Opera is more like real life… than real life.

Fresh out of university in 1980, I was encouraged  by my best friend to buy season tickets to the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde.  This popular Montréal theatre had a reputation of putting on more traditional french-language plays, rarely anything experimental.  And, of course, there was always Molière and Shakespeare.  There was a time I saw more Shakespeare translated into French than English.

The same friend invited me to a couple of operas and it hit me!  This feels more like real life than theatre.  In fact, it feels more like real life… than life!

Today, friends ask me how can opera be more like real life than life?  I don’t know… to me, it just feels more like real life.  I guess it’s the music.  I still go to the theatre… maybe once a year.  But, I’ve replaced the theatre by music now… symphonies and operas.

For instance, anyone experiencing the despair of the end of a cherished love or the death of a parent or facing one’s own mortality immediately gets the message, even without understanding the lyrics.  In Tosca, the painter Mario Cavaradossi  is told that he has one hour to live and he sits to write a letter to Tosca.  (What would an opera be without a letter scene?)  Only this time, the tenor stops writing the letter to sing the beautiful and haunting E lucevan le stelle (And the stars shone).  The last words, “I have never loved life more.”


Some of my father’s earliest memories were of radio shows in the evening and one of my grandmother’s favourite radio shows featured opera arias and it always ended with Puccini’s O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa).  This aria must have resonated with my grandmother.  In it, we hear Lauretta begging her father to let her marry her love, Rinuccio, who has just been been disinherited by his wealthy uncle.

No doubt, the parallels between Lauretta and my grandmother (Eugénie) were not lost on her.  She would have had to ask her father to marry her love, my grandfather (Giulio), an uneducated Italian immigrant without a history.

Don’t you love this photo?  Here they are, Eugénie and Giulio, the proud couple with their first born.

By the way, great hats, all!


Giulio, Eugénie and Orlando. (c. 1921)

What perfume might Dame Edith Sitwell have worn in her later years?

Dame Edith Sitwell 1916 by Alvaro Guevara 1894-1951

Dame Edith Sitwell by Alvaro Guevara (1916)

Do you know who Dame Edith Sitwell is?  You don’t?  Are you sure?  Well then, I don’t feel so ignorant because before watching this video, I didn’t know her either.   Of course, my next stop is to find some of her poetry but for now I thought I’d write about the kind of perfume that this grand lady might have worn.

Because of her royal British background, I’m going with a rose perfume but not one of those pink, powdery rose scents, like Paris by Yves Saint-Laurent.  I’m thinking of a deep, boozy red rose note.  And oud!  Yes, oud would be perfect because she has such an earthiness to her.  From my collection, I would have her wear Jo Malone’s Velvet Rose and Oud or Ex Idolo’s Thirty Three, although neither are really oud or dark enough.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear about them… I’ve always been a bit of a rose-whore myself so it might give me ideas for a fall perfume.

This next interview was on the BBC.  Imagine!  This was tv!  And today, they say we are in the golden age.  I’m not so sure.


Emma, the book and the computer

Emma’s full name is Emma de Jesús Sánchez Perdomo and her book is called Fetiches.  From leafing through it and with my very limited knowledge of Spanish, it seems more a collection of short stories than a novel.  Click here for the background post.


Buying Emma the computer wasn’t a difficult choice.  Anyone else would do the same thing.  When she read my email saying that I would get her a laptop sometime in 2013, she wrote back saying that her coworkers ran to her desk because she had jumped out of her seat and screamed.  They must have thought she had received bad news.

On December 26th, 2012 I went to Bureau en Gros (Staples in Québec) and found a HP laptop with Windows 7 which had been used as a demonstrator.  The sales associate was quick to tell me that Windows had been reinstalled with all the current updates… and that the computer was guaranteed for 1 full year.

Me :  Well… that won’t be of much use.  It’s a gift for someone who doesn’t live in Canada.  By the way, I also need a 56K modem… the kind that plugs into a telephone jack.

SA : Are you kidding me?  Where is this computer going?

Me : Havana

SA : Let me check but I doubt it!

He came back 5 minutes later.

SA : It’s the LAST one.  Take it or…


Of course, buying the computer was the easy part.  Getting it to Havana would prove to be more difficult… but a friend came through and Jacques agreed to take it with him on his Christmas trip.

With the deal finalized, I, wickedly, wrote to Emma to tell her that, although I had the laptop, I couldn’t find someone to take it to her on such short notice.

A few days later, Jacques met up with Amado.  On returning home from the New Year’s Eve’s celebrations (just past midnight, in fact), Amado listened in at Emma’s door.  He heard people talking.  He knocked and when Emma opened the door, the laptop was delivered.  I only wish I was there… you see, a computer changes a Cuban family’s life.

And from then on, things just proceeded with emails being sent over an 8-year period.  Now, I don’t want people to think that I sent A LOT of money.  I sent what I could and with the currency exchange, you can actually buy a brand new, automatic washer for less than $120 Cdn.  It certainly beats washing clothes in the bathtub or sink which many Cubans do.

I can’t say I know very much about Emma.  She certainly loved perfume, like all Cubans.  I always sent her and her granddaughter perfumes in beautiful, romantic bottles… Vera Wang’s Princess in the shape of a heart, for instance.  The perfume I brought on this last trip was  Mugler Angel Eau Croisière in the shape of a rose- and amber-hued star.


I think Emma was religious.  She was always telling me that God was with me during the last years with my parents.  On my last trip, I visited the Havana Cathedral although I had seen it before.  No doubt I will visit it again.


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