La Rubia

Thirty-some years ago, stuck for the weekend in the apartment of a guy who was really kind of a dud, I read from end to end a novel about the last days of Leon Trotsky.  I recall very few details now, but what made me sit up was the near postscript involving the Corrido del Leon Trotsky (probably one of several; you can find a version on YouTube), describing, as a news service to those without newspapers or radios or basic literacy, how Trotsky, something of the celebrity resident, was killed in Mexico City by a coerced assassin using “un zapatica alpinista.”

I loved the idea of the corrido, a cross of sorts between the town crier and the folklore of culture heroes, legends, and adventure tales. They are still made, even in these days of widespread literacy and the Net. We need our hard news, but sometimes you want music and poetry to tell how the news makes you feel.

I have a new hero, and she is the mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz. I suspect that in this case the line forms to the left. Three days ago I had not even heard her name, but Thursday night she burst onto the news clips and everyone’s volleying retweets with eloquence, anger, and poise, using every journalist willing to turn his camera or mike toward her as a megaphone to plead for her constituents and the whole Commonwealth.

If you have been living under a rock, Federal aid to Puerto Rico, an American possession, which has just missed following the island of Atlantis to the bottom of the ocean and is struggling without power, drinking water, fuel, telephone service in most places, or sufficient food, is not just a day but about a week late and a damn sight more than a dollar short.  A few leaks, as yet unconfirmed, claim that the administration went silent after receiving estimations of the aid that was needed, suggesting no plans to help the island at all. The governor of Puerto Rico, probably knowing what kind of person he was dealing with, has been kissing White House ass, the government representatives on the ground have actually been calling the situation a “good news story,” and Yulin Cruz is having none of it.

“…I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble… I am begging. I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy.”

For her trouble, she got called names by our Tweeter In Chief, who seems to think that people on the island would be fine if they just put in a few hours work and stopped asking other people to “do everything for them.” Those Tweets hit the Internet at about the same time as a photo of Yulin Cruz up to her beltline in filthy water going from door to door looking for survivors. In another clip, she thanked a religious charity for solar lanterns which she was distributing to people searching for water in the dark.

This is not a bright shining moment for the United States. I’m embarrassed as hell. A whole island is stripped and broken, people are waiting all day for gas and cities of sixty thousand are getting deliveries of two thousand meals, hospitals have no power, while the administration here in DC took eight days to lift a bureaucratic rule about foreign ships putting in at the Port of San Juan because “the shipping industry likes it.” Celebrities and bush pilots and international chefs and members of the “Alt-Gov” Twitter collective are flying in with food and out with sick, desperate people, but our own Navy’s hospital ship was only got under way on Friday.

There will be a lot of heroes when this is over. They will all deserve a corrido, if that tradition has spread to the other Spanish speaking Americas from Mexico,  but my imagination is starting with San Juan’s mayor. In my fantasy, the ballad is called La Rubia, the blonde lady, and like the best ballads, it will tell of the mayor performing supernatural feats: carrying a pallet of water on her back over a road too broken for trucks, shedding light from her bare hands, towing a boat full of survivors, or lifting up a child at the brink of death only to hear a healthy cry. And in the last verse, it will say, “No one person can do these things? No, you are right, one person cannot. It is done by you all, you are all heroes. But a single person with a big voice can breathe on the flame of courage, to be sure all these things are done.”

I can’t write it though. It has to be written in Spanish, by a Puerto Rican citizen, who’ll know how to put those sentiments into meter. But I will hum along.

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Peach In Our Time (II)

Yes, again — I hope.

Incomparable narrative artist and general culture-f**ker Donna Barr has launched a campaign for the revival of the delicious comfit-box of a musical based on her signature creation, the Desert Peach. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you must have noted or even checked out the tab on the homepage devoted to this show. I first learned that it existed in late 2007 — not long after the death of my late and ex, who would have loved the Klezmer riffs in the overture and the two-different-keys love duet between the Peach and his previously straight intended. I bought the CDs and plotzed at the quality of the composition – uneven, granted,  because the composer, Michael Seyfrit, was literally terminally ill during the creation and rehearsal of the piece. You could hear the places where he had at most sketched in the music lines and the company, largely amateur, did its best. But at its best, it was the kind of stage music that makes you stand up and twirl in the middle of your living room. And now Donna has a composer on tap to fix the sketchy spots and gloss everything up for a concert performance in 2018.

