Monday, November 29, 2010

November in Gerolstein

Spring gives place to summer, and Gerolstein is a blaze of colour ... the gardens which Wendy tended during the winter are now bursting with flowers, the rose bushes heavy with blooms, and our friend the peacock adds his bit to this crazy rainbow of colours as he strides across the lawn, usually in search of a vacant fence post on which to perch…

The babies are born, and frolicking in the paddocks... comical Thomas, of course, frolics highest …

the mares are reinseminated, and hopefully all four in foal .. the sunshine beats down … that dreadful breed, the New Zealand shoddy workman, has done its worst and been sent on its way … the earthquake commission stays resolutely silent … and once our reliable fencers, tree-trimmers and road-menders have been, hopefully that will be it for the year.

As for the racing game, yes, we have been off to the races, and this last fortnight the lovely Elena – in foal, all being well, to Royal Mattjesty -- has given us a pair of thrills with a dashing front-running fourth at Timaru, and a very fine, solid finish for third in a sixteen-horse field (she was 14th favourite!) at Geraldine.
Little sister Agnes (below) has made her first appearances on our home track,

and the final member of my NZ racing team, Fritzl, yesterday visited the beach for the first time in the hands of Lawrence (McCormick), now ‘by appointment’ the race-day driver of my horses here.

Off the property, and away from the sporting field, I made my visit to NASDA and spent a day with the young men and women of the second and third years classes during what was the last week of their term. We had an enjoyable and, I hope, instructive time as I put them through their paces before saying ‘goodbye’ to the graduating students, and ‘see you soon’ to the about-to-be-third-years, with whom I shall have another and more advanced session once the new term starts, in 2011.
Needless to say, I saw some interesting talent. And, no, I’m not putting the ‘results’ down here. They have gone, privately, to the school’s principal with whom I shall rendez-vous over the holidays to chat some and to plot future doings …

However, not all is sunny, winning, pregnant and well. Dear mother has been severely unwell and in hospital, and I myself am locked in battles with bureaucracy. To wit, the British pensions department (I am due mine in February), who simply don’t answer letters or questions, and the US Visa department, who insist that I fly to Auckland to be ‘interviewed’, before getting a stamp to allow me to change planes, or even dock, aboard my ship, in their country. The world has gone mad. Why don’t they just look me up on Wikipedia? That’s what their President would do…
And then there is the FDC (I should be sued for ‘disrepute’ if I de-acronymed), commonly known as the stipendiary stewards of the NZ Harness Racing Organisation. I hear their ranks are to be severely revamped. Good. Let’s hope their ‘rules’ and code of behaviour are too. For the present ones are so ridiculous as to inspire not one ounce of respect.

Oh … Ship? Yes, I have found one. And though I’m bound to repeat that flight from New Zealand to Berlin in April, I shall return south in August on the comfortable waves, in the owner’s cabin of the French cargo ship, Manet … ah! civilised travel again.

And now its outside, to shovel some civilised horse manure and pull some weeds. Whilst back in Berlin Paul is preparing for the launch of his record, PGB is rehearsing his new musical, Thomas Z has just opened his, Thomas H is zinging between stage and screen, Olli is off on tour in Russia and Vienna, and Kevin is launched upon a new journalistic job and completing his history of gay pornography..
And I? I am pulling weeds in the southern sunshine. I know they are all much younger than I, but sometimes I wonder if I did right to withdraw from the world of artistic action so completely. Well, come April I will be back … and come April, Berlin will no longer be shivering in the snow…
For now, I pull weeds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Curtains" for Kander and Ebb

