blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

German and Chinese

The old sanatorium at Davos, the setting of Mann's novel
I spent a few weeks this summer reading in German. I read both volumes of Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg again (a "set book" when I was studying German at university and a favourite of mine) and got hold of a film of the novel that wanders rather from the original, but is still in keeping with its spirit, though I was disappointed with its interpretation of the last chapter. I've been watching DVDs of a German TV dramatisation of Buddenbrooks as well. Sabine of the German Embassy left some books behind when she left Ottawa this summer, one of which was the novel Eine Handvoll Glück by Barbara Noack, set in wartime Berlin and the few years before. Apart from the Berliner Dialekt used in the dialogue I found that story a very readable one.

Since September I've been in charge of the weekly meetings of the German-speaking Konversationsgruppe (26 people) that's part of Ottawa-CFUW's Diplomatic Hospitality service. Chris, who is also needing to study the language like mad in preparation for a business trip to Bremen, Stuttgart, etc. discovered something useful on the Deutsche Welle website: Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten: international news read out by German newsreaders at an abnormally slow pace and very clearly articulated, which gives non-Germans a better chance to follow what's being said––brilliant idea. I wish I'd had access to this when I was a teacher in the old days. I've told my Konversationsgruppe about it, anyhow. We've had five meetings so far and at the last one I decided to hand out some copies of extracts from a little book of old Chinese stories ("Anekdoten") entitled "Und Buddha Lacht" and translated by a German sinologist called Franz Kuhn, who died in 1961. As a matter of fact, Dr. Kuhn was the great uncle of Dagmar, one of my German-Canadian friends, and Dagmar was there to tell us a great deal more about him than appears in the Wikipedia article! Also present was Lolan, Chinese by origin, who with her in-depth knowledge of China's history and culture could help us appreciate the background to the stories.

I have also been taking some more Mandarin Chinese lessons on Skype with Mr. Yin of the Ottawa Chinese Language Centre, and practising with my daughter-in-law Sha or my friend Yiwen when the opportunity arises. I hope I'm making progress, have been trying to use modifying words like "yīnggāi" (should) and "kěnéng" (perhaps) as well as the very basic vocabulary, in order to make my sentences in Chinese a bit longer than they were to start with.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A puppet Faust

Since flying back from New Brunswick and Quebec, I've had a wealth of different experiences, not least of which was my attendance yesterday evening at the extraordinary solo performance of Goethe's Faust (Part I), at St. Paul's University.

St. Paul's, originally intended for the "Oblates of Mary Immaculate," is still to some extent a Theology college, and indeed when I arrived (alone in the dark) at the front entrance there was a tall monk on the steps wearing a long skirt and a hood, talking French into a cellphone, but nowadays it is also shares its premises with the Ottawa branch of the Goethe Institut. I know Cristina, the lady who runs the Goethe Institut here, and she had invited me along to the show in the auditorium.

The visiting performer was Bridge Markland from Berlin, a woman who has mastered multiple roles as a high school teacher, translator, drag artist, dancer, children's theatre producer, actor, puppeteer, and performer in variety shows. Not necessarily in that order. She gives "one-woman-transgender-performances" in sex clubs and performances of classical drama by Schiller, Goethe, Kleist, in schools. It seems to me she belongs to the German cabaret tradition of the 1920s and 30s; she'd have been quite at home with those people (I noticed that she used a Brecht-Weill song at one point in her show).

Anyway, what we were watching was Ms. Markland's performance of Faust in the Box:

It was so clever, thoroughly kreativ! (It had taken two years of preparation.) As you can see in the video, she pops in and out of a cuboidal box and dons various dressing-up hats in order to be different characters, although as Mephistopheles, in a very devilish interpretation, she doesn't wear any hat on her bald head. Sometimes, in the scenes where two or three people are interacting, she resorts to glove puppets. For the famous "poodle" scene she unpacked a wind-up dog from a toy shop that stood on its back legs and did somersaults. For the cathedral scene she simply hung a Holy Virgin doll over the side of the box and lit a candle on the floor of the stage. For example.