But you have to pay musicians and hire a hall and that, so there’s a Kickstarter fundraiser, 

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which has about a month to go. And not nearly enough recognition. So I asked my unofficial godson, the video editor and animator, about software that an old fart could manage in a hurry, and here is what the world needs to know about the Peach:

Look, in America in 2017, anything that resists Nazis is vital. Especially if you can hum the tunes.

Next time your Nazis come they’ll have a new disguise
They won’t be wearing jackboots, they’ll have three-piece suits and ties
They’ll tell you things you want to hear, you’ll never know they’re lies.

Written in 1992. More of us should have been listening.

Damn annoying you can’t embed links in Youtube videos other than to your own website. Working on that problem. Meanwhile, I churned out another short subject (bonus: hot guys!)

I’m not vain enough to think I have a future in PR, but my heart is in this.

 

My Day

#1 Randy Rainbow Owns The Internet

(If you have been off the Internet radar or are, happily, a resident of a country other than the US, the last few days have been punctuated by hilarious speculations on what the hell the alleged President meant when he tweeted out something incoherent about “all the negative covfefe”. Presumably, “coverage.” But even Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, reached a meta point of trolling himself when he answered reporters’ questions by asserting that “a small number of people know what the President meant.”

Nemmine honey. Randy has it covered.)

#2 Romania, Romania

I give money to panhandlers in the parking lot of my favorite grocery, even though I know they are probably working that spot because when you have impulse-bought a $7 bag of spiced nuts or a $9 bottle of wine that you hadn’t planned on, you feel like a fuckwad refusing a few singles to a beggar.

Honestly, I don’t know why they’re begging and I don’t care. Maybe they have a car around the corner. Maybe they are on drugs or drink a lot. Whatever, you have to have had some dispute with your own dignity to stand in a parking lot accosting people for dollar bills. My late and ex husband ended his life on the streets, as earnestly as he tried to keep from admitting it to me, and toward the end of the proceedings described to me how subway riders in nice business suits sometimes simply pressed a five dollar bill into his hand unasked (he never asked, not once). “People are so nice,” he would say from his hospital bed, this being the now-it-seems-fast-vanishing era when a destitute elderly man could end his days in clean linens.

I reckon I can afford a little in his memory. This time it was an old man of bearing, leaning but not painfully on a cane, his face marred by a large wen on his jaw, balding, olive-skinned, scythe-nosed. He looked like a man who should be sitting at the head of a table with a checked cloth, telling his children and grandchildren what it was like in his day; who ought to be taking thoughtful counsel with the government of his town or the elders of his village. Instead he had an index card attesting in crude ballpoint that he was a refugee “from Romania” and needed help paying his family’s expenses. Beside the index card he displayed a laminated ID that I am too blind to have read. I don’t know where he was from. Does Romania even have refugees, at this late date? But he could have as easily been Syrian. Maybe Syrians have figured out that other ethnic groups won’t get hated on as much. IDK. He most certainly did not look like a man who would drink it up; his eyes were clear, his skin was taut.

I gave him a couple of bills, and when he asked if I could spare more in a barely intelligible word salad, a couple more. He pointed to the place on the card that said “God Bless.”

I have no religion other than cats, but put my hand around his and said “God bless you too, Grandfather.”

It is going to get a lot more cruel out there before it gets kind again. I can spare a few bucks on what might be a hustle. Somehow it’s hard to think it was. I went home more at peace than I had been in days, which was worth the price.

George Takei Liked My Tweet

Image result for Allegiance show logoSo I went and saw Allegiance. This is a musical show about the internment of over a hundred thousand Japanese-American citizens and legal immigrants who were forced from their homes by armed soldiers soon after Pearl Harbor, told to take only what they could carry, and confined for four years in camps across the western part of the country. Just the thing to inspire choruses, comic turns, and dance numbers, right?

Right. It worked.

If you have not come across it before, this production, which premiered in 2015 and had a five-month run on Broadway, was the brainchild of George Takei, the onetime Mister Sulu and modern-day social activist who may well be the oldest Twitter addict in existence. (Favorite alltime quote: “Back when I was young, it was illegal for me to marry a white woman, and now I’m married to a white dude.” Bears on the book of the musical. We’ll get back to that.) Takei’s family was one of those taken out of their houses and loaded onto a bus — poignantly, he describes his mother lugging a sewing machine because she was sure they’d need to mend their clothing — and he lived and went to school in the camp till he was nine and the bomb ended the war and everyone got a bus ticket and $25 to go out and start life anew. Yeah. (Real reparations were finally paid during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.)

