Ah, San Sebastian! The beaches are pristine, the water is clear, and the mountains are green. I spent a very relaxing few days here recovering from my operatic adventure. I cruised on the ocean. I sat on the beach. I read my book. I ate lots of pintxos. The only sightseeing I did (on a rainy day) was visit the Museo San Telmo. It has very cool architecture—a daring, modern add-on to an old convent. It was also hosting an exhibit about the Italian filmmaker Pasolini. Among (many) other accomplishments, he directed Maria Callas is her only non-singing film role!
Combs of the Winds
Combs of the Winds
People fishing on Santa Clara Island
The proprietor ensured me that carousels are for adults, too
I went to Spain to sing in an opera (Cavalli’s rarely performed Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne) . We had four days to rehearse. What were we thinking!? I have no clue. But there was an opera just the same! While I wasn’t entirely pleased with my performance, I had a fabulous time meeting lots of other singers (of all ages and career stages), learning how to be more Baroque (it’s all about the elegantly asymmetrical gestures), and refreshing my Spanish (many cast members didn’t speak much English). It was also very special to sing in the beautiful Teatro Principal in Burgos.
The opera’s plot is complicated, with two frame stories. In one, the god of sleep sends his minions to create dreams, and a homeless woman dreams of a nymph being turned into a tree. She asks her wise friend to help her understand her dream. The other frame story sets the main plot up as Venus’s revenge for a slight offered her by Apollo (he revealed her to her husband while she and Mars were practicing “military exercises” naked, and she is angry). She complains to her father Zeus, and he suggests she send her son Cupid to get revenge. Cupid wounds Apollo while the nymph Dafne is passing by. Dafne is sworn to Diana (and therefore chastity) and refuses Apollo’s advances. When he pursues her in spite of her refusal, she asks her father to turn her into a tree. Apollo bitterly repents the transformation he has caused, but it is too late.
In an unconnected but interwoven (and very important, in my completely unbiased opinion!) plot, Cefalo has abandoned his nymph Procri because he has fallen in love with the goddess Aurora. Aurora is married to Titone, who was formerly young and handsome. She managed to get him eternal life, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So he is now old and decrepit, which is why she’s running off to earth to fool around with Cefalo. Continue reading Being Baroque in Burgos→
Why Estonia? Helsinki or Oslo would have been a more typical end to my Nordic tour. But when I chatted with some Fulbrighters based in Finland, they recommended Tallinn as a cheaper and prettier destination. And I think it was a good choice.
Tallinn is an impressive city. Estonia has only been independent for 24 years, but it feels more like a Nordic country than an Eastern bloc country. The infrastructure is fabulous. There is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere, a secure and high-tech system that lets citizens do everything from voting to taxes to starting businesses online, and extensive public transit (which is free for city residents, though not for tourists). It’s not quite as inexpensive as, say, Budapest, but the prices still come as a relief after Stockholm and Copenhagen. Also, amusingly, Estonia’s president is rather infamous for starting Twitter wars with other countries. Just a fun fact.
Tallinn has one of the best-preserved medieval old towns in the world. It’s very small and cute, with lots of churches in various styles, a still-operating pharmacy dating back to at least 1422, and a mostly-intact wall. (Apparently, Estonia entered the wall in some sort of “additional wonders of the word” competition. It lost to the Great Wall of China. But that’s pretty stiff competition.) I took a free walking tour with a hilariously wry guide who told us lots of silly stories. For instance: one of the oldest churches was partially destroyed by Soviet bombs. When Estonia joined the USSR, they asked for money and permission to rebuild the church. Their proposal was repeatedly rejected, until they offered to make the space a museum of atheism. (What goes inside a museum of atheism? Who knows? The museum never actually happened.)
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an onion-domed Russian Orthodox church
View of Old Town (with an Ilana)
View of Old Town
This medieval tower has Russian cannonballs in it
Tallinn supposedly has the best-preserved medieval wall, though some Italian towns might argue
Whoever’s flag is flying on this tower (right behind parliament) is currently in control of Estonia
I spent this weekend in Stuttgart visiting my fellow Fulbright student Jamesa (who has formerly appeared on this blog in Munich and Vienna, though we also met up in Marburg and Berlin). We had grand plans, mostly involving the Ritter Sport factory and outlet. Chocolate is always a priority.
I showed up late Friday evening—too late to do anything in the city, and late enough that Pesach had ended! Jamesa is a master chef, and she seems to have anticipated my wish for the most chametz-filled meal possible: we made pizza and cake from scratch. Both were delicious. I haven’t been cooking enough this year.
Saturday was devoted to our big adventure: Ritter Sport! (For those who don’t know, Ritter Sport is a German chocolate brand that comes in distinctive, colorful, square packages. Their motto, which must be a send-up of stereotypes about Germans, is, “Square. Practical. Good.”) We took a bus to Waldenbuch. There, the Ritter Sport factory has a “chocolate exhibition” describing the chocolate-making process and the history of the company. They also have a cafe, an art museum, and an outlet store. We visited all of those. I was a tad disappointed that we couldn’t watch the chocolate being made live (or, better yet, make some ourselves), but it was still fun. We ate banana-and-Ritter-Sport-chocolate pancakes in the cafe. We saw the predictably gemoetrically themed art exhibition and had fun arguing about which things on the walls we considered art. (At some point, monochrome paintings of squares are just monochrome paitings of squares, no matter how famous and revolutionary the artist supposedly was!) We bought many kilos of chocolate at discount prices. Much of that was “Bruch” chocolate that didn’t quite meet quality control (and therefore was being sold cheaply) and “Test” chocolate (flavors that were tried out but never manufactured on a large scale). I shouldn’t need to buy more sweets for several months, now!
The colorful Ritter Sport factory
The “mini chocolate plant” in the chocolate exhibition dispenses free samples
Ritter Sport didn’t become square until the 1950s! Here’s some of the earliest square packaging
Opened in 1891, the building served as the national theatre, hosting both plays and opera, until 1925, when non-musical entertainment was moved elsewhere. There are seven busts at the top: Lessing, Goethe, Wagner, Mozart, Weber, Schiller, and Shakespeare.
I think it says something about Shakespeare’s global importance that he is the only playwright or composer included who did notcome from a German-speaking country and write works in German.
Also, there are advertisements all over Zürich for a party in September to kick off the opera season. I wish I could attend.
I’m not usually big on tourist-y activities. My general modus operandi for travel is to figure out an opera and theatre schedule for all of my evenings, then search for interesting-looking things to fill the days. Those interesting-looking things often include a few museums, palaces, or cemeteries, but I don’t make a point of trying to hit every major attraction in a town.
But this vacation can’t be like that. For one, it’s August, so there isn’t much in the way of opera and theatre. Two, my sister is travelling with me. She’s never been to Europe before, so she’d like to see the major sights. Unfortunately, another consequence of this being August is that everyone is on holiday, so tourist attractions are all packed. That said, we muddled through the best we could in our first city: Paris.