Zellerbach, and I remember them being... well, fairly astonishing, actually. And they continue to be. The dancing was just amazing. And they were in these incredibly naff (sorry, there really isn't a better word) costumes, on these cheap-ola sets. And even so.... I'm sort of dumbstruck.

Some of you know that I'm prone to crying at the "wrong time" at operas and movies. It's a long-term pathology that I'd rather not go into right now. In any case, at this one moment during the big pas de deux in the second act of Giselle I just lost it. Something about the lifts, and her hands.... I don't know. At this moment I notice that the elderly hispanic woman next to me is also crying. She give me a tissue.

So she walks with me back to the tube, and we talk about the performance, and ourselves. She said I seemed "sensitive." She told me about losing her husband, and how she was paralyzed with grief for three years, until she heard her husband's voice tell her that she wasn't happy, he couldn't rest in peace. She ended the story with a kind of lesson which, even if I were to type it here, and certainly if most people were to say it out loud, would sound trite and stupid. But coming out of the mouth of a happy, if clearly lonely, sixty-year-old Venezeulan woman, it was really moving.

She has my phone number. This could result in a book: Tuesdays with Señora S—.

Soon: My ten things I'm groovin' to. Pictures of my shoes. A photo essay of my running route. I have to vent about the horrible, self-righteous prommers. Maybe quick thoughts about the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir Concert? (It was good, but also bad.) And... oh has everyone seen The Power of Nightmares? No, not perfect, but essential viewing. At the very least, avoids the mile-wide pitfalls of Farenheit 911. Am I correct in saying it still hasn't been shown in the US?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Greg is perhaps rude to strangers

Okay, so my dear bassoon buddy recently whipped out his inner bitch in a way that was so very satisfying to read about that it almost seems to good to be true. As much as I try to do my bit to build a more civil society, which includes, as per Social Grace, the belief that criticizing the etiquette of others is always bad etiquette, there are moments where people really need to be called out. Usually we simply fantasize about what we would have said, and so even the vicarious thrill of reading about Bassoon Buddy's verbal bitch-slap feels like scratching an out-of-reach itch.

The weird thing is, on what I think was exactly the same day, I managed to do the exact some thing, except the bitchiness was a lot quieter, and directed at total strangers who probably didn't really deserve it. Maybe this had something to do with the position of the planets or something?

Anyway, picture it: the queue for Arena day tickets at the Proms, waiting for the ill-fated Neeme Jarvi show (see L'ist for details). I am by myself. Behind me in the queue were a middle aged couple, with a college-aged boy that they didn't know very well. Their conversation, while not actually offensive, was banal and irritating. I was trying to read a novel. The woman had a piercing, high-pitched voice that was difficult to tune out.

After, say, an hour or so of their banal conversation, I realize that they are talking about me, in hushed tones. This is rude, right? The exchange that follows was in a sense, a response to the dismay of being talked about very literally behind my back. Only after I was feeling slighted in this way did I realize what it was that was drawing their attention: the buttons (or, in UK English, "badges") on my bag. That these draw undeserved attention is something that I have pointed out before. When I realize that they are pointing at my bag while muttering to each other, I turn and make eye contact, unsmiling.

BANAL WOMAN: Your badge says "Try our fresh melon."
ME: Yes, it does.
SHE: (amused) What does that mean?
ME: (not amused) I think it is from a grocery store. It encourages customers to buy the store's melons.
SHE: Do you work at a grocery store?
ME: No, I bought it at a charity shop (=thrift store)
SHE: (clearly with nothing else to say) Well... it is a conversation-starter
ME: (with as dry an affect as I can possibly muster) Alas. The conversation is a short one. (I ostentatiously put my nose back in my book.)

I am both proud and ashamed of this exchange. Probably mostly proud.

In other news: I bought shoes. I am happy about the shoes. Perhaps when I have the computer back (Monday?) I will post pictures.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Language Politics, Redux

Hey, remember months ago when I bitched about this show about dialect on Radio 4? Those were some good times, right? Anyway, that thing I was complaining about was, like, an early preview of the show itself. Now the show proper has finally begun, and... it is fascinating. Thankfully, no further willful ignorance of American English is in evidence so far. But there is class politics. Oh yes. There is class politics the likes of which you've never seen, child!

Seriously, you MUST take 25 minutes out of your day and listen to episode one. This is an entire show about all the hundreds of different ways to refer to a concept for which there is no word in American English! Do it! You'll thank me! If you wanted proof that Britain is still on some fundamental level very different from the United States, this show should provide it.

The obvious comment to be made is, of course, that if the chavs really are so pervasive that every single fucking region has its own name for them, then why isn't a single one of them actually heard on a show about them? I mean, even as informants in the linguistic survey? If I were Gayatri Spivak, I'd write an article, "Can the Scally Speak?"...

Friday, August 05, 2005

I got bangs, yo!

...or as the British say, "fringe."

I've been meaning to take pictures of my new haircut for a while now, but if you're curious, here are pictures from last night's L'ist meet-up, courtesy of our intrepid editor's Flickr account:


I need to shave, and the hair's looking a little greasy, as is my skin. But I think you get the idea...

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

Continuing travails

First, I remembered that I forgot to tell you about the late-night Prom I went to on Wednesday. London Sinfonietta playing Weill's Kleine Dreigroschenmusik and Luciano Berio's Coro, starting at 10pm to a sadly more-than-half-empty hall. The Weill was fine, but the Berio was the meat of the evening. Random thoughts: (1) It is a work that totally depends on live performance. On record the idea of forty independant voices screaming at you would just be a mess. When you can see them, the effect is very different -- and in a way scarier. (2) It was interesting to see this immediately after visiting the Musicologist in Berlin Known to Some of You, who has thought in a more sophistoicated way about the dramaturgy and political potential of the chorus than perhaps anyone else in the world. And Berio very self-consciously wants Coro to be a disquisition on the dramaturgy (in a sense) and political potential (in several senses) of the chorus. I think Berio in the end fails to pull this off, but it raises questions... (3) The "folk song" stuff in Coro is dumb, and borderlne offensive. (4) There was one mezzo in the ensemble who knew how to do a real Berberian impersonation. She should have given lessons to the others.

Also that night I was standing by someone I'm pretty certain was someone famous. An old old man. An American who's lived in Britain for years. He looked... famous. Anyway his friend came up to him -- and I feel completely justified in eavesdropping, since his friend was practically stepping on me at the time -- and says "so we just got back from Slovenia! We were visiting our friend Vinko! You know him, right? Vinko Globokar? Yeah, he's divorcing his second wife and moving back to Paris. Well, we all knew his second marriage wasn't going to work out, ever since he left his first wife to be with her. They've always had problems." Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I am so in the know... Comme je suis dans le vent...

Okay, back in my real life, I took the laptop in to get fixed. Of course, when I showed it to the guy (that is, to the genius) the computer was just fine. It started up as normal. I looked like an idiot. I'm so, so sure that the problem is the same as it was last time this happened. But the ngihtmare scenario now is that, after 10 days, the repair people will declare that nothing is wrong and give it back to me, at which point I will have to turn right around and give it back to them.

Anyway, I've already bought a bunch of new A4 notebooks. I'm gonna be so old-school scholar for the next two weeks. Kickin' it Handschrift stylee!

Excitable Iberian teenagers are being rowdy in the internat cafe right now.

Did you all see my Stockhausen post? The Musicologist Known to Some of You said to me recently, "I've discovered a sucessful teaching strategy. When I have to teach something , rather than figure out something to say about it, I look in the Oxford History of Western Music, and just say whatever RT says. Works every time!"

Tonight: Anne Sofie von Otter.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bad things (and silver linings)

My computer is busted. Damn.

It's the exact same thing that happened a year and a half ago -- this "logic board" nonsense. It's been acting up since the day it got its new battery. What could the relationship be? To its credit, the logic board crash does look like a computer crash should look -- dramatic flashes, weird distortion, and then a slow fade to blue. Much superior to a simple freeze-up. I tried to go to the Apple Store today, but arrived too late to get an appointment. I may try again to go to Bluewater where the wait is shorter. We'll see.

