Street Performers In Paris

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Paris’ constant flow of new eyes (and wallets) makes the streets a popular, promising performance venue.  Paris has lots of great street performers.  Even the less great ones were entertaining.   I had lots of fun taking pictures.  Amusez-vous bien!DSC_0544_2 DSC_0545_2 DSC_0547_2 DSC_0032_2 DSC_0033_2 DSC_0034_2 DSC_0039_2 DSC_0311_3 DSC_0337_3

 

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La Scala, Where The Fat Lady Sings

 

 

 

 

 

“The opera ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.”  Dan Cook (or Yogi Berra, depending on which version of the story you believe)

I grew up in a family of opera fans.  We named our pets after characters in operas.  As a result, I can’t even remember how young I was when I first heard of La Scala.  When we saw the outside, I thought “this is it?”   When it was built in 1778, it houses on the then-narrow street made it impossible to admire the façade. My dad never would have forgiven us if we didn’t do the tour, so we did (and picked him up a little something from the gift shop).  It was impressive.  Note: they want you to purchase the guidebook in the gift shop so very little is labeled in English and almost nothing is put in context for those unfamiliar with opera. Luckily, I’d absorbed enough by osmosis to recognize and understand the significance of some of the more important objects.  Opera lovers will be enthralled.  

Although they say no pictures,  groups of tourists happily snapped away at every available opportunity.   I snapped a few for you, although I tried to be discreet about it.  I didn’t use a flash and even made him cough to cover up the sound of the shutter clicking.  Watch out Boris and Natasha, there’s a new secret agent on the loose.  Actually, judging from the quality of the photos, your jobs may be safe.

The interior is amazing. Opulent and elegant, it is everything that such a legendary and prestigious place should be.  Charlotte has a nice theater and I “make” him go to the opera every year whether he likes it or not.  It’s good for him and the cheap seats aren’t much more than a movie.  Although Charlotte’s and many other theaters are larger, La Scala blows them out of the water. Check out the royal box.  Can you imagine seeing a show from there?  Can you imagine the hijinks that box has seen? Unfortunately, La Scala was bombed during WWII. Highlights of the museum include: The death masks of famous composers like Giuseppe Verdi Franz Lizst’s piano Toscanini‘s baton Verdi’s top hat, portrait, wives’ portraits, and other miscellany that belonged to or depicted the Costumes Ancient musical instruments

Highlights of the museum include:

  • The death masks of famous composers like Giuseppe Verdi
  • Franz Lizst’s piano
  • Toscanini’s baton
  • Verdi’s top hat, portrait, wives’ portraits, and other miscellany that belonged to or depicted the composer
  • Cool portraits
  • Costumes
  • Ancient musical instruments

Eurowhat? Our Introduction To Eurovision

Most Americans don’t know the Eurovision Song Contest exists.  Most Europeans have watched at least a bit of it.

Eurovision song contest

Eurovision song contest (Photo credit: kjelljoran)

Eurovision is a singing contest started in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world.   It’s a bit like a schlocky, international American Idol in which each country gets to put forth a contestant and they compete against each other.

Developed by the European Broadcast Union, on the belief that music (along with sports) could unite a multi-lingual continent, Eurovision was content for a new technology of television.  Today, participants are broader than just the European Union countries; 43 countries take part.   Switzerland participates although it is not part of the EU.  Former Soviet republics and even Israel participates.  The contest is broadcast further Europe, Arab countries, Hong Kong, India, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and Vietnam all can watch it.  In fact, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched events in the world with audience between 100 million and 600 million internationally.

Each country chooses a singer or band to represent their country and they compete against each other. Residents of a country cannot vote for their own country.  For example, Swiss cannot vote for the Swiss entrant.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - The Eurovision Son...

TV Shows We Used To Watch – The Eurovision Song Contest (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Before the days of internet and cable, Eurovision was huge.  Today, it faces increased entertainment competition has lost some of its luster.  Nevertheless, it is still popular enough that he has learned all about it at work.

