January 16, 2000
After the dinner on Christmas eve, Christmas itself was rather anticlimactic in the traditional Christmas sense. In Germany, the holiday is celebrated on the twenty-fourth, and the twenty-fifth is party time. During the day, which was cold and gray we walked around in vain trying to find something nice for lunch, ending up at the last resort -- Pizza Hut. Even the Macdonald's and Taco Bell were closed. (It's really disconcerting to see these establishments taking up residence in historic buildings in these old cities).
The show on Christmas day was the first time (and to this date the only time) that we have done the full show with every actor doing every part, vocal line and dance track. Remarkable. Especially since every actor has taken a curtain call every night. Because of injury and healing, one actor after another (and frequently several at once) has sat out of one or more of the more strenuous numbers. But since we get paid per show, rather than sit out of the show for 2 nights to recover, they have gone in and done some of the show for a healing process that lasts two weeks or more. This would also be the last time for a complete show, perhaps for the rest of the tour - for the second show in Bielefeld, one of the dancers was complaining of shin splints, and sat out of all the tap numbers through New Year's Eve, after which point Pam left the show for a much more lucrative tour back in the states.
After the Christmas show, we discovered that Bielefeld has far too many drag queens for a town of its size. First we went out to the Mexican restaurant again, where a series of drag queens accosted us to hand us flyers to a club called "Bitches Brew". We already had passes to another club (Cafe Max - an audience member was bartending and invited the entire cast) and passed on that option. Arriving at Cafe Max, we walked into a room that looked like the set of "a Clockwork Orange" with all the waitstaff dressed in white, but the rest of the crowd would have looked more at home at a PTA meeting in Dayton, so after our first free drink, we left. The day before, several of us had been handed flyers for a "Schlager party" - which we found out from our local crew was a form of traditional German pop music (Think German Country) currently enjoying a retro-hip comeback. It sounded like nothing we'd ever been to before, and upon arrival, we discovered half of our cast and all of our crew drinking away.
The German crowd was singing along to all of the music, dancing in unison and drinking heavily - and at certain points seemed to more closely resemble an amoebae or some other kind of single mass entity than a human crowd. As we stayed later (we arrived at midnight) more and more drag queens showed up - and by the time the place closed at four AM there seemed to be an entire Greek chorus of six-foot tall flappers. Not ready to miss a good party, after the first party closed, we followed the crowd to a small bar/disco down the street (where there seemed to be yet more drag queens, including the most tasteless of the night-- the Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus dressed in rave clothing), where the party apparently lasted past 9AM - that was when the last member of our group left, with apparently the party still in full swing. Predictably, the next day I slept until mid-afternoon, rising only in time to eat before the show. After the show I was finally able to connect with my family and friends to wish them happy holidays (for some reason, I could never get through on Christmas day) and repack for the coming week.
The week between Christmas and New Year's was mostly a blur - Bus-Hotel-Show-Bus, until we left for Geneva. That morning we woke up to find lots of snow and ice on the ground and a brisk wind. We later found out that this was the storm that leveled trees and caused problems all across Europe. As we started driving, we got a call that the truck containing our set had been blown off the road into a ditch about 7am. Everyone on board was alright, but the truck had to be hauled out of the ditch, then the set loaded onto another truck, and we might have problems getting the show open on time. Our drive was thankfully problem-free. We passed through about 12 hours after the worst of the storm, and all we saw were leveled trees and snow piled up on the sides of the roads from the snowplows. We arrived at our hotel around 5:00, and left for the show at 6:00. When we arrived, we saw our new set truck pull up at the same time. Normally, it takes them 4 hours or more to load in the set...miraculously the show started only 15 minutes late.
The next day, Rob, BA and I went to the Red Cross Museum - which was quite an eye-opener. First of all, the museum is almost all information and media, and the presentation is extremely well executed. I learned many things about the red cross that I had never known before, including their involvement in the concentration camps in Germany during the war. At that time, the Red Cross charter only allowed the relief workers to assist prisoners of war, which the Germans said didn't include domestic prisoners...after much negotiation, the Germans agreed to allow the Red Cross into the camps, with the stipulation that whomever went into the camps would not be allowed to leave or have any outside contact until after the war was over. Surprisingly, many accepted this offer, and were instrumental in preventing final extermination orders from being carried out at the end of the war. Also remarkable was the card catalogue from WW I, with the names of every soldier missing, dead or captive cross referenced by location, nationality and name, to allow the quickest possible means of informing families of these soldiers their status. The exhibit on current activities of the Red Cross is particularly interesting. Typical of Switzerland in general, extra care has been taken to remain politically neutral in this portion of the exhibit: Particular offenses are listed (including a re-creation of a 6x12 concrete prison cell where they found 17 prisoners stuffed in for 90 days...it's a walk-in space for the guests a the museum, and on the floor are 17 pairs of footprints to show exactly how close these people were stuffed in) but the location and country is never mentioned, presumably to ensure that the Red Cross will never be accused of being a "tattle-tale", and therefore will continue to be allowed into the world's worst situations.
