They and Colorado

“Everything alright back there?” he asks, catching my eye in the rear-view mirror. Everybody else in the car turns to look at me. “Yes,” I say and I shake my head and try to swallow the lump in my throat. They are still giving me their attention, however, and suddenly the words break out of me and the tears flow across my smile.

*****

Stef, my good friend and travel companion, and I had arrived in the USA only the evening before, landing in Chicago to be met first by a wall of humidity and then by Adam, who took us for our first American beer in a cozy, simple neighbourhood pub, which confused my sleep-deprived brain very much by reminding me strongly of an English pub – something about the dark wooden beams, the vinegar and brown sauce on each table, the variety of local beer on tap and the TV in the corner showing a sports game made the realisation that we’d just travelled across the Atlantic and been on the move for eighteen hours very hard. The food was different, however: instead of fish’n’chips there were burgers in every variety. Although the beer was good and the company fun, we were glad to fall onto the couch at an early hour and sleep, since the following morning already held the next adventure: a flight for the three of us to Denver.

a view from the plane approaching Denver

a view from the plane approaching Denver

As I sat next to the window and watched the flat landscape below us pass by in colours of brown and gold and dust and sunshine, occassionally dotted with specks of cloud, I could feel the excitement and the anticipation rising. The excitement of the approaching adventure, of having time unroll before me in which everything is open, no plans laid out, no decisions made, not even any knowledge as to options, not even any ideas – just living in the now and deciding from moment to moment where the next step would lead us. The anticipation of seeing the Rocky Mountains, a name that contains a physical location as well as a whole range of emotions and mysteries as it is tied to my family by stories that have been polished and romantizised in the re-telling – of how my parents, the newly-wed couple, went camping there, of the bear they met, of the good people with whom they forged connections, and the photos that have been hanging on the walls of my childhood home telling their own stories. And then there is the anticipation of meeting two people – the woman whose music blog I have been reading for years and who I have admired for practically as long. And the musician she invited for a concert this night, whose music I have listened to almost daily for more than a year.

With the pilot announcing the approach to Denver and the ‘fasten-your-seatbelt’ sign blinking into life overhead, I leaned close to the window, camera in hand, trying to catch a glimpse of the mountains, with John Denver singing about coming home to a place he’d never been before into my ears. ‘Calm down’, I told myself, but my heart beat fast and my stomach had its own ideas as well. I told myself that I would never forgive it if I went overboard and made myself look like an idiot. It’s hard to contain something as forceful as the joy of being in a new place or the excitement of meeting new people. Maybe because they shouldn’t be contained. I know myself, however, so I put on the reigns. Nobody likes someone who makes herself the center of attention, however inadvertently.

At the gate we were met by Andrew, Adam’s friend. He had already told us that we would find him to be exceptionally kind and friendly and one of the best people he knew and a few minutes after meeting him, I knew that he’d spoken nothing but the truth: Andrew is this handsome, big-smiled guy with an aura of quiet capability who he made us feel welcome from the first moment. And while waiting for our luggage, the fifth person to join us on the ride to Colorado Springs appeared, a “sleeply-looking dude with a guitar” (original quote by Andrew) – Tyler, the musician I’d been looking forward to meet so much. I managed to appear almost normal and hellos and how-are-yous and names were exchanged back and forth and after a few minutes I was able to breath again: even though he is capable of writing some of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve come across, and can compose wonderful songs that touch my heart, he was also just a normal guy – friendly, good-looking, open, tired and hungry.

We finally got our bags and descended to the parking lot and climbed into the plush interior of the very American car that Andrew borrowed to transport us all. There are wide, cream-coloured leather seats, lots of leg room for everyone and enough space to stow two large backpacks and a guitar. The air that streamed through the open windows as we pulled away from the aiport was very warm, almost hot, but mercifully dry – no chance for humidity in this golden-brown land. Driving past the Demon Horse, its eyes lit up evilly in glittering red and I was awestruck by the accompanying story of how this huge statue of an angry, rearing blue horse, close to its completion, fell and crushed its creator underneath it. “What else can you expect from a demon horse?” I asked and marvelled at yet another manifestation of life being stranger than fiction.

downtown Denver

downtown Denver

Andrew has lived in Denver all his life and has a passion for it and for Colorado that is as touching as it is infectious. The next hours or so we spent being driven around the town, learning snippets of its history from this expert, being shown landmarks, getting insider tips of where to go for a good meal and hearing the local gossip. It’s hot, but we have the windows down all the same and an atmosphere of relaxed anticipation permeates the car. We’re on holiday together, we share a road trip, we feel good to be here and to be with each other. After a short stop at Andrew’s house, which reminded both Steff and me of the alternative community houses of the university towns where we studied and which we immediately loved for that reason, we drove to a place a couple of minutes away to buy road trip food. It’s a tiny corner restaurant with a few bar stools to sit on and the food is being prepared behind the counter. The man in charge of it looks comfortable in his surroundings. He doesn’t rush and he doesn’t pander to anyone. One dish at a time, prepared with diligence and attention – then he takes the order for the next one. It took a while, but when we were back in the car and digging in, we knew that it had been well worth the wait – the food is delicious: spicy, tangy and utterly satisfying.

