Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Night at the opera.

I have a friend who is an opera singer for the Bavarian State Opera at the Nationaltheatre Muenchen. I didn't spell it incorrectly, that's what it's called. She's totally legit. If you google her name, you actually get pictures of her and a link to her very own webpage. You google me and you're directed to a page where you can buy Mediterranean sea salts.

One night I went to see her perform in Donizetti's L'elisir D'amore. She got me this sweet seat in the 7th row just a little off center.
You see?

That area behind me is the king's loge - the best seat in the house apparently. I don't know, we snuck in there once when my friend was giving us a tour and those seats were just as comfortable as mine.

I am by no means a classical music connoisseur. In fact, growing up, I was quite the opposite of that. I would complain loudly every Sunday when my parents turned it on. I had good reason to, classical music irked me so much I couldn't feel the spirit. I've grown up a little bit though, guys. I managed to avoid throwing my head back, going limp, and moaning, "I'm BO-RED," through the entire performance. I quite enjoyed it, actually. I had never heard of Donizetti or of his elixir of love. Without having read a description of the story line I tried to piece together what little English disguised as Italian I could make out and what few English words with umlauts I could read in order to get a small idea of what was going on. Mostly I just watched and listened and tried to laugh when everyone else did.

During intermission I rushed off to refresh myself with some gelato. On my way back, as I was crossing the street to the opera house, I suddenly heard someone yelling my name. Weird. No one knows me here. Looking up, I saw my friend waving at me from her dressing room, "Come up!" "Really? Can I?" I thought you people needed to focus and practice and stuff not relax and chat with friends. Oh well, if you say so! She ushered me in secretly through the artists' entrance. I had her fill me in on what the heck was going on and then she told me that the lead tenor was sick and they had flown in a replacement only a few hours earlier. Since he'd had no rehearsal he had no idea where he needed to be on stage. What a night! There was singing, there was acting, there was improvisation! There were busts coming alive trying to save an ancient Egyptian tablet with a night guard played by Ben Stiller...!! Wait...hehe...nevermind, that's...something else.

During the second act, I heard a song - a piece? an aria? una romanza? - that I recognized. I knew it must be the highlight of the opera because, well, I recognized it, but also because an audible stillness settled over the audience once it began.

I had heard it before...but I had never HEARD it before. I was listening now. I was listening hard. I can't stop listening now. When it was over there were shouts of "BRAVO!" and people stamped their feet in approval. Seriously, stamping! This wasn't a high school assembly. Old ladies in evening gowns and too much perfume put high heels to ground in ardent applause. Yes, they did.

When the show was over I clapped until my hands started to bleed and then tried to sneak backstage. The sentries posted everywhere made it impossible so I wandered outside to the artists' entrance again, waited until the guard was distracted by people getting programs for the artists to sign, and hurried through the door. I enthusiastically congratulated my friend and then walked back outside with her where people asked HER to sign their programs. Or to sign pictures of her face. How do I get lines of fans to wait for me after a long day of computer programming? How do I get lines of fans at all? "Excellent performance there, Laura. The way you defined that function...absolutely gorgeous." "You look much better in real life than in your role as a programmer." Yes, well, anyone would, that task makes people smack their faces into walls and rip their hair out. Some people just have it better than others, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hannelore Hoffmann.

I live with an old lady. And her bird.
Hannelore Hoffman is a pretty typical old lady. Her house is covered in knickknacks and lace, she owns a computer but doesn't know how to use it, she watches soap operas all day and removes her teeth at night. I think. That last part has been an ongoing investigation for me. Her son appears to enjoy live action role playing.When I arrived, Hannelore was very accommodating. She encouraged me to make myself at home. She would randomly make me food and we would sit across the table, smile awkwardly, and teach each other words: Lรถffel - spoon, Gabel - fork, gestorben - dead. Things like that. For the more important stuff we would use google translate, which she insisted refer to her with the informal 'you'. She let me use her computer whenever I wanted (you remember the whole laptop fiasco, no? The good news is I finally got it back...a week ago. Laptop and fiasco will forever be associated in my mind). She makes cakes topped with fruit all the time and will sometimes save me a slice.
Looks like a good time, huh? One day in mid-June she gave me a letter which I assumed had been translated for her by a friend. Among a list of rules to keep and a notice that rent was two weeks late and if it was late again I would have to move out, the letter said, "Her computer is not for your use! The agreement is to bring your own laptop, using her internet plug. Now you're using her computer instead. This is an absolute NO GO! Remember, Sister Hoffmann has opened her home to you - a total stranger. Show your respect and appreciation by following the rules."

Uh...oh. Sorry? I spent a day fuming/feeling devastated and a week avoiding going home and then found out that her friend had written it and Hannelore hadn't known what it said. Huh? Why? Seriously, why? I couldn't figure it out.

THEN, a couple weeks later, some German dude moves in. Echt - really. He's 30, he's awkward, and he likes playing games. Love games? Computer games. The current living situation is Oliver in Hannelore's room and Hannelore in the living room with Koko Gabor (that's the bird). A quick aside about Koko. This bird isn't caged and covered at night. No, no. Hannelore coos and cuddles it before putting it to bed in its mini wooden house where it stays quietly until anyone moves about at which point it shrieks its crazy head off. Repeatedly. The same goes for when it is actually caged - in the case of no one being home for long periods of time. Sometimes I can hear it down the flight of stairs as I leave. Try to sleep with a monster like that in your home. It is quite possible that I've thought of killing it more than once.

