Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't get excited now


Bet you didn't think that hair gel could be X-rated? Wonder why it's only for ladies then.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful that L is home from the hospital. And I am thankful for friends and family who saw us through the scary episode.

I'm not sure if I can go as far as saying that there was a reason for the whole thing. But in a perverse sort of way, if it wasn't for the bleed and the MRI that followed, we wouldn't have known that there was a cyst in the kidney.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Name dropping

Actually, no, for those who asked, the most famous name I ever came across back in the heady student days of stewarding at the Warwick Arts Centre wasn't Simon Rattle. It was when Andre Previn came with the London Symphony Orchestra.

And the stewards who worked front of house (FOH) never really rubbed shoulders with the musirati. It was the back of house (BOH) folks who did. The FOH scum like us merely clipped tickets and then got to watch the concert for free after that.

Anyway, Andre Previn. One of the FOH managers, a dear sweetheart of a man, was having kittens over how to address Andre Previn. "Do I call him Mr Preh-veen? Or is it Mr Prah-vahn?" He worried that the former would seem too uncultured but the latter might be too toffee-nosed.

Why not address him as Maestro, was my suggestion. That way, he skirted the surname altogether.

In the end, it was Masetro Andre Previn himself who solved the problem. He strode into the BOH briefing, stuck out his hand and said: "Hi, I'm Andy."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THE Berlin Phil


I knew I was under-dressed for the Berlin Philharmonic when even their stagehands were wearing black jackets.

The last time I saw conductor Simon Rattle's back was 20 years ago. He's still bouncing those curls as he conducts, only they're all grey now.

And the last time that I saw the back of that curly head, I didn't have to pay $300 for the privilege. Instead, I was paid 3 pounds for my trouble. I was a student, stewarding at the University of Warwick Arts Centre. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was the orchestra in residence at the Arts Centre then, and Simon Rattle -- he wasn't Sir Simon back then -- was its conductor.

And that's why it's so hard to see him as the man walking in godlike Herbert von Karajan's footsteps at the Berlin Philarmonic. THE Berlin Phil. Not when you remember Simon Rattle tossing his curls at the old dears in the CBSO Chorus, and the way they tittered everytime he so much as spoke a sentence to them. Does "not C sharp but D flat, Muriel dear," qualify as a sentence?

Anyway, back to THE Berlin Phil. It was a faultless performance (Haydn's Symphony No 99; Brahms' Symphony No 2 on the first night. I skipped the second night because it had Mahler and I cannot do Mahler. Besides I couldn't afford to go both nights). I suppose you could say it was faultless because the audience, having forked out so much (my $300 was but a cheap seat in the second balcony. The gallery seats behind the orchestra went for about the same. Front row VIP seats were close to $600.), were determined that it had to be faultless.

But really, they were good. For a behemoth, they had the softest, gentlest pianisimmo, a smooth caress for the quiet bits in the Brahms. Before erupting into an awesome powerful finish.

The Philistine in me confesses that I don't get Alban Berg. I never could get that second Viennese school. Does a wooden mallet brought crashing down really count as a percussion instrument?

I think the nicest bit actually wasn't in the programme. It was during the intermission, before the orchestra came back on for the Brahms symphony. One of the double bassists lingered onstage as the (jacketed) stagehands moved chairs and music stands about. He started playing very quietly to himself Brahms' Lullabye, and then a fellow musician walked over, pulled up a chair, sat down and listened. An extra recital for the $300.

In an interview with the local daily English broadsheet, Simon -- sorry, Sir Simon now -- justified the high ticket prices by saying that a rock group of just a few people could play to a stadium of thousands, so they could price low. While an orchestra of so many people could only play to a few hundred. So that's why it costs more to listen to a bunch of penguin suits. Which was why I almost choked when I was reading the programme notes where Sir Simon was quoted as saying that "music is no mere luxury, but instead a fundamental need". Excuse me kind knight, but $300-$600 for a ticket IS luxury.

Eric Clapton plays here in February. His most expensive ticket is $300, which is THE Berlin Phil's cheap seat. Both ways, I'm paying the same. The way I see it, Haydn pretty much sounds like Haydn, whether it's done by THE Berlin Phil, the CBSO, or even the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (cheap seats $12). But only Clapton can do Layla like Clapton. I think my money's on Slowhand.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two tales



I don't normally read historical fiction, but that was what I've been reading lately. Back to back too. The Ohter Bolelyn Girl was given to me by a friend clearing his shelves. He didn't want it any more and I never turn down a free read. I bought Wolf Hall months ago and still hadn't gotten round to reading because of its daunting two-inch thickness. I bought it solely on the review in The Economist, and it only helped that it went on to win the Booker Prize. One of those it'll be good reading books ... if only you got round to it.

And that was why I accepted the novella. I thought it would set me in the mood for the bigger book. Same historical era, same cast, just a different approach. It's more casual, more contemporary, and written in a breezy style. It took me just about three days to get through it.

The other one took me three weeks. But then that was also because I only read it at home, at bed time. At two-inch thick, it's not the sort of book you can slip into your bag to take with you to read on the train to work. It's beautifully written, with a masterly turn of phrase. So yes, it was good reading ... once I got round to it. Not to diss the other book, but it's quite obvious which one won the Booker Prize.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dance weekend



I had been so out of the loop from the events of the last few weeks that I'd quite forgotten that my Bollywood dance teacher's students from his various classes were staging a charity show on Saturday. Got myself a last-minute ticket and got down to it. It was a lovely evening of various forms of Indian dance -- Bollywood, fusion, kuchipudi, bharatanatyam, bellydancing and also a yoga display. And all amateur too. I also thought it was rather ironical that the kuchipudi troupe was all Chinese, and from Hong Kong too. If these weekend dancers could master kuchipudi then I have hope for tackling Bollywood fusion.

Sunday was the night of the professional. I went to Sree Katha, a bharatanatyam dance performance which depicted three heroines from the Ramayana. Indo-American Mythili Prakash's one-woman show gave me a whole new feminist perspective of the epic, and basically validated me for always having thought that Sita was a bit of a doormat. She also gave a new insight to Shurpanakha, the demoness who was mutilated for daring to make a pass at Rama. Prakash's point was that Shurpanakha was a woman who knew what she wanted and made an attempt to obtain what she wanted, and not bow to societal norms of beauty. So basically, it's better to be a fugly demoness who knows her mind than a longsuffering wife. I hear you, sister. Interestingly, from the post-performance dialogue with the artist, the people who disagreed with her weren't the elderly gentlemen in the predominantly Indian audience, but the elderly ladies.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Out of the woods

And out of ICU.

Still a long journey ahead, and babysteps too.

Grateful for the love and care every step along the way.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I'm doing OK, and I thank everyone -- people, dogs and angels -- for their love and support. I was just telling my friend, I come from Cantonese peasant ancestry, the sort of women who would have babies and then go back to the fields. I can see how strong my grandma was, how strong my mum was when I walked her through hospital corridors when it was my dad that was in hospital, and now I realise, gosh, I'm one of them.

He's still in ICU and it's been a week today. I would feel more relieved if he were out critical care. But baby steps.
I should add to yesterday's list:
The cleaner who noticed me hanging about the ICU corridor and motioned for me to take the chair at the empty nurse's station.

It wasn't so long ago that I was walking my mother past ICU corridors as she worried about my father. I didn't think that I would now be the one loitering around hospital corridors worrying about my husband.