Friday, March 14, 2014

Hello, world

Hey folks. Bet you'd given up on ever seeing me again, eh? I went off last August in something of a diva fit during what was the longest, brokest, most boring summer in all my twenty-seven years on this earth. Since that time, I have had many adventures, both good and less so, and I come back to you now with a tally of what one person can accomplish when they feel like it.

Since my August 3rd post, I have:

Met the incomparable Lucy of Opera Obsession (and what a weekend it was!)

Begun to write reviews for BachTrack Magazine of the concerts and operas in Berlin.

Read about fifty good books

Fell in true love with my job.

Started a Tumblr under the highly original name of Tinydoom's Opernpalais

Been awfully sassy on my Twitter page

Gone to California to see my family for Christmas, where I finally admitted that while I love California, I will never want to ive there

Won a ticket to see Jonas Kaufmann make an operetta dvd in Berlin's Funkhaus, where I sat in the very front row and took this video:

All in all, it's been wild and crazy, but now I finally feel like blogging again, so hopefully we can expect regular posts. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Adventurers beware!

When I moved to Europe almost three years ago, it was with a bright hope that my life would take on the charmed aura of the heroine of one of those travel memoirs that I so love reading. I would move to Europe, fall into a whirlwind of adventure and romance and art and culture. I would travel, meet new people, speak new languages. For six months this was my reality, and I loved it. And then I moved to Berlin.

I am not going to blame Berlin for taking the romance and love of adventure out of my life for the last two years. That would be too easy, as though a city itself was invested with the cognisance to decide which of its inhabitants will love it and which will not. But I will say that Berlin is not an easy city to love. It's gritty and dirty, the people are rude, and the collective angst of the past 70 or so years makes any travel into the former East side a lesson in despair. Berlin is a great city if you love graffiti, hipsters and the sort of attitude that has all of its inhabitants under the age of 30 wearing ultra skinny trousers and stomper boots. If on top of this you dislike having to travel up to an hour to go anywhere interesting, than you quickly become disenchanted with it. But you stick with it because you have no other real choice.

To say that I disliked Berlin from the day I arrived would be an understatement. Circumstances forced me to move here when my original plan of going to Frankfurt fell through (or rather, was forcibly demolished by certain family members who thought it was a bad idea). I planned to stay only for the summer. And then, because family is all powerful and I didn't speak any German, I suddenly found myself with an apartment, a government stipend and a one year mandatory integration course into German language and culture. I won't lie, that course was hell on earth and the less said about it, the better. But because I believe in adventure, and that everything in life has a purpose, I stuck it out. Besides, I had Fidelio to work on, and nothing helps with depression like writing a novel about a woman saving the world. I finished my course, I finished my teaching certification, and I got a job. A wonderful job, with a fantastic and supportive boss who frequently tells me that she loves having me on her team. There is only one real problem with the set-up: being at the very start of my teaching career, I make hardly any money at all. And so I'm stuck with that government stipend.

Don't get me wrong: I have been so blessed since I came here. I won't starve. But part of the deal of being on a government stipend is that I cannot travel. I cannot leave Berlin without permission. To get that permission I have to go wait in line, make an appointment, and then argue with a bored bureaucrat in my decent but sub-par German about the necessity of whatever travel I'm going to do. And if I use up all my travel days (about 20 days per year), I don't get permission and so can't go. And there's nothing quite like being trapped in a place to make you dislike it.

But you make the best of it, you know? I go to the opera here occasionally and get to write about it. I can wander the city and explore. I can meet friends when they aren't too busy, or when they can come to me in my part of town. I go to a lovely church where the people are always glad to see me. But something is missing. All summer I have been sitting in Berlin, trying to summon motivation to do something, anything, but I can't, for the simple reason that I have no money. Every penny that I earn this summer has gone to bills and groceries, leaving me without a penny to play with. I can't even go down to Potsdam, because I can't afford the ticket. And it's hot. The average temperature in July was 90F with 100% humidity. This, in the land that doesn't believe in air conditioning.

