Halfway Through This Adventure

We leave for Vienna today.
Midterms are over. We survived. There was an unbelievably high amount of tension permeating the castle grounds this week. My friend Suzie got an ulcer.

This adventure is halfway-over.

I listen to the cast recording of Hamilton a lot. The lyric "look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now" is always echoing in my head.

Every day things appear more picture-esq to me. And I want to photograph them.

Classes

The names of my classes are: History of the World Since 1914, History of Western Art I: Reniassance and Baroque Art, World Drama in Its Context, and Topics in Global Literature: Gender, Race, and Diaspora, in Postcolonial Texts. What I notice is that three of these classes super focused on history. My literature class, in which we've read three novels taking place in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during the time of Colonialism, have taught me a lot of history and about Dutch culture. I wonder often in my classes if I'm being awakened, or changed. People talk about semesters-abroad being "life changing events"

My favorite room

The castle is a wonder. I want to know the history of everything, and how past Emerson students have lived here for nearly thirty years. This might be my favorite room. The Barbetta Room.


It's where the acting class takes place. For me, it is like what you want your mind to be: open and empty, with an illuminating source of beauty and inspiration. As I sit alone in here, the gentle white light from the exit signs keep me in the zone. It's where I like to write my plays.

Theatre

Now I've seen eleven pieces of theater in Europe. My favorite ones have usually incorporated movement, which I'm beginning to be fascinated by. Even in a two-character drama, there's some choreography. I don't think I can generalize differences between European and American theatre, but I'm finding lots of elements I want to take home with me.

Absolute Positives So Far

  • Tipping, pretty much is not a thing
  • The benches around the castle grounds are placed SO well, in the most wonderful places, it's sad that it'll be too cold to sit outside and read, but I have had many hours appreciating moments of sunshine, on a variety of benches
  • Bike riding is so easy because the Netherlands are so flat, and I adore riding into town, getting something from the bakery, or going to the general store where I can send postcards

In My Opinion: The Negatives

  • There are definitely A LOT more spiders I come across on this campus than any other place I have called home
  • Most restaurants in Europe don't give you water, you have to buy bottles, it's horrible! Though in Scotland it was not like this
There's lots more traveling to be done.
I am excited to see more, learn more, capture more, remember more, write more.

I don't want this adventure to end, but I want to have the experience I'm gaining for home.

• • •

Cologne, The Van Gogh, and The Hague

Ralph Trost, the teacher of my History of the World Since 1914  class, lead an excursion this weekend to Cologne, Which was great. We saw the large church, climbed to the top of it (19 stories, too HIGH!) Got a tour of the museum of Roman art / artifacts there, and enjoyed the German city.

My favorite part of the day was the Berliner. For € 1 I could get TWO jelly donuts. Which made me incredibly happy.

Saturday

On Saturday I overtook a trip to Amsterdam by myself. My main objective of the daytime was to experience the Van Gogh Museum. It was so beautiful.

This was my favorite painting I saw of his ->
The Sower

Though seeing some of his famous ones (Bedroom, Sunflowers) was quite satisfying.

At the museum right now is an exhibition about Van Gogh's influence on Munch-which might be one of my favorite exhibitions I've ever seen.

I thought the museum was closing at 5PM so I went through the museum kinda quickly. At 5PM I asked a guard when the museum closed, and he said 10. So I went through the museum twice. Dream come true.

That night I went to see a piece of theater called Horror. I came across this teaser and decided I needed to go.

And this did not disappoint. Like a horror movie on stage, this was SCARY STUFF in it, on stage. And I loved every second. There was no dialogue, I think-which would have ruined the whole piece. Occasional movement of bits, and highly choreographed fights were a part of this. Not since I saw Mary Poppins on Broadway When I was 11 I have seen such astounding stage magic, so I hope I get to experience this piece again someday. I'm not sure where it would fit in the theatre-scene of America. I'm not sure it is intellectual enough to go to not-for-profits around the country, and it isn't quite commercial enough to tour like Broadway shows do today.

Sunday

I woke up in the Hague and went to the Mauritshuis. I came across Girl With a Pearl Earring, and other famous Dutch works. I time wandering the autumn-y town and thinking about my purpose for being on Earth.

