Thursday, July 21, 2011

Travelogue: Portugal

Mr. Peel reminded me of an earlier trip to Portugal. Part of the country's enormous appeal are the helpful Brits who materialize to get you out of the most difficult situations.

Hoping that will still be the case this time around. Next stop: Sintra.

I'll be tweeting the new adventures, none of which will include pulling a Norman Maine. Please stay in touch with me there.

(Opening sequence from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which begins with James Bond and Tracy in Portugal)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Prep for Portugal Meets Torchwood: Miracle Day

I don’t get summer hours in real life. 6:00 pm on a Friday usually finds me still in the thick of things. So I am giving myself some time off on blogging.

I’m also doing some traveling, which takes time beforehand to organize and time when you’re back to rest up from your vacation.

Next weekend is a short stay in Boston for an old friend’s birthday party. I wonder if the city has a Leverage walking tour yet! I am still a fan. As fate would have it I’m staying in a hotel that used to be police headquarters.

And the following weekend I go to Portugal, specifically to Sintra for another international chorale workshop conducted by Ghislaine Morgan, who also directed the one I went to last summer in Casole d’Elsa, Tuscany. One thread of my life seems to be woven into the time-honored tradition of British heliotropic travel to places of the sun.

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage city, the former retreat for Portuguese royalty. Lord Byron stopped there and wrote to Francis Hodgson in 1809: "I must just observe that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful in the world." He liked it so much he threw it into the olio that is Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

The city has layers upon layers of conquering rulers: Roman administers, the Moors, the Reconquista by King Alfonso Henriques in 1147, the Knights Templar, and finally the crown heads of the country, when the Royal Palace was built in the 15th and 16th centuries. It sits within lush hills that drop to the sea, and the cacophony of cultures that have dominated it has left it with a mystical aura. This site about Lisbon has some great information about the city: “The Romans made it a place of cult moon worshiping and named it "Cynthia" after the goddess of the moon.”

I was in Portugal 9 years ago, in Lisbon and Coimbra as part of a singing tour with the Davidson Singers. I was deeply struck by this land of fado and Sebastanism, and I’m happy to be going back.

I was looking to load up the old Kindle with books for the trip so I was poking around Amazon when I learned of Jose Saramago, Portugal’s Nobel prize winning writer who died only last year.

I downloaded a collection of his novels: Baltasar and Blimunda, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Blindness, and Death with Interruptions. Here is the gloss for that last one: it centers around the moral, religious, and practical implications when at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, people stop dying.

That’s the very same premise of Torchwood: Miracle Day. What a surprise. What a strange way to stumble onto this connection. (Then I Googled the 2 together, and a few people in comments on articles pointed out the similarity, but I didn’t see it in any article). I’ll have to see for myself how close they really are.

But I bet there is much the Portuguese are quietly ahead of us on.

Friday, July 1, 2011

TV and the USA: Born Just 3 Days (& 165 Years) Apart

Monday of course is the 235th year from the date we chose, in the course of human events, as our birthday amidst all the milestones that marked our breaking from England by a “Declaration of Independence.”

And today, July 1, is the 70th birthday of commercial television in the US. It’s not something I had thought about, that TV would have a specific start date. It does because July 1, 1941, is the day that the FCC licenses to the fledgling experimental TV stations to legally run a commercial to sell you something first went into effect.

Ron Simon, a colleague of mine at The Paley Center for Media, decided this was the year to call attention to this TV birthday, and put together some great articles and tidbits about the day. To herald the day the whole curatorial department put together 70 interesting TV Facts that we have been counting down. I recommend looking at it all: the main page, the tidbit page, Ron’s blog about his research, and the 70 fun facts that were the lead-in countdown.

My Favorite TV Birthday Tidbits

•This quote from a New York Times editorial from the week in 1941:

“The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”

That was certainly true in 1941 when people still got coal and ice deliveries, even in cities. It was the spate to time-saving devices after the war that gave people more disposible free time. And for many, some of that time is given to TV watching.

•The NYTimes full-page radio listing has a tiny box for the Television schedule. Both WNBT and WCBW actually scheduled the test pattern! For WNBT it was at 1:30 to 2:30 PM AND 8 to 9 PM.

•Ray Forrest, sometimes considered TV’s first personality, was an on-air TV announcer, like the radio announcers, who appeared between shows to tell you what’s coming up.

He appears after Truth of Consequences on WNBT to say: And that almost concludes our first first evening of commercial television operation.” It’s "almost" because there is still the Star-Spangled Banner to play. After which he comes back in: “This is WNBT, New York’s pioneer television station. Owned and operated by the National Broadcasting Company. With studios and executive offices in the RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City. . . . we are now signing off until 2:30 pm tomorrow. . . Now on behalf of the entire television department, this is Ray Forrest wishing you all, Good Night.”

TV: The Quintessential American Art Form
I know that distinction is usually given to jazz, but TV holds its own as an art form: Salman Rushdie is writing a series for Showtime with “the belief that quality TV drama has taken over from film and is comparable to the novel as the best way of widely communicating ideas and stories.” Great programming that is watched around the world is a signature of American creativity and imagination.

I like to think that the same restless, creative spirit that led to the founding of this country led to the development of television as an artful medium. They both have taken beatings over the years, but the country and its “other” national pastime always have more to offer, and at their best, help us all with our “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”