I’m happily settled in San Francisco. My German season is most definitely over, and so is this blog. It will remain here as a monument to my Fulbright year, but those of you who want fresh content should head to my new blog at ilanawb.tumblr.com. The posts will be shorter and less frequent now that I’m working a regular job, but I’ll provide semi-regular updates on my life as well as links to all my theater and opera reviews. (There will continue to be plenty of those, once the seasons begin.)
If you don’t have a Tumblr account and want to subscribe to my new blog by e-mail, I’m sorry. Tumblr doesn’t allow direct e-mail subscriptions. But you can use a service like blogtrottr to get e-mails whenever I post—just enter “ilanawb.tumblr.com/rss” and your e-mail address.
To wrap up this blog, I offer you some summary statistics of the year:
I attended 38 plays in four languages (German, English, Italian, and Persian)
I attended 44 operas in eight cities (Munich, Stuttgart, Salzburg, Berlin, Stockholm, Tallinn, Vienna, and Budapest)
I performed in 1 opera in yet another city (Burgos)
I danced at 13 balls (three in Munich, seven in Vienna, and three May Balls in Cambridge)
I traveled to 16 countries, counting Germany and the U.S. (the others were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom)
I visited 10 cities in Germany and 26+ citiesin the rest of Europe (depending on where you draw the line between a city and a town)
I had 4 academic papers accepted at journals, all in very different fields (narrative psychology, feminist analytical philosophy of language, Spanish Golden Age and Romantic literature, and Italian pastoral drama)
I wrote 138 posts on this blog, which I estimate at a total of 75,000+ words
I wrote 35 opera reviews for Bachtrack and Opera Online, which I estimate at a total of 26,000+ words
3,111 people visited my blog at least once
My blog traffic mostly came from Twitter, but the second-most frequent referral route was online searches, and the most common single search term (49 times) was “Kierkegaard in City Museum of Copenhagen“
My most-used blog tags were “Regietheater” (26 times) and “WTF” (25 times)
Stolpersteine are a privately funded art project and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. They are golden cobblestones inscribed with individuals’ names and birth and death details, placed at the last location the person chose to live. There are more than 40,000 in Europe, but there are just 25 in Munich, all on private land. In fact, Munich is the only city in Germany that prohibits Stolpersteine on public walkways.
This policy (in place since 2004) is largely due to loud objections from some members of the Orthodox Jewish community. One community leader and Holocaust survivor, Charlotte Knobloch, has been paticularly active in ensuring the ban remains in place. She argues that Stolpersteine are a disrespectful memorial because they enable people to literally trample the memories of the dead. But many people—including Holocaust survivor Ernst Grube—disagree. Stolpersteine serve as a beautiful, dispersed memorial of the dead. Unlike a centralized monument, they’re something ordinary citizens encounter and think about during the course of their daily lives. And they are never installed against the wishes of victims’ surviving family members. Continue reading Stolpersteine in Munich→
Late spring is a glorious time of year. The sun is out. Lots of roses in my neighborhood are in bloom. I can wear cute dresses every day. But to Germans, this season has a special significance. It’s not just late spring or early summer; it’s Spargelzeit.
Spargel is asparagus (usually the white variety), and Germans are a little bit crazy about it. The fruit and vegetable stands that dot downtown have been filled with it. Every restaurant proudly displays a special asparagus menu, with soups and salads and mains all centered on this white stalk. I don’t quite get it—I like asparagus, but not that much—but it’s fun to watch.
If you’re more of a fruit person, there’s still something for you. It’s also Erdbeerzeit (strawberry season). I do understand the strawberry craze; perfectly ripe, fresh strawberries are to die for. I keep buying baskets of strawberries with the intention of mixing the fruit with my muesli for breakfast, only to eat the whole basket on the way home!
As my time in Munich nears its end, I’m trying to get through my bucket list. It’s a bit too late for intense sledding in the mountains, but it’s just the right season for hiking! My fellow Fulbrighter Eric agreed to go with me, so we packed up lots of food and water and took the train to the tiny town of Griesen, right along the Austrian border. We walked around the Nudelwald (literally “noodle forest”) and hopped a freeway to get to the trailhead. We planned to conquer Frieder, a 2050-meter mountain in the Bavarian Alps.
A pond near the start of the trek
Eric climbs a mountain
Views of other mountains
Slowly gaining elevation
My hiking guidebook listed Frieder as a medium-difficulty hike, which should take 6.3 hours. Eric might have been able to do it in that time if he’d been hiking alone, but it took me (somewhat out of shape, but an experienced hiker) 8 hours. We ascended 1410 meters from our starting point, scrambled over steep and rocky paths, and even crossed patches of ice. The hikers we passed all wore serious boots and carried trekking poles. (We owned neither.) By the time we reached the bottom—just in time to catch the train back to Munich—I could hardly walk. A shower and a tick removal operation later, I was sound asleep. Continue reading Hiking in the Alps→
Last night was the final concert of the year for Munich Vocal Arts Society. Our small choir sang three religious pieces, Frostiana, and the Liebeslieder for a small but enthusiastic audience. Now, it’s all over for me—by the time the choir begins meeting again, I will be back in the United States.
I am sad to bid farewell to my choir friends, but I’m not sad to be done working on choir music. That’s because I have other music to work on! I will sing the role of Procri in Cavalli’s opera Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne. Rehearsals start July 12 in Spain, so as soon as my score comes, I need to spend some time learning this beautiful scene. I’m very excited to get back on the stage!