Next, and the most important part of this weekend, was going to see The Soldier of Orange. A musical running since 2010, making it the longest running Dutch musical in history. The show is housed in an airplane hanger, converted into a theater specifically for this production. What made this so exceptional was how the sets were in a ring surrounding the seats, and the entire platform of seats would rotate to focus on a different place. The show was SUCH a spectacle, more than anything I think I've seen before. My jaw-dropped pretty low at one reveal. The entire production was in Dutch, but thankfully I got an English synopsis. Even without the language barrier, I felt that the vocal performances and 9 piece orchestra were really underwhelming. Still, for all the trouble it took to get to this piece, which is really out of the way from major cities, it was so very worth seeing. I feel that now I've gotten the range of the biggest Dutch musical, and a tiny production of Macbeth, for young people.
• • •

Edinburgh

In high school I made a friend named Megan. She was from Scotland, and would tell me about how beautiful her hometown of Edinburgh was. I always dreamed of visiting.

This weekend, I did.

There aren't any flights to Scotland from our local airports, so I was worried the trip wouldn't happen. But for my theater class we had plans to see a production of Macbeth in Amsterdam on Thursday the 8th. This meant I had a ride to Amsterdam that I didn't need to pay for. Normally a bus and train costs around 30€. For less than the price of getting to Amsterdam, I stayed in a hostel and was able to get a reasonably priced round-trip ticket to Edinburgh.

The production of Macbeth we saw, directed by Liesbeth Coltof, was extremely gratifying, even in Dutch (knowing the plot very well made the language not a barrier). The production was stripped down to 90 minutes, so the pacing was perfect, and there was a deep integration of movement into the piece, which I LOVED. An ensemble of entirely young actors (except for one) portrayed all of the supporting characters, and many of them had their dialogue stripped, such as Malcolm, so they communicated only through movement. Our teacher told us the production was created for young audiences, meaning like teenagers, and it definitely felt that loud transitional music and harsh lighting design catered to that. We had a conversation following the performance with the director, which made me very happy.

First Day in Edinburgh

I land in Edinburgh, take one of the very clean, new (opened in 2014) trams and meet Megan in the central part of the town. Walking to her flat I get my first glimpse of the Edinburgh Castle.


Maybe in the back of my mind I knew it would be there. But like when I first saw the Duomo in Florence, this piece of architecture took me by surprise and I was breathless. It's right smack in the center of the town, separating the "new town" from the "old town"

In the evening we went to a production of Godspell from the musical theatre school Megan is attending. Hanging out with Megan and her friends, all studying musical theatre, I was first entertained by the variety in their accents (and my (un)ability to understand them) and by their devotion to this very American art form. Most of the musicals they all seemed interested in, were the American ones. And to me, musicals represent how America took theatre, added this specific style of song and dance, and (with exception of course) removed the meaning and intelligence. The one Scottish musical I learned about was Sunshine on Leith a jukebox musical. Part of what has been intriguing during this trip, is how American culture is seen worldwide.
This production of Godspell was most entertaining for its super spot on harmonies, and wild choreography. And it was done with American accents, though I wish everyone had used their accual accents. My favorite element of the production was Jesus' costume: a Baywatch Lifeguard Outfit. It wasn't until intermission did I get that Jesus was a lifeguard, saving lives...
Their venue, an old church converted into a performance space, was awesome.
But the BEST part of the production was that Miss SUSAN BOYLE was in attendance. I freaked out. Not even 12 hours in Edinburgh and I saw one of their national treasures. Megan and her friends were less enthusiastic.

Adventures

Megan's amazing boyfriend Alex, gave a stellar tour of the city for me. We got close to the castle, saw Hollyrood Palace (where the Queen sometimes lives), and saw of course the cafe which claims to be "the birthplace of Harry Potter". Megan and Alex turned their noses up at that. Some Edinburgh streets, like Victoria Street, are built on top of other streets.


Isn't that weird!

We also went to see a Scottish touring production of Stephen MacDonald's Not About Heroes, which focuses on the relationship between WWI poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Stylized movement was incorporated into the production, which greatly helped me in connecting to this super emotionally heavy piece. I had never heard of the two poets, so this was a great way to get some more insight into WWI, a huge focus of my History of the World Since 1914 class.

