"Man hat mir von einer Krankheit erzählt, die einem das Gedächtnis verlieren macht. Der Tod soll etwas davon haben. Mir gibt das Grab sicherheit, es schafft mir wenigstens Vergessen. Es tötet mein Gedächtnis. Ich kokettiere mit dem Tod . . . "
"I was told once of a disease that makes one lose their memory. Death must be something like that. The grave gives me certainty, it makes me forget. It kills my memory. I'm flirting with death . . . "
Ladies and Gentelmen we are officially in FULL SWING. The last week of rehearsals have been nothing if not intensive, and often explosive. We've made our way through the entire play now and are in that glorious phase of breaking open each individual moment and pushing to find all the different nuances and levels and depths and emotions that can be squeezed out of it. Now that we've got some basic stage pictures in place for each scene, the actors and the directing team have been pulling out all the stops.
Oh, also, what I took for arguments at the beginning of the rehearsal process--that was nothing. This week it game to an actual screaming match. Three or four times. As well as a scene where I'm in a fitting room with a camera while an actor destroys said room with a baseball bat. Literally destroys everything. Or the big confrontation scene at the end of the play where this week one of the actors spontaneously threw off his clothes in a fit of anger and crawled around the conference table like a dog (naked) hiking his leg and pretending to pee on the other actors.
But my favorite moment of all so far, is what I"m calling the Bruce Banner special: in a fit of rage one of the actors (all of whom are wearing black suits) started squirming around in his jacket, then wrenching his shoulders side to side, and eventually bursting through the seams of the garment while growling and clawing his way free. The jacket, thus torn asunder, lay in ribbons at his feet.
What was the result? Well the image was so strong that Nuran decided to keep it. So now the costume department has to figure out a way to let him go HULK on a suit jacket every night without actually destroying one during each performance. Because even the German state theater can't afford to dispose of a half dozen suit coats every week. The line must be drawn somewhere.
The rehearsals have been extremely exciting, but by the end of the week we were all relieved when Nuran decided not to rehearse over the weekend. I used the free time to visit my friends Julian & Sigrun in Tübingen. And after taking a break from our work with the French revolution, I got to check out more of the revolution going on here in Stuttgart on my way to the train station Saturday. The entire city center was closed again, but this time for a Großdemo, a huge protest. In comparison to the Monday demonstrations, the one that took place on Saturday was enormous. And the protest signs were pretty wide-ranging. There were people dancing on the roof of the train station, punks and their dogs being harassed by the Polizei, and trumpets, whistles and drums abounded.
My favorite poster of all however was this one:
which lists off the last two Arabian dictators to fall and the third name is that of Stefan Mappus the Ministerpräsident of Baden-Württemberg. Mappus is the guy in charge here, basically like the governor. These protests will probably have no effect on Stuttgart 21, which has been in process for quite a while and is too expensive/work-intensive to stop now. But, Mappus is up for election again in March, and the protests have taken on the new goal of making sure he does not get voted back in. Which for the reserved citizens of Stuttgart would be quite a revolution indeed.
So with a revolutionary twinkle in my eye, I climbed aboard the train to Tübingen. I had also bought the new Radiohead album, King of Limbs, that morning and loaded it on my ipod. As the train zoomed away the first beats and melodies of Thom and the boys underscored the trip. Reminded me of being on the road almost four years ago as their last album came out while I was on tour. We popped it in and listened to it for the first time while zipping through the mountains of Virginia. As Twain put it, history does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.
Forty-five minutes later and almost exactly as the album ended, I arrived in Tübingen and was picked up at the train station by Julian. We grabbed a coffee and then headed to his house a few kilometers outside of town. There we picked up his lovely wife Sigrun and went to dinner in the next village over to try out some authentic Swabian delicacies:
Afterward we headed back to their place, sipped wine and told stories long into the night. The next morning, after a proper breakfast, we suited up and headed on a day trip through the very foggy German countryside to the town of Frommern. This was the reason for my visit, to come watch the Karneval parade. There are of course huge celebrations in Cologne as well as parades almost every weekend in different towns and villages, but Julian said we should check this one out because its more authentic, folky and the traditions go back hundreds of years.
Friends, what I experienced today was one of the coolest, craziest events I've ever seen:
Karneval is an ancient tradition of banishing the winter that was eventually assumed by the catholic church as a prelude to Ash Wednesday (see Mardi Gras). So each country has their own traditions of how they celebrate excess before fasting. In the Swabian-Allemanian region of Germany where I was participating, the tradition is for men to dress up like witches, and parade around town terrorizing anyone they see. Over the years this has developed into a parade where onlookers come to see the costumes and masks. The masks are all made out of wood and are EXTRAORDINARY:
Every little tiny village (Germ: Dorf) has their own organization, either called a Narrenzunft (a Fool's Guild) or a Hexenverein (Witches Club) that meet regularly and all share the same costume/mask design. This year was the 20th anniversary of the town of Frommern's official parade, and so they had 88 different groups from the area and as far away as Switzerland marching. Each one characterized by extremely elaborate costumes and masks:
Other exciting traditions are that the Hexen (men dressed up as witches) are also allowed to 'steal' young girls from the crowd. This means that the Hexe approaches a young girl and either throws a handful of confetti in her face, screams/tries to scare her, or simply puts her arm around his waist and makes her accompany him in the parade. The girl is not really allowed to say no. This was, of course, hilarious. Other groups had huge carts full of straw that they pushed in front of them, and would grab young girls out of the crowd and dump them in the hay while screaming maniacally:
Or they would spontaneously leap from the street into the crowd to mess up someone's hair or to hand candy to a child, try to spook a child, try to steal your shoelaces (happened to me), put shoe polish on your face, rubber stamp you in the face while pretending to give you candy (happened to me), or otherwise harass the onlookers. It was traditional in medieval times for the Hexen to carry a stick with a pig's bladder on the end, with which they would beat the onlookers. Why a pig's bladder? I have no idea. These days they are not allowed to brutalize anyone with pig parts . . . but they still carry them:
And on and on it went. The masks were so incredible and there were so many of them! Each group had anywhere between 8 and 30 members and each group had their own schtick. Wave after wave of witches and demons and some normal German peasant masks as well flooded past us, harassed us, gave us candy and food and Glühwein straight out of a witch's cauldron. Unbelievable.
After a few hours and over fifty different groups of fools and witches, we decided to head in out of the snow (the weather was less than ideal) and warm up. So it was back to Tübingen for a coffee and then I took my leave of my generous hosts:
Radiohead one more time and back to Stuttgart. I've also discovered a coffee house in my neighborhood that gets everything right. Julius Meinl eat your heart out:
"I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
- John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces