June 20, 2005

Country Come to Town

So, to Philadelphia and back we went. Saga? You say there should be a saga? Please...

We left at the behind-crack of dawn to get to the airport. Full disclosure - I am a big old FREAK about getting to the airport with plenty of time before the flight; like, a couple of hours worth. I know I'm being weird about that, thus the word FREAK in all caps in the preceding sentence. Seriously, tell me something I don't know.

Anyway, that paid off because we were stuck in the park and ride lot for 40 minutes because one diminutive elderly amputee in a wheelchair managed to tie up not one, but two shuttle buses. The first bus couldn't make the handicapped access ramp go back into place post-deployment and the second bus couldn't even get into the parking lot for ten minutes due to a "gate arm malfunction." Then the lip of the ramp wouldn't go down, then they couldn't get the chair attached properly to the floor of the bus and people were freaking out and it was this whole big thing where obviously no one was blaming the poor woman with one leg but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD you'd think that MAYBE SOMEONE ELSE IN A WHEELCHAIR had USED THESE BUSES BEFORE TODAY and it was 5:40 a.m. and I COULD HAVE CRAWLED TO THE TERMINAL BY NOW and AAAAARRRGGGHHH! Oh, and no more in-flight pretzels. Air travel sucks.

So, we made it to the flight and to Philly and to the hotel. That evening we had our frou-frou outing to the opera: La Traviata. Here are my impressions of the opera:

1. It is too long. Waaaaaaay too long. Yes, you're tragic. Yes, you're doomed. Yes, you show amazing vocal range for someone allegedly suffering from consumption. And yes, you're dying. Still. Some more. A lot. Oh look--you rallied! Oops, you're dead. This really should be a two-hour affair, tops. And while I appreciate the talent of the singers, it doesn't mean that I want to hear them riff a capella for ten minute stretches. I get it, okay? You sing very well. Can we move on?

2. Romantic lead guy? I have two words for you: sit ups. Oh, and Atkins. That's three words total. Your leading lady had sufficient lung capacity to blow you off the stage, and she was one eighth your size. You have a nice tenor, but I don't think its range is tied to your girth. It was difficult not to laugh, particularly when your costume designer made the inexplicable decision to dress you in pants that tucked into little boots. Was he or she trying to make you look like a gray wedge of cheese? And draw the audience's entire attention to your teeny tiny little man feet? What did you do to piss this person off, leading man? You need to make amends. Pronto.

3. Overall, it was a nice experience, but I'll just be re-pinning my Philistine of the Opera badge to my lapel and waiting for the touring company of Wicked to come to town. Hublet, on the other hand, has big Puccini plans. Sigh.

The rest of the trip was good--the conference sessions were actually worthwhile, we ate good food, saw some sights, and brought back souvenirs for The Boy, who was upset that neither Ben Franklin nor George Washington were trains. Then we took a cab back to the airport which was driven by an evangelical Kabbalaist. That was different. Really different. And we got to the airport 2 1/2 hours pre-flight. Yepper, big ol' freak. Me, not the evangelical Kabbalaist.

Now I am home, and tired. But I am reading The Historian, the newest retelling of the Dracula legend. I recommend it VERY HIGHLY. I'm 3/4 of the way through and it's one of those rare books where you can step back and appreciate the artistry and meticulous research of the writing and still be thoroughly engaged by the story. This book is awesome! And very refreshing after all the Anne Rice crapification of the vampire. Hello? Vampires are evil. E-ville. Not your buddies. The idea that ol' Vlad Tepes, a monster in real life, would graduate to being a monster afterward is unsurprising. But the idea that being undead is unclean, unsettling and gross, rather than ethereal, brooding and sexy in a misunderstood goth-boy kinda way? Refreshing. Ahhh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at June 20, 2005 12:43 PM

Where did you eat? For being a city best known for its cheesesteaks, pretzels and Tastycakes, we do have some pretty good restaurants.

Posted by: Kay at June 20, 2005 01:15 PM

You uncultured boor.

I remember that when I was in college some touring group brought "La Boheme" to our campus. At the end when Mimi has very melodramatically bought the farm, a girl behind me sobbed, "I didn't know she was going to die!" I had two thoughts: (1) duh, and (2) apparently the opera still has the intended effect on people. That was probably around 1980, though, so who knows how "kids today" would react.

