Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Flying Dutch Persons

I took Taku to the opera to see The Flying Dutchman. “I don’t like Wagner,” he says. “You don’t know Wagner,” I says, “Keep an open mind.” By which I meant, of course, you’ve got to know them very well to love them, so let’s get started.

You don’t have to work all that hard to get Taku into the Opera House. He loves gold leaf and plush seats and the very thought of theatre. And he has sung along with Maria Callas since he was barely out of his teens. Besides, I bought us season tickets.

So we went to The Flying Dutchman. Both of us had run through the opera in preparation. I had bought the libretto as well as the CDs and spent an evening alone being carried away by this glorious sound. I was primed and ready. Taku was hesitant, but willing.

We sat side by side and saw the stage from Row A of the balcony. A nice clean view of the entire stage. But it became clear as we walked down the stairs after the two and a half hours without intermission, that we had had two distinctly different experiences. To wit,

Version 1 (Alan’s partial recall)

What minimalist staging. Glad I was warned. A recounting of a legend. Yes. That opening sailor music - yo ho heave ho. That’s how the English hear it, those people who brought you cock-a-doodle-do. Ei ukh nem, go the Russians, juchhe, the Germans. Why does it all sound so hokey? Obviously somebody’s notion of what a romantic sailor in a nice clean sailor suit ought to be singing. Oh happy happy sailor life. Not.

I digress. Let’s review the plot here. One of those deals with the devil. Like Faust and Mephistopheles, only this time the Devil didn’t play fair. There’s this Dutch seaman who once made the mistake of shouting to the Heavens, “I’m going to get this fucking ship around this goddam Cape of Good Hope if I have to sell my soul to the Devil.” Now we aren’t surprised, because we know our legends and the workings of old Beelzebub, that The Devil immediately accepted the offer. So now Dutch rides around at sea for seven years at a time, through the centuries, and there is no rest. A cruel and unusual punishment for a careless moment of passion.

Now either Old Lucifer is fair after all, or he’s a fallen god who likes to play with his victims –you’ll take the latter view if you are grounded in Western Civilization, of course, but he leaves this poor Hollander a way out of his dilemma. Once every seven years, he (the Devil) will let him (the Dutchman) land and look for a woman who will be “true to him till Death.” If he can find him a sacrificial virgin in one of his seven-year rest stops, he’s free. (This is Norway, not Chichen Itza, so women have to want to throw themselves into volcanos; otherwise the principle’s the same.)

Well guess what. It’s that time. And here he is in Sarvik - how’s that for a piece of trivia, the name of the fjord where the action in Dutchman begins. We don’t see the ships, but the entire stage becomes red and we’re to understand (because we’ve done our homework) that means the Dutchman’s ship with the red sails has just pulled in. Come to think of it, I also happen to know that the masts were black. I understand the red sails, it symbolizes blood and that scares the bejeezuz out of everybody he encounters, but why the black masts? Been reading Stendahl, have you Richy? Glides in so silently during the night up next to Daland’s boat that the Steuermann (who appears to be in castrato training, his voice is so high) on watch doesn’t hear a thing.

Now, as luck would have it, Daland has a daughter who dotes on him. This comes as no surprise, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a story.

OK, enough digressions. Let me cut to the chase. Dutchman offers pearls and stuff for a good night’s sleep and a woman to wed; Daland offers daughter Senta, this pisses off Erik, Senta’s boyfriend, hunter and plot-advancer extraordinaire; Senta likes the idea of saving somebody from death (she knows the truth about Dutch, turns out); Dutch overhears Erik ask Senta “What about those sweet nothings you once whispered into my ear?” misinterprets this as betrayal, and takes off. Senta flings herself into the ocean and saves Dutchman, end of opera. All so very epic like. A kind of Germanic Ben Hur. Lovely rich silly stuff. Absolutely lovely performance. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo all around to everybody.

Version 2 (Taku’s partial recall)

This Bear of a fellow, quite nice looking, actually, shows up and offers this guy some money for his daughter. Actually says, “I want a woman. Do you have one?” Can you imagine? And the father actually says yes!!! Two heroes of the patriarchy who talk about this woman as if she were property! Then in the next scene there are all these women spinning. As if women couldn’t do anything else. And this idiot, Senta, is going on about this man who has been condemned and she actually wants to save him! Get a life, Senta. Shows how the patriarchy has inculcated its values in the women, who have lives no better than slaves.

And then there’s all this talk about love and duty and honor and all this shit. Give me a break. Where’s the honor when this Dutchman is only thinking of himself?! He knows this is going to be a life of misery for Senta, but does he tell her? Absolutely not. He’s a user if there ever was one. We won’t even talk about Daland. He actually boasts of his daughter’s absolute devotion. Obviously this is a society where money is the only real value.

True till death? Are you crazy? This means Senta has to give up her sex life and become erotophobic while he’s out at sea? What manipulation. You don’t hear the Dutchman promising Senta he won’t masturbate. Like to see that happen.

Who’s this Erik character? Why is marrying a smelly animal-killer the only alternative? What a sick society. And she doesn’t even need twenty-four hours to say yes. Slut. Deserves what she gets. She should have a mind of her own. The only way to fight the patriarchy is to accept responsibility for your own actions. Why is she so fat? She’s only 16 or something like that? She looks 40, at least. Why do they think we’re going to think she’s 16? Slut.