After that, it was time to walk down to the lake and over to the old town. As soon as we crossed the Rhone, we came across a square filled with soldiers in traditional uniform who shortly after we arrived, all fired their guns into the air. The grouping then broke apart and all the soldiers milled around into the bars lining the square. Odd, we thought, but rather charming. We couldn't quite figure out the reason, however - after all this was the 30th of December, not New Year's Eve. We continued up the hill (many of the streets are so steep that they are broken up by steps, and impassable to cars) to the main church where we marched up to the steeple and were blown away by the view - Mont Blanc and the French Alps to the south, Lake Geneva to the East, German Alps to the North and the Rhone River Valley to the south. And, the city of Geneva laid out over the low hills and surrounding the lake. I had been to Geneva before as a child, but didn't remember it being this beautiful. After climbing back down the tower, we ran into the soldiers again, where the marching band was playing as they walked up the hill to another square. After firing their guns again, they put their instruments and weapons down again and started drinking again. We found a woman who explained to us that this was the celebration of the evacuation of Napoleon's occupying forces in the 1830's - and that it was sort of an Independence day for the city of Geneva. (Of course the specifics may or may not be quite right - after all I was translating from a rather tipsy French woman at the time). The soldiers march through the old town drinking and shooting all day long, and that it ought to be really interesting around 10 at night when they still were trying to play.
Our theater was right on the lake, and is quite grand in that 1960's "international style" sort of way (think James Bond). Also nice for us was the "Bar des Artistes" one floor up from the dressing rooms where a charming woman named Monique served up dirt cheap drinks after the show and stayed open as late as we wanted. The next two shows went well, with very enthusiastic audiences, and on the New Year's Eve show, they were forced to endure a singing of "Auld Lang Syne" at curtain call, instead of our usual reprise of "Lullaby of Broadway" -- there were also a number of interesting costumes backstage before the show - my favorite being Tim dressed as Baby New Year.
My New Year's eve started at Sunrise - I had had problems sleeping the night before, so when I saw the beginnings of the sunrise through my window, I walked up to the breakfast room in our hotel, which was on the top floor, with a panoramic view of the lake and mountains. As I sipped my Orange Juice, I watched the final sunrise of the millenium - quite beautiful, then went back to my room to sleep until showtime, which I did. After the show, which ended at 10:30, I ran back to the hotel to drop off my belongings and to change into very warm clothing we congregated back in the Bar des Artistes to drink champagne before going out to the lake. At about 11:40, we walked outside to the lake front, where our producer met us with a shopping cart stocked full of champagne (a surprise for us) and to wait for the new year. Surprisingly, the lakefront was not completely packed, and the area that we chose ended up being ours (rather than jostling through mobs of people, like we had feared). We counted down the New Year with the lights of the city reflecting in the dark water, popped the champagne and looked up to the sky for the fireworks. Which didn't happen. After a few minutes, our company manager told us that the Swiss do the fireworks 15 minutes after midnight to that everyone can toast the New Year inside, and still make it to the lake for the fireworks. So, 15 minutes later, we were treated to a beautiful (if not extravagant -- after all -- they're Swiss, not French or Italian) fireworks display. The party on the lakefront went on for several hours after that, and included a few drunken turns on the Bumpercars that were set up along the lake side. Back at the hotel the party continued in the lobby until we individually trickled upstairs to our beds for 2-3 hours of sleep before rising the next morning to travel on.
On New Year's Day I woke up and got ready for vacation. I had been unable to find an inexpensive ticket back to the United States for that week because of the holidays, so instead I went with Brad, Betty Ann and Rob to a small town on the coast of Spain. Brad had a friend who wouldn't be in her apartment that week and offered it for us to use. So we caught a train from Geneva to Barcelona where we planned on finding a hotel that night before taking the train/bus down the coast to Calpe. The scenery from the train window was spectacular travelling through Provence, (when we weren't sleeping) and we were very excited by the time we arrived in Barcelona. We had been unable to book a hotel room prior to our arrival because of the holiday, but Brad knew that if we went down to part of the old town near the harbor we would be able to find something. We got off the subway and walked down a grand avenue lined with palm trees towards the harbor and found a great little hotel with one room that had just become available due to a cancellation - four little twin beds stuffed into the room and a huge balcony looking over the street. Dinner in Spain is served late at night (most restaurants are open 8-12pm) which suited us very well. We rested a little after the train ride and then went out in search of dinner around 10:30. Our hotel recommended a seafood restaurant a few blocks away. We walked down a long narrow passageway no more than 5 feet wide which was lined with restaurants (and lines of people waiting to get into them) and found our place. We made a reservation at the bar and took our place at the bar. A few minutes later, they found a place for us and lead us into the restaurant -- all the dining rooms were accessed only by passing through the kitchen -- one look at the kitchen (and the food) assured us that we had made the right decision: Mounds of delicious looking lobsters, crabs, shrimp, etc..all resting on beds of rice. And dinner was even better than we thought it would be...after a long day of travelling, taking our time over a luxurious dinner was just what we needed. And the pitchers of sangria and flan for desert also didn't hurt! We finished shortly before one and walked out onto the main street again, and the street was alive with people. Not just late night partiers, but what seemed like half the city - old women, street performers, families, young couples, all out walking the streets, as if it were 7:30, not after 1:00. We walked down to the harbor, past the statue of Columbus, and then strolled back to the hotel to sleep. We rose again early and got on the subway to the train station and caught our train to Alecante. Barcelona is a beautiful city and it is a place that I look forward to returning to when I get another chance. We arrived after dark and left before the sun came up; the city seemed like a glorious dream.
