The Ghost of Christmas Present(s)

I'm well aware that Christmas is about so much more than getting presents. There's the whole Peace on Earth thing, spending time with family, decorating the tree, gaining 5 pounds, and the birth of that little guy with all the radical ideas. Here in Oregon, Christmas was about winter weather this year. It snowed all day, letting up just in time for us to go to the movies (Juno—go see it immediately). It was also about whole wheat popovers for breakfast (a family tradition, tweaked to accommodate Mama Bossy's diet), tea, German Christmas goodies, lazing, reading, and laughing about teen pregnancy (at the movies—duh).

But still... look what I got!!

Thanks, Grandma Bossy!

Thanks, Mama Bossy! (girl not included)

Thanks, Mama and Papa Bossy!
(160GB, in case you're wondering, exactly 8 times the size of my previous iPod)

It was a good Christmas, for all the reasons stated (and pictured) above. I hope you all had the best of holidays. Now I'm headed back to Houston, where I'm going to stay put for at least 6 weeks. I'll be back to work tomorrow (Magic Flute).

Happy Boxing Day, everyone.

Tradition, tra-di-tion!

Little Ms. Bossy is an only child. You know the type: the spoiled, overprotected, bratty, spotlight-hogging, I want a pony and I want it now, doted upon, unable to share, doesn't play well with others, overindulged, bossy (hmm), self-centered, self-involved, selfish, for god's sake give her what she wants before she throws a tantrum only child. Yep, that's me.

Please, people, it's Christmas Eve. The least you could do is look mildly surprised. I'm not asking for a loud gasp of shock or anything, but throw me a bone here.

Now that I'm (arguably) grown up and have outgrown the "I want a pony" phase (although I want a baby blue Vespa and I want it now), most of the time being an only child doesn't affect me much. I have friends that are as close as siblings, and I live far enough away from my parents that the excessive doting has decreased by necessity. I even like to think that I've escaped some of my innate only child tendencies. Not bossiness, obvs, but some of the others. Maybe.

At Christmas time, however, the only child reigns supreme, and I am no exception. Elaborate wish lists are created, not so subtle hints are dropped, far too many presents are received, and childhood traditions are kept alive long after childhood is over. I haven't been at my parents' house for Christmas since 2003, but we're falling right into our old holiday routine, starting today.

On Christmas Eve, Papa Bossy makes a nice dinner and then I open two presents: a Christmas movie on DVD, and new pajamas. Then I put on my pajamas and the three of us watch the movie together. This is a tradition.

On Christmas morning, I get up freakishly early (my parents are thankful that the definition of early has changed some over the years), get my stocking, and go through it on my parents' bed. This is a tradition.

It always takes a while to drag my grumbling parents out of bed and get them to come to the Christmas tree. Then I have to wait while they make tea and make their way to the couch, all of which takes much longer than I want it to. This is a tradition.

I pick the presents and the order in which they are opened, usually alternating one of my parents and then me. Anything to wear is immediately tried on, and each present is discussed briefly before moving on. This is a tradition.

Once all the presents are opened, Papa Bossy makes breakfast and we laze around most of the day reading our new books and playing with our new toys. This is a tradition.

It's been a difficult year in the life of Little Ms. Bossy, and Christmas is going squarely in the Making me happy category. Maybe I'm too old to still be a kid on Christmas, but when I go to sleep tonight it's still quite possible that visions of sugarplums will be dancing in my head.

Here's to tradition.

Adventures in air travel and karmic retribution

Airport security lines bring out the worst in people. You would think that the lengthy security ordeal would be a great equalizer, since everyone has to go through it (except in those lame airports where 1st Class passengers have a shorter line, that is—although maybe I would feel differently about that if I ever flew 1st Class). However, that was certainly not my experience in Düsseldorf this morning.

