Once in a Blue Moon …

 

… comes the privilege of witnessing, live, two men of genius performing at the same event. Two days on, I’m still glowing from the reflected glory and deep inner joy, all enhanced by the memorable timing of this experience on the eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

What event am I mooning about? I have already mentioned my old friend Norman Perryman in two previous blogposts (here and here – please read them again, and have a look at his websites). Naturally I’ve seen some of his impressive static paintings, and videos of his kinetic art, but this was my very first opportunity to see his unique genius in action, live, right before my eyes.

When he told me that he was coming to perform with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra on the evening of 30 January, of course I knew I had to go to the concert. So near, yet so far: Zurich is only an hour and a half away by train, so I’ve always considered it easily accessible. However, as I get older and feel more vulnerable, I have become ever more reluctant to take the train late in the evening because there are “some weird folk” abroad at that time, hanging around stations as well as on the train. There is probably little risk, I know, but I feel that my fear is palpable and that, like animals, these people can sense fear and are attracted by it. So call me cowardy-custard, but I prefer not to take the train after 9 pm if I can avoid it.

My Darling Daughter came to my rescue once again. She lives close enough to Zurich that the train journey is not so fraught, and anyway she looks after me so well, I don’t have to worry about anything. Plus, she offered me a bed for two nights. She was so keen to go, she actually bought the tickets, so another treat for me. In fact, I don’t think I would have found the concert venue on my own, though once you know its location it’s actually very easy, practically next door to the railway station.

The programme was an interesting and lively mix: Stravinsky’s “Basel” concerto for strings in D with Norman’s kinetic watercolours, followed by Mozart’s piano concerto no 21 (with the famous Elvira Madigan Andante 2nd movement) featuring the extraordinary Radu Lupu, and culminating in a rollicking rendering of Beethoven’s second symphony.

Stravinsky, I freely admit, is not among my favourite composers although in the past I have enjoyed watching ballets to his music. It is, I’ve always felt, more a vehicle to move to than music to listen to, and have disparagingly referred to the opening movement of this concerto as “Music for grasshoppers”. It had struck me as suitable for the soundtrack of some film noir, but with Norman’s synaesthesia supplying the colours and the paintbrush providing the choreography, I suddenly found this work palatable. Kinetic art is the perfect partner for this piece. To my surprise, it touched feelings and emotions in me that were buried very deep, arousing a sense of a profound connection to universal truths and meanings that flashed in and out too swiftly for me to catch them. Almost cathartic. Certainly beautiful.

We had seats in the middle of the front row so that we would get a good view of the screen where the art is projected. This also gave us a new perspective on the Steinway during the piano concerto, a true worm’s eye view of the mirrored inside lid. It didn’t matter. I’m one of those people who close their eyes while listening to classical music, preferring not to see the writhing and grimacing of many gifted musicians as they perform. All I could see of the soloist Radu Lupu, once he had sat down, was his left foot barely pressing the pedal. But my daughter, who was slightly better placed in the aisle seat, was struck by his stolid impassivity as he played, in such contrast to the delicacy of his touch and the power of his performance. No writhing or grimacing here. Yes, unmistakably a genius, able to coalesce with the music and the instrument, proving how much greater is the whole than the parts. Mozart must have been very pleased by this interpretation.

Then, after the interval, the Chamber Orchestra came into its own with an exuberant rendering of Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 that must also have had the composer wanting to jump up from his grave and join in. This, surely, is how it is meant to be performed, the conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste truly channelling the composer, and the musicians wallowing in the stirring spirit of the piece. Hard to imagine that Beethoven was anything but happy when he wrote this symphony, but in fact its composition coincided with his despair when he realised he was now permanently deaf.

This performance was joyful, jolly, jubilant. I couldn’t see the conductor’s face, but the musicians were all beaming and exhilarated, as was the audience. “Beethoven rocks!” laughed my daughter, as we watched the Leader of the orchestra rolling around on his seat, feet in the air much of the time as he put lots of gusto and brio into his bowing and his Stradivarius responded full-heartedly. The cellist was also sawing away so energetically that the strings of his bow were visibly disintegrating and by the end of the last movement there was a pile of fluff all round the feet of his chair. It was a rousing end to the programme.

How its first audiences must have been blown away by this fresh, exciting music that came with the new eighteenth century; no wonder the ladies were fainting and swooning, their corsets tight beneath their Empire dresses!

Happily, we were also able to catch Norman on the way out, and have him to ourselves for a few minutes before he had to go and mingle with the throng sipping their champagne in the foyer. We saw no point in lingering longer, so instead of champagne we went home for a cup of tea, and to tell my Dear Son-in-Law what a delight he had missed.

