This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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On the top of London

londoneye-4On my first ever visit to London, in 2000, the London Eye was brand spanking new. The lines for a spin were days if not weeks long, even if each pod takes 25 people, allowing for plenty of space to move around. Originally I remember it was called the Millennium Wheel, and the rumor was that it was going to be dismantled after a while. londoneye-3 I am glad that the London Eye is still up, 19 years later. I suppose Brits had to have an iconic, modern landmark, as the French have the Eiffel Tower.londoneye-1And 18 years after my first visit to London, I finally got to ride the thing. I excused myself from work early, took the tube down, navigated through the throngs of visitors and found myself in a nearly empty VIP lounge with a glass of champagne and the sun pouring in through the windows. Because if you wait for something for nearly two decades, you must go through it with style.

And rain or shine, London from the top is quite a sight.
londoneye-2(London, United Kingdom; March 2018)


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In questa tomba

operaI have a bucket list that contains 101 goals in 1001 days. A so-called Day Zero Project. While chasing items on this list I have dipped myself into various experiences. Seeing Verdi’s opera Aida live has been one of the most elusive ones; surprisingly, as it is a classic. But suddenly there were a few performances at the English National Opera in London.

I convinced a colleague to come along. He took me up on the challenge and flew over to London carrying a tuxedo, which he duly put on for the occasion. After Aida and her misfortunate lover Radamés had been buried alive in a tomb forever,  I reminded him that this was probably the most tragic opera every written, and that he should not make up his mind unless he saw another opera where people did not take quite as long a while to die as these two.

It turns out that the translation of this production was quite different: the famous line uttered by Aida’s lover upon his discover of her (“in this tomb!”) was missing. And instead of dying a slow long death in the tomb, Aida and her Radamés are apparently seeing the light, “a new day”.

Such an admirable attitude. The glass is half full even when one is buried alive forever in an Egyptian burial tomb.  Quite the benchmark.

(ENO, London, United Kingdom; November 2017) 


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Hasa diga eebowai

musicalThe Book of Mormon made me laugh so I shed tears. Yes, it is insulting, intelligent, and vulgar. My colleague in London told me she saw it when it was new, and one-quarter of the audience walked out during intermission and never returned to their seats. But what most people miss (perhaps?) is the sweetness in the second half: how people try so very much their best to live in a harsh world seemingly filled with limitations. The deep lessons in the ending: how another’s culture is always understood through the filter our own culture, programmed in our minds when we grew up. How, in the end, the characters on stage were all trying their very best to help each other live as good lives as possible, all in their own ways.

It seems that most viewers remember the phrase “hasa diga eebowai”. “F*ck you God”. This is also the reason many people leave the musical in the middle of the show. But what many do not seem to remember is that it was used as an expression of survival and strength in a world where individuals are targeted with numerous inexplicable sufferings: AIDS, poverty, natural disaster. “If you don’t like what we say, try living here a couple days. Watch all your friends and family die; hasa diga eebowai!”.

There is strength in words. And sometimes those words are terrible. Because the world is sometimes terrible.

(London, United Kingdom; September 2017)


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Somewhere between poetry and insanity

wigmore

“Occupation is essential. And now with some pleasure I find that it’s seven; and I must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down”

(Virginia Woolf’s last diary entry before her suicide)

Somewhere between poetry and insanity tonight. Alice Coote sang Virginia Woolf’s diary entries, and letters from 19th century patients locked up at a mental illness asylum. “Strange Productions” was the aptly named title of the insanely poetic letters, commissioned by Wigmore Hall from Nico Muhly.

Wigmore Hall is a constant favorite. Not because of the (also insanely) beautiful venue, but because of the director and his creative team who commission modern classical pieces with a flair. Never bored here, although sometimes mindlessly enthralled.

(London, United Kingdom; January 2017)


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Old English pubs

eaglechildBusiness lunch at Eagle and Child with a quantum physicist, discussing medical sciences. Dinner at the Bear Inn, a pub from 1242, among 4,500 club ties (including one tiny panel in the ceiling for women’s ties). Instead of rowdy drunk people, there were ladies dining and students playing chess with glass pieces.

Only in Oxford. oldpub(Oxford, United Kingdom; January 2017)