Travel Connections

Interesting encounter in the departure lounge in Miami on Sunday.

Drinking a pale ale, as is my wont these days (a Sam Adams Whitewater not-quite-double-IPA in this case), watching Real vs Valencia on one TV whilst the rest of the bar was watching endless “what went wrong” Tiger Woods interviews instead of the final day of the Augusta Masters actually taking place. I started talking to the guy next to me – David Handel – about full and oversold flights. He’s actually grumbling about absence of anywhere to smoke in the airport, not even the bar, and I mention having just had the opposite conversation. In the Hog’s Breath Saloon bar in Key West the evening before, I’d remarked how despite my not being a smoker, I actually liked the fact that in several US states / counties smoking is still permitted in bars – made them feel more “real”, especially if they were music bars. (Those with economies still dependent on tobacco and/or Cuban cigars presumably.)

Turns out he’s a professional conductor, and after displaying my ignorance of classical music in not knowing the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition winner Peter Donohoe, who hails from the north of England, happens to be his favourite pianist, it becomes apparent he’s been musical director and conductor of the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra for the last umpteen years. He’s actually in the process of returning “home” to the US and looking to settle in Florida. The conversation moves on to “quality” independent of any sophistication or objective measures of taste in music, or in fact taste generally in any US freedom of choice to do practically anything tasteful or otherwise, given the luxury of the amount of space in which to do it. He remarks how in South America the buildings on which the public lavish the most care are the halls of culture, rather than official public buildings or even churches.

Given the limited South American classical music points of cultural reference available to me, I mention the image of “Fitzcarraldo” that had just flashed across my mind. Not only does he know the Werner Herzog / Klaus Kinski film – a cult favourite of mine (*) – it turns out he’s performed at the opera / concert hall in Manaus which is the focus of the film.

Small connected world. Turns out David is also principal guest conductor at the Moscow City Russian Philharmonic, and was on his way there via an engagement with the Berlin Philharmonic.

(*) Can’t find any previous blog reference – the whole film is shot real on location (including hauling a steam boat across a mountain from one branch of the Amazon above Manaus into the Ucayali – by hand) except for one particularly naff scale-model sequence of the same boat coming to grief, out of control through a series of rapids. Like the Quixotic quest in the plot – I guess the film-maker ran out of budget. Business – the rubber industry in this case – may be based on personal greed, but there always has to be a driving passion on which to spend your money. Great based-on-a-true-story as well as a fine film. Which is probably bringing us back to Godfather III 😉

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