Lately, my love of adventure and my reserves of patience have hit rock bottom. The cons have begun to outweigh the pros. And out of that, a rebellion was born. I am 27 years old. I speak three languages. I am a fully qualified teacher. And it is time for a change.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pitching Fidelio, round two

Last year I stopped querying agents about my Fidelio novel after it became clear to me that further revisions were needed before it was publication-worthy. Since then, I've almost completely rewritten the first half of the book. I rewrote the first chapter-the crucial hook-and I think it's much better now. (I hope so, anyway!) So now, given that I've got a month's holiday stretching before me, I'm working on perfecting my pitch.

What do you all think of this? Would you read a book if this was its back cover blurb?

“Fidelio” is the story of one woman’s search for her husband after he is ‘disappeared’ by political enemies.
Seville 1793: A smoking bonfire contains scraps of clothing and her husband’s wedding ring, but no body. Society, and even her own family, believe Florestan to be dead, but Leonora Serrano does not. Florestan was an important man, an aide to the Minister of Justice during this time of war and political upheaval. What was he investigating that was so dangerous that he had to be removed? A chance encounter with the governor of a dreaded prison fortress leads Leonora to assume the disguise of a young man and take a job as servant at the fortress in hopes of finding her husband alive. What she learns there turns her world on its head and makes her question everything she ever knew about justice and mercy. And then, when all hope seems lost, she hears a whisper of a starving man locked in a secret dungeon. Is it Florestan? And will she reach him before he is murdered?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wagner Straßen

If you get on any train or Sbahn to Berlin's Wannsee district and exit the station on the Zehlendorf side, you'll find yourself in a neighborhood of enormous, gorgeous mansion houses, a neighborhood filled with linden trees and tower rooms, elegant terraces and a soft spot for Wagner...

Residents seemed to be non-existent (they were probably all swimming down at the beach in Wannsee proper), which is good, because I'm sure I looked quite funny, taking pictures of street signs and grinning to myself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The scene that I can't make fit anywhere

Sometimes, when writing, you come up with more scenes than can fit into the narrative without slowing it down. Here is one such scene from my Fidelio novel, which I like, but can't figure out where to put. Le sigh.
NB: Jacinta is Rocco's housekeeper. Somebody has to be there to keep an eye on Marzelline!

