Sunday, January 20, 2002

A New Contact

A New Contact

A few days ago, our friend Myrtis e-mailed me with the name and e-mail address of someone she has known through the English teachers circle that she has cultivated over the years. Damon is a Regional English Language Officer with the U. S. Embassy here in Budapest. He is a Regional Director, so his territory covers sixteen countries. I had e-mailed him and we set up a brunch for today at one of the local hotels that have buffet brunches.

We seemed to know each other as soon as we made eye contact in the lobby. The buffet was a smaller version of our Christmas Eve dinner buffet, but no less substantial and visually appealing. This buffet had far fewer fish options than the holiday buffet so it was without question more attractive to my very much appreciated taste buds. Champagne was included which was a bonus feature.

It is always disappointing when you anticipate a blind date being successful and it turns into a memory that needs turbo repression and then Prozac for a month to recover from it. That was what like Christmas Days disaster felt like. It also makes you shy away from repeating the process, but as the cliché goes, you have to get right back on the horse and try again. Meeting Fernando and having it be a positive experience, can us the confidence to try again. Damon was no disappointment. He is gregarious, humorous, informative, and shares a number of common interests with the two of us. We spent a fleeting three hours at brunch that were relaxing and stimulating simultaneously. Damon said that he was sure that he could find some professional work for me within all of his countries, with me as a consultant. This was certainly something that I was hoping for, but was not going to introduce the idea on our first meeting. At the end of the meal, we arranged for the three of us to go out on Tuesday night for dinner to celebrate Damon’s birthday. Our social circle is starting to evolve.

From brunch, we only had an hour before we were due to go to the ballet. I thought we were going to a modern ballet at 5:00 pm. The theater is a warmly inviting, but small building. The interior must have been refurbished in the recent past, since it is in excellent condition. Our seats were in the balcony and as it turned out, we had seats on the side in one of the little compartments that overhang the orchestra. I had this flashback to all of the pictures I had seen as a child of President Lincoln sitting in the Ford Theater in his private box. I scanned the audience below for a John Wilkes Boothe look-alike, but thankfully, there were none. The walls of the theater are painted in polychrome layers of light beige like clean sand on a beautiful beach trimming the insets of tangerine mixed with country cream, and the background color was a mocha brown like a rich coffee with lots of milk. The seats were dark forest green plush with intaglio set designs of leaves of assorted shapes. Bare wood floors of a pine color on the downstairs floor was in sharp contrast to the rich colored wood that created the balconies. The wood at first glance reminds one of a cherry wood, but it had an orangey tint to it. There were two levels of these extended balcony boxes on either side of the theater, with six in each level. Columns of the distinctive woods separated the boxes, while the restraining wall of the box was spindled and bowed outward. The railings along the tops were covered in the same material as the seating. Each box had a coat hanger, a mirror, four seats, and a door for privacy.

All that I knew about tonight’s performance was that it was Carmina Burana. Since I am musically illiterate, this meant nothing to me. I thought it was some woman who choreographed modern ballet. I can hear my friend Howard, the professional musician, laughing as he is reading this. Music may not be my forte, if you will pardon the pun, but dance of any kind will hold my attention for hours, so I was willing to participate in this cultural outing.

The stage looked like a wheat field that had just been combined, with all of the little stubs left in random patterns on the soil top. The other visual that it reminded me of was a home haircut that was anything but a success; a little patch here, a bald spot, and then another little patch elsewhere. It was curious what was to follow. There was no orchestra. Music was electronically produced, but the quality was excellent, though in Latin. The dancers wore costumes that looked like street people with designer threads. The men wore beige, brown, gray or a combination. They had loose fitting Asian type pants, with jackets that reached their knees and bare chests. Each jacket was different designs along with the loose fitting nature of the clothes are reasons to lead one to think of a homeless person’s wardrobe. The women in contrast all wore white and almost toga like short dresses, all of the same design.

With the music in Latin and no libretto, the interpretation of the dance was left to your own imagination. Our analysis was that the people were peasants who feared death and the demons that provoked horror into their lives. They were however, able to expose the evil for the simple form that it really was and thus detracting all of its power over them. The women did a ritual bathing and then the men offered them symbolically to the sun. At one point, when there was still evil, there were long chains hanging from the ceiling. The dancing spiraled through the chains, but when the sacrifice was over, the chains fell from the ceiling one by one. They freed themselves of the chains that restrained them. It was an incredible show of talent and endurance.

I have always had great admiration for dancers and if I had not suffered with a butterball body from my youth, my secret dream was to be a dancer. Unfortunately, I was heavier at birth than most dancers and you have to have some control over your body. To be a dancer you have to be coordinated and I had not mastered that until my thirties. By then, any chances of being agile and able to contort my body were long gone. You know that you are not really meant to be a dancer when you bend over to tie your shoes and you fall over. Of if you are standing still you need to hold something for fear of losing your balance. When I was a child, I wore an EEE width shoe. It was like standing on those solid platforms that hold portable basketball hoops. As I got older, they changed to a C width, which made me top heavy. I am like one of those inflatable punching dolls that are weighted down with sand, but if I am punched, ribbed, or knocked into, I go down and do not bounce back up.

Applause has never occurred to me to be to be a cultural issue. At the end of the performance, there is applause. The difference is it is orchestrated applause. Everyone in the audience claps at the same tempo and timing. It was the strangest thing I have witnessed in a long time. It was so coordinated; you would have thought there was a conductor in front showing us the beat. First they start with clap, pause, clap, pause, clap, clap, clap for one minute. Then it is clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, pause, pause, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. Then we return to the first rendition once again, and alternate. It seems that there is a different pattern depending on who is taking the curtain bow. When it is the whole cast, it is one pattern. It changes to another when it is each individual performer, and yet another, which I did not delineate for the stars. They also take six, no kidding; six curtain calls, before every one leaves the theater. Standing ovations here do not seem to exist here! It is so coordinated, I thought for sure that the seats were wired with electricity to give a stimulated response, you know the zap and clap type of audience appreciation.

The evening was topped off at Spaghetti Ice Coffee parlor. We had our cappuccinos with which to delve into the meaning of Carmina Burana, modern dance, and life as a thin young person with complete control of their body.

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