2 the guys

Andrew and Adam

3 Stef

Stef

on the road south

on the road south

on the road south

on the road south

Andrew navigated us south on this Saturday afternoon, our bellies filled, comfortable with each other, Andrew and Adam chatting quietly about mutual friends and music in the front, Tyler, half-asleep, reclining in the back, Steff and me in the middle row, each silent with our thoughts as we watched the landscape roll by. The mountains stretched out on our right, clouds clinging to the tops now, which only emphasized their height and the way in which they rise so abruptly from the gentle hills we’re driving through. The intense longing to be up there, to soar over the peaks, to glide across all this space overtook me. It was so fierce that it took my breath away and I gasped a little and turned my head to Stef, whose eyes were fixed on the mountains as well. “I’m almost crying,” I told her in a quiet voice and she looked at me and nodded. “I can see that,” she said. I tried to explain but couldn’t find the words. Andrew had heard us talk after our long silence.

“Everything alright back there?” he asks, catching my eye in the rear-view mirror. Everybody else in the car turns to look at me. “Yes,” I say and I shake my head and try to swallow the lump in my throat. They are still giving me their attention, however, and suddenly the words break out of me and the tears flow across my smile. “I love travelling,” I tell them. “I’ve always travelled. I love being on the move, seeing new things. But for two years I’ve done nothing – nothing. Just sat at my desk and pretended to be busy. And now I’m here and there is all this space and so much room and I feel like something inside me is cracking open and suddenly I can breathe again and I feel like my soul is too big to be contained in my body, like it’s two meters wide.” I run out of breath. I can’t explain the intensity of this moment any better, neither the happiness of it nor the physical pain in my chest, nor the sheer overwhelmingness of it all. When I look up from trying to wipe my eyes with my sleeve, four people are looking at me with smiles on their faces and in their eyes. They nod. They understood every word I said and all the words I didn’t say. I heave a relieved sigh and lean back in my seat, my eyes on the mountains again, smiling. I hope they also understand that their company is – that they are – a huge part of my happiness.

They and Colorado.

Colorado

This is part 1 of a series recounting my travel experiences to the USA. You can find the following parts here.

travel experiences recounted

I’m back. Four weeks of travelling are behind me. So much has happened that I have a hard time believing that it hasn’t been four months. The facts are against that theory though, the calendar insists that it’s really only been four weeks.

Four weeks full of friendship – old ones renewed and new ones made. Four weeks full of beauty and taking photos and fun and kindness and laughter and space and breathing and writing and exploring.So much of it that I have a hard time knowing how to share it, where to start, what to choose – there are myriads of aspects, experiences, thoughts I could share. And I have a great desire to share them. I feel the pressure, the need to write it all down while it’s fresh, not only in my travel diary, but form my personal rambles into something more coherent, something meaningful, to reflect the meaning this trip has had for me.

I think I’ll concentrate on the physical places and use them as the gravitational center to collect my thoughts around, to make it unfold for you like it unfolded for me. Will you stay with me while I attempt this? I promise you photos. I promise to give my best to make you chuckle. For that, you’ll have to bear with me while I turn this blog into a collection of travel essays for a short time.

I think I’ll tempt you with a photo right now…

view of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, Colorado

view of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, Colorado

a postcard from the Rocky Mountains

Hey guys,

just checking in. In case you’re wondering: no, I haven’t gone AWOL again. I’m having the most awesome and wonderful time on an epic trip to the USA. I spent one week in Colorado, road-tripping the Rocky Mountains with one of my closest friends, and we both LOVED it! I would show you photos, but the friend we’re staying with at the moment uses a Macbook without a card reader and I can’t connect my camera any other way. So you’ll just have to believe me if I tell you that Colorado is BE-AU-TI-FUL and that I’m constantly close to tears these days just from being so overwhelmed by beauty and the feeling of freedom.

Apart from the diary I’m keeping and that I brought from home, I bought an exercise book here and am filling it with writing of the creative, rather than the personal, kind. I’ve even written a poem again this week, something that used to come so easily and that has hasn’t happened in a looooooong while. It’s kind of immature and simple, all about a falling star that I saw, so I won’t share it here, but just the feeling of being able to come up with words that grab me enough to want to shape them and make them better… wow, I haven’t had that in a long time. A very long time.

Morale of this story: Happiness, good people and travelling do amazing things for creativity. At least, they do for mine.

I’ll be back when I’ve figured out a way to share some of my photos. Maybe a couple of hundred. I’m not sure I can do anything below that.

Love you guys! Be back soon, hopefully with something more fulfilling than these vague promises. Just wanted to tell you that the Rockies rock very much indeed and so does being happy.

Sunday song

I’m preoccupied with my upcoming trip to the USA. Every time I think about New York, the first song that comes to my mind is Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. It’s been on my mind all day.

Before he starts singing (around 2.40), he tells the story of the song, which is absolutely worth listening to because because a – he’s wonderful and I could listen to him talking for days and days and b – his voice is straight-on sex.

Also this one, the first version of the song:

awesomeness appreciation: Recuerdo

I have the Poetry Foundation‘s Daily Poem brought into my feedreader every day. There’s a number of things I like about this, the most obvious being that it delivers a fresh new poem to me every day that more often than not I really like and enjoy. Another feature I like is that I can save my favourite poems – I’ll just log in with my e-mail and I can save every poem I want to keep. And even though I have a lot of them saved by now, I still know exactly which one’s which and what I felt with each one and so on.

