Monday, May 31, 2004

**** Dance, Let's Art

Boy, was that a bad gig last night. If there were seven non-staff people in attendance at any given point, I'd be amazed. But these were the same two gals who'd done this once before, in a location so remote that once I found it I couldn't figure out how to get in -- and I was the DJ! This time it was a big, echoey hall with theater seats in it -- it's a part-time experimental theater -- and a bunch of projectors set up showing "art." What this had to do with protecting all races I can't tell you. The projector over my shoulder was showing what seemed to be the DVD equivalent of glitch electronic music, squiggles ditzing around the screen, profoundly uninteresting. On purpose, of course. Nor did these two gals have any idea about scheduling, so I showed up at 7:45, started getting into it at 8, and was told to quit at 9, but to come back for 11:15-12:15. I told them the first hour was free, but the second wasn't, so they agreed to pay me €50. So I went back. And avoided the "Tiger Chili." And had a D√∂ner Kebap from the guys around the corner for dinner at 12:30.

It made me wonder if there's any good art left here. The interesting galleries were all chased out of this neighborhood a couple of years ago -- Barbara Blickendorf, David Hockney's German dealer, and a swell person, was the last to go, earlier this year, but Mehdi Chouakri, whose exhibit of a shag-carpet-covered rocket ship was the single event that convinced me I'd moved to the right neighborhood at last, lo those seven years ago, is long gone to a hard-to-find hole in the wall, and the quality of the art in the underground spaces, which I guess Theaterdiscounter last night qualifies for, is really awful. Lotta style over substance, lotta what Judith Stein calls "one-liners." I didn't even bother with the Berlin Biennale this year, not only for a lack of somewhere to write it up, but because I knew it was going to be as dreadful as the reviews finally proclaimed it to be.

This isn't to say that, as the center of town becomes more unaffordable, as it panders to the non-existent luxury shoppers and tourists, things might not have gone further out, towards Friedrichshain or maybe Pankow. But reports haven't reached me yet, and I'm on the verge of not caring, especially if the new art partakes in the city's studied boredom, its painstakingly-rendered negativity. Been there, done that, thanks.

Hell, at least I missed the vegetarian chili and made fifty clams.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Pfingsten, and the Pfun Begins

Today is Pfingsten, Germany's sneakiest holiday, because there's no advance warning. It's also known as Pentecost or Whitsun elsewhere, and it's a much bigger deal in some parts of Europe than it ever was back in the States, although I'm told it's not, surprisingly, celebrated in Italy.

Here in Berlin, it's just another occasion to leave work at noon on Friday and head out of town to your country place, or, if the weather's good enough, up to the Baltic coast, which is only a couple hours' drive away. I sincerely think that my neighbors only own cars for weekends like this, since you never see them move any other time. More importantly, it's the official beginning of summer. Germans need official beginnings and ends: we won't see any more asparagus for sale, for instance, after June 25. I'm sure it'll be poking out of the ground, but that's The End of Spargelzeit, and you don't see it until next May.

Pfingsten is also the Karneval der Kulturen, a particularly embarrassing Berlin institution. It started in 1997, when a number of foreigners' cultural organizations, dance schools, German-whatever Friendship Leagues, and so on, decided to put on a parade, with various events in the evening. The first one, which I attended with my friend Andrea (who, coincidentally, is arriving from London tonight -- she's one of many who've fled), was very cool. I remember a bunch of Trinidadians in full Carnival regalia, Poles with a brass band, a lady selling Mexican tamales as she walked along beside the Mexican float, Tunisians, Sierra Leonians, and even a few Turks overcoming their usual reticence and mistrust of German institutions. It was so much fun that Andrea and I did it again the next year, when it was much, much bigger -- and really different.

It took us a while to figure it out, but finally it dawned on us: all the participants, or at least the overwhelming majority, were Germans. Germans doing salsa dancing, Germans doing flamenco, Germans playing digideroos, Germans doing tai chi, Germans banging cluelessly on African drums...Germans, in short, doing something very typical: immersing themselves in another culture so completely that, with a little luck, they could forget, even for a moment, that they're German.

This is a major obsession with the intelligentsia here, or else what could explain the relentless travelling, the sponsoring not only of events like the Karneval der Kulturen, but Radio Multi-Kulti (at which Americans have always been explicitly unwelcome), and the House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt) with its months-long programs devoted to one or another country or group of countries. Not to forget Heimatklänge, the multi-week world music fest, arranged around a theme and often accompanied by workshops where Berliners can go learn dances or instrumental techniques from the performers. Identifying with Berlin, or with Germany, is Not Done: it's "right-wing." Or so I was told early on by the Music Director of Radio Multi-Kulti, who also stiffed me a month's salary because he hated Americans. We sat by and did nothing, he told me, while our country destroyed Vietnam. None of us really remembered it that way, but it wasn't like he was interested in discussing it.

Anyway, I stay away from the world music crowd these days, and I stay away from the Karneval der Kulturen. This evening, though, I am going to participate in what must be a satellite event: Pflegeallerassen, it's called, "Protect All Races," although I see in the dictionary that there are times, like in horse breeding, that the word can also apply to animals. Anyway, some odd woman called me a couple of months ago to ask if I'd like to recreate one of my old JazzRadio shows for a few hours and get paid for it, and those last four words pretty much forced the issue. So I got down my famous "funky black bag" and stuffed it with some '50s and '60s jazz CDs and I'll go down to Monbijoustr. at about 7:30. They haven't told me when I go on, or for how long, but they did tell me there'd be vegetarian chili to eat.

The very idea of German-made vegetarian chili...

No, I won't go into that now. Happy Pfingsten, y'all. More later.