Monday, April 25, 2011

deep in the heart

It is just before seven on a sticky Gulf Coast morning, My dear friends' teenage son has just piled Tupperware full of Easter leftovers into his groaning backpack and waved a quick goodbye, out the door with his dad into the windy early light. The kitchen table bears my breakfast, the missed native pleasures of brewed coffee and peanut butter toast. I sit in this familiar chair, my quilt on my bed upstairs in their guest room, a whole life still available and vibrant. Nothing stopped while we were away, we step back onto this moving band effortlessly through the open door of our friends' grace. 

I doubt there will be another chance for me to write this week given the pressures of both work and social schedules, so this is it, the coffee in the favorite cup, the heavy air outside the cool window, the cat walking across the piano keys. I shiver in the air conditioning and bristle at the freeway, my ears rejoice in remembered rhythms and I rush into long-awaited embraces. Home, still, never, and always.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Admit it, Americans, you laughed just now.

I bike the whole Ring these days, that grand circular collection of streets that marks, in spots, the location of the old city battlements. Mornings, I ride south along the canal to the observatory and come back up the hill, turning onto the Schubertring (different parts of the Ring are named for different people or locations, and the great Lied composer gets a chunk to himself). The walls along the canal are filled with graffiti and art, and the city is setting up the decks and roofs of the summer cafes and stages that will open along the water next week. After breakfast this morning with a friend at a small konditorei, we walked along the cobblestones and promised to meet in May at one of these cafes.

I hop on my trusty steed and head south, then west. The Schubertring is the less direct way to work from my house, but in the morning it's less crowded, fewer tourists and therefore fewer people who aren't used to bike traffic. I can cruise relatively uninterrupted with other people on their way to work. We all tend to ride quickly but not enough to get s serious sweat going. A canopy of trees arches over our heads, dark green leaves bursting from the branches and still surprising us.

If I'm lucky, there's a space to lock my bike at the racks outside the Operngasse stage entrance; otherwise I take it to my office in the freight elevator. People greet me as I lock up. All of us are different now that the sun is out. Next February, if I forget, please tell me just to wait a little while, until April when everyone will come outside. The pedestrian street that snakes away from the opera house is filled with chairs and tables, people drinking coffee and eating ice cream in the bright air. Where did they all come from? Like the leaves on the trees, it seems they all just arrived.

After the evening coachings with the windows wide open, I unlock my bike and pedal off on the other half of the Ring, past all the monumental buildings, the former palace and the art museums, Parliament and City Hall and the University. Here's where the combination of visitors, students, and people waiting at tram stops can make maneuvering a challenge, and it's easier at night. The Rathaus is a riot of spires and lights, but the architectural bloat is nothing but an impressive backdrop for the story on the ground, strolling and laughing, drinking and gossiping, observing and keeping track.

The sun is just setting these days at 8:45 as I turn north along the canal. Joggers, dogs, lovers, stoners share the route with me. Upstairs is my jetlagged MtMn on Skype, dishes to be done, a suitcase to pack, sleep to cherish.

Tomorrow goes around the circle again.


Saturday, April 16, 2011


I got prompted to blog today by a dear friend who I will be seeing in a week. It felt great to be reminded to write when in no time we'll be chatting in person, so nice for my ego! I was buoyed by her nudge but couldn't get started, so I read some of my old posts, just to see where I'd been.

I can tell you what I've been. Ridiculous.

Back the day before I started work at the STOP, I was all about how there'd be very little work in this blog, nope, this is going to be my outlet to talk about life. Except my life has been nothing but my job, and this space has revolved around the Haus am Ring. It was disappointing to clock how little of life in Vienna I've shared apart from the drama of my first year at a tough company.

OK, it has been a struggle, a real one, but still. I'm sitting here in my apartment after the opening of Faust, which was everything from terrific to disastrous: gorgeous orchestral playing with a couple of big clams, two incredible moments of feedback during the miking of the offstage chorus and organ, some singing that I hope goes viral (well, opera viral) on YouTube and some that was more like Meditations on Themes By Gounod. At the end, the ovation was rapturous. Did the audience miss the imperfections? Not likely. But they thanked us and then thanked us some more.

Then I rode my bike home, the Ring still full of strolling people, and filled a glass with MtMn's homemade ginger ale. He and his horn are somewhere being awesome tonight. Tomorrow morning we sleep in and have no plans.

What I mean is: I forgot to say, many times, how good this is.

I want to copy for you something from a friend's recent journal post. He is a beautiful writer and a rather remarkable person. When I read this post today, part of my brain was thinking, "my friend is such a wise person, and his advice applies so beautifully to me! In this incredible journey of my transition, I would do well to remember his insightful words." The other part of my brain was saying, "hello, I think my friend is talking about his catastrophic bicycle accident that left him a quadriplegic, and MAYBE these words are about a bigger journey than I have ever been on in my lucky, ridiculous life."

1.    Things in your life happen for a reason. Something good can come from your injury experience that will be beneficial. If your faith tradition undergirds this insight, you are fortunate. If not, try to believe it anyway. In either case, be attentive to discover the beneficial reason.
2.    You will be surprised how helpful and courteous people are prepared to be to you. You are going to need help. Accept it gratefully.
3.    If you strive, you are likely to accomplish much more physically than your doctors have said. The human body and nervous system have way more capacity than science gives them credit. In the early going, you can expect to be tired and weak. Stay engaged; it will pay off.
4.    We know that some people are by nature emotionally positive and others are naturally less so. If you are in the positive group, congratulations, go with it. If you are in the second group, consider carefully points two and three above. It is in your power to maintain the goodwill so many offer to you. For the sake of those others and their important future contributions to you, fake it if necessary. Real misery awaits those who repel their helpers. When you make the effort, a virtuous cycle of improvement in care and attitude will result.

So tonight I guess I am grateful for the luxury of being ridiculous, for the dizzying examples of strength, beauty, power, and absurdity available in each hour of each day, and for the tendency of life, friendship, tolerance, and love to look ever forward. And I raise a glass of ginger ale to the virtuous cycle of improvement.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ring am ring

"Vollendet das ewige Werk" sings Wotan as he views Valhalla - the endless work is finished. A perfect moment of very human hubris for the god, for two reasons: he didn't do any of the work, and of course the work is only beginning. Irony stirs in this 19th-century sentence, also a joke on the beginning of the tetralogy (the "ewige Werk" has, at that point, about 17 hours to go).

Last night I gasped when the Rheingold was revealed, a stack of tall, thick gold bars sort of melted together. The daughters of the great river swam in panic as the dwarf renounced love and everyone started talking about real estate, payback, eternal youth. The brass thundered out at the end, glorious, terrible, empty. As always, this piece brings global and personal associations all together, the slow poisoning of the ocean, the loss of my own family's home. Hubris, the small and dangerous death of "there, I'm finished".

We lost our maestro and one of our giants at the last minute, but here in miraculous Europe great replacements can get on a train and step into the show like nothing happened. It wasn't a performance for the ages on ten days of rehearsal (and none, really, for the Phillies), but it was thrilling all the same. And there were my hardworking colleagues, Rheinmaidens who will be Valkyries tonight, Flower Maidens next week, Siebel in Faust or Gianetta in Elisir as well. Fasolt, dead at his brother's hand, has time to swing over to Nabucco, and of course there's the Volkoper Fledermaus and Japan benefit concert this weekend for some others.

There's hubris, and then there is the glory of human work.