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Monday, January 31, 2011

Hold My Hand (on Verdi's Don Carlo)





HOLD MY HAND

Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle (libretto, based on Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien), Giuseppe Verdi (music) Don Carlo / Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast, December 11, 2010

Giuseppe Verdi's great opera Don Carlo premiered in Paris in March 1867, the year Sigmund Freud turned eleven while attending Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium in Vienna. It would be years before Freud would propound his psychological theories, which refer often to classical literature; but Verdi's opera might as well be described as a template for many of Freud's ideas about human relationships, in particular those concerning various obstacles to love.
If there was ever an example of a competitive struggle between son and father for the love of a mother, other than Sophocles Oedipus Rex I can't imagine it being played out more dramatically than in Don Carlo. Promised in marriage to Elisabeth of Valois, daughter to King Henry II, Don Carlo (Roberto Alagna), son of the powerful Philip II of Spain (Ferruccio Furlanetto), has disobediently traveled to France to catch a glimpse of his intended. It is clear that he is somewhat nervous about the impending event, but when he finally sees Elisabeth (Marina Poplavskaya) frolicking in Fontainebleau on a winter hunt, he is overpowered by her beauty and immediately falls in love. When the two meet up, he pretends to be from one of the hunting parties, but as the two continue in conversation, he finally admits who he is. She, equally taken with him, is delighted and they sing of their joy and love.

Their marriage is to be announced as soon as their fathers sign the peace treaty between the Houses of Habsburg and Valois, but when the messengers arrive to tell her the news that the treaty has been signed, she is made to understand that she shall not be married to the infante, but the King, Philip, himself! Knowing that the marriage is necessary for her country, Elisabeth has no choice but to painfully accept the proposal; Don Carlo is devastated:

The fatal hour has sounded!
Cruel destiny
shatters this beautiful dream!
And my soul is filled with regrets;
we shall drag along our chains
until we rest in our tomb.

Seldom has a first scene in any opera transformed its characters' worlds so suddenly. Don Carlo is now in the painful position of being in love with the woman who is soon be become his mother.
Like anyone suffering from the Oedipal complex from here on he will come to hate his father. We recognize that the opera that follows will be centered, in part, on the struggle between the two.

Yet, in the very next scene Verdi introduces a further sexual wrinkle in Don Carlo's life. Having returned to Spain, he secretly visits the monastery of San Yuste, where, after his abdication in 1516, Carlo' grandfather, Charles V, came to live out the rest of his life before dying of malaria.

There he encounters his dear friend Rodrigo, who has obviously come to meet him. Carlo reveals his love of Elisabeth, a fact that shocks Rodrigo, who immediately demands that Carlo join him in saving Protestant Flanders—the birthplace of Charles V—by freeing it from the Spanish rule.

Rodrigo is a pure idealist, a believer in justice and evidently a fine soldier. As he pleads with Philip a short while later for the Flanders cause, he reveals what he sees as the people's condition there:

RODRIGO
O King! I have come from Flanders,
that country which was once so lovely!
It is now but an ashen desert,
a place of horror, a tomb!
There the orphan, begging
and weeping on the streets,
falls, as he flees the flames,
on human remains!
Blood reddens the water in the rivers,
they roll on, full of dead bodies …
The air is filled with the cries of widows
over their butchered husbands! …
Ah! Blessed be the hand of God,
which through me brings
the passing-bell of this agony
to the notice of the righteous King!

Philip, the king of a country where at the very moment the trials of the Inquisition are taking place, cannot possibly support the reformers, nor intervene in the French domination of that region, and rejects Rodrigo's and Don Carlo's pleas to travel to Flanders out of hand.

It is clear that Rodrigo, in even daring to speak of the subject with his King, is committed to his cause. Yet we soon suspect another reason why he is so eager to have Don Carlo join him. Verdi may have thought of their relationship as being nothing more than a deep brotherly affection, but the bonds they express, their continual embracement of each other, and the vows of love they repeat over and over again in phrases such as "hold my hand" reveal their relationship is perhaps far deeper than simple friendship. They would be "united in love and death" and sing of their fealty as an oath before God. As in a marriage ceremony they cry out for a "brotherly love" that obviously is also a sexual bond. Taking Carlo with him to Flanders may be the only way to protect the young prince from the wiles of Philip's wife and his own undoing. Although Rodrigo is somewhat single-minded in his idealism, jealousy, it is apparent, may have a role in his actions as well.

