Friday, June 30, 2006

Summer Shostakovich (Part One)

The lesser-known works of Dmitri Shostakovich provided a fitting soundtrack to the surreal setting. Simultaneously magnificent and strange -- almost too nebulous for words... yet singing to be heard.

Marci and I were charmed by the idea of a sunset performance of classical music in the park, following our electric candle-lit dinner at an Italian trattoria just off the Leidseplein. We rode slowly to the heart of Amsterdam's Vondelpark and entertwined our bicycles together in a steely embrace against a green barricade before walking trepidly, arms likewise entertwined, toward the concert venue.

I had never considered the angular half-shell amphitheater to be especially noble, but the golden glow of the sunset gave it a certain if unfamiliar dignity in spite of the faded grafiti and in spite of (or because of -- I can't make up my mind which) the ecclectic audience which was assembling. At the outer extremity of the listening area, steel platforms and picnic tables made up the balconies where amiably-inebriated locals coiffed another pilsner or sipped another glass of cabernet. Aluminum bleachers comprised the mezzanine, where cautious tourists and twittering teenagers soaked up the last rays of sunshine that managed to escape the leafy boughs of oak and elm, past the fountain and over the pond to provide the day's last vestiges of warmth and pigmentation. But Marci and I chose for the main level -- toward the front -- in full view of the stage and comfortably accommodated by collapsable wooden chairs.

Two thick-boned middle-aged Dutch women stood in the aisle, talking and motioning toward their dogs -- scrawny chihuahua types with mottled shaved bodies and skanky clumps of hair like weeds around their necks and rumps. As we approached, I gasped to Marci, "What ugly dogs!" under my breath -- right before the ugliest dog's owner turned toward us with a warm smile and handed us a flyer for an upcoming series of Shostakovich recitals. Although I was quite sure that she had not heard my preceding impolite aside, I nevertheless felt the blush of shame for my secretive impropriety toward such a pleasant stranger.

Shortly after settling into our seats, a man with a long face and a white T-shirt sauntered to the front of the stage with a wireless stick microphone and offered an introduction to the evening in a rich barritone Gooise accent. Obviously pleased with the sound of his voice and his elocutionary excellence in pronunciation of Spanish, French, and Russian, he listed the titles for the opening set and noted that the performance would begin within approximately ten minutes.

Thus, we had a bit of time for some people-watching.

Two rows in front of us, a man in a white sailor's hat slid into a seat beside a big-eared fellow with a crew cut. A pink chrysanthemum garnished the top of the sailor's hat, and his old-fashioned sailor's coat was accessorized with a bright pink patent leather handbag, an arm full of bangles and gaudy costme jewelry, and large red sunglasses such as Elton John would wear. Surprising, I thought, that I don't see such flaming homosexuality more often here in the "gay capital" of Europe... He was obviously feeling beautiful this evening, although his partner didn't seem to take much notice of him. Nevertheless, after a couple of minutes, a lady friend came by with a warm welcome and plenty of doting for both of them -- a bright, wide grin and the typical kiss-kiss-kiss of old Dutch friends. She and the sailorman apparently had a lot to talk about, and they got right down to it in the waning minutes before the concert.

In the very front row of the amphitheater, an old gentleman in a neat brown three-piece suit shuffled a beautiful gray-haired lady in a red dress to an empty seat where she would be able to see and hear clearly. He stood off to the side, anxious but patient, for a few moments until the other strangers in the aisle noticed the situation and rearranged their seating to make room for him, too. He settled in graciously and gratefully, seeming very content to enjoy an evening of fine music with his wife of many years...

[to be continued...]


At 5:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! You left us hanging! Lekker writing, Eric! Thick with description, I can picture it clearly. Thank you for blogging.


At 2:34 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Eric! Yeah, a very eclectic setting, no doubt. Europe definitely provides a range of interesting options for date nights with Marci, eh? Tell her hi for me.


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