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12 entries from August 2008

Bourgeoisie in the Key of E

Where is he gay today? Salzburg
Off to the salt mines!

"You're embarrassing me."


"You need to go back and get a tie. Everybody's wearing a tie."

Master Right was, indeed, right. The audience was dressed way better than necessary for an 11.00 am concert. But this is the Salzburg Festival. A classical music festival in a city which owes its livelihood to classical music*. Lucky for Salzburg that Mozart was born here, because he turned into quite a racket.

Where I grew up in Australia, serious music lives in school halls and church basements, with the occasional large, state-subsidised splash. It comes as quite a shock to hear the classics in their natural environment--among the idle rich, and the heavily sponsored.

The surtitle machine, earning a crust between acts.

I should have known. Dress code is directly proportional to the price of the ticket, and Salzburg Festival admission starts at three digits. Some concerts extend into four.

"Look." I said, "There are a few people without ties. That group of Japanese visitors..."

He cut me off with a sneer. "They make me so ashamed to be Japanese. They know nothing about the world. They learn classical music from NHK!"

I nearly retort, well so did you! Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan's public broadcaster, does a superb job at cultivating classical music among its listeners. Arguably, NHK made Japan the world's largest manufacturer of musical instruments. ("I'd like to thank Yamaha for providing this gorgeous grand piano." Liberace once quipped onstage, "They offered me one of their motorcycles, too. Maybe next time...").

A highlight of NHK's broadcast year arrives on January 1. The annual New Year brunchtime concert from Vienna catches viewers just as they sit down to a family dinner in Japan. Like their food, the families lap it up. A surprising number go to Austria, for the echt experience.

A Japanese-language poster at the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof.

Besides, live classical music appeals to teh Japanese because it demands that patrons have absolutely no idea of value for money.

11.00 am. Emmanuel Pahud plays Mozart Flute Concerto, and the Mozarteum Orchestra plays his Paris and Linz Symphonies. Frans Brüggen conducts.

Master Right let me choose this concert, for sentimental reasons.

Some thirty-odd years ago, Dutch maestro Frans Brüggen played the Adelaide Festival. He came as a soloist rather than a conductor; an acknowledged master of the flute, but more important, one of the world's only recorder virtuosi.

The bane of every Australian schoolkid's life is the recorder, or in German, the blockflöte. In my school, they made it a compulsory second instrument. A well-meaning music teacher trooped us along to see Brüggen, to fire us up with enthusiasm for this cheap, and neglected, maker of music. It kind-of worked. I never liked playing recorder, but appreciated the fact that Brüggen was a cool dude.

Fast-forward to 2008. Brüggen has passed the baton, in a figurative sense, onto a new generation of flautists. Emmanuel Pahud is a dashing Francophone-Swiss who can play that stick like it was a third arm. The warmth and mutual respect between Pahud and Brüggen showed.

Pahud (left) and Brüggen. Notice Brüggen's pinky.
You can tell it spent a lifetime hovering above a flute.

Good to see that Yours Truly wasn't the only one uncomfortable in a tie. Pahud looked strained, with his top button undone behind the necktie, and body language that made even the most expensive suit look cheap.

Let me describe him in Australian terms. He looked a little like a salesman on Reg Hunt's Golden Mile of Cars, hovering over a used Falcon, smiling through the hangover he picked up last night at the buck's show for one of his mates from the Frankston Rugby Club, wishing that, just for today, work started in the afternoon.

And I mean that in a good way. Pahud gave a rugby-player's physicality to the performance. Flute music in general, and Mozart in particular, can feel a little twiddly and cerebral. Pahud made the whole thing live and breathe.

2.30 pm. Wander the Altstadt

Of course, the Salzburg Festival celebrates more than just music. But its heart ain't in it.

The visual arts programme, spread around the city, could reach heights of excellence, like this sculpture in the foyer of the Mozarteum.

Or, it could just be downright mailed-in dull, like this stuff in the Cathedral.

So we wandered the old city, a bit bored with the Sound of Music kitschiness of it all.

One of the most famous shops in the Altstadt sells eggs, hollowed out and hanging, decorated as Christmas ornaments. As a gay guy, I can't think of all those eggs without my mind wandering to sperm. It's an equal opportunity thing.