It's too bad, really, because things were looking up. Most importantly, THE PICCADILLY LINE IS RUNNING AGAIN! Hallelujah.

I finished the Sonnambula note, which just needs one round of revision for it to be quite good. But it won't get that, since it's so late. And with the computer acting up, I had to send it typed into the body of an email. With no italics or diacritics. Can't you just smell the professionalism. Dammit.

I missed the Ravi Shankar concert. Daaammmit.

I got quoted in the Evening Standard, a horrible horrible right-wing populist newspaper. Here's a scan. I is so famous! (Unfortunately, they have quoted my saying the least witty thing I have ever said in my life. Seriously, I think when I ordered my coffee this morning I was actually more witty than that quotation. But we take what we can get, right? And how many people can claim that they are personally responsible for getting the phrase "butt-load" into the Evening Standard, hunh? Not many.

And so it goes. It's not so bad. I shall take this vacation from the computer to get my act together about the Wellcome library, the Royal Society thing, the next trip to France, etc etc.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Erinnerungen von Berlin

Berlin is amazing. Part of my very strong positive reaction to the city is that it is, in many ways, the opposite of London. Where London is dense, Berlin is diffuse. Where London is comparatively clean, Berlin is comparatively filthy. (Yes, really.) Where London's past is continuously present and visible, much of Berlin's past is comparatively invisible, only emerging is startling moments. (I'm not sure how this architectural fact relates to Londoners' relatively unambiguous relationship to their history, and Berliners' -- obviously -- conflicted relationship with theirs.)

In any case, much of Berlin, especially the old East, has this thrift-store, jury-rigged aesthetic that I highly approve of, and which is almost completely lacking in London. Examples: an abandoned lot, with some christmas lights and a trailer, is converted into a rollicking biergarten. A bar called Wohnzimmer ("living room") is decorated entirely in dilapidated, ornate furniture and ugly 70s wallpaper. A brand new restaurant is decorated in imitation ugly 70s wallpaper and thrift-store furniture. My host points to a hideous communist office tower: "there's a big nightclub on the twelfth floor of that building. The rest of the building is offices, or empty." All of these things make me very happy, and all of them are unknown or very rare in London.

Actual things I did: lots of walking, mostly. Shopping in the old West and the old East. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Also, the Gemäldegalerie (European painting through 1800), the Hamburger-Bahnhof Galerie (art since the 60s), Libeskind's Jewish Museum (an interesting failure). No music, as it is Sauergherkinzeit ("Sour-pickle-time") when all the musical institutions are on vacation.

It was wonderful to hang out with my host, the Young Musicologist Known to Many of You. We gossiped, we argued about music and musicology, we compared notes about living abroad, he told me war stories from his job search. Significantly, though, by my "cultural" definition he is hardly gay at all -- doesn't really know or like a lot of gay men, and certainly never goes to gay bars. So the notorious Gay Berlin remains a mystery to me. But that's okay.

One eats well in Berlin. For cheap. My last night, we went to this hilariously tacky, old Thüringian restaurant, and got the mixed grill to share. Everything was pig. Sausages, bacon, gilled pork... utterly exquisite. With a plate a pickled vegetables, it came to 20 euros for the both of us. Plus an 11 euro bottle of wine. If to you things this sounds not "cheap," it would have been about twice as much in London. A German breakfast, which features a big platter of delectables (cold sausage, much cheese, etc.) to be placed on dense bread, is a life-affirming institution.

We were walking down the street, having just come out of the gigantic book and record store Dussmann, and I recognized a person walking towards us. It was the flatmate of my friend in Paris! I have never felt like so much of a Global Teen in my life. My host said that he had never run into someone, randomly on the street in Berlin -- but then two days later we were walking on the other side of town, and who should we run in to, eating in an sidewalk café, but a famous University of Chicago musicologist known to my host!

So that's Berlin. In other news: everything in my life is still late. Late, late, late!

Finally, a link for my sister (it relates to my childhood). And perhaps also gf (it relates to a recent exchange). And perhaps also bk (just 'cuz).