Friday, December 14, 2012

Sonic Wintry Musings and other trinkets

While of course I hear things every day, this past week has been especially focused on sounds. Actually, most of them from Sunday, but we can say it has carried on throughout the week.

However, for comparison sake let's begin with First Advent. About 2 weeks ago, Daria and I went to the Anglican Chaplaincy for First Advent (something I knew about 7 years ago, was on hiatus 4 and 2 years ago, and while it has been back longer, we learned about it back in October). The service is very basic with standard Church of England script and led by a Finnish Lutheran Pastor on account of his availability and the CofE/Swedish & Finnish Lutheran Concordat ("agreement" for those of you none theological people). Anyway, this small service is very similar to the one I grew up with: fewer than 20 people and an attempt at music with an atonal congregation; spirit filled, but not musically inclined.

Contrast this to Second Advent at the Catholic Church in Russian (so I only understood parts of it), which was in a space with perfect acoustics where the choir was heard at the same volume and same beauty no matter where one stood in the church. The priest has a divine voice to boot. It was so moving that despite my lack of understanding of the words, I was carried away to an ethereal space. My friend Tripp at the GTU is doing his Ph.D. in sonic theology. I could not help but think of him, and I believe that experience could give some people a theogasm. It is precisely the role that music and sounds ought to have in a spiritual experience. This is not to say the Spirit wasn't moving throughout the Anglican Chaplaincy service, but the AC transposition came through words, whereas the Catholic experience was through music and so regardless of language, one was with the Spirit.

Sunday evening, we went to the philharmonic again. However this time it was in the big hall and it was not with our friend playing. The opening concerto was a Mozart piece and after the intermission we had  a symphony from Brookner. What I enjoy about the philharmonics here is that they are easily available to the people. My ticket for a good seat was 400R or about $12. While there are various prices for seating, Russia keeps the prices of the arts down enough that people who are lower middle class can enjoy the arts quite a few times a year, and I would say even completely lower class people, if they so chose, could enjoy the arts at least half a dozen times a year without hurting their finances. While it is true that Daria and I were inhibited by time to see things in San Francisco, let's face it, we were also inhibited by money. I give many thanks to both the government and the private benefactors here that cover the costs so that we can cheaply enjoy the theater and philharmonia. The other exiting thing about the philharmoia experience was that I was able to read most of the booklet. I knew enough vocab and grammar to get the context and then used the context to bypass words I didn't know. I may not be able to speak it, especially verbs in the perfect tense, but I was able to read it, and I felt this was a proud accomplishment.

Well, winter has fully arrived, and with winter comes clearing the snow and massive icicles, some as long as 3 meters quite wide, from the roofs. Men stand atop buildings tied with a cable and armed with a shovel. I don't have a fear of heights, but I don't even know if a cable would calm my fear of a slick icy roof from 4 or 5 or more stories. They mark off the sidewalk where they clear and the men shovel the snow off. It lands with a muffled "thwop" that snow does unless it hits the roof of a bus stop and then it's a thunderous clamor as the metal or plexiglass takes the blow. And for the ice they use the butt of the shovel handle to break it up and try and knock the icicles down which shatter like glass. Despite seeing this all winter every year, I'm amazed at how many people still often stop to watch this spectacle. Although I also stop often because it is mesmerizing.

With winter settling in that also means frozen canals. The small canal near where I work has long been frozen over. This canal may be about 10-15 meters wide. However, the largest canal, Fontanka, perhaps 30 meters wide or so, is slowly freezing (and yes I realize for those people on the west coast, these canals are wider than most of the rivers we know). For the past two weeks I have watched the ice slowly creep over the water the way ivy creeps on a building. It moves in two directions: the first is where it has frozen completely across, but you can still see water and the ice gets closer and closer to the bridge my bus passes over. The second is from the sides as the ice on the embankments get thicker and thicker. Both directions there are noticeable changes and 10 days ago the ice was about 200 meters from the bridge but now it is under the bridge so on the south side of the bridge there is no visible water, but the north still has plenty of visible flowing water. It is a beautiful thing to watch progress.

I also want to give kudos to pigeons, sometimes snubbed the flying rat by people who think of them as dirty city birds. People don't admire them for their beauty, although I've started to notice some very pretty blends of purple and green with the grey-blue or even white pigeons. Additionally, in "Home Alone 2," which has played in the office a couple times this week along with its predecessor, the "crazy lady" is the one who spends time with pigeons. However, last I checked pretty much all other birds have flown south or holed up for the winter. There are some ducks who didn't migrate, but most are gone, yet the pigeons remain to brave the truly subfreezing weather. They even gather around frozen water such as the ponds and canals which tend to be colder than other parts of the city. I think the pigeons deserve some respect for withstanding what other birds and animals avoid.

And to wrap up this post, tonight we had dinner with Daria's grandpa's cousin. The spicy food (read flavorful more than hot, although both are more rare - spice that is as there is plenty of flavor- here than CA/USA) was a nice treat, the conversation was way over my head, but what is worthy of note is the fact that the cousin's husband repairs old books/bindings with old school stitching and an old school press. That was truly something wonderful to see.

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