Monday, August 24, 2015

August 24, 2015
Americans joining ISIS may seem bizarre — Islam is not a force here, ISIS is an aberration of Islam, etc. — but in a way it’s not surprising. It is part of a tradition or, perhaps more accurately, a trend in American culture, that of the society-rejecting loner. We see this trend in the claim of sovereign citizenship, in the law-unto-oneself violence of the NRA, in the idiots from Oath Keepers who brandish assault weapons, in the self-appointed militia who purport to guard military bases, in resistance to mandatory vaccination. We see its rhetorical form in the ramblings of conservative politicians who want to abolish the IRS or the EPA or Medicare or government in general. We see its semi-collective form in the advocacy of nullification or secession, its fully collective form in the delusions of politicians, Democratic and Republican, who think that this country can exist apart from the rest of the world. It is in short the breakdown of society, of the knowledge that no man, state or country is an island.
Mark Lilla put it this way five years ago: "A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century."[78]  Lilla referred to the phenomenon as populism, in part because his article was focused on the Tea Party movement. The use of that term emphasizes the collective aspect, but even the seemingly collective manifestations are driven by the attitude of the self-absorbed individual. Lilla made that point clearly: this kind of populism "appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. . . . They don't want the rule of the people, though that's what they say. They want to be people without rules — and, who knows, they may succeed."