This will never be repeated and I may never see either of these geniuses again. Radu Lupu is more or less a recluse and his public performances are now extremely rare. Norman is due to perform at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham in the autumn, but it’s unlikely that I can make it there since I no longer have a permanent base in England. So I bask gratefully in the beautiful memory of an exceptional event on the blessed eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.

 

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Domestic Dragon

The dragon beneath the carpet
Beneath the floorboards
Beneath the foundations
Of the house
Was tamed into submission

Docile as a dormouse
Transformed
By a new name
Harnessed to our service

The Romans called him
Hypocaust
We say
Geothermal power
And his cubs
Have become
Underfloor heating.

But the dragon
Is still a dragon
Lurking
Below the basement
In the unplumbed
Bowels of the
Earth.

Do not believe your dragon
Is house-trained
Until you’ve been
Inside his den.

Panties and Passports

One of the disadvantages of getting fat is that after a while, knicker elastic becomes so fatigued it no longer springs back when stretched. Since the top of my briefs circumscribes the widest part of my girth, I failed to notice this lack of resilience until I was more than halfway to the shops, at which point I suddenly felt a movement around my buttocks and realised that my knickers were descending. Fortunately, I was wearing trousers which stopped the free fall of said underwear and saved me from public humiliation.

The sensation resembled having a rope tied in a figure eight around the top of my thighs, but as my trousers weren’t fashionably skin-tight there was no VPL to betray my traitorous lingerie to prying eyes or anyone who may have been wondering about my funny walk. I did my shopping and returned home awkwardly but with modesty preserved.

This was not a disaster per se, but it followed a frustrating morning, and led me to check that it wasn’t actually Friday the thirteenth. Let me tell you about it.

The day started off normally. I have booked a trip to the USA in April and May, and have been reliably informed that visitors travelling to the United States are required to be in possession of passports that are valid for six months beyond the period of their intended stay in the United States. Now, although I have lived in Switzerland for over forty years, I don’t have Swiss citizenship and usually travel on my British passport, which is valid until October, as is the ESTA (travel authorization) based on it. That’s OK for entry but leaves me only four months from the date of my return until the expiration of my passport. I needed to find out if this was a problem.

After breakfast I looked online, but finding no information relevant to this situation, I decided to phone the American Embassy and find out if this meant I need to renew my passport now.  I was welcomed by a recording which told me to go online and listed many FAQ’s that were answered there. The voice then continued with a catalogue of issues for which I should press 1, 2, 3 etc. None of them really sounded appropriate, so I pressed 2 and was given another menu. I pressed what seemed the most sensible, was referred back to the website and – “Goodbye.” The line went dead.

I rang again, and pressed a different series of numbers, until eventually I was greeted by a live voice. A polite, friendly young woman informed me that as this was the American Embassy in Switzerland, she could only deal with questions concerning Swiss passports so she gave me another number to try.

I poured myself another cup of coffee and went off on another merry-go-round, connecting after about twenty minutes with a man with a strong French accent. I speak fluent French so I told him in French that I was a British passport holder and had a query about the six-month validity rule. He insisted on speaking English and refused to speak French, which would have been much easier since I had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said, and he was misunderstanding me much of the time.

After taking my name, date of birth and number of my passport, he told me to hold the line while he passed on my query. Quite pleasant music, and only a few minutes of it. Then he returned and told me I should look on the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I did, and finally noticed a link to a “Six-month Club Update” tucked away unobtrusively. Who’d have guessed! Certain countries are exempt from the six-month rule and visitors need only have a passport valid for the length of their stay. This list includes the UK. Hallelujah! BUT why on earth couldn’t the first person I spoke to tell me that? And why wasn’t the six-month club displayed more prominently on the website? Surely mine must be a FAQ? By now it was lunchtime.

It may seem a simple matter to renew a passport, and I thought I had started to think about the procedure in good time. It used to be very straightforward for British people resident in Switzerland: the British Embassy and consulates here issued my last few passports within just a couple of weeks of receiving my application. However, they tell me they no longer do this job and I have to apply by post to the Passport Office in the UK. The procedure can take a few months. I don’t want to risk not having a valid passport for my spring trip, or not being able to get a new ESTA before I’m due to depart, so I decided to wait till I get back and apply in June, hoping that all will go smoothly and I won’t be left without a valid travel document.

Among all this fuss and bother, I remembered that I actually have dual nationality and am also entitled to a German passport. I know that the German Embassy issued my last German passport which expired a few years ago, so I e-mailed them to find out if I could get a new German passport more quickly. It will be useful to have this, especially in view of Brexit: I would like to remain a citizen of the EU.

Teutonic precision meant an instant reply. Yes, no problem. In theory. In practice, I have to go in person to the Embassy in Bern, so should arrange an appointment with them and bring all the necessary documentation, originals and photocopies, photos etc. Go to the website to arrange a date and time.

