Nov 30

HuntersBrideThe Hunter’s Bride (Der Freischütz) by Carl Maria von Weber ★★★★★

The Hunter’s Bride (Jägersbraut) was the original title to the opera Der Freischütz, changed to it’s current name by a producer in Berlin to assist in marketing. This film is an example film opera, where the film in performed in realistic settings like the outdoors and in various mansions, but the sound is recorded in the studio to assist in the highest quality. The producer Neubert took many liberties in interpretation. While the traditional seeting of the Freischütz is in medieval Germany, Jens Neubert chose to make the setting of this opera contemporary to von Weber in the early 1800’s in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. This modification from traditional settings actually works quite well.

Von Weber lived in the early 1800’s and followed Beethoven in the musical timeline. He was highly innovative, and served as the transition into Romantic opera, of which Verdi, and even more so, Wagner, owe their original ideas. This is a very German opera and distinctly NOT Italian or French. There is little schmaltz. The story is a battle between good and evil, God and the devil, and the struggle of the characters for moral purity and virtue, of fall and redemption. This opera fits all of the above. It’s a wonderful, though somewhat hokey story. Max needs to perform well in a shooting contest on the day of his wedding to Agathe in order to win Agathe’s hand in marriage. His recent bad luck in shooting contests causes Max to become quite desperate, seeking enchanted bullets to succeed in the shooting contest (Freischütz). The outcome remains for you to watch and see.

This production is quite delightful. The music is superb, and soloists are superb, both in their voice and in their acting. There were only two areas that I would change. The first is a very brief episode of nudity with Agathe, something that did not complement the opera. The second was the bizarre design of Semiel (the devil) in the Wolfschlauch scene. All in all, this was a 5 star production, and well worth watching.

 

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Nov 22

AndersonMarchen

Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★

Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects, and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.

Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

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Nov 13

ChinaBlitz2014-582

Who ever heard of going to China for just 2 days? On this trip, Dr. X. Liao and I left from Seattle at 1300 last Friday, and returned home at 1030 this last Monday. It took 3 days for my brain to de-fog to write this blog. The trip was made possible by a generous benefactor Mr. Lu, who covered the entire cost of the trip, loading us with numerous gifts to take home with us. I had provided care to the brother of the person that made this trip possible, the brother having had a very good outcome from with healthcare with Dr. Liao. Thus, he was interested in establishing a stronger American presence in China for healthcare.

The flight each way was 10 hours, but with the crossing of the date line and 10 hour time zone difference, flying Hainan Airline on a direct flight from Seattle to Beijing, and arriving the next day at 1730. Mr. Lu’s oldest son picked us up at the airport, did tea with us at his office and taught me extensively on the proper handling and brewing of Chinese tea (we had pu-er tea, Betsy’s favorite), and then dropped us off at the train station, which  put us on one of the high-speed trains. We rode business class, which gave us reclining seats and shear luxury. These trains are even nicer than the best trains in Europe–they are really nice. In 1.5 hours, we were in the town of Jinan in the Shandong province, located south and east of Beijing, about ⅓ of the way to Shanghai. Jinan is a smaller little village of only 8-10 million people. Mr. Lu picked us up from the train station, took us out to dinner, and then dropped us off at our hotel, a 5 star hotel (that incidentally, the really good rooms cost the equivalent of about $100/night).

The next morning (Sunday), we had breakfast at the hotel, and then hopped in the car for a sight-seeing tour. About 1 hour drive south took us to Qufu, where we were able to see the Confucius temple.  It was a large compound, a little bit like the Forbidden City, though not nearly as large. Most of the buildings were built starting in the early Ming dynasty (about 1300 ad), though it was the site were Confucius was born and lived many hundreds of years ago during the Shang dynasty.  Sitting beside the temple grounds was the Confucius “Mission”, where about 70 or more generations of families lived after Confucius. The Mormons would like to get ahold of that genealogy!

Dr. Liao, Mr. Lu, me at Confucius temple

Dr. Liao, Mr. Lu, me at Confucius temple

Entrance to the temple

Entrance to the temple

Burning incense to Confucius

Burning incense to Confucius

Leaving there, we visited a university of 10,000 students that was built and funded by Mr. Lu. We toured several of the buildings, which he had built after the style of a European mansion, quite luxurious. We were then to meet the doctor in charge of one of the Jinan hospitals that had been talking with Mr. Lu about the development of an American style clinic for cancer patients. There was an hour meeting where Dr. Liao explained his vision, and the 5-6 hospital surgeons and oncologists listened carefully, asking various questions. After that, we had dinner at our hotel with the hospital surgeons and Mr. Lu’s brother, our patient. Somehow, they manage to find very large round tables, and this one had a motor that slowly turned the large central lazy Susan on which multiple dishes sat. One would take small portions of 20 or more different dishes, giving the diner the opportunity to try multiple things. For me, most of the food was quite unrecognizable, but everything tasted very good. The difficulty that I often have with he more exotic Chinese foods is not with the taste so much as with the texture of the food.  In addition, there are flavors that westerners are quite unfamiliar with, such as that of lotus root. I find that my favorite Chinese foods are the cheap foods that are found on the street at inexpensive restaurants. The fancy restaurants are just too exotic, and I don’t care to eat chicken feet or various forms of slime.