Scottish National Gallery

This museum has probably my favorite layout of all the museums I've visited. Regular chronological order! It's so easy to wander through the museum, watching styles develop and change, following along with the text on the wall. Their collection of Scottish artists (of course brilliant) was my favorite section, though they had a wonderful collection of Dutch artists! This moment, of a woman leaning on a piece of art, to look at a da Vinci work they had on display, was great.

Food

Obsessed with trying all of the local foods I am proud to say that I had the following:
  • Haggis - which I think I liked, but in the end wasn't into, the consistency of the haggis I had was off-putting
  • Black pudding - I also think I was enjoying black pudding, but then I found out it was pig's blood, and I didn't want to eat it
  • Irn-Bru - a SODA, which is very popular in Scotland. I'm also told that juice means soda
  • Chippy - chips (french fries/frites) with either a large sausage on it, or something else. Chippy is a general word
  • Nandos - a decent franchise restaurant which specializes in chicken

Lasting Observations

On Sunday, we wandered one of the more student driven neighborhoods of Edinburgh. We passed cute coffeeshops, neighborhood pubs, thrift stores, and a couple locations of the food co-op which is a huge presence in the city. And I wanted to go into these stores, to write, to have a drink, to shop. This is a city I can see myself in. There's so much I didn't see, and Glasgow (about an hour West of Edinburgh) was never on my radar until Megan mentioned it. So I'll have to come back to see more of Scotland, perhaps when the town explodes during the Fringe festival.

Monday

We spent Sunday night in the borders of Edinburgh, where Megan's parents live. It's incredibly rural. But so unbelievably gorgeous. I woke up to see green hills, against red/purple/orange skies. So lovely. Exactly what I wanted Scotland to look like.

I just wish when I had finished admiring the landscape, that I had checked my boarding pass. Because I missed my flight. In my brain, I was leaving a couple hours later than what reality had planned. The most expensive mistake I've made on this trip, and I'm really hoping I never make it again.

All in all, Scotland is quite high on my return list. Perhaps this August?

Thank you again Megan, for being a splendid host.



• • •

Berlin

If you're like me, you have a romantic vision of Berlin: people in cafes smoking cigarettes, drinking, and chatting about Marx. Maybe that's just me. Or maybe I'm thinking of Paris.

Amanda Palmer (my favorite artist, and number one life influence after my parents) lived in Berlin for a year. Cabaret (which takes place in Berlin) is one of my favorite musicals. I adore Brecht. Since I found out I was going to be abroad, people have asked me where I would visit, and I always would say that Berlin was my number one city.

I decided to buy a Netherlands/Brussels/Germany Eurail, so I could take the train to Berlin. It takes a long time (from Castle to Hostel took around nine hours, including all the delays) but having a couple of solid, calm hours to read on the train is wonderful. European cities are so much more dense than American. Within a half an hour of leaving a major city on the train, you see farms. In America, we have our car culture, and it can take a long time to leave a city and find real nature.

The weather was gorgeous all weekend, which can be a sort of burden when you want to be in museums all day.

Friday

Nine other Emersonians were at the hostel with me, so we sort of stuck together.
The first thing we did was go to the DDR Museum, which focuses on Germany and Berlin post-WWII, along with the formation of the German Democratic Republic. Although it was very touristy, I think I learned a thing or two I didn't know before, and the interactivity of the exhibits was appreciated. The setup of the museum was to have cabinets everywhere, and you'd open little doors to see artifacts and read more.

After that we headed to the Brandenburg Gate, which was set up for a huge out concert/festival happening each evening that weekend.
It was there I had my first bratwurst, it was yummy.

Afterwards we explored the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It's an impressive memorial, but walking around the maze of colossal concrete slabs, I saw kids (13 - 15 years old I suppose) running around as if they were at a playground. And I couldn't blame them, I felt at times like I was in a sort of urban cornfield, where quickly I could appear around one corner, and surprise my friends around another.

Near the memorial is a parking lot, the parking lot where Hitler's bunker was, and the place where he killed himself, the Führerbunker.