“Jacinta, will you sit with Florestan tomorrow? Don Fernando wishes to speak with me again in the morning about the accounts I did, and I don’t want to leave him alone.”
Leonora Serrano, Fidelio that was, stood in the kitchen doorway, looking awkward. Jacinta paused, up to her elbows in flour, letting the dough in her hands rest.
“Of course I will. How is he this afternoon?”
“Better,” Leonora said, “though he had a nightmare. He said to thank you for the cinnamon bread. It was delicious.”
Jacinta smiled. Four days had Florestan been with them, and he was already saying thank you. Gratitude was all he had to give, she supposed. She would never have believed it of a wealthy gentleman, but then, she would never have believed that the woman in front of her could have done what she did, either. The world was changing, that was for certain.
“He seems to be a good man,” she said. Leonora nodded. “And how are you, my dear? Have you rested at all today?”
“No, no, it is not necessary,” Leonora said. The dark circles under her eyes belied her insistence, but Jacinta knew better than to press the matter.
“What time will you go? I will bring up the mending and sit with him until you return.”
“Fernando will come here at eight o’clock, and speak with me in the parlor. Thank you, Jacinta. Thank you for putting up with the extra work.”
Jacinta waved a hand. As if she would abandon two needy people!
The next morning, when Leonora brought their breakfast tray downstairs, Jacinta accompanied her into the invalid’s chamber, carrying her basket of mending. Florestan (Jacinta could not think of his as titled, not when he was so sick and helpless) lay asleep again, He did look a sight better than he had five days ago, Jacinta thought, settling herself in the armchair and taking up one of Rocco’s shirts. The ghastly grey pallor was leaving his face.
“Am I presentable?” Leonora raised her arms and turned a slow pirouette before Jacinta. In Marzelline’s borrowed blue frock, she looked entirely different from Fidelio, yet nothing like a fine lady.
“You look very pretty,” Jacinta said. She would look even prettier if her face was not so pale and anxious, but Jacinta held her tongue. The woman had every right to be anxious. “Go on, then, and make sure you tell my lord minister that he is to give you credit where it’s due.”
Leonora smiled and left. Jacinta settled into her mending. There wasn’t much, but the men would abuse their sleeves and trousers so. She hummed to herself as she worked, a sailor’s tune that she had learned as a child in Cadiz. The hum of voices downstairs drifted up to her, but she could not make out what they were saying, and didn’t bother trying. Three of Rocco’s shirts needed new cuffs, and Jacquino had torn a hole one trouser leg in his haste to let the prisoners out when the minister had bidden him to. Marzelline needed a new petticoat; this one was getting too thin in the back. Jacinta felt eyes on her and looked up. Don Florestan lay back on his pillows, his eyes open, watching her. Startled-she had not heard any change in his breathing-Jacinta let her sewing drop into her lap.
“Hello, Florestan. I did not expect you to wake so soon. Would you like some water?”
He nodded, his wary eyes not leaving her face. Jacinta stood and reached for the water jug. The tumbler on the table was clean, and Jacinta filled it and brought it to the invalid. Florestan sat up, still watching her with those big, nervous eyes.
“Here now. I always say that a glass of water on waking starts the day off right. It’s good, isn’t it? Nice and fresh. There.”
Florestan drained the cup. Jacinta took it from him and patted his shoulder.
“Thank you,” whispered Florestan. “Where is my wife?”
“Downstairs, speaking with my lord minister about how she undermined Don Pizarro. She’ll come back soon.”
Florestan nodded, hugging himself. Poor man, thought Jacinta, fetching a roll out of the basket on the table. “Would you like some bread and butter? I’ll put a little jam on it, too. Orange marmalade; homemade in January. Leonora tells me you like oranges.”
Florestan nodded again. Jacinta felt his eyes on her as she sliced the roll open and spread it with butter and marmalade (thank Heaven she had insisted that Leonora keep a basket of provisions in the room at all times). Such a simple thing, bread and marmalade, but enough to lift anyone’s spirits, especially a starving man’s.
“There now. Let’s sit you up properly.” She reached behind Florestan and fluffed his pillows, creating a wall for him to lean on. When he was comfortably situated, she reached for the plate.
“Forgive me,” Florestan said, suddenly. “I have lost the ability to converse with ease.”
Jacinta turned, the plate of dressed bread in her hand. “There is no need to apologize, Florestan. I understand quite well.”
Florestan gave her a small smile and sat back to eat his bread and jam. An ecstatic look passed over his face as he bit off the first chunk, and Jacinta resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair. He may be an invalid, but he was a grown man, and not comfortable with her. Instead, she settled herself back down with her mending.
“Did my singing wake you?”
“I don’t think so. No. I like it.”
Jacinta smiled at him, and Florestan ducked his head, gave her another of those small, shy smiles. They sat together in companionable silence, Jacinta humming and Florestan enjoying his snack. How funny it was, to sit in a room so with a gentleman. It was hard for Jacinta to think of these people as aristocrats.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jonas Kaufmann: the newest Bayerische Kammersänger!

Some great news for unser Jonas on Monday night: during the curtain call for "Trovatore" he was surprised by Intendant Nikolaus Bachler and the Bavarian Minister of Culture, who announced to a surprised audience-and tenor-that Kaufmann is now a Bayerische Kammersänger. According to the Bayerishce Staatsoper blog about the event, they're all very proud of themselves: they invited all of Kaufmann's family and friends (including Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenleyside) without anyone leaking it to the man himself. Kaufmann certainly looks surprised: I've never seen a grown man squee-hug quite like that before! It looks, at one point, like he's even wiping tears away.

Congratulations, Jonas, and happy birthday!