Between my travel and reviewing schedules, I decided not to be involved in the Ludwig Maximilian University English Drama Group’s fall or spring productions. But when fellow American expat (and excellent actress) Jessica (who was in a 24-hour play with me earlier this year) planned an informal collection of scenes, I knew I had to participate. I’ve been missing the stage! Rouven, another member of the group, posted an open invitation to do something from The Revenger’s Tragedy, and of course I jumped at the chance. (I performed a scene from this absurd Jacobean revenge tragedy in my Advanced Scene Study class in undergrad, and the play is so much fun.) We picked a scene between the Duchess and Spurio. The Duchess, angry at the Duke for failing to interfere and save her son (who is on trial and facing capital punishment for rape), plots revenge. Spurio is also bitter towards the Duke for making him a bastard—if he had been “cut a right diamond,” he would be next in line for the dukedom. The Duchess happens to be in love with her stepson Spurio, so she decides to seduce him (and thereby cuckold her husband) to both satisfy her lust and get her revenge.
In costume and ready
The Duchess looks on in amusement as Spurio makes bitter, bawdy jokes about how big his dick is and how much stamina he has
Spurio finally consents to the Duchess’s desires
We performed the showcase on April 18, and I think our scene went pretty well. The showcase itself was quite varied. Some scenes were carefully rehearsed and directed; others were more thrown together. Azey directed a fabulously modern and physical Petruchio-Kate scene from Taming of the Shrew. Other pieces came from Midsummer, Richard III, Cyrano, Alice in Wonderland, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. We also got a musically questionable but undoubtedly enthusiastic rendition of ‘Agony’ from Into the Woods. It was all good fun!
Last night was the first night of Pesach! I spent Wednesday scrubbing my kitchen and oven, and I gave away all my chametz, so I was very prepared. My synagogue held a first-night Seder, and of course I attended. My mom asked me to report back on what was different, but the answer is really: not much. We went through all the prescribed steps. We (well, the children) walked around the room to “cross the red sea”. We opened the door to call for Elijah. We even sang some songs in English (like the song about the four children to the tune of “Clementine”). The rabbi actually gave me a surprise solo—he asked me to sing “My Favorite Things” with the lyrics re-written for Pesach. It went over well.
In traditional fashion, I got pretty drunk on my four full glasses of wine. (I had a bottle to myself, and I finished it.) But I learned that I possess two very important life skills. First, I can still carry on decent conversations in English, German, Italian, and Spanish after a bottle of wine. (We have a very international community at Beth Shalom.) Second, even when I am drunk, I can remember and sing all of Chad Gadya without getting tongue-tied. No one else was singing Chad Gadya, so it ended up being a second, unsolicited solo, but at that point I was too tipsy to care.
The best holiday of the year began last night. It’s not the best-known Jewish holiday, but it’s the one where everyone dresses up in costumes, reads a story in the silliest manner possible, eats lots of delicious cookies, and gets drunk: Purim!
The Beth Shalom community is fairly family-oriented, so we didn’t follow that final requirement, but we had a great party all the same. It began with the reading of the Megillah. American-style Purim Spiels (with, say, Beatles music or Broadway showtunes) aren’t a thing here—I got blank looks when I asked about it—but the reading was still fairly dramatized, with a few Hebrew songs thrown in. It was in German, but we pretended to be reading the Hebrew scroll. (The cantor sang the beginning and the end, and we had to do the rolling and unrolling.)
Ball season is over, but the Fulbright Ball defied convention and took place last weekend. Jamesa—a fellow Fulbrighter, whom I met in Vienna for a ball—attended with me. That was nice, because I didn’t know anyone else there! We sat at a table with alumni including one who’d been a Fulbright student in 1970. (She joked that our table had both the oldest and the youngest Fulbrighters.) Our tickets included a delicious meal and a dessert buffet (though I only got one bowl of creme brulee and two bowls of mousse before they ran out). The dancing was less exciting—the DJ played an odd mix of ballroom and disco music. Even during the ballroom music, everyone stuck to the partners they came with. But Jamesa and I joined forces for a messy Munich Francaise at midnight! (I was confused, because I’d just gotten good at the Fledermaus quadrille, and now I needed to do different steps to all the same music!)
The Künstlerhaus, where the ball took place. I had some trouble placing the era of the room—1920s or 30s, perhaps?
The view from out table
Jamesa and Ilana. The ball was nominally masked, but many people attended unmasked
Some of our table-mates
The room, again
The beautiful ceiling was patterned with two shades of gold
I’ve already been to Vienna twice (here, here) during the ball season / carnival / Fasching, and I’ll be back a third time before it’s over. But Munich has a ball season, too. Old newspaper articles indicate that it used to be a bigger deal, with hundreds of balls and a young “king and queen” who were expected to make an appearance at as many as nine events an evening. It’s smaller now, and many of the events take place in discos. But there are still a few old-style black-tie balls, so I decided to check them out.
First came the Ludwig Maximilian University Ball. It’s only in its second year, but it feels much older. The University’s gorgeous “large classroom” (famous for its history as the birthplace of German student resistance against the Nazis) had its seats removed and a dance floor installed for the occasion. Stately waltzes, a bar with reasonably priced drinks, and a delicious buffet made for a very fun night. The organizers cleverly recruited heavily at dance schools, so there were always couples on the floor. I managed to find a lead who had come alone, so I was set for the evening.
This ball also marked my intoduction to the Munich Francaise—a traditional contra dance done to (mostly) the same music as Vienna’s Fledermaus Quadrille, but with entirely different steps. We only did three of the five sets, but they were very well explained and demonstrated, so they worked brilliantly. There was even a bit where the ladies sat on the gentlemen’s hands and were lifted and twirled about in the air. It was great fun! Continue reading Munich Ballsaison→