Sunday, February 21, 2010

Going To Where the Sun Most definitely Shines...

Except for all the loose gravel on the streets, I can't really complain about much here in Berlin these days. The sun has been shining and the huge drifts of snow and ice are gradually disappearing from the sidewalks. Still, I'm glad I will soon be going to California with the babies. In the words of the status update of someone on my Facebook friend's list who lives in San Francisco: "The days are finally getting longer. Looks like spring is here at last!" Yes, I also used to be one of those spoiled, pampered people who thought spring started in mid-February. Imagine my shock when I realized my February 16th birthday is in the middle (ok, maybe tail-end....) of freaking winter.

California, it will be great to see you and the ocean and friends and family. Until I get back on March 18th this blog will be on spring break. ;)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Confessions of a Closet Kitsch Lover

My husband and I are both big fans of Danish Modern design. We got lucky with a teak sideboard on ebay and have a lot of vintage mid-century wooden home decor. I love how simple yet elegant the pieces are, both beautifully and deliberately designed and yet they still have a lot of warmth. It's also so easy to add other pieces and bright colors to funk them up. If the everyday me were to choose some new home furnishings I would definitely go with all of the above from Fabulous Mess.

But, let's face it, I'm also a total closet kitsch lover. Although maybe I'm being slightly unfair, I blame this love largely on Pick 'n Save, the dollar store before there were even dollar stores. We used to go there when I was growing
up in Tucson and I was always amazed with all the great things I could buy with my five dollar allowance: elegant lady figurines with rhinestones in their hair, fluffy Persian kitty cat (four of my most favorite words from the age of at least four to twelve...) folders and trapper keepers. and many other tacky bits of loveliness. Then again, maybe I can blame the whole thing on the Grand Canyon. I spent at least twelve family vacations there and how many desert scenes depicted inside of a shot glass or real scorpion paper weights did I buy at one of the hundreds of gift shops we visited? As much as I could talk my grandparents into, with some petrified wood and cactus candy thrown in for good measure.

Thank god I have Schaufenster to let out my inner kitsch loving demon. If I didn't there's no telling what kind of havoc she might wreak on my life.

For anyone out there who is less of a closeted kitsch lover, here are some great pieces I found recently for sale on etsy. And yes, I would be prou
d to plop each one of them down on my new vintage Eames table. ;)

Alligator ashtray from Flabby Rabbit, Horse Sculpture from Skyparlor, Chicken from Fish Bone Deco, Bambi Salt and Pepper Shakers from Ethan Ollie.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Don't Want No Schokolade

Technically we have Valentine's Day in Germany, but no one seems to do anything for it. You won't hear any wives complaining about the cheap present they got or some girlfriend getting pissed off because her boyfriend forgot to make a reservation at Grill Royal. Since living in Berlin, I've had two husbands (German) and one boyfriend (Dutch Indonesian) all of whom I tried to convince it was mandatory to celebrate Valentine's Day with little old American me. Here's how it usually went:

"Hey, so today's Valentine's Day."

"Oh yeah. Happy Valentine's Day."

"So? Where's my present?"

"Wait....I was supposed to get you a present??"

"Don't you remember? I already told you about that last year."

"Honey, I can't remember that kind of thing. I'm European."

Each year it was the same: No rare Amaryllis, no Belgian chocolate caramels, no dinner at Der Goldene Hahn, nothing....

After a while I gave up trying to teach these Europeans hounds new tricks because a) it was a lost cause and b) I hate Valentine's Day.

Seriously, the day is just plain stressful. If you are in a relationship there is a lot of pressure to have it be "the perfect day." Even if you and your significant other decide not to celebrate it, it will most likely be
from an "anti" stand point and not because you really don't care. And, let's face it, nothing sucks more than being single on Valentine's Day. All those ads for diamonds for that special someone or romantic spa get-aways for two or the tables in any even half way decent restaurant taken, all of them just there to rub it in your face that, yes, you are alone. Grrr....I'm married and yet it makes me pissed off just thinking about it.

