Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 8

Second-to-last post from actress Kirsten D'Aurelio...

"We’re back in Catalan territory here in Barcelona, though there are little touches of Basque culture here---mostly bars or restaurants, where the Euskera font is used to draw you in, but the food isn’t really Basque cuisine. It’s just a lure, a way of appearing exotic or something, and a bit exploitative if you ask me, like a Native American at a casino. No Basque flags, no Euskera on the signs here. It’s fascinating how geographically contained Basque culture is; just a short 45-minute flight southeast within Spain and poof! A whole would-be nation has disappeared. Which means that Ollie was an outsider here at 8 years old, and found herself faced with a new language (Catalan.) By the time this play begins, adult Ollie can speak Euskera, Castillian Spanish, Catalan, and English (British, Canadian, and U.S. varieties.)

To get a fast orientation to Barcelona since we’ll only be here 2 days, we hopped on a city tour bus that allowed us to hop on and off as we pleased. First stop: the Joan Miro museum. Really wonderful collection. Then we rode a cable car gondola that took us to the top of Mont Juic (“Mount of the Jews”). Ironically, the 9th century Jewish tombstones that gave this place its name were moved to a museum one year ago, so it’s now really “Mount of No Jews”...But the view from there is stunning, overlooking the whole city, harbor and sea. Barcelona really is a gorgeous city. Back on the bus, we glimpsed the Olympic Stadiums and a cool sculpture by Calatrava. Then a very tall statue of Christopher Columbus on a colonnade near the harbor. It’s interesting how many peoples like to claim him: his native Italians, Italian-Americans, the Basques (who built his ships and sailed with him), the Spanish (who employed him.)

Also saw the stadium complex for FC (Football Club) Barcelona, the city’s pride and joy athletic institution and soccer team. Ollie mentions them in the play.

Got a brief taste of the wonderful Gaudi architecture at the Pedrera house. I’m starting to understand “modernisme” (the Catalan art noveau movement) better, and in general the contributions by Catalans like Gaudi and Miro. Catalans here live inside the city, but are also outside it (one bit of graffiti read “Catalonia is NOT Spain!”) So would Ollie have felt a kinship with Catalans, who have a separate, distinct cultural identity just as the Basques do? Interestingly, there was a “Forum of the Cultures” in Barcelona in 2004 to recognize “nations without states,” and attendees included Basques, Catalans, Native Americans, Roma (Gypsies) and Maoris. A big party for the outsiders.

Late in the day, we wandered the Ramblas, a long pedestrian mall lined with trinkets, trash and tourists, which I found to be crass, commercial and cacophonous (wasn’t happy to see Burger King, McDonald’s and KFC jammed with excited tourists at 1 a.m., either.) But on one side street off the Ramblas, there is a recently-discovered Roman necropolis right in the middle of this commercial district! Not your every day find in modern day Barcelona, and the novelty of this made me wonder how the heck a person like Ollie becomes interested in antiquity (archaeology) when surrounded by so much modernity in a big, up-to-date cities like Barcelona and San Sebastian. Where did her vocational passion come from? Have to figure that one out.
Here are the tombs:

Tomorrow: my last day to soak up sunny Spain, and to find more of Ollie in her childhood city!"

Monday, July 19, 2010

corrections for Chris Jones

Some corrections to Chris Jones review of THIS TRAIN

Dear Chris,

John Rice is the guitar player, the music director and the one who wrote (along with Kat) the music for the song poems that Kat sings.

John did not have his back to the audience the whole time.

That man playing the harmonica was Buzz Kilman as the Hobo Ghost. You could also think of him as Mr Fowler.

The lyrics for those song poems are from Tony's Hobo Alphabet Series of collages. A collage was projected after a story (they go together) while Kat gives voice to the poem within the work of art. Video artist Kristin Reeves focuses our attention onto the detail of Tony's art so we can see the hobo alphabet symbols, poetry, details and objects within his collages. Then she shows the collage in its entirety.

THIS TRAIN was not found. It was deliberately and specifically crafted to give the audience a deeper look and understanding into Tony's work as an artist and a storyteller, along with his day-to-day struggles and shortcomings as a human being who lives, works and participates in our great and complicated city of Chicago.

more later

Bones, Basques & Barcelona: Day 7

Actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's blog researching MENORCA... Day 7

"Devoted the last day in Euskadi (Basqueland) to visiting Ollie´s birthplace: Donostia (also called San Sebastian, in Spanish.) I was eager to see what kinds of formative sights/sounds/flavors might have shaped Ollie as a child. 2 buses got us from Bilbao to Donostia´s Boulevard near the old town, which is chock full of pintxos bars, gelaterias, and bakeries. After a quick breakfast, we strolled along the 2-mile shoreline of the Playa Concha, which has beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the Atlantic Ocean. Less beautiful though is the dingy promenade and the surrounding buildings. A bit like Coney Island--faded glory. For some reason that even the tourist office couldn´t explain to us, there were polizia everywhere, some doing random vehicle checks, and we also encountered some pretty unfriendly merchants in the shops. Are they sick of all the tourists (who apparently comprise 50% of the population at any given time), perhaps? We tried to shake it off by wading into the ocean, but the hypodermic that washed ashore didn´t help matters. What to do? Something that is not deductible on my performing artist tax return: a visit to the fancy beachside spa. 4 pools, 2 saunas, and a relaxation room later, we felt ready to return to the town. I sought out the famous "pastel vasco" (Basque cake), which has been around for centuries. It was oddly-shaped, sort of like a pot pie, but tasted delicious. The ikkariña (Basque flag) was displayed everywhere. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to stop by Bar Herria, a haunt for Basque nationalists, where apparently there are photos displayed of some of the more violent members of the movement, who are currently serving prison terms.