So this morning when I read the title of the Daily Poem in my feedreader my heart gave a glad little skip and I could smell the salty tang of the ocean and the harbour, hear the voices of a city waking up, could feel the exhilarated tiredness, the itching eyes, the smiles tugging at the corners of the mouth through the yawns, the glad-eyed blinking in the sunlight after a night talked through with a friend. I just love poetry for being able to make me feel all that! The poem was one that I’d saved as a favourite some time ago and reading it again was like meeting an old friend. I really like it and here it is, just for you:

Recuerdo

BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
.
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
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We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.
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Source: Poetry (May 1919)
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I don’t speak Spanish, but I looked up the title, and possible translations are memory, keepsake, token, remembrance and reminiscence. I like that as well.
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travel preparations, yeay!

This is pretty much representative of my state of mind at the moment. Add a few whooping noises, some folksy sing-along-clap-your-hands music and a couple of wild dance moves and you’ve got it.

rainbow sparkles

I hear you scratching your heads and whispering to each other. “Wasn’t she kinda maudlin lately? Whining about living at home and complaining about being lost-lost-lost and all that stuff?” Yes, you’re right! But then the end of the month arrived and I suddenly realized how very, very little time there is until I take off on my trip the the USA and now I’m all sparkling and giddy and full of last-minute things to do!

Organize presents is a big one. I’m staying with a couple of friends at different times throughout the trip, some of which I’ve met face-to-face, others that I haven’t yet met in person, some of which have travelled a lot, others that have never been to Germany or even Europe. So of course I need presents. Representative of Germany, but not laden with clichés. Personal, but not too specific so that I run the risk of them not liking it. I think I’m doing a good job so far, I’ve got most of them sorted. Yes, photo-books are included, as is one of my favourite German movies, a cooking book, some literature and quite a bit of music. Now I only need a handful of very small favour-like presents that I can give to new friends and spontaneous hosts on the road and then I’m good.

I love giving presents. You might have gathered that already.

Then there’s the packing list. I’m travelling with a very good friend for most of the trip and we’ve both decided to take as few things as humanely possible. Or maybe that should be as womanly possible. (Why do women always, always pack so much more than men?!?) Anyway, we want to buy clothes and stuff over there, so I sent my friend the list of things I propose to pack into my backpack and asked her to take everything down that she thinks I don’t need. She hasn’t got back to me yet, so maybe you guys could cast your eyes over this and give me some feedback:

clothes: underclothing (3x), socks (3x), hiking boots, normal shoes (1x), jeans (1x), shorts (1x), shirts (2x), jumper/hoodie (1)

bathroom stuff: comb, hairclips, etc., medium-sized towel (1x), toothbrush, 1 miniature version of: toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo

technical stuff: camera, second battery for camera, charger, external drive (with all my photos and music, for sharing), phone, phone charger, mp3-player, USB cable for the player, adapter (because we all really need different electricity systems… makes so much sense!) …. MAYBE: camcorder

arbitrary and/or important things: passport, credit card, travel diary, pen, sunglasses, train ticket, plane ticket, host presents, wedding present, pen knife, aspirin, my sunshine-yellow sarong, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road – most of which goes into a large across-the-shoulders-bag

So, anything important missing? Anything I can leave safely behind? I think I’m pretty good with this list. :)

Also, when did we get to a point where the technical equipment that we deem necessary far outweighs all the rest in volume and complexity?

Other things I need/want to do include cleaning the house before I leave (or at least my room, my office and so on), finishing the wedding present, comparing some prices on tablet computers so I can maybe see about getting one over there for cheaper, finding out about a good and affordable pre-paid phone number for one month, contacting a number of people to confirm dates, meet up with a number of people to say goodbye to (like my pregnant friend, who will have her baby just a few days after I return, which means I’m leaving her alone for the last stretch of her pregnancy, which I feel slightly guilty about, but to my defense, I didn’t know she was pregnant when I organized this trip!).

And I’m not going to look at anything to do with my job (or non-job) situation, I’m not going to make any decisions and I’m not going to think up any new plans or ideas. Time enough for that when I get back. And the best bit about that is that when someone on the road asks me what I do, I won’t say “Talk to you.” or “Breathing.” in a half-annoyed, half-patronizing way as I usually do, but I’ll just be able to say: “Live.” At this point, I’m so free that I can go in any direction whatsoever. I’m totally flexible, open for any suggestions. Let’s see what the world has to offer.

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dancing in the dark

Some time after midnight, the night of a scorching day. The air feels heavy and moist against my skin. It smells of ozone, of pale rye fields and fields of golden wheat, of grass and moon and of electricity. I read of JJ Cale’s death today and I’m listening to his music on my headphones out there in the dark, in the garden, with the moon rising white and silent between the firs. Its light casts my shadow on the garden wall, a black ghost woman in a swirling, twirling dress, arms above her head, hips moving in a rhythm as old as time, as fresh as each breath of air.

She dips and sways, she rocks and jumps. She’s going crazy in a frenzy of summer, seduction and sadness. I want to be her, even as I realize that I am. Her stark profile as she dances in the moonlight to music only she can hear stays with me as I return to the safety of the sleeping house.

stars

no place like home?

I’m jumping right back into blogging after being AWOL. I didn’t mean to do it and then I saw the daily prompt and I just knew I had to… It asksIf you had the opportunity to live a nomadic life, traveling from place to place, would you do it? Do you need a home base? What makes a place “home” to you?