Their relationship, despite Don Carlo's inability to join him in Flanders, remains one of committed love up until Rodrigo's last act death. Not only in life do they pledge to remain together, but even in death, at least from Rodrigo's point of view:

RODRIGO
We must take our leave!

Don Carlos freezes, looking aghast at Rodrigo.

Yes, Carlos! This is for me the supreme day,
let us say a solemn farewell;
God permits us still to love one another
near him, when we are in heaven.

We can only wonder what Elisabeth, had she been able to consummate her love with Don Carlo, might say to Rodrigro's dying desire.
Like Hamlet, we perceive, Don Carlo is a confused psychological being, not a man of action like his friend. As Paul Robinson has written in an excellent essay on Don Carlo (in Opera & Ideas: From Mozart to Strauss):

In all of opera there can be no more improbable friendship
than that between Rodrigo and Don Carlo. Just as Rodrigo
is the quintessentially political animal, Carlo is one of those
people who seem incapable of a coherent political thought.
In the course of the opera, admittedly, he gets deeply involved
in affairs of state, beginning with the friendship duet... But
we are never in doubt that it is all pretend politics, and that
he understands nothing of the Flemish cause or the ideological
principles that all but define Rodrigo's existence.

It is also clear that Philip would have wished a son more like Rodrigo than the one he has. For that reason alone, one suspects, the King confides in Rodrigo and takes him on almost as an advisor. In a world where his rule is threatened by the church, and in which he feels he can trust no one, not even his beloved wife, Philip has no choice but to turn to the handsome man of action, his weakling's son dear friend.

The tension between Rodrigo's commitment to the political and his love for Don Carlo comes to a head when the Inquisition prepares to torture Flemish rebels. When Philip rejects the pleas of Flemish representatives to free them, Don Carlo rushes in, a ridiculous hero, sword in hand insisting that he will be their savior. Philip demands that his son be disarmed, and Rodrigo has no choice but to disarm him. Don Carlo, appalled by his actions, sees it as a betrayal of their love, but Rodrigo clearly recognizes it is the only way to save his friend from death.

So too is Philip made to choose between his role as a ruler and his love of his surrogate son. In the horrifying verbal battle between the bassos, Philip and the Grand Inquisitor, the blind man of the church insists that the King hand over Rodrigo. Once again, the choice is a terrible one, but as a conciliator he knows he must give in to the demand.

Finally, even the pure and suffering Elisabeth, who has already been forced into the awful choice of marrying Philip or his son, is tortured by the oppositions between the personal and the political. Betrayed by Princess Eboli, jealous of Don Carlo's love for the Queen, Elisabeth is asked to proclaim her innocence before her King/husband, who is convinced that she has been carrying on an affair with his son. The overbearing tension between these two forces, the domestic and the State, results in her collapse.

Throughout Don Carlo, accordingly, the characters' attempts at love are perverted, torn as they are between their psychological states of being and the State, the political and religious machinations that work against their love for one another. At opera's end all have fallen from any possibility of grace, as Don Carlo, who finally seems to recognize Rodrigo's righteous view of the world whereupon he renounces his heterosexual lover/mother, is quite literally dragged into the past—and, of course, death—by the ghost of his own Grandfather, Charles V, in what is perhaps also a metaphor of where his political actions would surely have taken him had he attempted to save Flanders.

Los Angeles, January 30, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two Beckett Films" Mouth on Fire and Be Again" (on Beckett's Not I and Krapp's Last Time)




TWO BECKETT FILMS

Beginning in 2000, Michael Colgan of Dublin's Gate Theatre and the Irish Film Board determined to film 19 of Beckett's plays and monologues, each directed by a different individual. Directors included Karel Reisz, Anthony Minghella, Damien Hirst, David Mamet, and the two I've chosen below as representative, Neil Jordan and Atom Egoyan. Actors included John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons, Milo O'Shea, Timothy Spall, and Julienne Moore and John Hurt, described below. These films were never put into theaters in general release, but several of them were shown in the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.

MOUTH ON FIRE

Samuel Beckett (author), Neil Jordon (director) Not I (part of the project Beckett on Film, presenting 19 Beckett texts on film, conceived my Michael Colgan) / 2000, DVD release 2002

Neil Jordan begins his short film Not I, based on the 1972 dramatic text by Samuel Beckett, with a view of a young woman (Julienne Moore) entering to sit upon a chair. Perhaps he just couldn’t resist showing off his actor, but this clearly works against Beckett’s instructions, wherein he writes:

Stage in darkness but for MOUTH, upstage audience right, about 8 feet
above stage level, faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face
in shadow. Invisible microphone.

