Monday, December 29, 2008

Polish Christmas and a Trip to Vienna

Ok so there is a fish in the bathtub. It's true and pretty funny!
On Tuesday, December 23 Remi's father, Remi and I went to the fish farm to collect Christmas dinner. There was a holding reservoir with easy targets for the guys with the nets and there was a pond. We actually fished in the pond and scored a lovely trout. From the reservoir the fish guy netted us six more fish. Carp and trout were the pesci of choice. Most of them flopped around as they waited to face their fate in a room where a lady with a big knife did the deed. One carp was left intact and chilled in a bag until we got it to Remi's Grandmother's house where he was put into the bathtub to live out his remaining few days. Grandma stays with Remi's parents most of the time so nobody's grooming and hygiene routine will be disrupted by the fish's residence in her tub. Normally the fish would have been axed and eaten by now but we have had plenty with out his sacrifice so he's still swimming around in there. I have to say as a vegetarian I was/am a bit squeamish about the process. But I respect their traditions and their dietary choices just as I expect people to respect mine. So we shall see when the fish will be called to the table. Perhaps for New Year's dinner...

The family gathered on Christmas Eve for dinner and the exchanging of presents. Presents and the big dinner happen the day before Christmas in Poland. The meal starts with a chorus style grace and then everyone takes a wafer. The wafers are very thin, similar to a Communion wafer. Then every one goes around and wishes each other well in the new year and shares their wafers. Then to the food. A procession of soups start the meal. Beet soup with mushroom dumplings, fruit soup made of dried fruits and served with rice, then mushroom soup served with bread stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Of course the famous fish makes an appearance and a couple of salads one with fish and one that is a kind of potato salad with carrots and corn involved. Very tasty!
After dinner the exchanging of presents commences. Santa Claus doesn't come on Christmas Eve in Poland. Santa comes earlier on in December on St Nicolas Day, December 6th. Sometimes he comes secretly in the night but more often he comes to the children in person. Presents are not left under the tree, they are handed out to the deserving children. Warnings to the naughty kids do not come in the form of a lump of coal but rather all children get a birch branch attached to a bag of candy and a warning that if they are not good next year it will be just the birch branch and no other treats and parents may take to using the birch branch to enforce a little discipline! So Polish kids: be good!

Family and friends are very important in Poland. People visit with each other during the 24th, 25th and Boxing Day the 26th of December. I can't tell you how many people I have met. All kinds of relations and loved ones have visited and called and we have gone knocking on a few doors ourselves. I need a directory with photos please!!

Christmas day was pretty low key. Visits with family and friends continue. We went to mass in the evening. First we stopped by the church graveyard. Here we weaved our way through closely plotted graves. The graves have a raised platform made of stone as well as a headstone. These platforms play host to a sea of stunning lanterns. Nearly every grave had one or two lanterns of colored glass glowing in the winter night. It was an amazing sight. We stopped by Remi's Grandfather's grave and lit a Christmas tree shaped lantern made of green glass and left it there for him. Then off we went into the little church. The chapel is beautiful with scenes from the Bible painted on the ceiling and an ornate altar at the head. Remi and I stood at the back and listen to the Roman Catholic mass given in Polish. Then back home to rest up for more visitors!
That pretty much wraps Christmas.

I got to see a few sights in Remi's home town of Kudowa Zdroj and nearby Czermna. He took me to see their famous moving nativity scene. This mind blowing piece of art is up all year round and was hand carved and installed in the artist's home where his decedents still live. This nativity is a wall to wall display of a town and its people. Some figures are doing their chores and some are making their way to Bethlehem (and back in time) to pay their respects to Baby Jesus in the manger. Shepherds are moving sheep, a friar is pulling a bell, a girl is getting water and Jesus is rocking in his cradle. This same craftsman also hand made a pipe organ which is also on display. After this we stopped by the Chapel of Skulls. Construction on the chapel started in 1776 and finished in 1804. It contains more than 30 thousand human bones and skulls that belonged to victims of local wars and plague epidemics. These skulls hang from the ceiling and line the walls of this chapel and there are more under the floor. I have never seen anything like it.Wow!