Talking Straight Will Set Us Free

Someone recommended a piece called Talking Straight Will Set Us Free, after I inquired about finding something "weird that you could only see in Berlin". It was housed in the Maxim Gorki Theater's Studio Я (pronounced "ya"), the radical offshoot of the ensemble-based Maxim Gorki. The whole evening was conducted in an invented language, as in, no one in the audience knew what the actors were saying, but they were speaking in a constructed form of communication. All I'll add is that after seeing this, I think about and approach theater just a little bit differently.

Saturday

We learned that October 3rd was Unity Day, the day when the wall fell down and Germany was...unity-ified...unified. Being that it was essentially German 4th of July, most things were closed (most places are closed Sunday). My dreams of buying a dope leather jacket, and a trendy European haircut were crushed.

Thankfully all of the major museums of Berlin's "Museum Island" were open, so I visited three of the major institutions: the Pergamonmuseum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Altes Museum (the museum in the above photo). Unfortunately, the Pergamonmuseum, which houses a collection of work from antiquity, Middle Eastern art, and Islamic art, was under major construction. Although I did enjoy some of the large reconstructions of Roman buildings, I was deeply disappointed to miss the Pergamon Altar, which won't be open until at least 2020.

The Alte Nationalgalerie contained Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork. The Impressionist wing (my favorite) was closed (of course!!) but I still came across some delightful artworks. Wandering this museum I felt like I got back in touch with the play I'm working on, which made me really happy.

Finally I popped into the Altes Museum, which houses mainly Roman and Greek art. It was wonderful to connect all the art to what I've been learning in my Renaissance and Baroque Art class.

Faust

After watching a documentary that featured the Berliner Ensemble (the theater that Brecht founded in Berlin) I've wanted to see something there, to see how they do theater. Last fall in my intro theater class, we collectively watch a documentary on Robert Wilson, an experimental theater director/artist. Naturally, when I saw that Wilson's Faust would be in Berlin when I wanted to go, I jumped and bought a ticket.

The first act, running about ninety minutes, was brilliant. Even though it was in German, I was enthralled. Every scene was a different, perfectly balanced visual masterpiece, that I could stare at like a painting. Herbert Grönemeyer's music was this rock/electric mix that in musical-like moments, was the epitome of what I look for in the theater.
After a thirty minute interval (intermission vs interval, why the difference?) the second act began. Two hours later it ended. The high energy song & dance moments I cherished in the first part didn't quite come back, and the long, dialogue-heavy scenes were less enjoyable for me, having no understanding of German or the plot of Faust.

LESSON: for any classical or classical-based theatre, read a synopsis ahead of time.

Sunday

My friends left and I had a day in Berlin to myself.

Brecht Haus

High on my list was to tour the home where Brecht spent the last three years of his life, in the Mitte (meaning middle) neighborhood of Berlin, just ten minutes from the theater he worked at. Tours were given on the hour, and when a women came into the lobby and saw me standing alone, we began. In my personal tour, I saw the flat Brecht lived in, kept in the exact condition it was when he died. Hundreds of his books remain. He kept a diverse assortment of religious iconography, which surprised me, knowing that Brecht was an atheist. I walked around the main room Brecht used to write in, and host guests, which made me begin to imagine what kind of flat I'll want when I'm an adult writer. I paid a visit to Brecht's grave, read his poem "The Doubter", and wrote in my journal.

Art Hostel

Walking down the street I came across what looked like an art gallery, hosting thirty different artists. I found out that an old hostel, which was about to be turned into a hotel, was being repurposed for a few weeks to showcase art. Inside the crumbing, messy, and at times a little unsettling construction site was a range of expression. Canvases with large globs of paint (my favorite way for paintings to be) and vibrating metal wire surrounding a room are two examples. All of this awesome (literal awe-inspiring) art was such a surprise. I happened upon this gallery, with contemporary art, in a space so...well...cool.

I took the rest of the day to walk the city some more, exploring the non-touristy, more local area of Kreuzberg.

A Third Theatre Piece

The person who recommended Talking Straight had also directed me towards a theater piece which seemed like it would be good. The video had a sort of counter-culture theme, and it would be presented in English! In the end it just failed to be groundbreaking. That's all I want to say about it. Not everything in Berlin is mind-blowing and exciting.

I'll return to Berlin to explore more, with new purpose, and a realistic set of expectations.

in the lobby of the Maxim Gorki Theater STUDIO Я
• • •