University in Jinan

University in Jinan

Inside of the buildings of the university

Inside of the buildings of the university

After breakfast in the hotel the next morning, we did a tour of several other clinic possibilities, including converting a very nice but underused hotel into a large outpatient clinic, and then driving through a very modern and fancy district of Jinan next to the train station for possibilities. Mr. Lu dropped us off at the train station, loaded with massive amounts of gifts, and we hopped the train back to Beijing. In Beijing, a taxi took us to the airport, and a flight home (in which I slept most of the way) left us in Seattle. We left Beijing on Monday at 5 in the evening, and arrived in Seattle at 10:30 on Monday in the morning–it’s like going back in time, and definitely confuses your internal clock. Mr. Lu’s gifts included 12 very expensive discs of pu-er tea, a number of boxes of very expensive finest Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) tea, also one of my absolute favorites, a tea server (I can’t even tell you what it is, and a photo won’t work, you just need to see it in action), as well as oodles of Chinese candy. For all of his kindness, I dearly hope that I could have been of help to Mr. Lu’s vision.

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Oct 17

Life is a Wheel

By Kenneth Feucht books 3 Comments »

LifeisaWheel

Life is a Wheel, by Bruce Weber ★★★

This book was given to me by my brother Gaylon in order to inspire us to bicycle across the USA someday (soon?).  Bruce Weber is a journalist for the NY Times, and spends most of his time writing the obituaries. He rode his  bicycle across the USA in 1993 as a much younger kid, and now at age 58 has determined to attempt the task again. This time, he will be frequently visited by NY Times personnel to document his trip, and blow-by-blow accounts will be published in the Times.

He takes off from Astoria, riding south, then through the Columbia River valley, up through the Palouse, across Idaho, across Glacier National Park and then northern Montana and North Dakota, descending in Minnesota and Wisconsin into Chicago, boats across Lake Michigan and rides through Michigan down into Indiana and Ohio, slowly weaving his way back to home in New York City.

This book has some strong merit. It definitely put the bug in me to do a trans-America bicycle trip. He relates that as a limited cyclist, he was able to survive nicely during his three months on a bike on the road.

There is more that I disliked about the book than liked.

1. His choice of routes was often very strange, and much different from what I would have done. He spent much time backtracking and traveling in very un-interesting environments. The object of cycling is not to see if you could possibly put yourself to sleep while riding a bicycle.

2. I could tell within the first few pages that Weber was Jewish. I felt like I was reading a bicycling counterpart to Woody Allen, who constantly “somatacized” his problems, and used a shrink in order to resolve those matters. Bruce writes about his health and mental problems almost with a sense of indifference, which is liked by New Yorkers but deeply disliked by me.

3. The diversions from the bicycle riding story were deeply annoying. I didn’t care to spend a whole chapter on his good friend that just died. I wasn’t interested in two chapters of a stupid ride in Viet Nam. I didn’t care about learning in-depth details of mother and father, which didn’t seem to relate at all to the bicycle riding experience. Fortunately, Weber avoids politics for the most part,  but can’t help but suggesting that he is a flaming (and clueless) liberal.

The bottom line is that Weber has provided additional motivation for me to ride across the USA. He has also instructed me to avoid many of the paths that he has taken. He is not a person that I would wish to take a long trip with, or for that matter, even to become a close friend with him. I’m sure he feels the same way about me. Perhaps the book should have been titled “Life is all about me on a wheel”.

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Oct 17

space-trilogy

The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) by C. S. Lewis ★★★

This set of books was read on my iPad. Each book stands distinct from the other two, but need to be read in the order noted in order to make sense. Generally, I tend to give C. S. Lewis a 5-star rating for everything he writes. There is also a 5-star quality to much of what is contained within these stories, but the quality just doesn’t approximate what C.S. Lewis does elsewhere. In brief, Out of the Silent Planet is the most enjoyable read, and contains the most story telling. In this book, the lead character who is found in all three stories, Ransom, is kidnapped by two academic types who figure out how to make a spaceship to fly to Mars. On Mars, Ransom escapes the grasp of the two kidnappers, and encounter many alien types until he finally encounters the answer as to why he was brought to Mars. Mars is a world where the creatures have not experienced the “fall” as Adam and Eve did on earth. Perelandra is the story of Ransom now traveling to Venus, only to encounter one of the two kidnappers from Mars. he also encounters a very distinctly different female, in what amounts to be an pre-fall Adam and Eve story, with the kidnapper as the satanic tempter. In the end, Ransom kills the professorial colleague, and saves the planet. Throughout the first two books, Lewis would make lengthy divergences from the story to allow dialogue of a philosophical nature to transpire. Oftentimes, it is just not fitting, such as at the end of Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is over twice as long as the other two books, and is a story about an academic center in England which sells itself out to outside concerns (N.I.C.E.) and eventually degenerates into auto-destruct mode. This is probably the story closest to reality, in that it seems to be exactly what is occurring today in academia. I’m sure Lewis was writing from personal experience, but turning the experience into a science fiction tale in order point fingers at academia while not directing the criticism to any particular person or institution. This book was also the hardest to read, as it starts very slowly, and if you haven’t read it before, have a hard time determining where the story is leading you.

The philosophic statements in the three books are profound and make this trilogy a worthy read.  Lewis is especially hard on academia, but rightfully so, as he was able to predict where academia was heading and identify the driving factors that cause academia to fail in its mission.

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