2009-11-21

Yo no soy marinero

...and sometimes I lose my way.

Most of us have been there: we're visiting a strange city and want to go out to eat, but we don't have reservations. There are, as always, parts of the city that are well-known for numerous restaurants and various cuisines.

Once upon a time, I was in New York City with my girlfriend, staying at a hotel up by the library they filmed part of Ghostbusters at. We wanted to have mexican food, so we asked at the hotel desk where we might find some. They pointed us up the street and around the corner, where we might find any number of mexican and south american eateries. We found one. And it was spanish.

We were treated to the driest chicken I have ever eaten and a spanish beer I couldn't pronouce when I tried to repeat its name after the waiter, three times, ("Papa-watch-oh?"; when he brought it, on the label was written "Budweiser"). "Epic fail" as they say.

The next night we decided to try our luck by Union Square, where I had heard there were lots of good places to eat, and I had even found a few restaurants on the internet. After an hour of walking around, I began to believe that these restaurants were ONLY on the internet, because they were nowhere to be found near Union Square.

Yout can call it bad luck, but I call it good, that we spent that hour wandering, one of us getting ever hungrier and ever crankier, causing a chain reaction of crankiness, because we finally found it. It was a restaurant I had never heard of, all by its lonesome, lights ablaze on a street that appeared to be nearly all residences. There were, outside and in, strands of what I might refer to as Christmas lights, but it was September. On the inside there were piñatas, enchiladas, and rather small pitchers of margarita of which you could drink only rather small amounts of before your body automatically chose either fiesta or siesta. We had reached la tierra prometida, and it was everything I had imagined it would be.

I will go back the next time I'm in New York, assuming the restaurant still exists; assuming it ever did. I would not be surprised if it had appeared like an oasis in the desert of downtown, a refuge for the pure of heart in a city of sin. I does have a web page, however. You might still be able to find El Cantinero at 86 university Place, between 11th and 12th streets.

Some dreams come true.

2009-11-19

My world of ballet

Almost exactly one year ago I became curious about ballet, since I had never attended one but for some reason thought I might enjoy it, and I contacted people involved in ballet in Vienna on a popular social networking site. Within twelve hours I not only recieved a response, but also an offer of a free standing ticket to a showing of The Nutcracker the very next day. Amazing was my reaction to both the offer, which I happily accepted, and the ballet itelf. Since then, I have seen every major ballet production that has come to Vienna. They are, in chronological order:

  • The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky's true holiday classic. Christmas, presents, adventure, epic battles, dancing robots... it's so fun, it'll even entertain the kids. And the music has become synonymous with holiday. You know at least three songs from this show. The first half was better than the second half; the highlight without a doubt was the gift-bearing godfather leaping around amongst the children. I could, however, do without the five-minute digitally-animated video that interrupted the ballet, intending to demonstrate that one of the children had received an extremely boring version of something like World of Warcraft.
  • Die Fledermaus - This ballet based on Strauss' operetta definitely felt like broadway version of a ballet, with more show than dance. Despite that, I found myself getting bored sometimes. The highlights were the jovial scenes at the bar and a passionate dance in the street. The street scene was very well-set.
  • Anna Karenina - I was in the middle of the book when I saw the ballet, and I was disappointed that the ballet focused only on Anna, her husband Karenin, and Vronsky, none of which are particularly colorful characters. I think they need to rewrite it and include at least small parts for Oblonsky and Levin. Those guys are awesome. After being a little disappointed with Die Fledermaus, Anna Karenina started similarly, a bit on the boring side. But it builds. The second half is magnitudes better than the first, and the last two or three scenes (Anna trying to re-enter society, and Anna at the train station) were the most intense and enthralling bits of dancing I've ever seen.
  • Neue Welt des Balletts - This production kicked off the 2009-2010 season with a set of seven separate modern dance pieces. I didn't know what to expect, but I wasn't let down. Other than one or two lulls in action, I loved every minute. See below for the title, choreographers, and music for each piece, along with my notes about them.
  • Mayerling - This is a wholly Austrian story of the most beloved royal couple in the history of the empire. Empress Sisi, Emperor Franz Joseph, and their children all had men and women on the side. So, even though they are beloved, they apparently didn't love each other that much. The ballet was good, focusing on Rudolph, who has three mistresses throughout the story. Like Die Fledermaus, there was more show than dance, including a break in the ballet while Franz Joseph's lover sings a bit of opera. I enjoyed this one, but it wasn't my favorite.
  • Swan Lake - I begin with Tchaikovsky and end with Tchaikovsky. I saw this one two days ago. There are four acts, and two intermissions, after the second and third acts. The show begins with a wonderful bit of dancing at a royal party and heads into the forest where the swans and the evil Batman take it up a notch. The third act sucked. It was like an anemic version of the various international dancers scene in The Nutcracker. The swans (all 30 of them!) brought the show back on track in the fourth, which was the highlight of the ballet.

Though there were of course some boring parts, but I enjoyed all of them. Then, just yesterday I went back to the Staatsoper for the second day in a row to see Die Zauberflöte, one of Mozart's big operas. It was the first opera I had seen in years, and I was interested to see if I'd enjoy it. Overall, it was good, but a bit on the boring side. There were incredible moments, though. The three members of the Wiener Sängerknaben playing the roles of spiritual guides, had awesome three-part harmony. But, I could have done away with all the rest and simply watched the ten minutes that the Königen der Nacht was on stage. She... was... incredible. That's all I have to say about that.

So, imagine it is one year ago, and I'm going to make a few recommendations for the next twelve months of dancing in tights. Here they are:

  • For pure fun, you can't go wrong with The Nutcracker. It's my favorite for making me feel like a kid again.
  • If I had to choose a ten-minute section of one of these shows to watch again, without a doubt I'd pick either the very end of Anna Karenina or the Aria der Königin der Nacht, depending if I wanted to see some dancing or hear some unbelievable singing.
  • The show that I would pay money to see again in a heartbeat: Neue Welt des Balletts. There were so many good things on stage in a single evening, I couldn't possibly have appreciated them all, even if I tried. More information about it below, to remind me what I saw, should I ever feel the need to look back and remember.

NEUE WELT DES BALLETTS
Elo – Forsythe – Kylián – Lukács - Naisy

EDERLEZI (Premiere)
Choreographie: Myriam Naisy
Musik: Goran Bregović
[Sorry; nothing special here.]

DUO (Uraufführung)
Choreographie: András Lukács
Musik: Max Richter
[This was the best pairs dancing I've seen. Post-modern in a way, fluid, the two dancers really integrated their movements with one another.]

GLOW – STOP (Wiederaufnahme)
Choreographie: Jorma Elo
Musik: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Philip Glass
[Colorful group dancing, very bouncy and entertaining.]

SLINGERLAND PAS DE DEUX
(Wiederaufnahme)
Choreographie: William Forsythe
Musik: Gavin Bryars

PETITE MORT (Wiederaufnahme)
Choreographie: Jiří Kylián
Musik: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
[This piece focused on synchronization and fluidity of many people, including swords. Very cool.]

SECHS TÄNZE (Wiederaufnahme)
Choreographie: Jiří Kylián
Musik: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
[This was a riot. It was more a show than a ballet piece; the audience was laughing a lot and the unconventional dancing was very good.]