In forty years of attending musicals all round the world, I have been to the theatre in Christchurch just five times. Last night was the fifth. Back at the old Theatre Royal where, in 1968, I sang Madama Butterfly with the New Zealand Opera. The piece of the evening was entitled Curtains, and the once well-known names of Messrs Kander, Ebb, Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes were attached to it. I am told it has run for more than two years on Broadway, which doesn’t speak very well for the taste and brainpower of Broadway. Curtains is a weak concoction of theatrical clichés, borrowed from ancient here and there, which bases itself on the oldest cliché in the book: a show about a show. This one is so evidently put together with an eye to being ‘commercial’, that the writers –- in their devout commercialness -- have omitted to include wit, humour, style and melody, and left themselves only with a series of achingly old-hat items, such as a pale burlesque of Oklahoma!, set amongst a parade of copycat ‘period’ dances and songs and of cardboard characterisations. Is this to what Broadway has come? No wonder American producers rush to mount pop pasticcios and kiddie spectaculars. No wonder I and my colleagues and friends no longer make the pilgrimages to New York that we did in the seventies and the eighties. This is the sort of unimaginative pap that certain publishing houses, in the mid 20th century, used to turn out especially for country amateur groups. And this from the writers of such pieces as Chicago and Drood. Or, perhaps more pertinently (‘original book and concept by’), the man responsible for imposing Sugar, My One and Only and Titanic on us. We have had the stunning City of Angels, we have had the delightful Something’s Afoot, and we have had the splendid Drood in the realm of ‘murder mystery musicals’ … why do we have to have Curtains which does – or tries to do – something of the same with so very much less skill and sophistication? If the show itself is poor stuff, the performance – by the final year students of NASDA, New Zealand’s premier musical theatre institution -- was splendid. The five leading players made the most both of the lines they were given and of the songs and dances of the unmemorable score. James Norris made a delightfully Huckleberry Houndish detective, laid back and lovable, gently and ganglingly comical, and both attractive and effective in song and dance. If the book provided little suspense in his predictable love affair with his Niki (Stephanie Wood) and even less in his tracking down of the oh-so-obvious murderer, he nevertheless managed to keep the character doodling along very firmly at the centre of affairs, himself as the focal point of the show, and the audience actually interested in what was going on. Quite a feat. Alexandra McKellar as the heavy lady sang strongly and pointed her one-liners with swingeing vigour, Abigail King as the leading lady showed up with a most delightfully flowing singing voice, Miss Wood’s ingénue (the character most deprived of decent material) was all an ingénue should be, and Simon Paenga displayed a splendidly ringing baritone voice in the rather limp part of the show-within-a-show’s composer. Some of the evening’s best moments came, however, in the performance of the concerted music. These pieces were so well sung that one could momentarily stop saying to oneself: ‘oh yes, that’s a copy of 42nd Street, that’s a copy of…’ and just lean back and enjoy the singing. Next week, I get to meet these young people properly and to spend a little time working with them. I am looking forward to that very much … We shall spend our time together, I hope, on some rather better stuff than Curtains.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gerolstein in Spring

A month now I’ve been back at Gerolstein…
A whole springtime month, filled with the usual kind of spring cleaning, and of course the springtime arrival of the year’s quotient of foals..
The spring cleaning this year has been a little different from the usual … the earthquake left us with no water (temporarily), no sewage, and problems with various drains which, alas, New Zealand workmen seem congenitally unable to work out. Yet still expect to be paid for their failures.

In spite of these little problems, Gerolstein in the spring time greeted me looking as lovely as ever ... one of the first things did was go out and photograph the place, to send to my friends in autumnal Berlin …

The outstanding event of spring is always, however, the ‘little strangers’. It was Sally who foaled the first this year (sire: P-Forty Seven) .. a beautiful little bright boy, whose birth was duly celebrated with pink champagne and who, thus, simply had – for obvious reasons -- to be christened ‘Thomas’ in honour of the two Thomases of Berlin. Thomas is now four weeks old and a joy. He doesn’t walk or run like most foals do ... he bounces. He leaps. And when I tried to photograph him with his mother, he growled and scowled: ‘protecting mother from the paparazzi’ I labelled the resultant picture. Unfortunately, when it was published, my caption was replaced with something less imaginative.

Duchess foaled exactly one week later. And two weeks early. The reason was undoubtedly the size of her Love You foal … Anna was so tall and leggy that for the first day she had enormous trouble getting to her feet to feed. We had to go out every hour and encourage her. Her struggles unfortunately caused ‘bedsores’ and grazes on her legs, so Anna had her first visit from the vet, and now sports a big protective bandage. But, within a few days, her strength grew sufficiently to allow her to sit and stand reasonably elegantly, and to hoon around the paddock with mother..

Gerolstein has a third foal this year, for one of our boarders, Gracie, also produced – with a certain amount of difficulty -- a tiny bundle which doesn’t seem yet to have been given a name. The little filly has had a difficult start to life, but seems to be coming along all right …

The racing scene has been a little less joyous. Elena has run twice: once rather well (5th) and once not so well, and doesn’t seem to be able to recapture the flair of her first run of the season. But maybe she has other things on her mind. Elena has always been the cluckiest lady on the farm and, since I promised her a baby if she won a race – which she has – this week she will be put in foal to Royal Mattjesty. She will run out her racing career as a slightly pregnant lady, and next year she will be able hopefully to cluck over a baby of her own.

With spring, too, our lovely pet peacock has returned from his winter wanderings, and I was woken this morning by his counter-tenorial vocalisms. His favourite perch is the railing outside my bedroom window .. how not, then, be reminded of the song of the immortal Montmorensy about the crow who sang ‘art, art, art’ ..’outside my window’?
‘No, no, I want to sleep some more, please go! .. ‘Looked through my window, couldn’t see the crow, though I could see the day, fine, shining and mine to share…’

Yes, there it is. The day. And the farm … and a heap of farmerish things to do .. so off I go…