Wake me when it’s over. I like Italian opera. This is shit. Is it because it’s German? Are Germans really like that? No romance. Just cold fat people. Honor and duty and no sensuality at ALL!

At this challenge to his cultural roots, Alan waxes didactic:

Alan M: Remember when Herder talked about nation-building? Wagner, like Herder, thought you did that by creating a cultural nation, by sniffing out German uniqueness in the heroic versions of folk tales uniquely Germanic. He was into myth, not reality!

Another Perspective: But why did he have to ruin opera to do it?

AM: Mozart is also German, remember. His themes were contemporary and silly because society was silly. Wagner was interested in the power of nation and the heroic story, Mozart in the music and in entertainment.

AP: Mozart wrote in Italian. Sounds like he didn’t want to be German.

AM: Mozart wrote Magic Flute in German! -- at the insistence of the anti-Italian forces in the Viennese court.

AP: I think he really wanted to be Italian. In any case, I don’t like these German stories. The Italians make better opera. They understand sensuality better. When are we going to Italy? I don’t have to see any more German operas, do I?

AM: Well, I think you’d like Rosenkavalier.

AP: That’s the opera which begins with an FTM (female to male transvestite) fucking her girlfriend and the overture ends in the orgasm?

AM: Yes.

AP: OK. I’ll go see that one.

October 15, 1997

Monday, October 13, 1997

Home Again: The P.S.

October 13, 1997--One day after Indigenous Peoples Day, what they still call Columbus Day in retrograde parts of the country

Dear Folks:

I last wrote you when
a. my culture shock was in full bloom;
b. my toaster and rice cooker were in the mail; and
c. I was apparently turning the corner on disillusionment with America by getting health coverage.

Right. So on October 1, the day my Kaiser health coverage went into effect, I walked into the corner of a table and tore the toenail off my left big toe. No problem, I thought, and pulled out my Kaiser card and called emergency. Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting for the “advice nurse.”

Who told me
a. not to pour alcohol on the toe, as I was thinking I ought to do;
b. to get myself to the minor injuries clinic at the emergency room; and
c. to get there in the next twenty minutes, because emergency was closing.

So I wrapped the abused member of my digital community (I've been in America a long time now; I know we call everything a community) in a paper towel and took it to EMERGENCY.

“Can I park here?” [hobble hobble]

“I don't know.”

Oh. Sorry. I didn't realize you were with that woman they're wheeling in. (giggle giggle) - Paramedics giggle. I guess the woman isn't hurt too bad.

I find my way to registration and pay my $15.00.

“Your Kaiser card please!” Thank you. You are a real person, so we can take care of you.

Triage wants to know why I didn't bring the nail. I get up to go back and get it. This suggests I'm in shock. I follow the yellow brick line past the woman (she's broken her hip, it appears) into the back room where a nurse in a clown suit bathes my toe in water and I fly through the ceiling. Doctor Ishihara (no clown suit) then comes and sticks three needles in my toe (I hit the outer stratosphere) so I won't feel anything when he vaselines gauze on the wound and kisses it and makes it better.

It's two weeks tomorrow since that happened. The toe is no longer sensitive. My back, which I threw out hobbling because of a gigantic surgical shoe, is now no longer bothering me and I can go to the opera wearing shoes again. I may even have a new nail in only six to nine months.

All is well. Except that somebody got murdered outside my house last Sunday night. Two people. An old man out taking a walk and his caretaker. 10:30 at night. David and Slamet were just leaving and we heard a loud report. I used to call those things gunshots, but after the meeting with the police last night where I was filmed and my friends are calling to tell me they saw me on television, I learned you call them loud reports because sometimes it's not somebody shooting your neighbors. It's only a kid hitting a stop sign with a baseball bat.

David and Slamet came for dinner. A lovely dinner. Less lovely for David and Slamet, because on the way here they were hounded by some guy in a pickup who followed them around the block shouting something behind the window they couldn't hear. They had failed to start fast enough when the light turned, or something like that, and he decided he had to punish them. So he followed them for blocks. They got away from him only when he got out of his car at a light and came up, rage still written across his face, to their window. They rolled down the window and sprayed him with pepper shot, and then reported him to the police and came to dinner.

Between the threat of attack and the murder outside my house, they fixed my e-mail handler so I can now read and send attachments. I'm really coming into the cybernetic age.

I've been in California almost three months now. No more culture shock. I'm thoroughly at home. I think of Japan a lot, and I think I'll be ready to go back when the time comes. It will still annoy me that they don't have grass and trees like we do here. And that they talk all the time of violence in America. I wish they wouldn't do that.

I got my toaster back. They didn't send the refund for postage, like they promised. But the toaster toasts my toast and that makes breakfast easier because I haven't smoked up the kitchen by putting toast in the oven and forgetting it since my toaster came back. And my rice cooker's back. It didn't work at all, remember. Now it works, but it burns the rice, so we don't use it anymore.

Well, I guess that's all for now. Three months down on the sabbatical. Five more to go.