Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Different Fourth of July -- Opera and Ballet in Sofia

It is July 4, our national holiday but there is no talk of the good old USA. 

Here Anita and I are getting on the train to Sofia.  (And I know I'm a bit late getting this blog out...)

There was some acknowledgement to myself and my three friends being Americans by our train companion. 

“Trump is crazy!" she had immediately pronounced. Then she commented on my outstretched legs on my train seat. (Really lady? My legs hurt!). “Americans put their legs up on their desks. We see it in the movies. Bulgarians take their shoes off. On TV Trump puts his feet up!” Then she went on about how difficult it was for a pensioner to live in Bulgaria, even after working as a Math teacher, after dancing in ballet for 20 years. And then showing uncommon interest in us and the fact that we were “pensioners”, pulling from her purse a brochure touting the benefits of an Aloe Vero “Long Life” product. Egads! A multilevel marketing scheme! An American company, no less. Wow – what a way to celebrate our country! After we declined she then asked if we had friends who were parishioners. NO! And she dropped her friendly conversation. 

It’s sad for pensioners here. I see the elderly begging for money, even if offering their picked flowers,  in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. (And am told not to give them my change because the “beggar’s mafia” takes half.) I see too many walking with canes who probably can’t afford knee replacements. Glad I’m American with Social Security and Medicare, to be sure!

Nope. No glorification of the USA Today. No fireworks, BarB Q’s or family gatherings for us.

Instead, in a Sofia’s Opera House I sit through the 5 ½ hour opera, Parsifal, by Richard Wagner. An endurance to be sure! Legs cramped in a low budget seat, butt aching, Act 1 uncommonly slow. The longest Lord’s Supper in history!. Dark, depressing, plodding, with an ill King and lack of governance. My companions bailed at the first intermission. “I’m staying,” I said. “After all I paid  10 good American dollars for it! I’ll walk home alone at 11:30 PM, turning left at the Russian Church and somehow find the hotel.” 

In the line for the toilet, a well-dressed for the Opera Bulgarian guessed that I was American and very generously said, “Happy Fourth of July!” My one and only acknowledgment of the day!

I stretched, enjoyed the extra room afforded by others who had left and thoroughly enjoyed the Act 2. 

Amazing! Parsifal was tempted sensually by scantily glad women all over him, groping, playing, bouncing. The scene was played in the equivalent onstage of a carnival bounce-house. Red inflated rubber filled the stage floor and on this the actors cavorted, fell, crawled and sang. It symbolized earthly temptation.  For Parsifal – sex. For the bad guy—power. For me? Sugar, cravings for recognition and love. All the same. Seductive, alluring and trapping. For America? Consumerism, world domination, rudely putting our feet up on any desk, disregard for the environment…?

Remembering his higher ideals, Parsifal  threw the female temptress into  red rubber folds. 

He dodged and grabbed the Holy Spear and rediscovered his purpose—to return to the King with the Spear and serve the Holy Grail. To find enlightenment through compassion. The triumph of the spirit over flesh, of divine values over the world. Of the need for rulers to be strong and humble, to stress brotherhood and align with the Holy and to perceive their leadership to be spiritual as well as practical. Hmmm... message for America? A freedom from selfishness, egocentricity, cravings for power?

Goodness triumphed in Act 3, after another 30 minute intermission. He returned the Spear, was given the job of leadership and unveiled the Holy Grail, looking up towards heaven for at least 10 minutes while the slow ponderous Wagner music went on and on. (Apologies to any Wagner fans. My first.)

Those who stayed for the finale were in rapture. 

By then I had moved downstairs to the mostly vacated second row. On one side of me a  conductor in training followed the musical score by the light of his cell phone. in A lovely lady on the other side who sings in Opera choruses explained that this Opera House is world famous and that people fly from all over the world once a year to hear Wagner. Maybe she thought that I the American had the good taste to do this? We bonded over talk of gardening. She gave me her email, I exchanged my blog and she encouraged me to have a good journey.

In parting, as I tried to exit on the wrong level,  I told her, "It's already a good journey—I’m already lost! And I gave her Kafka’s wisdom,  "To be free, you have to be lost."

So, my Fourth of July? 

Finding myself with kind Bulgarians and a German composer, having endured, and having seen in a red bounce house the seduction of this world for all of us. America beware! Please choose leaders with high values who can’t be bought --- and we will follow you and celebrate our freedom.

Message about freedom from a 17 year old on the train ride home:

Post script: Zorba the Greek 

The world is suffering. Duh! Whether in the microcosm of a Greek Island, as in the story of Zorba the Greek, with the petty small-mindedness of villagers, the price paid for living independently, or the loss of family and lovers…. A corrupt Bulgarian government, history of wars, poor pensioners and low birth rate. Or the American government (and others) – probable corruption, lack of jobs, student debt, millions to lose medical care, over-consumption and environmental degradation. We suffer. This is the way of the world. 

What does Zorba teach about this “full catastrophe”? Accept it, know it, feel it, grieve it… but don’t end there. Dance it!!! Like the amazing out-door ballet of Zorba the Greek we enjoyed July 5. And no matter what you are dealt you can still dance! It helps to dance with friends and village.

But even if it is an duet or an unwitnessed solo after sadness —Dance! 
Because dance is life and we are alive and we must celebrate that one simple fact!

The ballet needed no words because the story is universal. And the audience enthusiastic! And just as with the opera, the applause lasted 15 minutes. The usual demure head-nod bows. Then the various actors and combinations of actors and chorus and dance troupe coming out over and over – bows getting more dramatic, ending with hands-over-hearts! I asked the lady next to me about the prolonged hand-hurting applause. “Is this a Bulgarian tradition?”   “Yes,” she smiled, “And isn’t it fun!”

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