We arrived in Calpe in the early afternoon, and got settled in the apartment -- a cute little two-bedroom place with a balcony overlooking the main street, which still had all of the Christmas Lights up. The town of Calpe is on the Costa Blanca, between Valencia and Alecante, and its most distinguishing landmark is the Piñon D'Ifach, which the locals also call the Second Rock of Gibraltar which juts out into the Mediterranean. The town itself is on the peninsula and has beautiful white sand beaches on both sides. It is mostly brand new architecture, nothing like the beautiful old buildings of Barcelona, but has a very nice casual feel. There are orange trees lining the main street, and almost every street has views of the rock and the ocean. The town has a large number of German and British retirees, and all the store signs and menus are in 4 languages. It never quite hit 70 degrees while we were there, but the sun shone every day - a welcome change from the unending weeks of gray from the German winter climate. We were there during the off-season, which meant that we had the entire town pretty much to ourselves, which suited us very well.
After a quick and light dinner, and a walk on the beach at sunset (which we did every day) we settled into the apartment for a few drinks, lots of lazing around and then an early bed. That pretty much set the tone for the entire vacation -- after months of travel and schedules the prospect of sitting in a chair looking over the buildings at the ocean and drinking sangria for a week was perfect. Every morning before I woke up, BA and Brad went to the grocery store and cooked us a full breakfast - the best part being the orange juice that they would squeeze right before I woke up. We would linger over breakfast until noon, then we would find some small activity which led right up to a late lunch. We'd watch the sunset and then go back to the apartment and play bridge until we were hungry again -- then eat and call it a day.
Between our apartment and the rock, as we called it, was a stretch of the beach that had been left undeveloped, and as we walked there on the first evening, we discovered a series of Roman ruins, including a fish pool and bath carved out of the stone leading to the water as well as a guard tower. Later we walked through the harbor and feasted at a little restaurant on a bluff over the harbor - we would return there twice during our stay -- I normally don't like shrimp, but I stuffed myself on these that had been grilled and then served in a pool of butter and garlic.
The following day we decided to be a little less sedentary and after breakfast we decided to climb the rock - the path started out relatively easy, first up the hill then in and out of caves, but the last half was extremely difficult picking our way over boulders -- I loved it. And once we got to the top, the vista was breathtaking with the sea on three sides and the town stretching out below us with the rocky coast leading off into the distance to the north and west. It took about 2 hours to climb, and once at the top we met a number of the other climbers there from Australia, Spain, Britain, and Germany. We'd heard it before, but they echoed that it was very unusual to have Americans there - one of the few places left in Europe mostly undiscovered by the American tourist industry. By the time we got back, the sun was setting into the hills on the other side of the bay, and we stopped to watch before heading back to the apartment to rest.
Very little happened the next day - I did some laundry in the machine in the apartment (The first time I've had access to a washing machine in over a month -- It was nice not to do it in the sink) and then went to the Beach again. Rob went looking for souvenirs to send to his niece, and when I came back to read on the balcony, BA headed down to the beach try to lay out. It was a little cold when I came across her later - but apparently goosebumps don't prevent you from tanning.
The rest of the week was much of the same..I read a lot and walked on the beach a lot and was extremely content doing nothing at all for an extended period of time. When our final day came and we were having lunch at our little restaurant above the harbor, BA pretended to run away so as not to have to leave, and the rest of us felt much the same. Our flight was at 11PM, and it was a little sad piling into the cab to the airport and getting on the plane back to Frankfurt. We arrived in Mannheim at the hotel shortly after 3 and all fell into a deep sleep.
Throughout the following day (January 7th) the rest of the cast trickled back from Venice, Rome, Nice, Amsterdam, Munich, Zurich and one from Boston (Guess whose mom works for Delta) all very relaxed and happy. That night many of us went to see the city's Opera do SWEENEY TODD (In German), and while it wasn't great, it wasn't terrible either, and it was certainly nice to hear a full 20 piece orchestra (as opposed to our 7) play that score. Though we weren't paid for the vacation, it was nice to have the time off, and the new schedule we received two days before with nearly full show weeks through March alleviated a lot of the financial worries of the company. We all seemed to be in good spirits and ready for the coming grind.