Yesterday we went to Vienna. We drove down to the Czech Republic/Austrian border on Saturday and stayed at a hostel on the Czech (much cheaper) side. The hostel was awesome. The man running it could have been a poster boy for the Czech tourist board. He had a shaggy beard and wore a vest and hat and welcomed us with shots of I don't know what, some kind of alcohol. We went out to dinner and I had a typical Czech meal of fried cheese and tartar sauce. It was really good! Sunday morning we went in to Austria and on to Vienna. Vienna was gorgeous. The architecture is brilliant and although it has been around a while something about it is fresh and crisp. Perhaps it is the colors. Most buildings are light; white or pastels. And the detail on many of the buildings is phenomenal. We started at St Stephen's Cathedral where mass was in progress but we were able to go in and stand at the back. We saw the Ankerhur Clock do its procession of figurines at noon. We stopped by Hofburg or The Imperial Palace, visited Mozart's monument in Burggarten, swung by the museums, the parliament building, city hall, Votive Church, Schonburnn and finished at the Prater. It was one full day! After all that we got in the car and drove the five hours it took to get back to Remi's house in Poland. I will have photos to post as soon as I get back to Glasgow.

That's more than enough for now. I'll fill you in with more adventures next week.
Happy New Year everybody!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wrapping William and Planes to Poland

Well, this past week was a whirlwind of activity as we closed up shop and headed into the Holidays. Monday and Tuesday were again spent with the amazing Liam Brennan. He continued to coach us through Shakespeare monologues and scenes. Brennan has a wealth of experience playing these classics. Amongst a slew of other credits, he has done Macbeth six times and thrice played Mac-ers himself! That's a lot of blood!! For me, with my very limited Shakespeare experience, I found these sessions with Brennan invaluable and a fantastic preparation for our month at the Globe in January.

End of the term papers were turned in, one on one meetings with faculty members were held and I even managed to get to a Christmas concert. And then came Saturday...

Saturday. D-Day. Departure Day. Actually, our flight to Milan didn't leave until the wee hours of Sunday morning but our journey started Saturday night. My classmate Remi has graciously invited me to his home in Poland for the Holidays. And naturally, to get to Poland from Scotland one has to go through Italy. Really, it was just the cheapest route and hey, a day in Milan, that's cool! So the last train to the airport left Glasgow's city center at 11:30pm. We could have called a cab at 3am to take us but why spend the money when we could make it an all night party at the airport? So we went to the ballet. Sleeping Beauty. It was lovely and we had time to kill so why not catch a ballet? Then off we went. The airport we flew from was a smaller airport and when we got there nothing was open. All the cafes and shops were closed. But we were not the only ones crashing for the night. Many a Holiday traveler had the same idea. We tried to sleep a little but it wasn't easy and it was freezing in there! But no worries, morning came and we were soon boarding the plane to Italy. The flight was a few hours and we slept most of the way. I did wake up in time to see the majestic Alps looking just like they do on the water bottles. They were a gorgeous view out of the plane window as we descended into Northern Italy. Arrival was a snap and we had a whole day to kill as our flight to Prague didn't leave until later in the evening. So off we went to see the sights of Milan. It was a beautiful day! The sun was shining and Milan was stunning. One of the major attractions of Milan is the Milan Cathedral or in Italian: Duomo di Milano. I have photos but won't be able to post them until I get back to Glasgow. After a day using the only Italian I know "Grazie" we headed back to the airport and were off to Prague in the Czech Republic. This is where Remi's father was to collect us and we would drive the two hours to Poland and Remi's home just over the border. Prague was the only time we ran into a little snag on our trip. It seems my luggage may have decided to stay in Italy. No bag. Bummer. The airline is on the case and hopefully they will get it to me soon. Otherwise it may be a very stinky Christmas. Remi's family is very sweet and so hospitable! They don't speak English and I don't speak Polish so Remi is having to translate but it's going well. And I was very thankful just to be able to sleep in a bed! It is Polish tradition to keep a fish in your bathtub so that it is fresh for Christmas dinner. The fish will be coming tomorrow (Tuesday). I'll let you know...

So that's the scoop my friends. I don't know how often I will be able to blog but I hope to get another one posted next week. We shall see. In the meantime, I hope you are all having a wonderful Holiday season!
Peace, love and light,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Land the Sun Forgot and Bringing on the Bard

Where is the switch? Hello? Is there a light in here?
No actually, this is Scotland they don’t have light during the winter months.
Well, they do but it is fleeting. These days the sun rises at about 8:45am and sets at 3:45pm. That is one short day folks! About 7 hours. And those 7 hours are when we are inside, in class, at work, etc. I gotta tell you for a girl who grew up in the southern part of the US this is a tough adjustment. I am really missing Mister Sunshine. The good news is the Winter Solstice is fast approaching. Sunday December 21st to be exact. Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. And after that, more and more light will be coming our way. The flip side of this is the Summer Solstice which this past summer was July 20th. On July 20th Glasgow’s day lasted 16 hours and 43 minutes with the sun not setting until 9:45pm. Wow! That is a long day! But I don’t mind a long day of light.