I was standing in the slowest security line in the history of all slow lines. At this time of year, international terminals are filled with people lugging impossibly sized suitcases that seem to be designed for the express purpose of smuggling people across borders (though I am not one to talk, as I had to cough up 50 euros today due to the excessive weight of my own suitcase), wrangling multiple screaming children, and sporting outfits for every possible climate. I didn’t mind waiting, since I was filled with a lot of mixed feelings about my trip coming to an end. People around me, on the other hand, were less patient. Also less knowledgeable about security regulations, apparently, as numerous people kept coming back through the line to dispose of giant jars of Nutella, bottles of Fanta, and Nivea hand cream.

I had been in line for about 35 minutes, slowly creeping toward the conveyor belt, when a huge group of guys pushed their way past the 40 or so people in line behind me, claiming that their flight to a place I’d never heard of (Girba? Chyrva?) was just about to leave. Unfortunately, many of the people they had cut in front of were on that same flight to Kryba, and there was a certain amount of…consternation that these other guys didn’t have to wait. Various airport employees were dispatched to ineffectually handle the situation, as people behind me kept yelling at the line-cutters, some of whom studiously ignored them and others of whom had far less self-control. It was a mess, but I willed myself not to get annoyed. In fact, I gave a friendly smile to the interloper who almost knocked me out with his enormous backpack as he crowded ahead of me in line, and I was rewarded with an apologetic look and a certain amount of shamed shuffling.

Luckily, a higher power must have also been giving out rewards for patience and friendly smiles. On my 8 1/2-hour flight to Detroit, I ended up with 3 seats in an exit row all to myself, and then I managed to talk my way onto an earlier flight to Houston. Take that, obstreperous travelers to Glyba!

Oh, and by the way, I’m home, and those mixed feelings are clearing up some. In German, the word fertig can mean either ready or done.

Ich bin fertig.

The resocialization of Little Ms. Bossy

I don't know if I've made it clear quite how much alone time I've had during my month in Europe. Let me clarify. I've had a lot. Tom Hanks on an island Jodie Foster in the forest alone time. In Vienna I had 3 hours guaranteed social time during German class, but since then whole days have gone by in which the only interaction I've had consists of me saying, "I'll have a Fanta and a piece of cake, please. With whipped cream." (In German, of course. Give me a little credit.) There were days that I longed for a volleyball to talk to. You think I'm joking.

My real life (because what is a month-long sojourn in Europe if not a fantasy?) is filled with social interaction: meetings at work, lunches with colleagues, drinks with friends, movies, parties, etc. Put into a single sentence it sounds much more glamorous than it actually is, of course, but suffice it to say that when I'm lonely I can do something about it. Not so much in Europe. Oh, there were brief shining moments with The Soprano from Wisconsin and the Bossy cousin in Munich, but I became quite accustomed to spending most of my time alone.

Until a week ago, that is, when the resocialization process began. An incredible two-day stay in Holland with the Army Brat and her boyfriend was just what I needed to transition back to the real world. We had long conversations about everything: politics, books, relationships, religion... Everything. We slept late, ate well, and took an incredibly muddy walk to keep us from getting too lazy. It was great.

Next to my family in Braunschweig (with a quick 1-day stop one the way to see some truly ghastly opera), where I was pampered and coddled by my aunts. After 3 weeks of solo travel it was quite a shock to have people so interested in whether I had eaten enough, whether my feet were cold, and whether I could really ride the streetcar by myself after the opera (yes. no. yes.). There was delicious food, and presents. I do like presents. Plus, I got to find out whether I can actually speak German, since English wasn't an option. Turns out, I can. Yay!

I'm spending my last couple days in Düsseldorf staying with family friends who are an opera composer and a set/costume designer, respectively. I saw a fantastic production of Il Turco in Italia last night, and today I'm visiting museums and seeing Hedda Gabler tonight.

And tomorrow? Home to Houston to complete the process. I'm looking forward to: being able to use my iPhone, eating something that isn't meat and potatoes, speaking English, and reconnecting with friends.

I can't wait.