For all you disgruntled single ladies o
ut there, here's a song for you, sung by Trude Henne in 1959:

Ich will keine Schokolade, I don't want any chocolate
ich will lieber einen Mann, I'd rather ha
ve a man,
ich will einer, der ich küssen I want one who I can kiss
und um die Finger wickeln kann and wrap around my little finger

Valentine's Day, you can take these truffles and shove them! ;)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Opera 101, a.k.a. No, I'm Not the Freaking Queen of the Night....

Whenever I tell people I studied opera I almost always get asked the inevitable question: "So, can you sing that Queen of the Night song?

When I tell them: "No, that role is for a dramatic coloratura soprano but I'm a dramatic mezzo" they usually smile and politely nod, but I can tell by the look in their eyes that they have no idea what I'm talking about. What they don't know is that their question is basically the same as asking someone who plays cello if they like to perform violin concertos. Since I seem to be getting into classical singing again after a not-so-brief hiatus, I've decided to write this post as a sort of Opera 101, describing the different types of female voices. If you want more specific details as well as a long list of great singers for each type, then the original wikipedia (of course) article can be found here

1. Lyric Coloratura Soprano

A lyric coloratura soprano has a light, lyric voice with the agility to sing fast, tweety-bird like coloratura runs and trills. The video here is of The Doll Song by Offenbach as sung by the fabulous Beverly Sills. Her autobiography Bubbles is a good read for anyone interested in opera.

2. Dramatic Coloratura Soprano

Pretty much the same as as a lyric coloratura soprano only the voice is more dramatic in tone. One of the greatest singers of all time, Dame Joan Sutherland, was a dramatic coloratura soprano (and yes, she could sing one mean Queen of the Night.) Here she is singing the Bell Song from the opera Lakme by Delibes. Although Lakme isn't performed all that often, most people know the Flower Duet. Listen for a bit and I can guarantee you'll recognize it from a champagne or car commercial.

3. Soubrette

Another name you might give a soubrette would be the cutie-pie soprano. A soubrette has a light, lyric soprano voice that still has enough agility to sing fast and florid passages. The roles are often playful and comic, i.e. not the consumptive heroine rotting away in some garret. In this video Barbara Bonney is singing the role of Susanne from the Marriage of Figaro, one of the great soubrette roles.

4. Lyric Soprano

More "soulful" than a soubrette or colortura soprano, a lyric soprano is still the most common voice type for a woman. As in the words of my former voice teacher: "If you throw a penny off a building in New York any time of the day I can guarantee it will land on the head of a lyric soprano." Because of this, no matter how big and beautiful your voice is, your chances of having a significant career with this voice type are only slightly higher than your chance of seeing a tap dancing albino monkey on the Eiffel Tower. There's just too much damn competition. Monserrat Caballe, singing Porgi amor from the Marriage of Figaro, was one of the great ones.

5. Light Dramatic Soprano (Spinto)

Sometimes called a "young" or "youthful" dramatic soprano, this term describes a voice that is basically lyric but has a sound as though it is blossoming into a more dramatic sound. Renata Tebaldi gives a true command performance here of Vissi d'arte from Tosca (to dispel another common myth, it is actually generally much more difficult to sing a slow aria than a fast one, especially if it stays on one level for most of the time.)

6. Dramatic Soprano

Characterized by their rich, full-sounding voices dramatic sopranos are expected to project across large orchestras. In general, their voices have a much darker tone. In this video one of my absolute favorite singers, Rosa Ponselle is singing O Nume tutelar.

7. Wagnerian Soprano

Yep, we're entering Brunhilde-land here. In the wikipedia article they write that this is "Basically a full dramatic soprano taken to the next level." Ach, Wagner. There are many reasons why I ultimately decided not to pursue a career in opera, but ol' Richard is definitely one of them. Wagner is such a pompous pain in the ass, but with my voice type I would have probably ended up singing a lot of his stuff....