Look! It's my room.
This is where I found Oliver one day when I got home from school. He was using the internet on his laptop. I turned right around and walked out of the house...and started locking my door. Actually, I started locking my room after he asked me out. I assure you the date didn't happen. It couldn't happen. I would never let it happen. Fortunately, I was going out of town and after he asked what he could do to get a girl like me interested and I responded, "Er, uh, hehe, I don't know? I don't have an answer...sorry," he never approached the subject again. Poor guy.

So, lately, I spend a lot of time in my room, I pretend like I understand what Hannelore is saying - although now she mostly tells me I'm closing the door the wrong way or putting the wrong dishes in the sink, and I try to avoid my live-in boyfriend. Alles klar!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skipping forward.

I'm brushing over a few things in order to tell you about this last weekend. Not because it's pressingly noteworthy, just that it's the most recent thing I've done.

The program that sent me here also sent 350 other students from Canada, the US, and the UK to different cities around Germany. This last weekend we all gathered in Heidelberg for a conference. Three hundred 20 year olds and me. They all used it as an opportunity to meet new friends and party. I used it as an opportunity to sight see for free with my by myself.The second night we were there was the first opportunity I had to wander around - I went up to the castle overlooking the Altstadt, walked across the river until the lights abruptly shut off at midnight (I was actually in the process of taking a picture...setting the camera up, getting the shutter speed just right...when all of a sudden nothing was lit up anymore. Well, guess it's time to go back to the hostel!) - and I kept running into groups of students, with whom the exchange repeatedly went like this:
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"Oh, just wandering around."
"Who are you with?"
"No one, it's just me."
And no one knew what to say after that, like it was the strangest thing to do. Maybe it was to them. But, what the heck, I SAW THE CITY AND I DON'T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MYSELF TO YOU.


When I was up at the castle, which is in a small state of ruin, I started hearing really angry yelling. A lot of it. Then I heard horrendous, horrendous screaming. I seriously thought someone was being killed inside - in a most terrible way - but no one else seemed put out by it so I just continued to wander around...cautiously...and subsequently found out that Hamlet was being performed in the inner courtyard. Riiiiight. That didn't stop me from being super creeped out when I was walking back down the dark, deserted stairs to the city.That morning we had been separated into groups in order to go on company visits. I went to Bosch. We saw way more car stuff than washing machine stuff...which surprised me. We tested out some virtual driving simulation and rode in a car on the test track as it demonstrated how terrible driving is without anti-lock brakes - we spun out almost 4 complete turns. On a wet surface comparable to snow, the difference in stopping distances between ABS and no ABS was about 1:10. I may be exaggerating that a little, but I was way impressed.
I'm the nerdy looking Indian kid in the yellow shirt.

Then we went to the Porsche Museum. I was with a whole crew of other mechanical engineers so they were super excited and taking pictures and way bummed they couldn't buy anything from the souvenir shop...and I kind of got swept up in all of it...until I realized I didn't actually care that much. Now I have all these pictures of cars that I don't know what to do with.After a guided tour of the city and the castle the conference was over. A lot of people stayed an extra night but I took off to Frankfurt in the hopes of going to the temple. An hour and a half later, after a sweaty walk through the small town of Friedrichsdorf, I found it. Tired, hot, and relieved, excited to be there I pulled on the door. I pulled again.



It had closed just a couple hours earlier. No, I didn't check what hours it was open, no I didn't. Of course I should have. I took a quick picture and then wandered through Frankfurt for an hour before catching the train back to Munich. Oh well.It was consoling to know that I could have watched all three movies of the Twilight saga in one sitting.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Everyday.

It feels like it's been awhile. I'm sorry. It turns out even I'm getting tired of travelogues. There are definitely some stories I need to tell but they require pictures, which I haven't gotten yet. I'm working on it. I am. I haven't forgotten about you.

So, the everyday - I wake up around 10, I go to work, depending on how quickly I get stuck I stay for awhile or I don't. If I leave early, I will try to get together with a friend who teaches until 1:30. Or I wander around for awhile in the city by myself until I head to the church for FHE or institute or Thursday night soccer or Friday night activity. I go home as late as possible. I travel on the weekends. Rinse, wash, repeat.

I spend a lot of time on the bus or the train, which means I spend a lot of time reading or listening to music. Sometimes...I practice saying German words under my breath...and then I laugh at how crazy I must look. I only know how to say ridiculous things like: "you're crazy" or "who do you think you are?" or "legit" or the word "ridiculous," but I want to make sure I'm saying those things correctly.

Work is still the same - way hard and way boring. I have assumed that it doesn't really matter if I take a day off here or there...so when the bus drove by on a Friday morning and didn't pick me up, I decided to stay home and watch the Germany and USA World Cup matches instead or when the missionaries and my friend were going down to Neuschwanstein one Monday, I joined them. This weekend I am going to Schwarzwald - The Black Forest - and I thought, "Switzerland is only 40 minutes away, perhaps I'll stay Monday and see it!" So I finally asked my supervisor if it was ok...I've never loved my job more. He doesn't even want advance notice.

Living in a foreign country, never having to work, and getting paid for it. It could only be more perfect if I had a better living situation - which I'll get to later.

Munich is great. At first I kind of saw it as just another big city...with a way awesome downtown, but I love it here. The city center has become dotted with fruit stands and people playing live music - good music! I'm not talking about yet another homeless guy with a harmonica or some Asian kid with a karaoke machine. People cart out pianos to play quartets and stuff.

I have a million pictures of the Neue Rathaus because every time I see it, it strikes me as picturesque. Churches fill up the skyline. Parks are everywhere. Things are happening - one night there were free orchestra and opera concerts; another night it was big band music, old people dancing, and little shops in the Residenz plaza; for the whole of this month there's some super Indie craft/international food/music festival. I actually kind of know my way around and I haven't yet felt unsafe.

Some days I don't think 3 months will be long enough.