The auditor, covered head to foot in a loose black djellaba, is missing from Jordan's film.
From here on, however, Jordan follows the author’s suggestions, turning the rest of the work into a film of the mouth.

The mouth—or the voice—is, in fact, the subject of this work, which concerns an older woman (seventy years of age, we later discover) whose parents, having died or disappeared shortly after her birth, was brought up without love and basic human communication. Throughout much of her life she has seldom spoke, grocery-shopping, for example, by bringing a black bag and a shopping list to the store, and quietly waiting until the clerk puts the articles into the bag.

Suddenly, one April morning, upon hearing the larks, she falls face-first into the grass and, accompanied by an interminable buzz she hears all about her, she begins to talk without stop. The speech she releases into the world seems to be often incomprehensible to her friends, but, despite the constant interruptions between words, the tumble of language she uses to describe herself in the third person, we do gradually come to comprehend her “story.” It is as if all the silence she has previously lived has been let loose as a roar of suffering, a suffering she has not previously felt. In fact, she has felt little, apparently, throughout her life, unable even by the end of her scree to identify herself as single entity. Like a character in a fiction, she describes herself as a figure “out there,” a “not I” with no inward being.

One might read Beckett’s short work as a kind of statement of the writer’s art, the writer being a silent entity until he is forced, “once or twice a year,” to express himself, often without being properly comprehended. And when those words pour out, or the mouth opens to speak, it cannot stop, swallowing up everything, including the self, in the buzz of a created reality.

Moore credibly plays the interruptive mouth, but it is somewhat difficult to watch this mouth in action—despite the three different views the director presents—in such extreme proximity of the camera. In some ways, the busy lips almost become abstract, so focused is the camera upon them. In the theater, where an unspeaking Auditor also stands in the shadows, there is more to distract the audience, even if it is hidden in the shadows. While I was watching this DVD, the movie was appropriately accompanied by a buzzing, a saw in my neighbor’s apartment from their attempts at renovation.

Although I like the theatricality of the moving lips, the gasps, pursings, and poutings of them against the actor’s white teeth, I often felt the need to turn away briefly to relieve myself of the apparent pain they express.

Los Angeles, January 26, 2011


BE AGAIN

Samuel Beckett (writer), Atom Egoyan (director) Krapp's Last Tape (part of the project Beckett on Film, presenting 19 Beckett texts on film, conceived my Michael Colgan) / 2000, DVD release 2002

Actor John Hurt's portrayal of Krapp in Beckett's 1958 play put to film is absolutely brilliant, despite he and director's Egoyan's small changes to Beckett's text. The realist setting of the play, with the spots of bright white light, gives a grand theatricality to Krapp's world, a world in which, under the light, he feels safe while being surrounded by darkness wherein, as Beckett himself described it, "Old Nick" or death awaits. On his sixty-ninth birthday Krapp, yet again, forces himself to interact with a younger incarnation.

It is clear that Krapp has a fixation with his former selves. For years he has recorded tapes describing his life's events, most of them quite meaningless, but some of them of great poetry and sensibility. The tape Krapp chooses on this particular, rainy night, is "Box 3, Spool 5," the day Krapp turned 39.

Yet Egoyan reveals that what leads up to his playing the tape is as important in some senses as what is actually on the tape itself. The ritualistic acts, Krapp's continual checking of the time, his strange way of eating a banana—he puts the entire banana into his mouth holding it there for a while before biting it off, clearly a bow to the fruit's sexual suggestions—and several of his other actions, including his nearly falling on the banana peel he has tossed into the dark, reveal him as a kind of eccentric fool—in short, the typical Beckett figure. As his name suggests, he is "full of shit."