8. Coloratura Mezzo Soprano

Originally written for altos with agility and secure top notes, these Rossini coloratura roles are often sung by lyrics mezzos or sopranos. In this video, a truly kick-ass Teresa Berganza is sings Una voce poco fa from the Barber of Seville.

9. Lyric Mezzo Soprano

Mezzo Soprano basically means "half" soprano. A lyric mezzo soprano usually has a voice similar in lyrical and "soulful" quality to a lyric soprano, but they tend to sing more in the middle rang of the voice. One of best overall was Dame Janet Baker. Here she is singing, When I am Laid in Earth by Purcell, one of the most beautiful arias ever and also a bitch and a half to sing.

10. Dramatic Mezzo Soprano

Yep, this is my voice type. I sung Stride la vampa from Il Trovatore about 25 thousand times in my vocal studio. Whenever a soprano came after me for a lesson, be they coloratura or lyric or even dramatic, they would often say "Oh my god. You are so lucky!" There are just not that many dramatic mezzos around which would have made having a career all that much easier (though certainly not "easy". The opera world is a cruel one....) But, as I said, there were many reasons why I chose a different path. Maybe someday I'll write a post about it....

11. Dramatic Alto

Like a dramatic mezzo, only lower. In the words of my voice teacher "they are as rare as hen's teeth."

12. Low Contralto

Probably even rarer than hen's teeth, but there are also almost no parts written for them, so what's the point?

I hope you've enjoyed your little opera lesson. If you're curious what type of voice you might have, then listen to each aria and decide which one you like the best. Someone once told me you usually like the music that is best for your own vocal instrument. Maybe it's true because I do prefer more dramatic voices and also usually mezzos to sopranos....

Here are the results....

Now I just have to get rid of that Carol Brady flip at the end of my hair. Curse you, uncontrollably thick and wavy post second pregnancy hair!!

Lipstick Is My Exclamation Point

I guess you could describe my style as "Retro Light." I wear a lot of vintage clothing, but I've never really gone 100% for a certain "look." Recently, I've decided to take the plunge as far as make-up goes and try for a true 1940s look. I love the no-nonsense glamour of the era and also that they were heavy on the eyebrows (it would be a shame to shave away or over pluck my Brooke Shields-esque brows....)

Good thing YouTube has lots of instructional make-up tutorials from the 40s like this one:

Now I know to avoid the overpowdered look and that nothing would date me like too much rogue. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find any vanishing cream, but if I do I will make sure to blend it into super smoothness.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

German Music History Lesson Two: Amis and Tommys singing auf Deutsch

A few weeks ago I did a lesson on German Schlager, but what a lot of people don't know is that, back in the 50s and 60s, most big American (Amis) and British (Tommys) pop stars also had versions of their hits that they sung in German for their German-speaking fans. Nowadays, of course, it is hip to sing or listen to music in English and most young Germans speak it well enough that they can mostly understand the lyrics (though this is not always a good thing. Try teaching your students again and again that the third person in English needs an "s" at the end of the verb in the present simple only to be contradicted by songs where someone sings "She don't call me anymore" or "He sing sad songs all night"....)

Anyway, some of the biggest of the big sung in German at some point in their career and these include:

1. The Beatles

Sie liebt dich, (yeah, yeah, yeah). P.S. What's up with the marching police men at the beginning of the video??

2. Elvis

Forget bloated, karate-chopping, Vegas Elvis. Look how adorable he was when he was young! He sings this German folk song partly in German, partly in English and was undoubtedly popular here since he was stationed in Germany during his army days.

3. Johnny Cash

Yes, the man in black apparently trägt auch Schwarz...

