Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 5

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's MENORCA blog from Spain continues...

"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the northern coast, according to Ollie (in a shared line with George), and sure enough I am seeing overcast skies and lush terrain. Once again, I'm in chocolate heaven with what is basically hot drinking chocolate, almost a pudding. Fantastic. This country really knows how to do chocolate! Still trying to get my ear around the Euskera. I can´t quite detect a rhythmic or melodic pattern yet, so it sounds like a rapid jumble of consonants at the moment.

We boarded a bus for Gernika (Guernica in Spanish) today, the symbolic center of Basqueland, and saw 3 important sites that certainly would be a part of Ollie`s heritage. First, the Peace Museum, a theme museum which documents the horrific 1937 bombing by the Nazis and Italians that razed this peaceful Basque village. Visitors are asked to contemplate concepts and tools for conflict resolution, and there are profiles of the world's peacemakers, who get so little coverage compared to the warmakers. My favorite quote: "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" (Isaac Asimov). See this inspiring place at

Next stop: the Assembly House and the Tree of Gernika. Since the Middle Ages, the 7 Basque territories have each sent representatives here to uphold the ancient fueros (laws), many of which were quite progressive for their time and would have directly conflicted with the US Patriot Act. The oak tree is a universal symbol of unity for the Basque people and there is controversy over how it survived the 1937 bombing. But survive it did--very much like the Basques themselves.

So, all this evidence of Basques as a collaborative, peaceable people is a contradiction with the modern image of the violent terrorist Basque nationalist. No wonder Ollie has trouble sorting this out for herself.

Finally, the Basque Cultural museum, where we learned about Basque history, geography, language, sports, legends, Proverbs, and my favorite part: music. Videos of traditional dances were accompanied by flute and drum songs, so I heard the sound that according to the script should begin and end the play. I learned that Ravel was Basque, and now "Bolero" makes so much cultural sense to me (dominant flute and drum.)

Ended our Guernica visit with another pintxos crawl, featuring slightly different(more Basque?) cuisine. OMG--I think I ate octopus. Or squid. Or anemone. All 3 are popular. I chewed through a little suction cup thingy......but mild tasting. These pubs and stores all play American pop music, so we're eating these exotic things but hearing Beach Boys and Whitney Houston. Back to Bilbao on a very efficient bus, and then we fell asleep watching a televised pelota match. Tomorrow: our dinner with the Basques!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 4

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's MENORCA blog continues... Basqueland

"Now that I´ve learned about Ollie`s work life, it´s time to learn about her personal background. So it´s off to her childhood home around the Pyrenees: Basque country. We bid farewell to Antoni, our Menorcan host in Ciutadella, and drove to see the only part of Mahon I´ll get to: the airport. While there, I stepped onto a scale in the Farmacia and was horrified to learn that I now weigh a 5-digit number: 65,700! Too many Trufo bars and ensaimadas! Luckily my husband calmed me down by converting that awful kilo number back to the 3-digit lbs I´m used to, and since I wasn´t in the "Obesidad" column on the slip, I thought it would be a really good idea to try a chocolate croissant. The best one of my life! Good thing there is so much walking involved in these cities, or I won´t fit into my costumes...

Arrival in Basqueland brought signage with Spanish and Euskera, and temperatures that are 10-15 degrees cooler than Menorca. We checked into a plush hotel that was once the headquarters of the Republican Basque government, and a favorite of Hemingway, Bacall, Ava Gardner, and many famous bullfighters. Probably says something about Spain´s current economy that we can afford this place, which costs less per night than a lesser quality room in downtown Evanston.

At night, we ventured out to the charming Casco Viejo (old town)and did the wonderful tradition of txikiteo (pub crawl) that features Rioja wines and a dazzling array of pintxos (tapas.) We got the hang of it quickly: step right up, order your beverage, and choose 4 or 5 pintxos. Stay about 15 minutes, remember how many pintxos you had so you can pay the bill (about 10 euros for bevs plus the tapas--couldn´t even get two glasses of wine for that in Chicago, let alone these gorgeous, delectable works of art with cod, pork, olives, quesos, mushrooms, and other unidentifiable things--we think we might have eaten some baby squid legs)and then you´re off to the next bar. The whole ritual is so enjoyable and efficient. Napkins are to be thrown on the floor in order to keep the bar clear for the next patron, since the turnover is so fast. We hit 4 bars in rapid succession, and in the last one, my friendly husband asked the woman next to us if she was Basque--and she said yes and excitedly began speaking to us in good English. She introduced us to her brother and mother (whose birthday they were celebrating) and took us to a 5th bar to sample a particular kind of wine that her family grows. By the end of the evening, we had an invitation to visit their vineyard and have dinner on Thursday at their traditional Basque home, which has a name, just as Ollie describes in our script. Jackpot! We are in for a very authentic experience. I am so excited and awed by the kindness of these strangers (to paraphrase Tennessee Williams) and our new friend told me that it´s important to her that we have a good time in Basque country because even in the south of Spain, Basqueland is considered by many to be filled with terrorists, and not a nice place to live. So she is deeply appreciative of our interest in Basque culture and, I think, our potential as ambassadors. I´m glad to oblige! Tomorrow: deeper into Basqueland."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 3

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio continues her journey in Menorca researching her role for Menorca...