8.00 pm. An all-Bartok programme, including the Profane Cantata, and Bluebeard's Castle

Boy, do I love me some Bartok! Curious, sensual, and just a little bit wierd, the work of Hungarian compioser Bela Bartok expresses the sophisticated decadence of Bohemia between the wars. Bartok read Freud with a passion; his music brings to life the surreal, vaguely disturbing feelings that we associate with the word Freudian.

The Profane Cantata tells the story of a father who failed to teach his nine sons any useful skills. So he should not be surprised that they turned into magnificent stags (your thoughts, Sigmund?) and leapt into the forest. The lyrics tell of how the father tried to convince his boys to come home. In turns both violent and heart-wrenching, it caught you up in a sad and magnificent story.

Salzburg Festival performances uphold the highest musical standards. But when it comes to staging, these guys always hit the wrong note.

Now, this is a cantata. A piece for choir and soloists. It's not a play. Why, then, did the director choose to stage it? And stage it so gaudily, standing the chorus on scaffolds with windows, and parading the soloists in front of a house with a dead budgie on the roof?

Part of my day job is to act as a semiotician. I consider myself a skilled interpreter of symbols. Speaking professionally, I found myself asking the question, what the fuck is a dead budgie doing on the roof?

Onto the main feature, Bluebeard's Castle. An opera in one act, it opens as the elderly Count Bluebeard and new wife Judith arrive home from their wedding. She nags him to reveal what is behind each of the castle's seven doors. The sights seem pleasant at first, but each holds its own horror. A garden nourished by blood, a fountain bursting with tears. Finally, Judith works out that the bodies of Bluebeard's previous wives rest behind the seventh door, murdered. Judith goes willingly, her death seen as an expression of her love, and nourishment for her soul. Rather interesting, actually.

And it's an opera. That is, a musical play. Where you could actually make a set with castles and doors and such. But no. The director opted for bullshit-minimalism this time.

Mind you, that's the festival's operatic style. When I first started coming to Salzburg in the early nineties, I sat through a production of Eugene Onegin where the stage contained nothing but the singers and a lamp-post.

What's more, they tried to take what was already Freudian and make it Freudier. Judith was dressed as a nurse, with Bluebeard looking a lot like Dr Strangeglove. Tough to sing baritone from a wheelchair, I would have thought.

No matter how tough it was to sing, the American mezzo and German baritone did it beautifully. We left happy, if not exactly whistling the tunes.

11.00 Home to bed.

The hotel at which we stayed, also played host to the Cleveland Orchestra. How nice to be awakened by a French horn practicing Mozart!

* OK. A little bit of Rogers and Hammerstein helps pay the bills, too.

Stereotype Amplifiers

Just look at all those kitchen gadgets (#54)!

 Sehr geehrte Ian in Hamburg!

 Some months ago, by way of a blog comment, you asked me what I thought of Stuff White People Like.

SWPL had appeared as #3 on the Wordpress Blogs of Note, just under the one with the pictures of cats, and the other one with the pictures of puppies. This offended you (#101).

It will incense you even more to learn that it is now a book. According to Amazon, people who bought Stuff White People Like also bought Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Is that not some comfort?

(Keholet 7:5: "It is better to listen to a wise man's reproof than to listen to the praise of fools.")

Part of the reason for your fury is that you, and your family, are white. In fact, you're all so white it hurts.

I imagine, to you, SWPL feels like a joke about Black People and sickle-cell anaemia. Tough to shrug it off as irony (#50)

Look at it this way.

Let's say that you, as a white journalist in a press conference, ask a black politician about affordable child care. Is he likely to diss the question because you people all hate your parents (#17)? Will IBM toss your application in the bin because you white guys hate corporations (#82)? Do your favourite black hip-hoppers not sell tracks on iTunes (#40)? If you try to order some Chinese take away, will the server tell you to get back to your damn dinner party (#90) where you belong? Probably not.

Yes, SWPL is racist, but rather like beer is alcohol. It's not the hard stuff. I mean, none of these stereotypes will keep a white guy from a high paying job, get him kicked out of a country club, or fire up a lynch mob. Right?

I'm white, too. But I'm not so white it hurts. I am, however, so white that it itches. People who point out how white I am make me squirm and feel uncomfortable.