Before I write another word, I just HAVE to include this:

I love that song, don’t you? Such a carefree summer sound! And while I think it’s charming and lovely and romantic, I don’t think that “home is wherever I’m with you”, although I can’t say if it wouldn’t be if I had a “you” to be home with. I doubt it… Different topic. Moving on.

As those of you who have stuck around here for a while may remember, I’m living in my childhood home at the moment. With my parents. I’m thirty-one. Yes, it’s very sad. It’s 100% due to financial reasons and that’s all there is to say about that part of it. The thing is, however, that while I don’t appreciate moving back in with my parents while my younger siblings are out there forging their ways in the world, I don’t appreciate being “back home” for a lot more reasons – the biggest is that I’ve never felt at home here.

Don’t get me wrong – I love our house, I love the garden, I don’t have anything against the neighbourhood and the surrounding nature is beautiful and only one street away, but I never felt like I had roots here. My family does. On the maternal side. They’ve been living, if not in this town, at least in this valley, for several generations.

Growing up here, I always wanted to be away. I had the worst case imaginable of that teenage disease called everybody’s-somewhere-having-fun-without-me-and-I’m-stuck-in-this-hole. I compensated with reading. A lot. Incessantly. Reading was my ticket out, into the world, into the lives of other people, into fantasy. And towards the end of school, all I could think of was travelling. I read travel guides, travel literature and pored over maps. Freedom! that’s what I wanted. Don’t ask me what I meant by that. I still don’t know for sure.

After more than a decade of travelling, studying, living in different towns and in different places in those towns and then travelling some more and then studying some more, I’m stranded back at my parents’ place. I have been for over a year now. I’m sort of okay with being in the house. I’m not really okay with being in town. I always feel uncomfortable meeting acquaintances in town. I feel like telling them: “I’m only here because I failed, it’s not a choice!”

Does that make me arrogant? Probably. Maybe.

So if I don’t feel like this is my home, then what is “home” to me? Maybe Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are right, because in some way it’s definitely tied up with my family. But I also have this talent, and for that I’m just eternally grateful and feel like I’m the luckiest girl imaginable, and that is that I can feel home almost anywhere. I just need a little corner where I can have a plant or two, put my favourite postcards on the wall and light a candle and where I have the freedom to come and go as I please. That’s all it needs. The other option is to be with friends or with hosts of any other kind. I never need the invitation “please, make yourself at home” – I always do, anyway. And no, that does not mean that I will put my feet on your table or start fights if you invite me over. What it means is that when I’m thirsty, I won’t wait for you to offer me something to drink – I’ll go and get myself a glass of water. And if I don’t know where the glasses are, I’ll open one kitchen cabinet after another until I find one. I make myself part of the family. And there we go again, it’s to do with family. Whether that’s blood relations or friends or people I’ve just met who are kind and hospitable – it doesn’t matter. It’s all family. It’s all home.

To answer the question, yes, I would adore a nomadic life. Although I would like to have a home base. Or four. Just places that are my own, where I can stash my books (but nothing much else, please), but that I’d be able to leave for months on end. That’s my dream, actually. 

And as for my home town... After more than a year of living here as an adult, I’ve started, a while back, to be okay with it. To accept that I have roots here, even if I don’t feel them very strongly. I’ve sort of become interested in the history of the place. I still don’t like meeting acquaintances in town and being seen by them, but I don’t feel the need to rush around and tell everyone that I’m supposed to be somewhere else anymore Although of course I am. (No, no, mustn’t say that, mustn’t say that…)

So what do we learn from that, kids? Sometimes you have to be forced to look your past in the face before you can move on.

Or something like that.

P.S. And because I’m really consequent in my actions, I’m going down to the park now with my Mum to take part in the annual light festival, where at least half the town will be gathered to enjoy the summer evening with lots of alcohol and pretty candles. You’ll get some photos tomorrow. And if we meet any acquaintances, I’ll just have to grit my teeth and smile.

summer means …

… catching up with friends.

So hello there.

(Is there anybody out there?)

I’m trying to re-establish contact.

I’ve been inching my way back into the blogsphere lately. Very slowly. I’ve started reading and commenting and liking again. I feel I’ve reached the point where the scales have tipped from information-overload and social-media-burnout towards the side of missing the friendliness and the fun and the conversations and the banter and the kindness of my fellow bloggers.

Or, in short: feeling lonely and left out is trumping the murky self-pity and existential self-questioning that’s been going on over here.

I still feel that I don’t have much to say. Or rather, I have a lot to say about why I have nothing to say. No, don’t run away! I don’t mean to put you asleep, so I’m most definitely refraining from that.

I’ll give you a jolly nice picture of summer as seen over here instead, okay?

Or two.

poppies

grain

 

I’m sorry I disappeared. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for your stories, experiences and wonderful writing.

struggling

I’m fighting with myself.

On the one hand, I’m making progress. On the other, a lot of things are falling through the cracks.

I’m neglecting friends – not answering e-mails in a reasonable time frame, not calling. I hardly read any fiction at all. I’m struggling to keep my blog halfway alive and to read my friends’ blogs. All this is bad, because I love my friends, I don’t ever not read and I love my blog and the connections into the real world and the world of blogging it is bringing me.

On the other hand, I have, for the first time in a long, long time (roughly two years) a kind of plan of what I’m doing. I’m organized about my writing, I have a plan, a real plan, with different steps and goals and dates when these goals need to be reached. I also have a plan for “surviving” or “becoming independent” – meaning, how to survive financially. I’m building connections and I have a goal that I’m working towards. And these things are good. I feel focused and like I know what I’m doing – which has not been the case for …. oh, such a long, long time…

So – what’s right or wrong? How to find a balance? I don’t know. I’m putting it out there. Maybe someone else has an idea of how to do this thing called life. Anyone?