Posted by: Laura at June 20, 2005 01:57 PM

Kay -

Best meal was at Bleu. I did sample a cheesesteak, but I'm not really a fan of them to begin with, so I can't offer much in the way of comparative analysis.

Laura -

Oh yes, the lady next to me was all weepy after Violetta yelled (sang) "Joooooyyyyyyy!" (or the Italian variant) and then dropped dead. Me, not so much with the weeping. I was rather detached from the whole experience. Plus, I liked Dumas' original novel version (and the movie Camille with a young Colin Firth) much better.

Posted by: BAW at June 20, 2005 03:28 PM

Let me also put in a plug for The Marathon Grill, where I ate all my breakfasts, and lunch one day.

In fact, let me plug Philly in general. Never had trouble finding anything. It took half a day to get used to (not bad, considering our relative ruralism), and then I was generally at ease. Never encountered rudeness or anything threatening, though I best liked walking around in the morning and late evening, as opposed to during lunch and afternoon rush hours ("People... everywhere... go back to your offices!"). Food was good, and cultural opportunities were outstanding. The guided tour I took in the Medieval section of the art museum turned into an impromptu art seminar that lasted for almost two hours - me (humbled and grateful) sponging everything I could from a conversation on art between the outstanding guide and a sweet, elderly Japanese man who was no less an expert. I was definitely the third wheel, and yet they were very gracious and patient with me.

I'll also plug the opera company we saw in action - they were great, and I don't think any of them, including the conductor, could have been more than 40: http://www.operatheater.org/

Posted by: Husband of BAW at June 21, 2005 08:55 AM

HofBAW: so on the whole, you'd rather be in Philadelphia?

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at June 21, 2005 10:54 AM

Glad you enjoyed your stay - I like Bleu as well, especially during the three spring days that we are allotted each year, when it is warm enough to sit outside but before August descends on us for three months. It is a very manageable city - or actually a big town pretending to be a city. Enough culture to make it interesting, without the ego and attitude of NYC and DC.

Hope I didn't run you off the sidewalk as I scurried back to my office after lunch!

Posted by: Kay at June 21, 2005 11:06 AM

"gray wedge of cheese" Ouch! Snicker. :D

I saw The Historian on the table at Borders a few days ago and was put off by the syrupy jacket description. Looks like I should have given it a chance; I'll be seeking it out now. I am so over the Sexy Poet-Vampire Gothboy crap.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 21, 2005 11:27 PM

Normally wouldn't go near vampire lit with a bargepole myself - but have you clocked reviews of The Historian? Either they - and BAW - are all nuts, or something absolutely extraordinary has happened to the genre with this one.
Dearly wish I could appreciate opera, but I'm always distracted trying to spot who is goofing off during the crowd scenes - there's always one.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at June 22, 2005 10:03 AM

Andrea and Jody -

The Historian operates on a lot of levels--it's an amazingly well-researched historical mystery, it draws great parallels to the ongoing tension between East and West in subtle ways (meaning there is no political sledgehammering here for either side, which tickles me pink), and it's actually creepy.

Normally I dislike protracted place descriptions, because I am a very impatient reader and Dickens scarred me for life, but Kostova is brief and deft, so that you are completely immersed in the places and cultures the protagonists visit without feeling like you're reading a travel brochure inserted into a novel.

And I'm a pretty jaded person when it comes to "the horror novel," so the ability to create the creepy atmosphere is a welcome change for me.

Wow, it's been a long time since I've actually waxed rhapsodic about a novel. Maybe I have lost my mind...

Posted by: BAW at June 22, 2005 10:50 AM


I'm sure you're aware of the human propensity to have love affairs with places you visit for pleasure, knowing that the brevity of the visit intensifies the lovey-doveyness of it all (gee, was that pretentious enough?).

No, I'll stick with my native NC (plus, I could never pull for the Eagles), but in my dream world I would love to have a downtown loft in a place like Philly, and a way to Star Trek myself there for a couple of days at a time every couple of weeks. And for everything there to cost the same as it does down here.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at June 22, 2005 11:59 AM