Famous Eurovision contestants include:

  • Sweden’s ABBA, who won with Waterloo in 1974.  Olivia Newton John placed 4th that same year.
  • Julio Iglesias placed 4th for Spain in 1970.
  • Israel’s Dana International was the first transsexual to win in 1998.
  • Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 with  “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.
  • In 1997, Katrina and the Waves won with “Love Shine A Light” they are best remembered for their 1985 smash hit “Walking on Sunshine.”
  • Scottish singer Lulu won in 1969, with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang‘. I can’t explain how France, the Netherlands and Spain also won that year.
  • The English group Bucks Fizz won in with the song “Making Your Mind Up” and their whip-off skirts.
  • Sandie Shaw who sang “Puppet on a String” (we’d never heard of it).
  • Engelbert Humperdink‘s “Love Will Set You Free” is the UK’s entry this year.  I think my dad may have an album of his from the 60’s tucked away somewhere.
Dana International

Dana International (Photo credit: Daniel Kruczynski)

Songs with overtly political messages are banned. Notable songs that premiered at Eurovision include:

  •  “Nel blu dipinto di blu,“ better known as “Volare“ (it didn’t win)
  • Toto Cutugno‘s “Insieme“, is a song that many Germans still know by heart.
  • You might remember Gina G’s 1996 dance-pop entry for the United Kingdom, “Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit.”
  • Luxembourg’s France Gall‘s 1965 song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” was a sensation.  Written by famous French singer Serge Gainsbourg, it became in international hit.  It was one of the handful of Eurovision songs that radio stations played and people bought.

Some countries tend to do well:

  • Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins with seven.  The even won three consecutive times in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
  • FranceLuxembourg and the United Kingdom are joint second with five wins.  Nevertheless, Brits have generally prided themselves on not taking Eurovision seriously and often strike out.  It was still poplar viewing in the UK, due in large part to the Terry Wogan‘s cynical commentary.  He barely suppressed guffaws over the quality of the acts/presenters and the kitsch.  Outraged at the politics behind the scoring system he stopped in 2008 and vowed never to return.

The scoring/winner is likely to change as blocs of countries have started banding together to vote one of their region a winner.  This has lead to frustration about the winner’s worthiness.  Andrew Lloyd Webber even visited Moscow met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ask him to call on all East European countries to refrain from block-voting for each other.

Partisan voting doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon, Cliff Richard‘s second-place finish in 1968, its now attributed to direct intervention by Spain’s then-dictator, General Franco.

A map of Europe showing how many times each co...

Historically, some countries have done poorly:

  • Until Finnish band Lordi won with their rock song “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006, Finland had participated since 1961 but never even made it into the Top 5.
  • Norway has scored no points in four separate contests.
  • Austria, Finland, Spain, Switzerland aren’t far behind with three null’s.

Many self-respecting musical acts stay away to preserve their dignity.   Garish outfits are mandatory and gimmicks used in the contest include:

  • In 2008, Russian entrant Dima Bilan sang “Believe” while Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko ice skated.
  • Ukraine’s Kseniya Simonova‘s sand-painted  clouds, planets and angels in sand while singer Mika Newton howled into a wind machine.
  • A Moldovan act once included a woman dressed as a fairy on a unicycle and digital gnomes flying across the stage’s LED screen.
  • Sweden’s Eric Saade smashed through a glass door onstage.
Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing ...

Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 final on 14 May 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Boy band Blue (kind of like the Backstreet Boys) was big in the 90’s.  They staged a comeback in Eurovision, while it brought them some attention, it didn’t result in the desired comeback.
  • Turkey’s Sertab Erener sang  “Every Way That I Can” (a song about a woman in a harem in the 19th century, who wants to win back a Sultan that had expelled her) with a troupe of belly dancers performing enthusiastically.
  • This year, Russia’s song is from Buranovskiye Babushki a girl band whose name translates to the Buranovo Grannies.  These singing grandmothers from the Udmurt Republic have an average age in the 80’s.  Two years ago, they failed to qualify with the hip hop produced track “Dlinnaja-Dlinnaja Beresta I Kak Sdelat Iz Nee Aishon.” This translates into “Very Long Birch Bark And How To Turn It Into A Turban”.
  • Austria’s entry this year is by Trackshittaz.  I’m not kidding.  That’s really their name. They have dancers with their buttocks highlighted with fluorescent paint.  Again, I’m not kidding.  I couldn’t make that up.  They have promised to “learn a little bit of English” before the contest.  Will this lead to a name change?
  • Montenegro’s Rambo Amadeus‘ (no joke) song has a video in which he surprises two topless women with a donkey.

Azerbaijan won the contest last year so they have to host this year.  Countries have been known to put forward a lamentable contestant to avoid the expense of putting on the contest the next year.  Yes, Ireland I’m looking at you.

Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival

We love to see live music and summer music festivals are big in Europe.  In January, we started looking at lineups and chose Groezrock Festival in Meerhout, Belgium as our first festival.  It had a fantastic lineup.  I am sure that many people don’t know these bands, but believe me when I tell you fans of punk rock are astounded by the sheer volume of great bands playing this festival.

Essentially, Groezrock is a giant music festival with four stages in the middle of fields in Flanders.  You bounce around between four stages (one of them acoustic) catching great music.  There were so many good bands that it was difficult to choose between several bands that were playing at the same time.

Arriving at the Main Stage where we saw the Menzingers. When you see the crowd surfing, you will understand why I didn’t bring my camera and only had my iPhone.

Unfortunately we arrived too late to catch Authority Zero.  The Menzingers had already taken the stage and were a great surprise.  We’d heard of them, but hadn’t seen them before.  Their music was strong and they sounded great.  We’ll definitely be buying their album now.

The Bouncing Souls on the acoustic stage

He is a huge Bouncing Souls fan.  We caught their acoustic set.  I think everyone tried to fit into the smaller acoustic tent to see them.  For good reason, they were great.

Reel Big Fish

The Bouncing Souls followed Reel Big Fish on the Main Stage.  I would have paid just to see them back to back!  They both put on great shows and had such a positive vibe. The crowd ate it up.  It was still relatively early and most people had tons of energy.

We didn’t have the best view of Reel Big Fish because we’d stopped to fortify ourselves.  Since we were in Belgium, that meant French Fries with special sauce.  So tasty.  We needed energy to keep from looking like this guy.

Set Your Goals

I’d heard some Set Your Goals on the Radio One Punk Show with Mike Davies.  After seeing them live, we became huge fans.  They were strong.  It was so crowded that I could only catch a glimpse of the stage by climbing the fence surrounding the sound booth.  It looked like joyful mayhem.  He saw guys in banana suits stage diving.

Yellowcard on the acoustic stage

We also caught Yellowcard‘s acoustic set.  He thought they did a good job wanted to see their live set.  It was even better.  Yellowcard was clearly motivated to put on a great show and excited to be there.  They had tons of energy and the crowd got the crowd really into it.

Bouncing Souls

We had such a great spot for Yellowcard that we decided to stay there to catch Face to Face, Lagwagon and Rancid.  It’s easy to forget how many great songs Face to Face has.  Seeing them live reminded me.  We hadn’t bought the album they released last year and will definitely be doing so.  They delivered a solid performance.  I love punk concerts for the energy.  It’s great to be someplace where you are encouraged to feel and move with the music to such an extent.  Face to Face was about our 10th consecutive hour of rocking out and we’d started flagging a bit.  By that point, I was too tired to jump around.

Face To Face

Crowd surfing during Face to Face

Even though it was their second show of the day, Lagwagon had tons of energy.  People were downing energy drinks like water and it showed.  The circle pit was huge and people were definitely rocking out.