The flying Dutchman

So many things to write about. So many ideas. So little time. I’ve been writing blog posts in my head for weeks, yet never seem to be able to remember them when I sit down to write. Today, though, my brain has picked up another of its frequent obsessions (see my brain on obsession) and I have to write about it. There’s no choice involved here – I’m being compelled. By my own imagination. It’s weird and beautiful, both at the same time. 

Alright, here goes:

The Flying Dutchman - a romantic opera in three acts. Written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1843 in Dresden. I saw it last night on TV (‘it’ meaning the most recent production at the Zürich Opera, as filmed by the French/German channel “arte”, one of our very best TV stations).

I don’t know much about classical music and I can count the times I’ve listened to a whole opera on my hands. Yet last night, after watching and listening to this opera, I went and researched it (wikipedia = source of all knowledge), then went to sleep and dreamed about it, then woke with one of the songs in my head this morning and while I walked the dog, I talked to myself while recording my voice as I sometimes do when I go walking, and ended up with a thirty-minute, in-depth analysis of the whole thing, without even meaning to. It just poured out. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into that!)

So, what’s going on here? Why have I suddenly become obsessive about this, to the extent of trailing youtube for interviews with the leading singers of last’s night performance and listening to their takes on the characters? It’s the story. It’s good. It’s also open to several layers of interpretation. Plus, there was a lot of intensity and passion at play on that stage and I can’t resist that combination.

In one way, the story is really simple: Daland, a Norwegian seafarer, has to take refuge in a bay from a storm, very close to home on his way back there. When the storm is over, they see that another ship has taken refuge there, and call out to the captain, who is the Dutchman. He has been cursed, through his own fault, to sail the seven seas to all eternity without the release of death. However, every seven years he is allowed to go on land and try to find a loyal wife who will love none but him. If he finds a girl who will be true to him until her death, he is released. If the girl betrays him, she is doomed to eternal damnation, just like him. So far, all the girls have fallen and the Dutchman (and his crew, by the way) are suffering the agony of eternal wanderings.

the Dutchman (Bryn Terfel) appears on the ship  (image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie - www.opernhaus.ch)

the Dutchman (Bryn Terfel) appears on the ship
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

The Dutchman asks Daland to give him shelter in his house for the night and offers unimaginable treasures for the privilege, and then asks if Daland has a daughter and after some further exchanges between the two men, asks for her hand. Daland agrees because he cannot refuse the treasures that the Dutchman offers.

Daland and the Dutchman look at Senta's picture

Daland (Matti Salminen) and the Dutchman look at Senta’s picture
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

The second act takes place in Daland’s house, where the servant girls are busy spinning (or typing, as in last night’s production) and Senta, Daland’s daughter, who is supposed to work with them and sing their song with them, refuses to do so, instead gazing at a picture all the time. Some raillery ensues, the girls tease her that Erik, the hunter, is hot-blooded and might shoot the picture from the wall in jealousy.

Senta refuses to join in the girls' work

Senta (Anja Kampe) refuses to join the girls in their work
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

the girls tease Senta about the picture of "the pale man"

the girls tease Senta about the picture of “the pale man”
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

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Senta asks her nurse to tell her the story of the “pale man” once more, but when the nurse refuses, she herself tells the servant girls the story of the flying Dutchman, and it becomes apparent that she is deeply touched by it, and in the end, she even says that she will be the one to release him, if only he knew and could come to her. Then there’s some more chit-chat between the girls and an interlude with Erik, who is hoping to become her fiancee and who she seems to have been in love with before, and he tells her of a terrible dream he had, where she was in the arms of a “devil” who took her out to sea. He is desperate about it, she is becoming more and more aroused and excited and then, of course, the two ships appear and the people alight.

Senta and the Dutchman meet and it’s love at first sight for both of them, she swears to be loyal to him and when her father appears, she tells it to all the household.

first meeting

the first meeting
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

Erik, of course, makes a scene, almost pleading with her to see that she is caught in a spell, caught in a trap, that he truly loves her and didn’t she give her hand to him? She is startled and denies it quickly, but he reminds her of their shared past, and she is frightened but also sorry for his pain.

The Dutchman, who has heard this interchange, then appears and pushes her away from him, saying that she might have given her hand to him, but she has not yet done so in front of the Almighty, and that will save her, because obviously, she cannot be loyal. She is desperately trying to make him understand that she will be loyal to him, but he doubts her and wishes to save her from damnation, so he enters his ship again, accepting that there will never be relief for him until the Day of Judgment arrives. Senta is desperate, proclaims once more that she gives him his hand and is loyal to him until death, then picks up Erik’s gun and shoots herself.

That’s it. Roughly.