Hurt presents Krapp with a kind of valor despite his obvious distancing of himself from the human race. Clearly Krapp's mother has been a monster, living for years in a world of "vidiuity"—the condition of being or remaining a widow. The small things he describes are both comical and life-affirming: playing ball with a dog as his mother dies, awarding the ball to the dog as he hears of his mother's death; attending a vesper service as a child, falling off the pew.
Krapp is an everyday man with romantic aspirations, or at least he was, it is apparent, at age 39, the time when we are all have arrived in the prime of life. Krapp at 39 is both a smug bore,

Spiritually a year of profound gloom and indulgence until that
memorable night in March at the end of the jetty, in the
howling wind, never to be forgotten, when suddenly I saw the
whole thing. The vision, at last. This fancy is what I have chiefly
to record this evening, against the day when my work will be done
and perhaps no place left in my memory, warm or cold, for the
miracle that . . . (hesitates) . . . for the fire that set it alight.
What I suddenly saw then was this, that the belief I had been going
on all my life, namely—(Krapp switches off impatiently, winds tape
forward, switches on again)—

a man who will not regret any decision of his life, and is a man amazingly come alive through the love of a woman whom he describes lovingly in a scene where the two lay in a small punt as it floats into shore through the reeds.

The older Krapp, who realizes that his younger self could not imagine the loneliness and emptiness of the life ahead, has no patience at times with his past. His new tape, which he begins after impatiently winding the older tape ahead to escape his previous self's blindness, is filled with bitterness and anger for a failed life:

Nothing to say, not a squeak. What's a year now? The sour cud and
the iron stool. (Pause.) Reveled in the word spool. (With relish.)
Spooool! Happiest moment of the past half million. (Pause.) Seventeen
copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries
beyond the seas. Getting known. (Pause.)

He has failed, obviously, even in his writing career. Unlike his younger self, so unregretful of his past, the old Krapp is filled with the detritus of his life, all those materials left over from his disintegration. If the younger Krapp declares himself as only moving forward, the elder would "Be again!"

Be again in the dingle on a Christmas Eve, gathering holly, the
red-berried. (Pause.) Be again on Croghan on a Sunday morning,
in the haze, with the bitch, stop and listen to the bells. (Pause.)
And so on. (Pause.) Be again, be again. (Pause.) All that old
misery. (Pause.) Once wasn't enough for you. (Pause.)
Lie down across her.

He gives up this, his last tape (or perhaps simply his latest) to listen again to his former self describing his sexual moment with the woman in the punt.

Director Egoyan represents these last scenes, nearly twenty minutes in length, with a full shot, where the viewer cannot escape the shaft of reality penetrating the darkness around Krapp. Hurt so painfully suffers and loves his former self that one can almost hear his heart crack.

Los Angeles, January 29, 2011
Copyright (c) 2011 by Douglas Messerli
If you enjoy reading about film, please visit my International Cinema Review (http://internationalcinemareview.blogspot.com/)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trying to Leave (the final piece on my 1989 Russian adventure)




DAY TWELVE - TRYING TO LEAVE

Yesterday's bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport could not help but remind me of our group's experiences at that same spot in 1989.

We gathered first in the large space where the bombing took place yesterday, checking our suitcases and other bags. Since I had brought a rather large sum of money which I spent in the Soviet Union on trinkets, etc., a couple of the Rova saxophonists asked if I might carry their cash, since they had been paid in dollars, and could take out of the country only the amount with which they'd come in. I readily agreed, and we all moved forward to the large eating facility on the second floor. It was still early, and thought we might get a bite to eat. It was just after noon, and our plane was not scheduled until 4:00.

Sitting at tables, however, produced no results. No waitress or waiter appeared. I finally stood and went over to a man who seemed to be dressed like a server. He joined me as we walked back to the group, telling our guide in Russian and he could not serve us without permission from the main office.

Where was the main office? I asked. He pointed, and a friend and I marched over to get the permission. There were two women behind the counter, but neither would come forward. As I had seen so many times in Russia, one of them turned away, hiding behind a small curtain and the other just looked down as if we were invisible.

"Excuse me, I have a question," I pleaded.

I was invisible—and evidently mute.

"We can see you," said my friend, "even if you can't see us."

"We've been told we need to get permission here."

Neither of them moved.

"Permission to eat. We're hungry."

They had turned to stone.

My friend turned back to the group, while I went forward in the other direction just to explore. A few feet away, I found a small Japanese cafe, open, apparently, and serving. But, unlike the larger food court, wherein our group sat waiting, it was terribly expensive. Soups cost $20.00, some meals went for $50. I was hungry and sat down to eat a small bowl of noodles.

When I returned to the ROVA group, I told them about the Japanese spot, but none of them wanted to pay that much. Suddenly, as if a miracle had just occurred, the larger pavilion opened their windows and servers came out to take the group's orders.