A purely hypothetical exercise

So, say you’re a stage director (work with me here), and you’re hired to direct a new production of an opera we’ll call…um…Carigodelio for the purposes of this exercise. Your interpretation of the opera is that none of the characters know how to communicate with each other. They never listen, they’re all in their own worlds, and they don’t really see each other. Wouldn’t it be cool, you think, if you somehow manifested that theatrically? You could have the singers never look at each other, delivering all their lines straight out to the audience instead. Perfect. So now you have a concept, but what about the setting? There’s no chance that you’ll leave it in the time and place indicated in the libretto; how boring would that be? No, instead you decide to place it in a non-specific post-apocalyptic world, ensuring that you can a) use modern clothing in as many shades of gray as possible; b) leave the stage completely bare, save a few random pieces of large machinery; and c) instruct the principals, chorus, and supers to keep a deadpan look of shock on their faces at all times. Awesome.

Sure, the singers may argue with you for a moment about your concept, but not for long. This is Germany, after all. Opening night rolls around, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. That moment of silence at the end of Act I? That must have been because the audience was stunned by your creativity. Your eyes pan through the house. Wait a minute. A familiar face jumps out at you. Oh, it’s Little Ms. Bossy! She doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself. She’s checked her watch three times in the past four minutes, she has apparently developed a raging case of Restless Leg Syndrome, and if you listen closely you might hear her sigh under her breath. She’s disappointed. She’s feeling as if her time is being wasted, and thanking God that at least she didn’t pay for the ticket.

It’s not that I’m a purist. Far from it. I strongly believe that the only way to keep our art form alive and vital is to re-imagine the classics while developing a new canon of repertoire. Honestly, I don’t even really care if updating a piece makes sense all the way through. When I start directing my own productions, I imagine I’ll be a stickler for those details, but as an audience member, I’m not too precious about them. I’ll forgive a lot if the singing is exciting and the characters and relationships are alive.

What I’m not interested in seeing is cold opera. I consider myself a rational, somewhat intellectual person, but when I go to the opera I don’t want to see some academic exercise. I want to be drawn in, not held at arm’s length. I want to feel joy in the comedies and heartbreak in the tragedies, and most of all I want to leave the theater somehow different than I was before the lights went down. I’m always a critic—I think that’s inherent in any director—but it’s rare that I see a production that doesn’t delight me in some way, even if it’s not particularly my aesthetic.

So when you get that contract, please let the singers relate to each other in a real way. Go ahead and put a wrecking ball on the stage, knock yourself out, but don’t leave it at that. Don’t expect us to care about the characters when you clearly don’t.

And please, please, don’t stop the music in the middle of your (Italian) opera, pipe in street noise through the speakers, and have the mezzo read passages from the Bible out loud in German while the set is being changed behind her.

In your purely hypothetical production of Carigodelio, I mean. Ahem.

No reservations

Today I reached a new level of spontaneity: weekend train travel without a seat reservation. This came as a result of being unable to make an internet reservation rather than from any strong desire for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventures. On the train I took from Hamburg to Köln (that’s Cologne for you non-German speakers), there was some kind of glitch in their reservation system, the exact nature of which I couldn’t quite decipher from the German coming over the loudspeaker, which resulted in every seat being marked “Reserved,” without any indication as to where the seatholder might be getting on or off the train.

Finding and keeping a seat is really more a game of chance than of skill. You find a seat without a jacket or other placeholder marking it, first furtively glancing around to make sure nobody with a ticket in hand is looking meaningfully toward your chosen spot. At every station (and there were 8 between Hamburg and Köln), your heart beats a little faster as you watch people board the train looking for their reserved seats. Polite words are exchanged: “Excuse me, but I believe you’re in my seat.” “Oh, am I? So sorry, I’ll get right of your way.”

Today I was lucky; I only had to move twice, and one of those times was not so much because I was in someone else’s seat as it was because of the overwhelming smell of vinegar coming off the man next to me. At each station, as I watched the routine play out between my fellow passengers, I sat smugly in my seat as if I belonged there.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself for beating the system, sticking it to the man, etc., until I heard the train attendant talking to the guy in front of me. He was headed to Paris, but not only was he traveling without a reservation, he was also without a ticket or any money with which to buy one. And he had the audacity to try out this maneuver in First Class.

Now that’s spontaneity.