John Tateishi says the experience was both humiliating and disorienting. “We came out of these camps with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country.” He says that after the war most families never spoke about it. “There were no complaints, no big rallies or demands for justice because it was not the Japanese way.”

But decades later and inspired by the civil rights movement, the Japanese American Citizens League launched a contentious campaign for redress. It divided the community along generational lines. (Transcript from NPR’s All Things Considered, August 2013)

In Allegiance — not directly based on Takei’s family experience, but on the kinds of experiences that happened all around them — there’s every sort of reaction to the internment, from a determination to prove loyalty by serving in uniform, to explicit refusal to sign loyalty oaths. Some internees keep their heads down; others stage protests. There’s — fairly predictably — romantic attraction between an internee and one of the camp personnel, double jeopardy since even outside the camp they couldn’t have legally married at the time. And a grandfather, played by Takei himself — who also takes the part of the family’s estranged son fifty years on — simply kneels down on the packed soil of mountainous Wyoming and coaxes vegetables out of it. It is worth the whole production to see how much fun Takei had playing slightly dotty old Ojii-san (whose origami skills come in handy when the loyalty questionnaires make their appearance). I was there on Crispin’s Day when all Takei ever got to do on camera was say “Aye aye, Captain” (except for that memorable time he channeled D’Artagnan stripped tastily to the waist), so watching him turn in two disparate and nuanced performances in the same show at the age of nearly eighty was slightly exhilarating.

It’s a musical show, so I expected the broad brush, and historians have lodged their complaints about ratcheting-up of the conflicts between internees and American soldiers, while I squirmed over a too-contrived fatal accident. And no one is ever going to nominate the fairly bland and derivative score for a Tony (though I’m still shivering over the Japanese-language chorus that arises from a stage foxed with light and dark at the moment the war is finally ended). But the music occasionally flashed — at the moments when irony and bitterness were uppermost, the breath of Kurt Weill animated the score:

Allegiance isn’t generally available yet, though this was a high quality recording of a live performance. My guess, they are hoping to see if it can be revived or go on the road before they make it too easy for someone to buy a video. I only knew it was going to be in the theater for one afternoon because I follow Takei and his Twitter feed alerted me that show was being rebroadcast on the anniversary of the Presidential order that established the camps, now observed as a day of remembrance. (When I tweeted back “got our tickets!” a little heart promptly appeared on my timeline: “George Takei liked your Tweet.” I’ll never wash my smartphone again.)

It was more than remembrance; it was a touch of verb. sap. People can fight and shed blood for their country, while others dig in their heels and resist when they see their country doing the wrong thing, can differ so much about what’s right that they go through life without ever speaking again, and they can all still be loyal Americans. I hope we can keep that in mind going forward.*

_________________________

*It occurred to me while clocking mileage that I ought to clarify that last. I am not referring to people who “differ” because they somehow have a problem with inclusiveness, fairness, due process under law, and other forms of common decency, some of them enshrined in the Constitution, some of them now matters of law. America at its best has always aspired to fairness and fraternity, even if it has taken a long time to realize even part of that ambition. I have yet to decide what to call people who, rather than argue about how best to defend them, actually scorn the ideals embedded in the Bill Of Rights, while waving American flags. 😦

 

Dons

This afternoon I scrubbed my usual roster of Saturday victims and we hit the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Don Giovanni.

I haven’t seen a full production for thirty years or more and I had forgotten everything but the high points. When I think of Giovanni, I usually smile; because of the lively Catalogue Aria (I’ve been known to refer to my own mille e tre); because of Zerlina’s masterful management of her jealous bridegroom after the Don courts her; because of the broad farce — flimsy disguises, walking statues, the iconic longsuffering manservant.

Only. For one thing, Simon Keenlyside’s Don was not the young nobleman who’d be put upon to rack up all those conquests, just as a matter of scheduling alone; he was a man well into the march toward middle age and cynical with it. His cry that he could not give up women, who were more vital to him than breath, had a desperate urgency. And his inflection of the Don’s lechery — that women were all his whenever he chose to covet them — put a shiver up a spine shaken by this campaign season.

You can say “I love the peasant girls — I’ll have another ten tonight” in this way or that. I kept coming back to

Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

There in the movie theater, centuries of I have the money and the land/property and the credibility and the woman over there has next to nothing and I can do what I want came crashing on my head and the music was suddenly terrible.

I played this over again when I got home.

In Search Of Dutch Cleanser

The voices were unbelievable, but I still want the head of the concept designer.