Friday, August 7, 2015

August 7, 2015

Often when traveling there is a memorable incident, and sometimes it’s a downer; for example last year our trip ended in Paris. At breakfast on our first day there, my youthful, usually agile wife Bev fell in the hotel dining room, fractured her right hip, and spent our stay in Paris in a hospital receiving an artificial one. One of this year’s events (same city, different hotel) also was in the breakfast room but was less dramatic.
One morning we were startled by a loud announcement in French, then in English: "Attention, attention: due to a glitch in our hotel," everyone must go to an emergency exit. This left us wondering a) where is an emergency exit? b) what do we do once there? c) why are the staff paying no attention? and d) what is the French word for "glitch"? More accurately as to the last, what do the French think that "glitch" means? None of the questions was answered but the announcement ended in mid-sentence on about the ninth repetition. The glitch appeared to have been in the emergency system.
Even with the odd crisis, traveling abroad is enjoyable, and was especially so this year as our good friends the Todds joined us. On a far more elevated note than my reminiscences, Terry Todd set forth his (our) experience in Paris searching for memorials to the composer Jacques Offenbach; here is his record, slightly abused edited by me:
The Opera Lover’s Guide to Europe, by Carol Plantamura, tells us this:
"Jacques Offenbach is, without doubt, the greatest composer of 19th-century opera bouffe. Under the influence of his sparkling, memorable melodies and witty charm, operetta became the rage in Paris, Vienna, and Berlin throughout the second half of the 19th century.
"Three theatres are on the operatic map because of Offenbach. We remember him today for his lyric drama Les Contes d’Hoffman and his extraordinarily catchy melodies (such as the cancan tune). But he was responsible for the worldwide popularity of operetta in the late 19th and early 20th century. . . .
". . . In 1850, he was appointed conductor of the Theatre Francais. Then, in 1855, he opened a summer theatre he called Les Bouffes-Parisiens in the Salle Lacaze, which was then replaced by Theatre Marigny. When he was in residence, he called the theatre Bouffes-Parisiens.
"With this name the theatre presented premieres of ten of his operettas between July 5, 1855 and July 31, 1856. Today the names of Offenbach and (Ludovic) Halevy emblazon the top of the theatre on the corner of Avenue de Marigny and Boulevard des Champs Elysees, directly across from the Grand Palais. Today the theatre holds 1,000 and presents plays."
"Today the theatre holds 1,000 and presents plays." Reading this was sufficient motivation for me to want to search for Offenbach when I found myself in Paris in April, 2015. Could I actually find this theatre and walk where Offenbach had walked? The theatre was still there in 1997 when Ms. Plantamura wrote her book, which included an artist’s sketching of the building, fronted by several impressive trees. Her description even included a phone number and box office hours. Would I be able 18 years later to actually go there and buy a ticket to see an opera bouffe?
I was in Paris in late April, 2015 with my wife Donna and two close friends, Jerry and Bev Day. When they asked what was on my list to see in Paris, I noted the usual---Eiffel Tower, Arch of Triumph---but especially, "I really would like to find a theatre (there were several) where Jacques Offenbach presented his operettas." Many of the operettas are in my music collection, (he composed more than 70), recorded from vinyl to cassette, and several of them I have seen in person on stage. I have for years been addicted to operetta in general, by several composers, but especially those by Jacques Offenbach. In fact, Jerry and Bev had aided by interest in this composer years ago by giving me an outstanding 1965 LP record set of The Tales of Hoffman, his only grand opera, still frequently performed today by major opera companies.
I did not want to let the opportunity pass. I was in Paris, and when would I come back if I didn’t look for the theatre now? The Plantamura book was my guide, along with a map of Paris. But I had to enlist the help of a front desk staffer at our hotel to find avenue de Marigny in the maze of streets on the map. There it was, just off the Champs Elysses, as described. It could be done; I could get there.
And we did get there, after a walk of several long blocks down the Champs Elysses from the Arch of Triumph. The drawing in the Plantamura book was accurate—it was Theatre Marigny, or Theatre Bouffes-Parisiens, as Offenbach called it. I circled the building several times to enjoy the full measure of its location and history. The building was closed, but it didn’t matter. There was a workman scurrying around, and a sign on the door said closed for remodeling. Donna did take a picture of a poster near the door, advertising the last production. I thought that probably the theatre would open again for the summer, just as it had during Offenbach’s tenure.
Two more theatres were part of Offenbach’s life in Paris. In 1856 he took over a theatre at 4 rue Monsigny and again used the name Theatre les Bouffes-Parisiens. Hitting his stride in a new venue, he sponsored a competition for young opera composers, entered by 78 hopefuls and won by Georges Bizet and Charles Lecoq. Over the next several years, 44 of Offenbach’s operettas premiered here, notably the enduring Orphee aux enfers (1858). The Plantamura book notes that today this theatre is still presenting light comedies and seats 690. Finally, there was a third theatre, also still standing. "Built in 1807, Theatre des Varietes at 7 Boulevard Montmarte experienced its heyday in the Offenbach period of the 1860s," Plantamura wrote. Among the premiers were La Belle Helene (1864), Barbe-bleue (1866),La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein (1867), La Perichole (1868).
I would have wanted to try to find these theatres as well, but there was only so much time in Paris, and our foursome moved on, but I was still searching for Offenbach. All I knew was that Offenbach is buried at Montmarte cemetery, and that the Montmarte district, famous as an artistic center and home to well-known 19th-century impressionist painters, included the beautiful cathedral Sacre-Coeur, which we planned to see anyway.
The next day, after touring the cathedral, we decided to walk to the cemetery, not realizing that the walk would be about 2 miles! It did include a stroll through the narrow streets of the Montmarte district, this year the center of a city-wide March-to-September celebration in honor of Vincent Van Gogh, who had lived and painted here. We had a delightful lunch at La Cremaillere Restaurant/Cabaret, where Donna persuaded the waiter to give her the impressive menu as a souvenir. Suitable for framing, as they say. The people-watching in this area was wonderful.
Back on our feet, we started walking in the direction shown on the map for Montmarte cemetery. The streets are narrow, car traffic and parking was congested, and all the doors led to small art shops, restaurants and living quarters. There are a few small hotels for those who want the authentic Parisian lodging, but we had the impression that nothing had ever changed here. Uncertain as to whether we were headed in the right direction, and gradually tiring, we finally came upon a major thoroughfare Rue de Caulaincourt, the name shown on our map for the cemetery. Lo and behold, there it was, on both sides of the busy street, with an underpass below. The cemetery was gigantic, absolutely packed with large burial structures. And there was nobody around to answer the big question, where is Jacques Offenbach?
Thankfully, there was a display board showing where about twenty-five famous people are buried, those commonly sought by tourists, including Offenbach. We found the site, beyond the underpass below Rue de Caulaincourt, at the farthest corner of the cemetery. Donna took many photos, and we lingered for awhile.
Walking back, we noted the impressive grave sites of many important Parisians from all walks of life. Many composers, performers, artists and writers are here, honored by large structures and statues, among them Adam, Berlioz, Degas, Delibes, Dumas, Halevy, Heine, Jaubert, Jolivet, Maillart, Moreau, Nijinsky, Stendahl, Thomas, Truffaut and Zola. However, we were there for 1 ½ hours and saw only one other person—a groundskeeper.
Terence N. Todd
May, 2015

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day