The end came really quickly and I was confused whether her sacrifice is enough to release the Dutchman, but according to Wagner, it is. In one version, the ship is seen to sink the moment Senta throws herself off the cliff (as directed by Wagner). So Senta succeeds in releasing him – then why is this called a tragic ending? The Dutchman is released. Senta is dead, sure, but she did what she wanted to do and she goes straight to heaven, her soul is saved (which is a big deal for her and for her society). For me, that’s not a tragic ending.

the Dutchman and Senta, overwhelmed by their feelings

the Dutchman and Senta, overwhelmed by their feelings
(image copyright Toni Suter / T + T Fotografie)

Some things I really like about this opera:

  • The scene where the two first meet… It’s full of passion and yearning and hope. Two souls meet, each recognizing itself in the other. The Dutchman is caught in the curse, destined to never find home, to never find peace. Senta is caught in her home, in conventions and expectations and mediocrity. Both long for freedom. She, for the freedom of romance and feeling and ecstasy and choosing her own path. He, for the freedom of peace and security and release from the agony of eternity.
  • That very well observed passion that (some) women have of thinking that they will the salvation of a man. Senta gives her own life and future to release the man she loves. It’s a grand gesture, and it’s also the gesture of a very young, very romantic woman, the woman who is glad to suffer, happy in agony, because it will save a man. Considering that this was written by a man, I think he got that aspect very well.
  • That despite his centuries of searching for salvation and his ardent wish to have it all end and to finally die, the Dutchman, an un-dead person if ever there was one, thinks only of Senta when he fears that she will not be able to be loyal and chooses his curse with eyes open, to save her from damnation. How romantic!
  • What Wagner said about their love: that they did not fail because of the world, but rather, the world failed because of them. I had to think about this one a bit, but I understand what he meant.

And because I could go on talking, but have already done so for long enough, I’ll give you the link to the program, where you can watch the whole of the third act online. It’s in German, of course, but if you’re only the least little bit intrigued by what I’ve said so far, watch the first ten minutes of it – the video starts at the point where Senta and the Dutchman meet and even if you don’t understand the words, the acting is superb and you can see and hear all you need to understand what’s going on with these two. Also, in these scene I switched from thinking ‘Oh my god, she can’t actually be in love with an undead damned man?’ to thinking ‘You know what, I can see her point…’. And also: ‘Wow, they do really real kissing on stage there! Wait a second – are they using tongues?!?’ – Okay, I’ll admit, that last bit is somewhat beside the point. But I did wonder. Have a look yourself.

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer (The flying Dutchman) on arte

And if that is not enough, here’s an interview with Bryn Terfel, who plays the role of the Dutchman. It’s in English and I really like it, he comes across as a really cool, down-to-earth and intelligent man with a good insight into this opera.

just a quick note

I’m off for another week of working with young people. Looking forward to it very much! It’s so much fun, even if by Friday night, I’ll only be fit to be used as a wet rag. It’s exhausting, this mentoring. But so, so interesting as well. I’ve got a really tough activity planned for this week, an ethical dilemma scenario and some other nifty things.

I also wanted to say sorry that I’m such a useless blogging friend lately and not keeping up to date with all my friends. I miss your blogs and your voices and your smart observations and when I’m back from this week (no internet where we’re going to be!), I’m so looking forward to catching up. Finally.

A special shout-out goes to Zen, Anna, Julie, Monica, Gloria, Marsha, Lynne and Patricia – you are wonderful and kind and fun and great and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you. Thank you for being my loyal friends and dropping by even when I’m semi-AWOL recently. I love you!!!

cherry flower

peach flower

 

blue flowers and bee

birthday bouquets

So apparently the amount of flowers one receives for a birthday is related to the number on the birthday cage, for women at least. It seems the older a woman becomes, the more flowers she receives.

That, at least, is a very nice development. I used to buy my own flowers for my birthdays, because I always wanted to have lots of them and nobody ever gave me any. On Monday, I received five beautiful bouquets, plus some gorgeous yellow tulips cut from my friends’ garden. And presents on top of that!

I do enjoy my birthdays, I really do.

my birthday cake: a pancake-cake that my sister made as a surprise while I walked the dog!

my birthday cake: a pancake-cake that my sister made as a surprise while I walked the dog!

after breakfast... (that's a bottle of sparkling wine and half a bottle of cider gone... where did they disappear to?)

after breakfast… (that’s a bottle of sparkling wine and half a bottle of cider gone… where did they disappear to?)

the huge bunch of summer flowers my sister gave me

the huge bunch of summer flowers my sister gave me

a cute tiny bouquet from my cousin

a cute tiny bouquet from my cousin

a gorgeous red rose from my grandmother

a gorgeous red rose from my grandmother

tulips, freshly cut from (I hope!) my friends' garden

tulips, freshly cut from (I hope!) my friends’ garden

a really large pink bouquet full of flowers I don't know

a large pink bouquet full of flowers I don’t know

yellow roses and tiny yellow sunflower-like flowers tied up with birch branches

yellow roses and tiny yellow sunflower-like flowers tied up with birch branches

all the pretty presents!

all the pretty presents!

the whole birthday table

the whole birthday table

If you look closely at the presents, you’ll see a DVD set of Downtown Abbey (freshly sent from the UK from my youngest sister) – to judge my reaction to that, check out my post about my brain on obsession. Then there’s a postcard from my parents, all the way from Australia. A crumple-up street map of New York from a friend. “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga from my uncle (who has formed the rather startling habit of pressing random hardcover books into my hands every time I see him ever since he realized that I’m serious about that whole crazy idea of writing a book). A book with one hundred really cute ideas for crochet projects that my sister gave me – I’m only able to do very simple crocheting, but maybe this’ll help me learn something new. Oh, and let’s not forget the ubiquitous alcoholic offerings – among the sparkling wines and red wine and the self-made raspberry liqueur there is an actual bottle of real Champagne.

