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2018 Grateful 32

Wednesday. May 23rd. The day John Malkovich came to Budapest and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Right now, I’m trying to decide if it was worth the experience.

In true marketing fashion, I made a rash purchase (4 tickets) and am now trying to rationalise my decision. Apparently, this is what we consumers do all the time. It’s what keeps the marketers in business.

The facts I had at the time were:

  1. John Malkovich was coming to Budapest for one night only.
  2. He was performing what was billed as one of the top 10 shows in the world (I can’t recall where I read that snippet)
  3. If I didn’t see the man this time, I was unlikely to cross paths with him again.
  4. The cheapest tickets I could get were 20 000 huf (~€60 / $70).
  5. We were expecting visitors and I thought it would be night for them to rememeber.

And it was, but probably not for the reasons I imagined.

We rocked early to Budapesti Kongresszusi Központ, in plenty of time to have a pre-show drink and take our seats at a leisurely pace. I was all excited. I’ve had a thing for the bould JM for just about ever. What a voice. The 26-piece string orchestra – Danubia Orchestra Óbuda took their place. And the show started. No sign of the man himself. But I didn’t panic. Perhaps, I thought, he’d enjoy a grand entrance. Above the stage, rain was being projected onto a white screen. I quite fancied that I saw his face in the droplets and given the title of the programme – Report on the Blind – my imagination began to run riot.

Maestro Dirk Brossé was conducting and violinist Ino Mirkovic also made an appearance. Now, had I done my homework, I’d have been all the wiser. But I hadn’t. And I wasn’t.

Psycho Suite by Bernard Herrmann and the Adagio (To the Unknown Soldier) by Dirk Brossé and still no sign of John. My blood pressure began to rise, slowly. I could feel the anxiety setting in. I began to wonder if we were in the right place. I drew a map of the venue in my mind and decided that there were no other gigs on that night (and it would have been strange, anyway, not have to have been ousted from our seats had we been in the wrong place). The rain at this stage had turned to snow and the images of frosted glass and the ice patterns provided only a mild distraction. The avalanche footage was quite compelling though. But 45 minutes in and still no John.

Then a man appeared on stage – and I breathed a sigh of relief – a short one. On closer inspectection I saw a face that was too round, a body that was too slim, and a hairline that wasn’t quite far back enough. Not John. They danced. At one stage he blindfolded himself and hope rose within me briefly – I was grasping at blind straws. I tried to control the angst. And then came the intermission.

I left my company inside and went outside to calm my nerves. Everyone seemed to be wondering what was up. I wasn’t the only one. Then I heard that this was just the prelude. The warm-up. The man would make his appearance in the second half. And he did.

Accompanied by pianist Anastasya Terenkova, Malkovich took us on a rollercoaster ride, his voice doing more than the 26-string orchestra could have done. He was quite something. He posited some theories:

  1. God does not exist
  2. God exists but he is a bastard
  3. Good exists but falls asleep and his nightmares are our existence

I quite liked No. 3. I thought ‘wow – he wrote this stuff. Amazing.’ But he didn’t. It was a chapter from Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs. Malkovich played the protagonist Fernando Vidal who reckons that blindness drives the world. It was mesmerising. Mesmerisingly short. Just 30 minutes, if that. And it was over.

It’s taken me a week to process it all. Am I glad I got to see and hear the man in person? Yes. Am I glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity? Yes. Do I reckon it was worth the guts of €250 – which is a plane ticket somewhere – I’m not sure.

But I learned a lot about myself. If I have no expectations at all – which is generally the case – I can’t be disappointed. My mother tacked that one on as the ninth beatitude. But if I have expectations, and I’m thrown off course, then I get ansty and anxious. I let it consume me. I tried to enjoy the music in the first half, which was stellar by the way, but my heart was racing and my mind was all over the place. I had brief moments of enjoyment but peppered as they were by a sense of being utterly lost, I barely remember them.

I wanted to see him so badly that I didn’t think to check what it was he’d be doing. I could have. It’s out there. I could have done my homework, perhaps before I bought the tickets. But I was blindsided by fame. Still, though, as a lover of oratory and the spoken word, I think Malkovich would be hard to match.

I’d like to see  Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. The interview with photographer Sandro Miller makes for fascinating reading. And I never knew that JM owns a restaurant in Lisbon, speaks fluent French, and lost millions in Bernie Maddoch’s Ponzi scheme. For the background reading, I’m grateful. For the opportunity to hear the voice in person, I’m grateful, too. I only wish he’d spoken for longer and that I’d known what I was letting myself in for.


 

2014 Grateful 30

I used to collect stamps. Then I moved on to frogs. Now I collect experiences. And chief amongst them is my quest for the perfect cosmopolitan. It doesn’t take much by way of enticement to lure me inside a cocktail bar. As long as cosmos are on the menu, I’ll happily try it out. But when the invite is prefaced with ‘this is where John Malkovich and Quentin Tarrantino drink when they’re in town’, I was sitting on the high stool before the first shake had shook. (Trivia: Tarrantino named one of the characters in Kill Bill II after one of the barmaids.)

The ‘town’ in question is Vienna and the bar is L00s. Designed by Adolf Loos, one of the pioneers of modern architecture in Vienna, it’s tiny but looks spacious. The 290 sq ft is made bigger by the ingenious use of mirrors. The onyx-tiled walls are backlit and the counter and ceiling are cloaked in mahogany.

It’s a haven for true cocktail aficionados, offering six variations of Martinis and five variations of Manhattans. The Cosmopolitan was one of the best I’ve had in years. There’s barely room to swing a handbag and those lucky enough to get a seat are reluctant to give it up. Considering the average drink will set you back €10, it would be easy enough to sip your way through a small fortune over a few hours in the afternoon.

IMG_2377 (800x600)It started off life as a private gentleman’s club but is now open to the public. And, so far has its fame stretched, a tribute bar has opened in Manhattan. Photos are not allowed. (I missed the sign as I came in, but the rather officious manager soon took me to task. It’s a long time since I’ve felt like I’d been hauled into the principal’s office.) The bartender was a dream though – and certainly knew his stuff.

The origin of the word itself, cocktail, has many plausible explanations from sailors stirring mixed drinks with a rooster’s tail, to a derivation of the name of a Mexican goddess Xochitl. But the one I like most featured in George Bishop’s The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of Man in His Cups (1965). He says: ‘The word itself stems from the English cock-tail which, in the middle 1800’s, referred to a woman of easy virtue who was desirable but impure…and applied to the newly acquired American habit of bastardizing good British Gin with foreign matter, including ice.’

No matter its origin, the cocktail is indeed one of life’s pleasures. And as to who invented the cosmo? The war of attribution still rages. And spending a few hours in Loos with good friends on what was otherwise quite a chilly summer’s day in Vienna, was something to be grateful for indeed. Thank you, ladies. You know who you are.

 

Kärntnerdurchgang 10, Vienna