I always apologise (#55), I have an arts degree (#47), and have lived in New York (#46). I am so addicted to public radio (#44) that I have purchased not one, but two of those internet radio devices for home. I tune them both to KQED, which covers San Francisco (#91) and Marin County.

(By the way, how come Marin County isn't a Stuff White People Like?)

Here is our drawer full of tea (#13). Furthermore, it's herbal tea, which, because I am not really all that white, I pronounce with an "h". My mother was so white, that she didn't even use an "h" in human, humour or huge.

 I am so white that I have paid a three figure sum to drag my (mostly Australian) wine (#24) from continent to continent. This grog has more frequent flyer points than I do.

 I am so white, I actually lived in Japan (#58) for five years. To prove it, here are the New Year sake cups from the Shinto shrine next door. The writing commemorates the name of the church (Atagojinja), the Chinese horoscope symbol for that year, the symbol of the Japanese horoscope element, and the year of the emperor's reign. I loved Japan so much, that I picked up a souvenir in the form of a spouse. Yes, I know. A snow globe would have been cheaper.

We are such sushi (#42) snobs that we don't actually eat it anymore. Master Right declares that one should never eat sushi more than 100km from the coast, so we don't. Munich's lacklustre choice of Japanese restaurants helps a lot. We own a whole lot of sushi kit, which gets no outing at all since we moved to Germany.

So, Ian, let me up the ante. The following stuff will keep a white guy from a high paying job, get him kicked out of a country club, or lynched. It's Stuff White Gay People Like. I look around the house and ask: Am I whiter than I am gay, or am I gayer than I am white? Stuff Gay White People Like

#1 Boyfriend on Couch

The mere sight of a man on a couch makes a woman's blood boil. Men should get off their asses and...oh, I dunno, slay a wildebeeste or take out the trash. But to me, a man on a couch looks regular-guy sexy.

#2. Being the one in the family who inherits your mother's dinner set.

Boy, does this piss off gay guy's sister!

#3. Fake Roy Lichtenstein.

Somewhere in the late eighties, the gay community got the idea that comic-book art was ironic. Most gays of a certain age have the odd poster which commemorates their activist years.

#4. Dorothy Parker

Alice Roosevelt Longworth once remarked, "If you can't say something nice about someone, then come and sit next to me." Rumour has it that the seat was occupied, in short order, by Dorothy Parker. Parker cornered the market on high-class bitchiness during that long, dry spell between Oscar Wilde and David Sedaris (#25).

If you know a witty remark but can't quite recall the source, then odds on it's Dorothy Parker. The one about girls who wear glasses. And the one about Tallulah Bankhead. And the one about the girls from the Yale prom being laid end to end. Every gay, English-speaking household has a Portable Dorothy Parker. Straight homes make do with The Reader's Digest Treasury of Humourous Quotations.

#5 Leaving little clues around the house that you are gay.

You can buy this stuff at gay shops (#6) in gay neighbourhoods (#7).

#8 Misogynist kitsch

Since we're gay males, you could never call these trinkets arousing, sexist, or exploitative. They're just--let me saviour that glorious word again!--ironic. So suck it up, bitches! (That's irony, too.)

#9 Neatly trimmed facial hair.

For many years, I have sported a goatee; Master Right has just opted for the close-cropped stubble look. Hoo, boy! More gadgets needed!

Facial hair is a cornerstone of gay grooming, since it shows you are too butch to do drag. At least, too butch to do it convincingly.

#10 Plain white sheets.

Now, I know that bringing up the subject of white sheets in a post that has also dealt with racism, is risky. There may be some unintended irony, which is like regular irony, only cooler. Thank heavens that our putzfrau does the irony once a week, and we needn't bother ourselves with the mens rea.

In any case, white sheets are a gay giveaway. The mandatory colour of bed-clothing in a straight, single, white, male bedroom is dark blue. Correct? But gay guys are actually neat enough that white becomes a valid lifestyle choice. And since we're not girls, there are no frilly bits.

There. Have I answered your question? I hope we haven't given SWPL any more attention than it deserves. This discussion is no doubt the sort of stuff Stuff White People Like likes to see.