So yeah… between the flowers, the presents, my siblings, both the two present and the two who weren’t here, the beautiful, beautiful weather and a very spontaneous BBQ with family and friends in the evening, I had a great day, as birthdays ought to be. :)

Wishcraft

A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!

The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.

Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way…  then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.

I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).

However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.

I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.

And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.

Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.

There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.

If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself. 

Frankfurt – Chicago / New York – Frankfurt

Yep. Those are flights.

(Please cover your ears while I do an inappropriate amount of squealing. You may also close your eyes during my dance moves.)

I have bought the tickets and alerted all my friends – I’m flying to the USA in the summer, travelling in the north-east for four weeks! Given my financial situation (read: the fact that I’m skint) this does not seem like an obvious choice of travel destination. The obvious choice would probably be to go camping in the garden.

However, my hand was slightly forced by the fact that one of my best friends is getting married in New York State and she and I would never forgive me if I hadn’t at least given it a serious thought. And once I had given it a serious thought or two (actually, I’ve thought about it from November till three days ago…), I found that it was possible after all. And since the plane tickets are the most expensive part, I decided to hang around and do some sightseeing. :)

I’m excited beyond everything and have mountains of travel literature (alright, six guide books and a couple of maps) lying in my office space so I can daydream and plan! To understand my excitement you’ll have to know that I LOVE travelling – I never feel more alive than when I explore a new place. Also, I’ll be meeting a good friend in Chicago (for the first time – how exciting in itself!) and attend my beautiful friend’s wedding, where quite a number of our mutual good friends will be as well. Plus, we (those friends and me) will do some travelling/road-tripping for a week after the wedding. PLUS, another best friend, that I asked on a sudden inspiration to accompany me, has just bought her tickets, on the same planes, in the seat next to me.

Is there any part of this that does not sound delicious, wonderful and amazing!?!?! My cup of joy is not overflowing – it’s bubbling and dancing. :)

.travel guides and map

Alright, over to you – I’m calling all the travel experts and those who know the area (the area being Chicago, New York and anything in between that’s accessible by public transport):

Any travel tips? Any must-see destinations? Any tips on saving money? Cheap bus lines? Good eating places, cheap places to stay (camping?)? Any hiking, exploring, nature-worshipping that I absolute cannot miss? Also: any music tips? 

April

It’s April. How did this happen?

Time goes by so fast and so quick at the same time. On the first of April 2012, I lugged 80 kilos of baggage halfway across Europe, taking the train from London to Brussels and from there to Cologne and then a succession of smaller trains to my hometown in southern Germany and finally being stranded in the nearest bigger city with no more trains going that day and my sisters waiting to collect me and my miscellaneous belongings in the car. In short, I moved back home to my parents’ place after trying and failing to find paid employment in London.

Temporarily, of course. No way was I going to stay with my parents for longer than necessary. It’s not something that can be recommended once you’ve grown up and lived by yourself for more than ten years. I sent applications to all the corners of the world. I also applied for unemployment money, because obviously, this, also, was going to be temporary. Something to help me over until I could land one of those elusive things called ‘job’. I remember how resentful I felt about the whole situation and how my mother was so happy to have me back and so worried for me and my future at the same time. We went for a long walk, that first weekend I was back, and everything looked so spring-pretty and fresh and full of flowering trees and buzzing bees and chirping birds, and I felt so unhappy and sullen and depressed and tired.

Now it is a year later, and I find myself contemplating the time that has passed. The last year has seen my 30th birthday being celebrated quietly and unassumingly with a beer in a random pub in the old part of Heidelberg with a good friend. It has witnessed me bashing out the first and (so far) only full draft of a novel. I spent a lot of time photographing things like flowers, stones, leaves of grass and clouds. I started teaching myself Spanish and how to draw, continued practicing my guitar, learned some design principles and set up three websites without any prior knowledge of how it’s done. I bought all manner of art supplies and dabbled with acrylic paints and stamps and pictures and glues and papers, just for the fun of it. I spent a lot of time walking the dog and talking to myself. I started reading a lot of fascinating and beautiful and funny blogs and made some great connections in the blogosphere. I attended the wedding of two dear friends and explored a bit of beautiful English coastline with my youngest sister. I cleaned the house an approximate number of 5 million times, cooked countless meals, spent time with my siblings, my grandmother and my parents. I envied my parents flying off to a trip around the world lasting seven months – the envy is gone, the pride in them and the joy at their happiness remains. I’ve had about 356 sparkling new ideas – for stories, for projects both arty and written, for events and things to do with my life. Recently, this year has seen me being hired as a mentor and actually be paid for actual work that I’m actually really good at.

I think the last year can be likened to a small lake somewhere in the forest. It’s been very quiet, almost hidden and reclusive, very introspective and contemplative. A calm surface. When I zero in on the details and draw closer to watch the single drops of water, though, I can see all the microcosm of life that is pulsing away and multiplying and growing and changing underneath. I can feel the quality of the water slowly changing. It’s starting to move and I think there might soon be a little brook that will connect the lake with a river. I’m not sure where I will be in one year’s time and I’m not making any plans, but I’m hoping for this: expansion, connection, new paths where the water will flow freely.

a letter to my readers

Dear friends,

I have been absent for a while, both from blogging myself as well as from reading your blogs and I must say that I miss it! I’m sorry if you felt or feel that I have abandoned you. I haven’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to get in touch.