While they waited, a message came over the loudspeakers—in English—that our plane was slightly delayed. Yet as suddenly as the food began to arrive, another message—this in Russian only—reported that our plane would soon be ready to board.

Our guide, relaying this information to us, suggested we leave the food to face the interrogation of the passport inspectors.

Just as I have described in my 2006 volume about my visit to East Germany, the inspectors spent an inordinate amount of time stamping things and starring into our faces. The questions they posed were generally simple if somewhat inexplicable—"Why do you visit our country?" "Why are you leaving?" "What are you taking with you?" "What cities have you visited?" etc. etc. The problem was that, no matter how you answered it appeared to be "incorrect." I felt as if they were attempting to keep me there until I confessed some criminal act and intention. It would have been comical except that it was so foreboding, and no smiles were encouraged.

Eventually, I was released along with Clark Coolidge and several others. Yet we noticed one of our friends, my roommate Peter Vilms, was still being questioned, and Clark and I determined—unlike the others who had passed through the screening into another waiting room—to check on him. We stood aside for a long while, but he seemed to be making no progress, so I joined him at the window where he was held.

"They're evidently upset with me," he explained," because I came into the Soviet Union on the ferry to Estonia." Peter, of Estonian ancestry had arrived earlier than the rest of us so that he could visit relatives in his parents' home country.

Strangely, the inspector was speaking only in Russian, a language Peter could neither understand nor speak. The interrogation also included the requisite stares and stamping, but this was far more intimidating, and nothing Peter said seemed to help his situation. The man clearly was determined that something was "wrong" here, that Peter had obviously "up to something," and there was apparently no way to change his mind.

For a few minutes, I tried to intervene, explaining he was with our group and visited Estonia only as a tourist. But that seemed to have an even more negative effect, so I ceased, and moved off to the sidelines where Clark and I continued our wait.

By now all the others had gone through screening and were gathered on the other side of glass wall for entry onto the plane. Peter was completely stalled, and there seemed no way to free him until suddenly he was waved on. The moment the three of us begin to go through screening, however, three soldiers blockaded the route, pulling down a small wooden bar.

"We have to join our party over there," we explained.

Their answer was "Nyet!"

We tried to get the attention of our friends, but everyone seemed oblivious.

Turning again to the guards, I tried to enter, but was barred yet again.

We all had our breaking points in this Soviet trip, and Clark's came at that moment as he beat head in frustration, again and again, against the glass. Finally someone from our group came up to the screening place.

"They won't let us in," Clark nearly shouted.

"It's okay," spoke the man, "The flight has evidently been cancelled."

A while later, we were encouraged to join the others, and we passed through without event.

Eventually, the plane was loaded. Evidently, there had been a threat of a strike in Finland, and the Russians were determined not to cross the strike line. We were just relieved that we had made it on board, and before long were rumbling down the snow-covered runway to some place else.

We had, however, missed our connecting flight to the US, and the Russians were forced to put us up for the night in a hotel, a very nice hotel indeed, the Helsinki InterContinental. Sitting down for dinner in the hotel's restaurant, we behaved like wide-eyed Russians visiting the West for the very first time. I think nearly all of us ordered up big steaks, with piles of potatoes and other sides. After dinner, we all took walks, amazed at the gleaming store-windows filled with stylish shoes, jewels, gowns, coats. Helsinki looked like a gem against the night sky. It was as if we had never seen such wealth. Indeed, in that year Helsinki was the most expensive city in Europe. In 2010, the most expensive European city was Moscow! In recent renovations, Domodedovo airport has added 20 new restaurants and several jewelry boutiques.

Los Angeles, January 25, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Breaking the Rules (my Russian trip in 1989)




DAY ELEVEN - BREAKING THE RULES

From the very beginning of our travels in we were told by our USA tour guide that there were two important rules when traveling in the Soviet Union. One must never buy anything—as tempting as it may be—from the thriving Black Markets. "It is, first of all, against Soviet law, and, secondly, is extraordinarly dangerous given the individuals who sell the outlawed stuff.

Two: "Do not attempt to eat outside of the hotel restaurants. It's nearly impossible to get a reservation, and, you never know what you might be fed or where it comes from."

Lyn Hejinian had added a third rule: "Don't ever get sick in the Soviet Union!"

The Russian tour guide suggested a fourth: "If you take a taxi, do not pay in American dollars. It was for that very reason that he had to hijack ordinary drivers to take us to our out-of-the-way resort spot in Latvia."