Yours, waving a limp, pallid wrist northward,

The Honourable Husband

The Not-Credible Hulk

You know, I think I'm learning a little too much German. (Native speakers of the language would disagree, of course.) This poster...well, it just rubs my German ear the wrong way.

The literal translation is The Unbelievable Hulk. That's unbelievable as in pull the other one. The German word die Hulk, as in English, refers to the hull of a ship, or fuselage of a plane. And it's (mostly) feminine, so utterly inappropriate.

There is a word that refers to a hulk of a man: der Riesenkerl. Literally, a giant bloke. Or for you Americans, a huge dude.

The German translation smells a bit NQR to me. According to Leo, my faithful guide in all these matters, one might easily back-translate the title of this movie to The Preposterously Bloody Great Geezer.

This whole second-language business is messing with my English, in a way it never did when living in Tokyo. In Japan, I really didn't try to learn the language beyond survival level. But here in Munich, all this engaging with the local culture has thrown a monkey wrench (einer Universalschraubenschlüssel, or for you Brits, an adjustable spanner) into my brain.

I mean, it took me a whopping three nanoseconds to work out that the shirt on this gentleman in the Briennerstraße, which tells any big dick standing close behind that he should go hard, might make a terribly funny gay double entendre.

I'm a disgrace to quick-witted fags everywhere.

Haircut Unimportant.

Every summer, pay TV channel T5 sponsors a season of open air cinema in the Königsplatz, a gracious square just to the north of Munich's city centre. The setting is so marvellous (and the beer so abundant) that it makes almost any movie watchable.

So against my better judgement, I took a female visitor to see KeinOhrHasen, (No-Ear Rabbit) a Geman chick flick starring heart-throb Til "Whispering Wolf" Schweiger.

My guest spoke no German, and none was required. The language of the chick-flick is universal. In this case it was Standard Plot #23, Virtuous Innocent tames the Bad Boy, mixed in with a little bit of Ugly Duckling. She loved it.

Perhaps there is be an intelligent discussion to be had on the nature of chick flicks, but we shall not have it here. What caught my eye was the intermission entertainment. Audience members could text the management with greetings to be flashed on the screen, underneath the reminder of tomorrow night's feature.

At the bottom of the screen below, we see the words Hello Lettuce-I love you. Yours... This could be a joke planted by Warner Brothers about the rabbit in the title, or perhaps a dieter firming her resolve. Above it, the message reads, Vera, my treasure, will you marry me? Your Consti. Now, Consti must be crazy-in-love with this Vera, since he did two things a man would never do otherwise. He added one of those little emoticon things at the end, and he sat through half a chick flick.

On to a message from a female. The text on the bottom reads Britta seeks a man with a horsecock. Haircut unimportant. And it adds in English, Once you go black, you'll never go back.

Now, as a professional adman, let me give Britta a bit of advice on target audience selection. You're advertising in the wrong place. Any man who sits through a chick flick is pretty dickless. Even if there's beer.


OK, Arizaphale and NurseMyra. I swore I wouldn't be sucked in on the subject of chick flicks, but if you must know, Til Schweiger plays a Lothario papparazzi journalist who gets caught snooping on a celebrity engagement (in a situation where it is entirely reasonable for him to be naked, so it's not gratuitous or anything). He is sentenced to 300 hours of community service at a kindergarten run by a young woman Til attended primary school with, and whom he taunted mercilessly. She was a bit of an ugly duckling who has turned into a beautiful swan, but nobody knows how beautiful she is because she wears glasses. As part of the deal, Schweiger has to sew cute little fluffy toys. He makes a rabbit, except it doesn't have any ears. Swan-with-Glasses says that you can't have a rabbit with no ears, and Schweiger has such a charming explanation ("Hey, it's a No-Ear-Rabbit, four eyes!") that it melts her heart and they end up bonking after she gets drunk. Naturally, she thinks that it means something and he thinks that it's just a fuck, so she feels devastated when he turns around and bonks the slutty mum of one of the kids. After he sees how hurt she is, he realises that he really loved her all along and leaves the rabbit on her doorstep as a symbol of their love ...ugh ...must ...keep ...control ...dick ..shrinking ...balls ...fallen ...off ...brain ...melting ...aaaargh!