"This morning, our last full day in Menorca, we walked around the city centre. These narrow cobblestone streets are where the fiesta de Sant Joan took place 3 weeks ago, so it was great to take in this exact locale and picture the horses, revelers and bonfires which are part of the world of our play. At the shops, I was able to get some items that might make great props for the show (with our propmaster´s approval, of course.)

The 12th century cathedral (mostly Gothic) intrigued me, not only with its beauty and the organ recital we stumbled upon (Mozart on a 2,347 pipe organ is pretty magnificent!), but because, like Menorca itself, the cathedral has been looted and nearly destroyed many times, all the way up to the Spanish Civil War. So the decor is a hodgepodge of time periods and styles in the same way that Menorca contains such a diverse combo of elements from its history of domination and surrender to the Turks, the Moors, the Brits, the French. I see now that Menorca is the perfect backdrop for a play whose themes include misplaced cultural identity and boundaries.

In the afternoon we drove to the southern coast and the sparkling waters of Cala en Turqueta, a gorgeous cove beach that was about 40% topless (don´t ask--I´m not telling.) Also had a wonderful ensaimada from the oldest bakery on the island, and am continuing my love affair with the Trufo bar (the creamiest ice cream bar I´ve ever had---nuevo flavor "choc-orange"! For dinner, we opted for modern Menorcan cuisine, including more Menorcan gin and some tasty mozzarella and pinons (pine nuts.) Struck up a conversation with the table next to us, and voila! met my first Basque, a lovely 20 something French Basque woman who spoke excellent English and whose favorite shows are "Dexter" and "True Blood" (ah, the things we export!) She and her brother were taught some Euskera in school, but her mother doesn´t speak it, and her grandmother still feels the shame and secrecy brought on by the Franco regime´s cruel banning of the language. This attitude is depicted in one of Ollie´s monologues. I asked her if I look at all Basque, and to my delight she said, "Oh, definitely. Except for the nose--Basques have a hump on the nose, like a beak." This is not a feature I plan to acquire for the show, although that kind of thing won Nicole Kidman an Oscar....

Only one disappointment as we leave Menorca: no sightings of the famed Menorcan horse which is so central to the culture and to our play. As one tourism brochure put it, this exquisite breed is "a means by which to understand our history, our present and future, which we share with a character who has the leading role: the horse." We made several attempts to schedule equestrian shows, peered eagerly into fields, even drove to a stable, but to no avail. So, I´ll have to rely on the many beautiful photographs I´m bringing back with me, and fill in the rest with my actor imagination in order to do Ollie´s Act 2 monologue justice. Tomorrow: on to Basqueland!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona:Day 2

Written by actress Kirsten D'Aurelio currently traveling in Menorca...

"Today was the big day for archeological ruins, to immerse myself in the world of the play and in Ollie´s profession. First we saw a well-preserved naveta (collective burial tomb) and then a second site with the mysterious structures of taula and talayot, thought to be a religious structure and a watchtower, respectively. Then a short drive (everything is a short drive on an island that is only 40km wide) to the Ecomuseo de Cavalleria, on which the play is based. We met the founder, two senior assistants, and about a dozen students (mostly American and Canadian.) I got to hold lots of artifacts: a skull, bones, a handle of a pitcher, Roman glass shards,and small pieces of pottery. The students are working to do the detail work of excavating the vertebrae of what they believe to be the remains of a 3year old child. We had a fascinating interview with one of the archaeologists from the British Isles, who was so knowledgeable and gave me lots of insights about the mindset and lifestyle of an archaeologist. We learned how to identify a skeleton´s gender based on pelvic and cranial structures---fascinating! Due to the 37degree celsius heat and the World Cup match, there was no live excavation to observe today. But we were able to wander the dig site and see where the artifacts (often an entire basket a day)have been unearthed. Afterward, we drove up to the Cap de Cavalleria and the desolate area surrounding it and the lighthouse. Evening brought tapas and watching Spain win the World Cup! Lots of happy Spaniards, firecrackers, and cheers of ESPANA!!! Tomorrow:in search of the Menorcan horse."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kirsten's MENORCA blog.... writing from MENORCA!

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio has just began an amazing adventure. In preparation for her role as Ollie in Robert Koon's MENORCA (beginning Sept 9) she has traveled to Spain. She will be sending us her journal and we will be posting them here. Here is Number 1. Enjoy!

"Got to Menorca easily and safely.Last night went to a minor fiesta for St.Christopher in Es Mijorn Gran and met Lana, who is one of the people in charge of the Ecomuseum. We got to stroll the cobblestone streets covered in palm leaves, eat some traditional baked goods (including the popular ensaimada!) and got our first sampling of Menorca gin (excellent--sweet tasting)in Britain´s legacy to Menorca: pomade (gin and lemonade.) Been navigating the maddening streets of Ciutadella, with me driving a stick shift for the first time in 15 years! Lots of Catalan spoken here and even on the international flight, where safety instructions were given in English, Catalan and Castillian Spanish.

So I'm hot on the trail of Ollie´s many languages. To get along,though, been hauling out some of my French and even Italian sometimes to cover my lack ofCatalan, but of course the most successful interactions are happening in the universal language of pointing and pantomime...

Today we visit several archeological ruins. Tonight we find a bar to watch the World Cup with the very excited locals, who have even shortened their time at the archaeological dig today so they can watch the match. The adventure has begun!"