Did a mad dash back to Bilbao to catch our flight only to find it delayed due to the rain in Spain. So all in all, not the best day of the trip. But still some highlights, like the picturesque views of the hills and valleys and the whitewashed, red-roofed Basque houses I could see out the bus window between Donostia and Bilbao. Also a great ariel view of the Pyrenees on the flight to Barcelona tonight (where I am writing this blog entry.) By the end of the day, we will have followed Ollie´s trail on 5 buses, 2 taxis, and a plane---whew!

And what of Ollie today? I came away from Donostia wtih the thought that due to the massive tourism industry in her hometown, Ollie was exposed to lots of people from different places, speaking different languages, different cultural values, etc. San Sebastian today has 180,000 people, so Ollie didn´t grow up in a tiny Basque village like the one we visited last night. She had a big view of the world right from the start, and though she would have had plenty of company as an "euskal herria" (speaker of Euskera), she was living in a place where other cultural identities were alive and well. Was that environment enough to cement her Basque identity, or did it leave a window open for questioning who she was? At 8 years old, she would move to an even bigger place--Barcelona--with her family, so that´s where I´m headed now to see where she finished growing up. Tomorrow: Barcelona!"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bones, Basques and Barcelona: Day 6

Day 6 of actress Kirsten D'Aurelio's trip to Spain to prepare for her role as Ollie in MENORCA...

"Took some time away from show research to visit Bilbao´s pride and joy: the Guggenheim. Fantastic. Shimmering. Sculpture within sculpture. For a Chicagoan, seeing designs by Gehry, Kapoor and Calatrava is a very familiar experience, so that makes Bilbao truly feel like a sister city. I love it here.

But in the evening it was back to the show. We were treated to 4 hours of incredible hospitality from our new Basque friends, Itsaso and Egoitz. (These are older Basque names that are being revived by the parents of the post-Franco generation. Itsaso means "sea.") They picked us up at the hotel and we took a scenic drive out to their farm in Laudio, about 30 minutes outside Bilbao. Their traditional etxea (house) has been in the family for 150 years, and its name and family crest are prominently displayed over the door, just as Ollie describes in the script. We met an aunt, grandmother (88 años)and Dad. Beside the house is a vegetable garden, and lots of roosters. Down a short path, the family´s vineyard appears---4 hectares worth. We got a tour of the winery, and Itsaso and her dad explained the process with the vats and showed us the labeling and corking machines.

Then the fiesta! We drank the lovely wine, of course---a white variety called txakoli--and Egoiz cooked for us. Our meal: deep-fried pig´s blood cubes (very good if you follow Itsaso´s advice and don´t think about it too hard), tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette), fresh (from their garden) green peppers with coarse salt, bread, and some chocolate candies we had brought as a gift from Gernika. Delicious! Served informally on napkins with toothpicks for utensils. The weather was perfect,and we were joined by 3 more friends as well. So the 7 of us had a lively conversation about gender roles in Basque life, politics, Basque culture, music. Some struggling to understand each other at times, but Itsaso´s great English saved the day (and her Spanish-English dictionary, which enabled us to look up harder words like¨"wild boar", "partridge", "woodcock", "criminal", and "stubborn".)So grateful to Itsaso for all her translating. 4 hours must have been exhausting, though we all tried to help by being enormously expressive and pulling on the little Spanish and cognates my husband and I knew.

Some ideas: there is displeasure that, especially by Spaniards in the south, the Basque country is perceived as a dangerous place, since in reality there is so little crime and the terrorism has been so infrequent and small-scale (esp. compared to 9/11, as one person pointed out.) It´s true--we´ve felt perfectly safe here even at midnight on the Gran Via, and there are no partitions between driver and passenger in the cabs as there are in Chicago and NY and other US cities. There´s a feeling that politicians use the terrorists as a dodge for talking about real problems, such as drunk driving and domestic violence. Sound familiar?

What about a separate Basque nation, we asked? Not much interest in our group. They feel solid in their identities as Basques (their primary identities) and feel very content with their lives. Securing a nation isn´t a priority for them, and they consider themselves apolitical (like Ollie.)

Speaking Euskera outside of Basqueland? This would provoke curiosity, they said, but not necessarily disdain.

Female power? Lots of spontaneous discussion about this. Women rule the home and family in Basque culture. But they cannot inherit the legacy homes, and they aren´t always paid equally in the workplace or represented in political bodies. Despite this, Basque women are considered to be very independent, especially compared to other Spanish women as a whole. They have jobs, own property, delay motherhood. We were told repeatedly that Basque women have this very strong, indepdendent character, and that their men aren´t threatened by that, including the possibility that a woman would earn more money. This is a lot for me to think about as I consider Ollie´s relationships to the men in the play.

All of these serious themes were interspersed with guitar playing and loud singing (including La Bamba and "Don´t Worry, Be Happy.") As if all of this weren´t enough, Itsaso very graciously agreed to read Euskera words and even an entire English monologue from the script into my digital tape recorder, so I have fantastic source material now to design my dialect for Ollie.

One final treat on the way home: a stop at a scenic overlook for a fabulous view of Bilbao at night. Reminded me of Mulholland Drive in L.A. What an incredible, authentic experience! I feel so fortunate.

Tommorow: to Ollie´s birthplace!"