I am generally quite obedient, although I do have a stubborn independent streak when it comes to being told not to do something while traveling, as I think I've revealed in these Russian memoirs so far. But these four rules all seemed to represent good advice. Why endanger yourself by buying off the street or in dark corners of a hotel? And when I observed the seedy and surely sinister figures loitering in the dark stairwells of our Leningrad hotel, I had no desire to approach, being more than a little bit frightened they may try to approach me.

It was far easier to eat at the hotel dining rooms than to find an open or available restaurant, and after my "soku" incident in the same city, I had a great fear of unknown food stuffs.

It seemed ludicrous that taxi drivers waited to serve only "rich" Americans, leaving their compatriots to freeze on the streets.

And I had no intention of getting ill.

Yet, one by one, I broke all but one of these sacred stipulations. It began in Latvia, when Susan Hopkins Coolidge, Clark Coolidge's wife, and I both speculated on the quality of Soviet restaurants. One of our group had gone to a restaurant before joining up with us, claiming it was an excellent experience. We were both curious and, more to the point, bored our by current repetitive fare. Consequently, we sought out a restaurant, and boldly entered. The place was utterly desserted, appearing as if it had never seen a customer. Approching the man we thought to be the host, we were told we could not eat there.
Displaying my stubborness, I asked, "Why not?"

"Because you do not have a reservation," snapped the host.

"How do we get a reservation?" Susan shyly asked.

"See the coat check," answered the uncoperative comrade.

We had experienced the coat check maneuver previously, when, at one hotel, we had found that we could get vodka at the coat check. At another inn, the coat check quietly arranged for cans of Beluga cavier to be sold at our table. Accordingly, we followed the host's instructions, and found a friendly face behind the empty coat racks.

"What time can we come for lunch?" we inquired.

He looked at his watch. "Two hours. You pay in advance."

"How much?"

He quoted a price in rubles that was something close to $10.00.

We readily paid, and returned precisely at the hour he'd suggested. We were quickly taken up to a pleasant table, but the room was still barren. Evidently, we were their only customers that day. But what a wonderful treat! The food was plentiful and excellent, exactly the kind of break in diet we had been seeking. And it was, so it seems twenty-two years later, extraordinarily tasty. Out tip made everyone happy. I felt it was worth, this one time, breaking one of the rules.

By the time we reached Moscow, I had discerned that perhaps we had been somehow misinformed, that good things happened only when one didn't quite follow the rules. I had intended to bring back a Russian Babushka doll for my grandmother, a doll within which sits a series of nesting dolls. She had asked if I might get her one, but, clearly, none was to be found. As I have written elsewhere, most of the stores I visited were nearly empty, and when they contained products they were not what any tourist might desire. So one afternoon, met in the stairwell by two young Russian boys, I asked if they might be able to find the item for me. I was told to meet them in their room (Room 305) in about an hour.

Fearfully, I attended the appointment, knowing that anything might happen. I might be robbed, beaten, even killed. But no, there was the doll, and the transaction, for a few American dollars, went off without a hitch. My second such breaking of rules was rewarded just as nicely as my first. Obviously, I might have purchased the dolls more easily in Los Angeles.

While I was in Moscow, I was determined to visit the major English-language bookstore, The House of Foreign Books. Yet, when I asked where it was located, I was told that it was quite a distance, and that I would be unable to walk. Taxi's were just as hard to grab in Moscow as they had been in Riga. When I found a cab-driver willing to roll his windows down while remaining tentative about a stop, I quickly offered to pay in American dollars if he would wait for me, and, after I had visited the store, return me to where he had picked me up.

The cab door opened, and I was wisked away to Kuznetsky Most Ulitsa, where I spent more than an hour studying the shelves. Although I purchased only one book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And when I exited the place, there was the taxi, patiently waiting to carry me back!

I told no one about these transgressions, and Susan apparently did not mention our secret rendezvous except to her husband. As we gathered in the lobby to leave Moscow, however, the two young boys who had sold me the Russian dolls, ran up to us, explaining to our US tour guide that I had forgotten my proof of purchase (obviously a fake document), necessary to take the dolls out of the country. The guide handed it over to me, tsking, "Douglas, shame on you, shame!" I bowed my head like the bad boy I was.

As I mention above, I obeyed only one of the rules. I had no intention of visiting a Soviet hospital.

Los Angeles, January 20, 2011