On Vacation from Rome

I have spent the last eight days not really thinking about music per se, aside from that distant, looming reminder of a three-week deadline for a piano trio that I have just begun to sketch. I’ve been in Paris and Prague, on “vacation” from the AAR, visiting friends and exploring cities that I don’t know very well, hoping that may spark a measure or two.

Paris made me wonder if Rome sometimes acts like an old, set-in-her ways, tired great-aunt of a country, while Paris is her more mature, sophisticated young cousin, constantly re-inventing her look, her politics, her music, her engagement with technology, and—most importantly—her relationship with immigrants.

Eating French food, hearing French music, or seeing French film is a fragrant, complex tagine of Moroccan, Tunisian, Israeli, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian flavors.

I had a superb couscous at the Louvre cafeteria—the bastion of French-ness—and that really struck me as a reflection of the attitude of inclusion that seems to be still absent in Italy.

Now I am in Prague, a fantastic city that reminds me of Old Milwaukee (a real-scale mock-19th-century town inside the Milwaukee Museum). Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the current conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Zdenek Macal, was the conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony for about two decades before returning home to Prague.

For the last two hundred years or so, since the premiere of Don Giovanni, the town seems to be completely obsessed with Mozart, but it’s all pure kitsch, with marionette puppets, black lights, and Korg synthesizer productions or string orchestras constantly playing the top 40: Eine Kleine followed by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, ending with the requisite Smetana.

On the other hand, aside from the solid Czech diet of sausages and dumplings and tours of grim Jewish cemeteries, I’ve discovered a spectacular French bistro (Cafe Savoy) the other day, heard a hard-swinging jazz trio at Cafe Dinitz, and booked a ticket to hear Andras Schiff play Haydn tomorrow.

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