That famous German efficiency

In Houston when the curtain comes down on a performance, the audience members leap to their feet... and run for the aisles. It's not that they don't want to show their appreciation for the singers; they just know that the parking garage will be a madhouse, and it's either stay and clap and wait for 30 minutes to get out of the garage, or jet out early and be home and in bed by the time the poor saps yelling "Bravo" make it onto the street. We're always trying to make the curtain call as short as possible, tightening up the cues and debating whether or not the chorus and supers take a bow, all to avoid that sickening feeling when the audience stops clapping before the singers stop bowing.

Not so in Hamburg, where I've spent the past 2 evenings enraptured at the opera. This audience is willing to stay until the bitter end. And we're not talking short and sweet bows. Everyone has to bow individually, then the company bows. Then everyone files off the stage, and they do it all over again. Twice. On top of that, the audience enthusiastically applauds and bravos through extensive solo and company bows after each act (and there are 3 in Tannhäuser). Nobody rushes out to beat the line for the ladies' room. It's amazing.

And long. Tonight's performance started at 6:00, and the bows ended at 10:22. Those Hamburgers sure know how to show their singers some love.

In Houston we don't have nearly so many topless women, men in thongs, and anatomically correct blow-up dolls, either.

And we don't sell pretzels at intermission.

Other than that, opera is pretty much the same in H-burg as it is in H-town.

Bye-bye, Berchtesgaden

Folks, I've had a fling. When I left Berchtesgaden this morning, I felt like I was in one of those movies where a great love affair ends with one person leaving on an epic train journey. That person was me. I was pressing my face against the glass of the window, trying to catch one last glimpse of my love, willing myself not to cry.

Only in my case, nobody was running along the platform as the train gained speed, blowing kisses and shouting promises. There will be no love letters, no sweet whispered phone calls. That's because my new love, the one I can't get out of my head, isn't a person at all. It's an adorable little Alpine town, whose downtown Rick Steves incorrectly refers to as "a touristy mess." Ah, Berchtesgaden, how I will miss you.

I planned to stay 2 nights, and I ended up staying 4. I didn't do a whole lot while I was there. I skipped all the Nazi sightseeing opportunities. I didn't go skiing. I didn't even tour the salt mines wearing one of those cool flashlight hats. What did I do for 4 days? I went on long walks on snowy footpaths. I sat in cafés eating cake and drinking hot chocolate. I went swimming. I pet the cat who lived in my hotel. I read. I stared at the mountains out my window. I thought about buying a dirndl. It wasn't much, but it was perfect.

What's next for Little Ms. Bossy? 2 days in Munich with one of the Bossy cousins, then a nerdy opera weekend in Hamburg, where I'll see Elektra and Tannhäuser and sit in on some rehearsals. After that, a much-anticipated reunion with the Army Brat, in which I will venture into the land of the thumb-suckers once again.

I'm leaving you with the view from my hotel window. See what I mean?

Alpsolutely fabulous

On a Saturday morning in December, every 5 minutes or so a bus arrives in Salzburg and unloads a large group of middle-aged Germans, the men wearing traditional Tyrolean hats, the women with hair in shades of blonde and red not found in nature. They swarm through the streets of the old city, buying up as much Mozart-themed candy as they can carry. Should you be foolish enough to try and meander through the cobblestone streets, you will find yourself inching along in a clutch of Bavarians, unable to speed up or stop, following a large woman holding up an umbrella.

It's unpleasant. So unpleasant, in fact, that when I got to Salzburg on Saturday I almost turned right around and went back to the train station. I stuck it out, though, and I'm glad I did. If you can get past the theme park aspect of Salzburg (I'm not sure if it's more dedicated to Mozart or to Mozartkugeln), there is a lot that is good about the city. I spent a couple hours at the Mozart museum, which is housed in an apartment the Mozart family lived in. The museum was actually quite good, and the audioguide played lots of his music to accompany the trip through the museum, which I liked very much. In the gift shop I bought opening night presents for Magic Flute (my next project). "La ci darem la mano" with a disco beat was playing on the stereo. Ah yes, the home of Mozart.