I should have guessed it wouldn’t be so easy: the earliest date available is the end of May or beginning of June. Well, well! Looks like I’ll be having a day trip to our Swiss capital when I come back from America, which is a pretty prospect, especially if the sun is shining that day. And then it will be a race to see which new passport arrives first. I notice that the charge for both of them is substantially higher  for a person resident abroad than those living in their own country. Can I afford two new passports?

Of course, I ought to have taken Swiss nationality long ago. It will be forty-four years in August since I landed here, and I have every intention of staying. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are all Swiss, as are many of my friends. Becoming a Swiss citizen isn’t so simple, though. There are quite a few hoops to jump through, and hurdles to overcome. And I’m not sure the Swiss will want a woman with unpredictable lingerie.

I think I’ll wait till I have my first two nationalities sorted out before I embark on acquiring a third!

Into The Unknown

IMG_2015

A secret door,
be-brambled, overgrown,
leading into the rocky cliff face –
beckoning, enticing,
daring you
to enter and explore.

What if behind that door,
in the gloomy depths
of the mountain’s roots,
you found
not dark
but light
and emerged to see
the skeleton trees
dancing with golden sunlit clouds?

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This was the sky this afternoon at sunset.

A happy and blessed  New Year to you all

as you dance with the trees and the clouds.

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New Year’s Eve: Taking The Plunge

Sylvester 2017.pngAmong the many Swiss customs marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next is the annual gathering around midday on 31 December on the shore of the Walensee, the beautiful lake next to Walenstadt in eastern Switzerland. I admire these hardy souls, who walk, run, plunge, or step daintily into the cold waters, regardless of the weather or temperature of the water.

This year, they were lucky: the weather was sunny and bright on Sunday, although it had been snowing on Friday and did so again on Monday. St Sylvester, the patron saint of 31 December, was obviously on good terms with St Peter, who is reputedly in charge of the weather and on New Year’s Eve, the sky was blue, and the water was a balmy 7°C.

A score or more of intrepid bathers, young and not so young, took on the challenge. Last year, they were served a hot dish of goulash as they emerged dripping and triumphant. This year, although they had made a fine fire beforehand to warm their blue limbs, the person responsible for last year’s reward felt his efforts had not been duly appreciated, and there was only a plastic beaker of wine to greet them – not even Glühwein. They seemed undaunted, nonetheless, and there was a general air of merriment and self-satisfaction at the accomplishment. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload the short video of this momentous event.

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Me join in??? NO WAY! I am and remain an onlooker. But I hope this custom doesn’t die out, and that Saints Peter and Sylvester will remain friends.

The Pursuit of Happiness

IMG_1828.jpgThose who pursue happiness as an egoistic end in itself will always be frustrated. It becomes the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and while trying to find that, we fail to see the beauty and significance of the rainbow itself.

Happiness is a by-product of pursuing something else. Nowadays we think of a pursuit as “chasing after” something. For the founding fathers the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights had a different meaning to what most people understand by it today.

This short article puts it more pithily than I can.

Whatever you may be pursuing in the new year,
may it eventually bring you happiness 

What Is Your “Pursuit of Happiness”?

Thomas Jefferson may have been borrowing from the 17th century English philosopher John Locke when he coined the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, nearly 100 years before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, Locke wrote that the foundation of liberty is built on the need to pursue happiness. Locke noted that this pursuit is not merely an imaginary quest or a satisfaction of personal desires, but an ability to achieve the greatest good free from any predetermined will or forced action.

This pursuit is one of the unalienable and natural rights that Jefferson found so irresistible, but it dates back well before his or Locke’s time. It is indeed traceable to the 5th century B.C., and the Greek philosophers. They referred to “eudaimonia,” the Greek term for “happiness,” connoted as performing the right actions that result in the well-being of an individual. Happiness is a state of being based in morality, virtue, and utility, not an acquisition. In other words, humanity achieves its peak actualization by living a good life full of positive actions, not by acquiring things to demonstrate one lived “successfully.”

As America matures, misguided policy and hostile culture risk foreclosing this pursuit to future generations. To preserve this right, happy warriors must fight to enable the enrichment of opportunity and must become champions of the modern-day eudaimonia, the ability to “earn one’s success.” To this end, happiness is a fight for people, not against things. (http://www.thepursuitofhappiness.com/pursuit-of-happiness/ )

Winter Solstice

 

Bare trees

The longest darkest night
Bereft of moon or stars
Cloud-shrouded sky
Morning muffled grey.

Soft snow that drifted
Light as down
And lay like crisp meringue
In whipped cream
Now starts to thaw
Weeping into the sodden soil.

This pallid day though
Dull and drear
Has one thing in its favour:
Turning point
It will stay
Minutes longer light
Than yesterday.

melting snow