Lagwagon

We lost our key.  Oops  We went off in search of it and missed seeing Rancid…again.  Hopefully the third time will be the charm.  Given all the great music we saw, it is hard to be too bummed.

Here are some other acts we missed, but that got great reviews:

Fasnacht (Basel’s Carnival) Is Days Of Fun

On the Sunday night after Mardi Gras, Carnival celebrations (known as Fasnacht) in the Basel area, start at the nearby town of Liestal, with Chienbesen, a huge, bonfire parade.  Fire lights up the cobblestoned streets and cast shadows.  Eventually, participants return to Basel for the famous Morgestraich parade of lanterns through the city centre.  It starts at 4:00 a.m. and continues for several days.

Approximately 12,000 people take part in the festivities!  A Carnival Committee with select Cliques to participate in the celebration.  Each Clique makes giant cartoonish papier-mâché masks, costumes, lanterns and usually a float.  Most Cliques design theirs around a theme.

The streets were already packed when we arrived at 3:20.  We made our way to the center of town, wondering where we needed to go to observe the festivities.  In broken German, I asked someone where to go to see Fasnacht.  They responded “anywhere.”  At the time, I didn’t find it particularly helpful, but they were right.  People line the streets and it wasn’t hard to find the floats.  We wandered up the empty streets, past the sidewalks packed with people until we found an empty space where we could stand.  People who were much better prepared had staked out any and all available high ground from to view the parade.

Right on cue at 4:00 a.m., the parade started.  It was magical, worth the sleeplessness (even while nursing a cold), and something I know we will never forget.  Post-parade, participants and observers alike crowd into bars and restaurants fill Basel’s bars and cafes to warm up, hydrate and fill their bellies.

The streets do not remain silent for long.  The Cliques resume strolling the streets, but in a less organized way following a seemingly random route. This is known as ‘Gässle’. People wander the streets following them.

Although it probably doesn’t have the racousness of Rio’s streets during carnival, it has a cheery, warm, even joyous vibe.

Cliques have to take breaks.  I did a bit of investigation to find out how they keep warm and their energy up.

Not all participants dipped into the sauce.  We saw many children playing instruments and marching.  There were so many of them that we joked flute and drums were the only music instruments taught in Basel’s schools.  Seriously, there were thousands upon thousands of musicians playing those two instruments (and doing it quite well).

There are several more parades during which Waggis throw goodies to the crowds.  Waggis are hardly incognito.  They have gigantic plaster heads with bibulous noses and large frizzy wigs.  They also roam the streets, sneaking up on, chasing people and showering them with confetti (and in some cases stuffing it down their backs).

They only throw single colored, not multi-colored, confetti.  Back in the day confetti sellers decided to only sell single colored confetti so that people could tell if confetti was reused (aka, scooped up off the dirty ground).  Once fresh confetti was easily identifiable, using anything else became taboo.  Confetti sellers are still patting themselves on the back over that one.

Courtesy of badische-seiten.de

Finally, Gugge, a sort of concert by brass bands that morphs into a musical parade, start-up and continue past midnight.  In the evening while the Gugge’s roam the streets, Schnitzelbank singers entertain the revelers with satirical songs and verse about current events in restaurants and bars.

Morgestreich, An Early Morning Parade During Basel’s Carnival Celebration

Basel, Switzerand’s Carnival celebration, Fasnacht, starts with the Morgestraich parade at four o’clock on the Monday morning after Ash Wednesday.  When clocks strike four, the entire city goes black.  When the streetlights go out, a magical atmosphere envelops the city and the tens of thousands assembled to watch gasp.

Lanterns are lit and fife and drum music starts to waft through the streets.  Masked marchers in strange, whimsical costumes, and large caricature heads form eerie processions through the streets.

Each group has their own costume, theme music and immense float-like lantern  (that requires four large men to carry them).

Some marchers carry colorful lanterns attached to the ends of long poles.

Floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads often lampoon regional and national politicians.  Many of this year’s themes were financial.

