Saturday, July 25, 2009


Rachael and I saw the opera Carmen for the second time last night, and it was excellent.

Most opera I've been to, including Carmen the first time, has been more occasion to exercise endurance than to experience pleasure. I've figured that I should make an attempt to appreciate this lasting artform that so much effort goes into, and which seems to be widely enjoyed by cultured, intelligent folk. It may be that I'm a bit lacking in those qualities, but I've been nonplussed by the cliched love stories and ornamented performance that has seems endemic to the medium.

Ah, but this Carmen was different. I felt the danger on the stage, the jealous insanity, the exasperation, the integrity of character. I'm not sure what was different; it may truly be just that we sat on the balcony near the stage (rather than on the orchestra level), and I could actually appreciate the performance. I may have missed the emotional significance of previous operas just by being in a poor position to receive the signals. Or, this one might have just been that much better in it's directing and performance. I would say that the story was much more compelling, but again, I saw it a few years ago and was much less moved.

Either way it's re-invigorated my interest in a medium that I was ready to write off and give up on.

Come to think of it, there are a fair number of opera performances that I've enjoyed. I think this would be the list:

La Finta Giardiniera
Turn of the Screw
[the opera in english that Danielle performed in... I forget the name]
Poe [to some extent, retrospectively]
La Boheme

I suppose that's about a quarter of all I've seen, so maybe opera's track record with me isn't so bad.

On symbolism and skateboards

Skateboards were invented to simulate the feeling of surfing when the surf wasn't up. As an object, it's an expression of hedonic values; it exists to provide a sensation that's valuable in and of itself as perceived by (certain) humans. Its counter cultural connotations probably arise from the fact that skating (and surfing) benefit no one but the person doing it; especially since it's a solo sport and can't be said to facilitate social bonding like team sports do.

Whereas surfing is all about water, skateboarding has come to be associated with air as a result of the types of tricks that lend themselves to skating. This is despite the fact that it's an earthbound vehicle, and limited, impractical one at that. Those who make skating into an art form seem to be elegantly turning the constraining force of gravity into a tool to escape from it, transiently.

I think this desire for transcendence is neatly expressed by painting wings on a wheeled plank. It reflects an awareness of the limitations, and a childish flouting of them. Naive and innocent; just daring enough to challenge what's accepted as truth.

Skaters often keep their broken boards, perhaps as evidence of their daring. They can also be seen as symbols of consequence: experimenters put themselves at risk of unknown dangers. Brave experimenters are aware of the risk of the unknown, and seek to discover and overcome it.

So what does this broken, winged skateboard say? I say it's an expression of an attempt to transcend the bonds of fear and turn the forces of nature into tools of one's will. That it's broken says that experimenters will fail; that it's put together again says they will be undaunted and try again.

In the face of the counter cultural symbolism of the skateboard itself, it speaks of experimenting with lifestyles, modes of expression, and core values. But in the end, it's just a broken wooden toy. We must be brave and experiment with new mediums of self-expression as well.