There is no reasonable explanation for why this happened – maybe it just suddenly appeared too much. Or maybe I needed a bit of a time-out. I think the problem is mainly that if I follow someone, I want to read all their stuff and not miss anything, which sometimes means that unread posts pop up faster than I can keep up. Maybe I need to learn to be okay with not reading every single post.

Another problem seems to be that I feel like I have nothing to say. Now, some people might argue that I never have, but I hope that sometimes I have made you guys laugh or think or introduced you to a new song or just contributed to your pleasure and entertainment in some way. I’d really like to go on doing that, but I feel like I’m unorganized in my own mind. I want to straighten things out and make them clearer to myself.

For now, all I want to say is that I miss you – the banter, the jokes, the encouragement, the support, the community.

See you soon!

Hugs to all, wordsurfer

my dog’s thoughts this morning

Oh, she moved. I think she’s waking up.

Light! It’s another day! Oh, I’m so happy! Gotta go wash her face! With my tongue! She loves it! It helps her wake up! I’m such a good dog.

Down the stairs, down the stairs, down the stairs – do you see how fast I am?! I’m the fastest dog in this house! I’m great! Open the door!

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, there’s the other one! The one that cuddles me! Oh, there she is! There she is! Gotta jump up and try and lick her face as well! No, gotta curl up in a ball on her feet! No, I got it: throw myself on my back and present her my belly for scratching!!! Yes, what a great idea!

Oh, the other one’s in the kitchen! Food!!!

No food. She’s opened that place where they hide their human food. I never get anything from in there. Maybe if I stare into my bowl? Stare. Stare. Oh, this is boring, better go right up to her and sit down and beg. Yes, that’s it! Oh no, she’s only scratching my ears. Oh, nice spot. Yes, perfect spot! Yes, scratch harder! Right there! I’m going to help you! Watch this. Look, I can do it with my hind foot! Look at me! Look at me!

Oh my gosh, now the other one is in the kitchen as well! I’m right in the middle! I love it when the whole pack is close together like this! Maybe they’ll feed me now!!!

Oh, they’re talking about me, I heard my name! I wish they weren’t talking so fast. Something about… FOOD!!!

Oh no, someone walking past the house! Better run to the window and bark at them. Oh, now my pack is angry. How strange. My job is important! Gotta defend our territory! It’s what dogs do! Get out of that street, you! There’d be people running all over our street if I didn’t pay attention. Better bark again, just to be sure. Alright, alright, I’ll stop, if they absolutely insist, then I won’t… FOOD!!!

False alarm again. I’m so unhappy.

OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING OUT!!! Finally! Finally! She said it! We’re going for a walk!!! This is it!!! Gotta try and lick her face!!! No, come back, let me lick your face! Oh, I know! I’m gonna jump up at you! Here we go!! Yes, what a wonderful idea!!!

Alright, I’ll wait right here on the steps, okay? Can you see me? Here I am! Just waiting for you to get ready. Now she’s gotta put on extra paws and extra fur – humans are strange sometimes. I’ll best sit still and wait… wait…. OH! She’s ready! Yes, I’ll show you the door! Here it is! It’s a door! You open it and we go out! YES! You made it! It’s open! Oh, you’re so clever!!!

Wait, what’s that? Oh, that funny thing they put around my neck. It makes a strange noise when they put it on. Like a click. I don’t like the noise. Why do they do that? Oh, the LEASH!!! Oh my god, oh my god, the leash!!! I LOVE the leash!!! Oh, there it is! Yes! I’m going to carry it myself. In my mouth. So I can chew on it. Hm. Leash. I’m so HAPPY!!!

Oh, better concentrate now. Wearing the leash is a job. I gotta defend my human. It’s a big responsibility! I gotta huff at everyone who gets too close. Warn them off. Yes, that means you as well!!! Out of the way!!! Oh, now she’s taking the leash off!!! That means she doesn’t need my protection anymore – let’s run!!! Come on!!!

Nobby running

will this winter never end?

winterbird

winterbird

Sorry to all my blogging friends for my relative absence lately. This lack of sunshine is getting me down. Please accept the offering of this little winterbird as an apology. I’ll be back soon.

Tyler Lyle – Ithaca

This song is like a drug. I’ve been listening to it all day and it fades all the small things into nothingness and connects me with the wide, wild and unspeakable mystery.

It swells my heart with a quiet but intense joy, and yet I feel like crying for the mundane and the fantastic.

It’s an epic song, a twelve-minute gem of a song, a song that treads with conscious yet light steps through time and place, through thoughts and believes, searching for what was left behind or maybe what was only a dream, and after a journey around the world it ends in failure. Beautiful failure full of dignity and the inevitability of Greek tragedy.

The pictures are so deep and yet so instantly recognizable. Every word is familiar and everything is woven together so beautifully. This is songwriting on the level of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. If you know me just a little bit, you will know that this is the highest accolade I can give.

[thank you, Adam!]

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Life as a sandwich generation x’er, stacked with irony. As a ‘normal’ person peering out from the boundaries of suburbia, as a transplant from another state, maybe another planet. As a mother of teenage boys and freelance working writer balancing parenting with helping to care for my mother. And now as an only child of a mother with Alzheimer’s (which sucks).

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Motivate. Elevate. Laugh. Live Positively...

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Inspiration * Science* Spirituality * Other Ideas Just For Fun

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writing about thinking about writing

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art and practice

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