She knew the play backwards, every line, and her mouth moved to the voice-over reading, a recording by a cast of German actors (collaborators) that came through concealed speakers, the muscles of her face also responding to whichever character was speaking as she "listened" to her puppets saying their lines. Sometimes all we saw were two puppets, as she herself hid in the box below. The most original idea she'd had was to integrate the words of pop songs into the text (she mouthed those too, along to the music), so that, for example, when Gretchen was meeting Faust, we saw the Gretchen character singing and jigging about to Madonna's Like a Virgin, which had the audience in stitches. Sometimes only half a line from a song was used to interrupt the Goethe dialogue––technically it was very well done and a lot of the songs were in English––so that the audience really had to concentrate to work out the allusions.

I was pretty much exhausted at the end, after 80 minutes of this, and so must she have been, but she's used to it. She then took a swig of water and proceeded to solicit questions and comments from the audience, which took another twenty minutes or so. She seems completely bi-lingual, spoke in a mix of German and English. She also performs an English version of Faust-in-the-Box, combining two established translations with some ideas of her own, is doing that in Vermont on the next stage of her tour, and has begun to perform Robbers-in-the-Box too, in various places (her take on Schiller's Die Räuber). Somebody asked her if she'd be willing to come to Ottawa again to give another of her performances and she answered, "As long as you'll pay for my air fare!" and added, interestingly, that she'd also like a hotel room to herself, because, off stage, she likes to be privat.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thursday and Friday: two Loupi nights

Where we stayed in Rivière-du-Loup
That was a bad case of writer's block. According to this blog I've been stuck in Quebec for the last two-and-a-half months! Let me post this and move on now.

August 9th

Our flight from Rimouski to Riviere-du-Loup was short and sweet, over enchanting scenery; the valley leading to St.-Fabien and the little harbour at Trois-Pistoles looked particularly appealing from the air.

We landed, found a motel (the one in this photo) and in the afternoon took a three hour whale watching cruise from the mouth of the Rivière to the other side of the St. Lawrence on a small boat accommodating a large party of Chinese tourists, so full that we didn't even get a seat. It was a perfect day for the experience though, the water, unusually, as smooth as silk.

Hungry when we came back on shore, we tried for a table at the pub on the headland, Au Boucaneux, but it was full––you need a reservation if you don't want to wait for a table for hours––so we had sandwiches and chips at the snack bar next door instead.

Next morning we were fog bound. It was raining too, with the cloud ceiling and visibility so low that we couldn't fly anywhere. Instead, after breakfast at Mike's we rented a car and, having made sure that PTN was still safely tied down at the airport, we went for a walk from the Parc des Chutes at the edge of the town. The notices encouraged us to "...Observez la chute de 33 mètres, du haut des deux passerelles surplombant la rivière du Loup" where there was an old, recently renovated hydro station and the gateway to a network of walking trails. In spite of the rain, we followed the longest, Path No. 1, keeping a look out for red squares on the trees. This route took us through an apple orchard where sculptures had been planted too. In fact the whole area was a park for experimental art. A curtain of eyes had been hung under the footbridge spanning the river.

At lunchtime we found a nice coffee shop on the main street on the hill, then made another visit to the airport again, still swathed in cloud. It was worth the detour, because an extraordinary sight met our eyes. A Junkers 52 had flown in, defying the clouds at a low altitude (skud running all the way from Toronto! We'd heard it flying in before we spotted it. "What's that?" we said.)

Being a groovy plane, the Junkers (built in Germany in 1939, but now Swiss owned) on this flight was being sponsored by Rimowa: "the luggage with the grooves." It wasn't just any old flight; the crew had taken the aircraft from Switzerland to California via the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, etc. and were now on their way back home, a  real adventure. The journey log is on their website. As a newly captured prisoner-of-war after the Battle of Crete, my father had once ridden in a 'plane like this: it was his first ever flight, in fact, in 1941. We walked all around the one at Rivière-du-Loup, and talked to its crew before they left for their supper in town.

Our supper was at Les Jardins de Lotus after we had checked into the Loupi once again.

The following day, August 10th, we flew home via Trois-Rivières, taking a half-way break there and breaking through the cloud there too.

Hey, I'm back at last. Now I can start writing about all the other experiences I have had since.