Although the streets are crowded, the atmosphere is warm, festive and mysterious.  At five o’clock the city lights come back on, marchers and spectators take a break and warm themselves at inns and taverns.  With all the bizarrely costumed patrons, it slightly resembles the bar in Star Wars.

Popular foods include: Basler Mehlsuppe/Carnival Soup (a thick brown flour soup), Zwiebelwähe (onion tart) and Fastenwähe, a caraway-seed pretzel.

Basel’s Carnival festival, Fasnacht, is one of Europe’s top 50 festivals and does not disappoint.  The atmosphere is magical and the experience unforgettable.

Yodel-ay-ee-hooo!

While sitting on the “patio” of this fine establishment in Appenzel, we were lucky enough to hear other patrons yodeling.

Yodel [ˈjəʊdəl] (n) (Music, other) an effect produced in singing by an abrupt change of register from the chest voice to falsetto, especially in popular folk songs of the Swiss Alps.

Courtesy of Yodellier

Yodeling was first developed as a means of communication in the Alps that served to warn a village of danger or other important information about their cows. At the start of the 20th century, it became rather popular, not just kitschy, in the US.  Lots of US singers gave it a go.  Here are some links to YouTube clips of them yodeling:

In 2006, Taylor Ware appeared on America’s Got Talent and made it to the finale.  Some people remember Mary Schneider, the Queen of Australian yodelers from Howard Stern.

Image Courtesy of Pixar and Disney, you too can buy a Yodeling Toy Story Jesse Doll

 

My What a Big Horn You Have

If you have seen a Ricola commercial, you are familiar with the alphorn (aka the alpenhorn). It is a giant horn made of wood. In the 18th century, it was used by shepherds to communicate across mountains. It is still popular there. Like yodeling and the accordion, it is a symbol of traditional Swiss music. In fact, it is the Swiss national instrument.
If you are interested in playing one, you’d better have a good set of lungs. It requires steady power to produce a sound. Not surprisingly, it is loud. Really, really loud.
Here is a link to a WSJ article on new, young stars of alphorn music. They are creating a stir by getting creative with the alphorn. Traditionalists disapprove.
 
 

 

Fete de Geneve – Aka It’s Summer in Geneva, Let’s Party

Switzerland is not exactly known for its warm, sunny weather.  As a result, they celebrate the few minutes of summer they have with the Fete (Party) de Geneve. They have not one, not two, but three different evenings of fireworks over the lake. They have three different stages with live music and other free entertainment. They have lots of food vendors selling food from all over the world. Last, but not least, they have carnival rides (he says Europe has way classier carnies). 

The last set of fireworks will take place tonight. It is supposed to be the best in Europe. It will be an hour long, take place over the lake and be coreographed to music. After the fireworks, on one of the stages will be, gasp, Johnny Hallyday. Some Americans may ask “who is Johnny Hallyday?” Not me. He is my host dad’s favorite singer so I have been a fan for almost 20 years. I can even sing some of his songs. Tonight, I am going to try to make him go with me to see Johny Hallyday.

Johnny Hallyday drank an 'incredible' amount of alcohol doctors said.
Photo from Getty Images*
Photo taken by Ed Alcock for the New York Times**

Johnny Hallyday is a French icon, but some things do not translate easily. For example, Americans have difficulty understanding the French love of Jerry Lewis. It was explained to me that he was, he is, the French version of Elvis. I only became a fan when he was older. He has been around so long I think of him more as the Wayne Newton or Tom Jones (with way more hits) of France (he now is worth so much that he has obtained Swiss citizenship). That could have something to do with the fact that he looks like he as had a bit of plastic surgery. In any case, he is very talented and it is probably my one and only chance to see him perform.  I must go.

see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/7768014/Johnny-Hallyday-put-in-coma-because-of-incredible-alcohol-intake-report.html
** see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/16/world/europe/16hallyday.html?pagewanted=all