We are winding up for the semester but there are skills to be honed. On Wednesday we met with the fabulous Liam Brennan. He is a graduate of the RSAMD and has had a successful career as an actor with lots of Shakespeare credits. We started to work with him on Shakespeare monologues and will be continuing under his tutelage this week. I attempted a little Twelfth Night for him. It definitely benefited from his guidance. Big improvement! Well, that’s why I am here. To improve. I’ve had very little Shakespeare experience which was one of the major draws of this course. I get to work on my classics and at The Globe no less!

The Globe administrators were up on Wednesday as well. Liam has performed on The Globe stage many a time. He told us about his experiences and the lovely people running our program spoke to us about what we can expect in January. We will be working a lot on The Globe’s main stage. For those of you who don’t know let me explain: The current Globe is a modern day replica of what scholars think Shakespeare’s Globe would have looked like. The Globe is the theatre where Shakespeare did most of his work. In Elizabethan times theatres were outdoors and open air. They didn’t have electric lighting so they needed the sun in order for their day time dramas to be seen. So what does this mean for me? Well, it means I will be layered up with thermal underwear during my classes. That’s right. Outside acting classes on The Globe stage in January! Burrrr! But it’s totally going to be worth it. It is The GLOBE!! I’m so excited!

A week from today I’m off to Poland for the Holidays. I don’t know what kind of internet access I will have but I will do my best to keep you updated!

Enjoy the Holidays my friends! And in lieu of the light and warmth from the sun we all need to illuminate the season with rays of love from our hearts!
Take care!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Masters of Mucho Merriment

I can’t tell you how much FUN was had this past week. That’s right FUN in capitals. There were times I looked around at my class and said “I’m sorry, are we in the process of earning a Master’s Degree? Because I sure don’t feel like I’m in the rigors of academia right now.” And oh how I love it! Even though I have been battling a vicious cold all week there has been nothing but good times in the classroom; good times mixed with a little mucus, but still good times.

The first two days of the week were spent with our playwrights. I have been assigned to David Harrower’s group. Monday we talked about his concept for the play he is going to write. We discussed characters and story structure and comedy. Then we did a little improvisation on the concepts. Tuesday we started out by watching videos that illustrated the story structures we discussed and we looked at some comedy clips. In the afternoon; more improv. It was very collaborative and artistically fulfilling as we tossed ideas around and tried them. And then Tuesday after class it got even better. We all, including Mr. Harrower, went out for drinks. We were at the pub for hours but it didn’t feel that way. The group opened up to each other; we talked about our favorite movies and plays and how some of these changed our lives, how they made us want to become artists, how they inspired us. We laughed, we cried, we bonded and it was beautiful. Truly beautiful. Don’t laugh! Because it was. Beautiful people, beautiful.

Wednesday we started a three day workshop with Ben Harrison from Grid Iron. Grid Iron is a theatre company here in Scotland known for its site specific work. One of their major credits to date was a show called Roam which was the first and only play set in an airport. The security clearances alone were a major feat. Roam was ten years in the making. Mr. Harrison talked about his company, Grid Iron, and the many other site specific theatres all over Europe. It was fascinating to hear about how and where some productions were staged. The creativity and inventiveness of these companies is something awe inspiring. I am eager to see them in action.

There were also games and exercises to be played. This is where the capital FUN came in full force. Many focused on awareness and group dynamic. The best was played Thursday afternoon when one person had to leave the room and the group set them a task to perform. When the person re-entered they had to guess what they were to do and the only way they knew if they were on the right track was by applause. We would clap if they were moving toward the goal. It was absolutely hysterical. We did nothing but laugh the whole afternoon.

This past was a fantastic week with loads of laughter! This week coming we do have to get a little more serious I’m afraid. We have papers to write. That does sound like school work, doesn’t it? Yes, summary essays on the term’s objectives are due. We also have one on one meetings with the faculty to assess our progress. Later in the week we get an introduction to what we can expect next term at The Globe in London. And we finish the week working with our playwrights again.

So until next week: stay warm my friends!