Mercifully, a lot of the Virginia Opera’s Flying Dutchman was done straight. No Sweeney-Todd-like ghostly maquillage on the entire cast (it’s been done). No weirdly industrial sets (popular everywhere). The chorus of the Dutchman’s crew was mercilessly cut, but the scarlet-saturated scrim views of his craft, leaving only tattered human silhouettes against the rigging to disquiet our imaginations, worked so well that you could forgive.

But the designer. Or the director. Or whose-ever idea it was to bring the cursed Dutchman — condemned for pride and stiff-neckery to sail the seas for eternity — on stage displaying a bare chest set off by period outerwear, and then eventually get nakeder from there. That person needs to walk the plank.

I have no problem with a bit of skin in the footlights, but if you are going to design and present an opera straight — in this case, dressing everyone as 19th century Norwegians plus one Dutchman of undetermined but presumably hoary vintage — I just do not want to see male nipples or, for that matter, a male navel heaving through the first two-thirds of the opera. When the soprano — who, true to tradition, boasted the girth and agility of one of those character suits worn at Disney World or for children’s street festivals — finally peeled his open surcoat off him for a clumsy scene of passion, the suspenders… well, just eye bleach. Eye bleach.

(The soprano’s costume too. Sorry. If she is huge, she is huge and that is how she has to be, her voice could have ransomed a kingdom, but the little peplum’ed jacket just set off a caboose that looked like a hundred and one buffets at Denny’s, which does not comport with a Gothically yearning ingenue being peddled by her father, a monument to cupidity if ever there was one, as a hot ticket in the marriage market. When she embraced her demon lover, it was desperately obvious from the angle of the peplum that she had to bend forward over her own abdomen and couldn’t quite reach around him, kind of like Domenico Scarlatti having to stop hand-crossing as he aged due to increasing portliness. I don’t know what to say about the red wig. Whenever a stage designer wants to convey that a female character is a loose cannon they give her a red wig. Ahem.)

But, oh, it was worth the evening even so — the lower notes of the basses full and resonant, the soprano’s top register liquid and unctuous and never strained or shrill. Dutchman is one of the handful of operas that Wagner composed in the grand aria-and-chorus format before he went all rambling and free-form, a quick crib to his later mania for having women die in some vague act of redemption. Dutchman is condemned to wander but will be released if a woman is true to him till death. So far they’ve all stepped out on him, been damned and left him to resume his journey. At the onset of his current seven year itch cycle he berths in stormy waters alongside Daland, a merchant who is impressed with the riches the Dutchman offers for a night’s lodging ashore, and says “Um, I have a beautiful virtuous daughter if you wanna, you know, marry someone.” Follows one of the most tremendous contrapuntal simultaneous monologues in opera — a tour de force of the bass voice:

(About 7:00. Dutchman: “I’m getting off this tub.” Daland: “I’m gonna be rich!” You can hear Wagner giving Verdi a run for his money in the organ-grinder style, just as he does later, when the ships have put in to port and the sailors and their girls enjoy some working-class merriment that can stand up to the Anvil Chorus — here, at 1:34:

Okay, the libretto beats its premise half to death. Daland meets the guy who just happens to be the cursed mariner whose sad tale his daughter is obsessed with, brings him home and says “wanna marry this rich guy?” while the rest of the town says “Dang, you know, that looks like the famous cursed Dutchman’s ship,” and then in the penultimate moments it’s supposed to be sort of surprising when the dark hero sings “Ich bin der Fliegende Hollander!!!!” and whistles up his ghoulish crew, determined not to wreck Senta’s life. (I think this, and not her sacrifice, is what actually releases him, but that’s just my theory.)

Which brings us to the other thing that has to go overboard. I could handle the unraveling of the situation in which Senta — now in a long bridal nighty-gown that suited her a deal better — seemed to be abed dreaming of her lover or getting a premarital visit (suspenders and all) or something, and then her former stalker suitor Erik, an open-carry advocate who barges in everywhere with his hunting rifle, shows up and creepily insists she is his forever because he picked her flowers once, and then the Dutchman catches them together and decides to spare her and face his damnation. She, of course, intends to be treu bis zum Tod and, in the original libretto, climbs to a promontory as the Dutchman puts out to sea, then leaps into the waves, making sure the death part kicks in. Here, she never got off the bed, instead reaching for one of the ropes that dangled distractingly from the flies throughout the production, and performed the physically impossible feat of strangling herself with it. Thud.

Erotic asphyxia? Just wondering.

Oh well, the music was incredible. Bleach is cheap.