4. David Bowie

In the 80s, when there was a wall around Mitte and Prenzlauerberg and Kreuzberg was still full of commune-living left-wing radicals throwing rocks at police cars, Schöneberg was the hip place in Berlin to be. The neighborhood was also home to both David Bowie and Iggy Pop for a while. Of course, by then it was standard to just sing your hits in English but Bowie did Helden (Heroes) in German because, well, I guess he thought it was cool.

5. Bob Dylan

Ok, so I'm not sure if Bob himself sung in German, but here is a Schlager-esque German version of Blowin' in the Wind. Mega "groovy".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Skate Down Memory Lane...

So anyone who has ever read this blog has probably figured out by now that I like old stuff. The fact of the matter is, I'm slowly getting old myself: I'll be 36 in exactly 13 days. My husband laughs when I call myself old. He is nine years older than me and is proud that he plucked himself such a spring chicken. I don't really mind getting older (so far pretty moderate with the wrinkles and gray hairs...) but sometimes it does seem sort of surreal. In two years, my older sister will be forty. Where did all that time go?

Maybe it's my old age nostalgia (though I think I was already nostalgic at eight, so probably not...) but I was thrilled to see these "vintage" roller skates for sale on etsy because they are exactly the same pair I got for Christmas circa 1982. Oh what fun we had roller skating down grandma's driveway at West State Avenue in Phoenix. The skates are available here at Happy Day Vintage for $34, though I fear my old lady feet have long since outgrown them.

Still, if I d
o get some cool vintage skates in my size, it's good to know I could still visit my old haunt, Skate Country, where I spent many a sweltering Tucson summer afternoon skating around in circles between the years 1979 to 1984 (we moved to California in 84, a few days before my tenth birthday.) Skate Country, I don't know when or if I'll ever go to Arizona again, but somehow it's great to know you're still there....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Well-Meaning Strangers, Dead Twice Over

I once saw a documentary about a French photographer whose name I unfortunately no longer remember. What I do remember is that the photographer used a lot of old "found" photographs in his work and that he said something poignantly beautiful about them: "You die twice in life. The first time is your actual physical death, the second time is when someone picks up your photograph and no one can remember who you are."

I've always loved old photographs. As a child, I used to go through the drawer in the den where my grandmother kept them. All these faces, in black and white, apparently ancestors, though all I knew were a few names; Edgar Poe Swarthout, great great grandfather Robinson, little Edna who someday would be my great grandmother. But did I really know who any of these people were? If I saw them on the street, I would never recognize them. They belonged to me, somehow, and yet I didn't love them.

When I was a teenager, I started collecting old photographs myself, photographs of strangers. Most of them I bought in a musty old junk shop in Berkeley near Bancroft Avenue. I would browse through the boxes of old albums and pictures until I found one that somehow spoke to me. I still have all of these photographs in an ancient ziploc bag, mixed in with some from my own family.

When I separated from my first husband, before I found the courage to finally leave, I subletted an apartment from a morbid, chain-smoking poet on Wissmannstrasse in Neukölln. I cleaned his apartment (probably the first time in at least ten years- he was neat, but everything was so dirty), wiping yellow nicotine muck from the windows so light could finally enter. For the first time, I put many of my old photographs on the walls, these warm, twice-over dead strangers, staring down at me as though to whisper "You can do it."

When I got the courage and finally left, the bag of photographs disappeared. I looked everywhere, but couldn't find them, sure they had been lost in the move. I mourned their loss. A friend gave me a photograph she had bought in Virginia of an old woman wearing a black hat, the picture mounted on tin. I kept the photograph in the corner of the coal burning stove in my kitchen as a hope that I might someday find new photographs of well-meaning strangers.

When I moved in with my now-husband, already pregnant with our first child, the bag of photographs resurfaced. I found it in a drawer I had searched at least a hundred times and yet I had never found them. This time, I hope they will stay. If they do, someday I will show each one to my daughters and tell them these once were people and now are unknown but that doesn't mean I never loved them.


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