The best part of the day by far was the trip (via elevator) up to the top of the Mönchberg, a mountain that stands on the edge of the old city and offers magnificent views. (If I were on my own computer instead of the hotel's, with its bizarro German keyboard, I would upload pics and show them to you.) Oddly enough, the only way to get away from the tourists in Salzburg seems to be to go the actual tourist destinations. The museum was almost empty, and I was able to roam freely around the Mönchberg.

Now, I'm in Berchtesgaden, and I'm loving it so much that I'm having trouble leaving. I was supposed to be gone by now, but I extended my stay an extra night, and I think I might stay one more. I don't have to be anywhere until Wednesday, when I'm meeting my cousin Ulrike in Munich. I don't know if it's the fresh air, the stunning mountain view off my balcony, or the food of the gods I discovered at the restaurant next door, but whatever it is, Berchtesgaden agrees with me.

It's December now, and given the complete and utter failure of my 30-day project last month, I'm not starting one this month. Instead, dear readers, I've come up with some projects (homework) for you!

1. Download Ingrid Michaelson's music and listen to it. You'll be glad you did, I promise. I highly recommend both her albums, but if you must choose one, buy Girls and Boys.

2. Eat some Tex-Mex for me. I have such a craving, and strangely enough, it's not so easy to find in the Alps. Bonus points if you have a margarita.

3. Superbad comes out on DVD tomorrow. Buy it, rent it, Netflix it, whatever you have to do. I plan on buying it immediately when I get back on December 17, and I'm going to expect all my friends to be able to quote it on command.

4. Tell me who you are! I would love to know who is reading this thing. If you're too shy to comment, send an email to littlemsbossyblog at gmail. And if you have a blog, send me the link!

Aufwiedersehen, Wien

Tonight's my last night in Vienna, and tomorrow morning I start the second half of my European adventures, the part I like to call "Where the hell am I going?" Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants spontaneity was incredibly attractive to me a month ago when I was planning (or not planning, in this case) my trip, but at the moment it's causing me a certain amount of panic. As of this morning, I didn't know where I was going to be for the night tomorrow (which town, I mean, let alone a hotel). As of now, however, my trains and hotels are booked through Monday night! (Yes, I realize that's only 3 days from now, thank you.)

Tomorrow I'm heading to Salzburg for the day, where I will traipse around following in the footsteps of those wacky Von Trapps (oh, and Mozart). From there I'll go to Berchtesgaden, a small town in the mountains best known as Hitler's playground, but which for me seems like the perfect place to relax, soak at a spa, and visit an old salt mine (why not?). I'm looking forward to getting away from city life for a couple days.

So, on to the Vienna recap.

My Favorites:
  • Exploring, walking all over every inch of the old city (at least that's how it felt to me).
  • Christmas markets.
  • Speaking German. Or something approximating German.
  • Standing room at the Staatsoper.
  • Self-reflection time. Lots of it. A blessing and a curse.
  • Cake, chocolate, sausage, cheese, Fanta.
  • Taking pictures.
  • The day it snowed and I was so excited and everyone else was talking about what horrible weather we were having.
  • Bonding with The Soprano from Wisconsin.
  • Doing whatever I wanted, without having to check with anybody else.

What I Learned:
  • That it's not really okay to simply guess what gender German nouns are.
  • That there are people who think that in America school shootings are commonplace, everyone eats Cheez Wiz, and we all love Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • That I am highly unfashionable because I do not tuck my pants into my boots. Unfortunately, when I do I look like this.
  • Many ways to say "I'm drunk" in German.
  • That going to a movie in English is a powerful cure for homesickness.
  • That iChat is an even more powerful one.
  • How to dial international phone numbers. To be honest, I'm still figuring this one out.
  • That an iSight camera is very useful for doing your makeup in the mornings if you happen to break the mirror in your room.
  • That Pandora doesn't work in Europe. Bummer.
  • That the time difference means I always have email in the morning when I wake up. I love that.

Goodbye, Vienna. Thanks for the memories. Until we meet again...


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