European Tour 1995

by

Marsh Soules

Background

When I applied for my leave in August 1994, I had just finished defending my Ph.D. at Rutgers. My project was about improvisation in writing, acting, music, and defining a sense of character--performance studies--using the work of American playwright Sam Shepard to demonstrate these protocols of improvisation. Maurice Charney, my thesis supervisor, and the other examiners (Thomas van Laan and Wesley Brown) encouraged me to publish my manuscript. That's what I planned to do with my leave.

Between October 1994 and May 1995, my manuscript circulated to three publishing companies: Oxford UP, Cambridge UP, and the University of California Press. In early May, the manuscript was rejected by Oxford, but I still hoped for the best from the other two. In the meantime, during the 1994-95 academic year, I had become increasingly involved with computer-mediated communication, and attended a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa on telecommunications in education. During that trip, Liz and I started talking about a course which combined applied and theoretical approaches to explore the impact of technology on society. Out of that extended conversation evolved a Media Studies course--Media Studies 113 (Emerging Digital Technology)--which was offered at Malaspina in January 1996. Media Studies 113 was a Skills Now pilot project using video-conferencing, team teaching, shared applications, on-line newsgroup, electronic transmission of documents, hypertext authoring and Web-site construction. This course was planned, articulated, and accepted by Skills Now as a pilot course before I left on a tour of Europe with my wife Donna.

It's early May 1995. My manuscript is circulating. My immediate academic interests have shifted towards computing in education, and I hope to do some writing on issues related to drama, media, and improvisation. I buy a Powerbook 180 to take with me, and decide not to take my Canon FTB SLR camera--too heavy--hich turns out to be a big mistake, because I planned to take photographs of graffiti and distressed posters in every major city we visited. (By the time we reached Florence, the small auto-focus camera we had was not working well enough, so I bought a used (heavy) Canon EF to use for photography.)

New York

Donna and I had arranged to fly to New York for my graduation from Rutgers. We stay in the NYC area for about a week, visiting friends, meeting with my thesis supervisor about publishing the Sam Shepard book, and seeing plays: on Broadway (Love, Valor, Compassionby Terrence MacNally), Off-Broadway (The Cryptogram, by David Mamet), and Off-Off-Broadway (Lust and Comfort, by Split Britches). By this time I have written "Bordello of Blood," "Village of New York," and "Around Broadway."

Amsterdam

We fly to Amsterdam on the second leg of our largely unplanned journey. We knew about the flight to Amsterdam, of course, and we knew the date of the return (November 10), and I had planned to attend a conference in Graz in mid-June. We had arranged to stay at the apartment of friends in Paris for the month of August. We wanted to visit Turkey in October. This itnerary leaves large gaps of time, and the first time warp we step into occurs in Amsterdam.

An amazing city: pretty and dirty, morally upright and carnivalesque. Here we meet and stay with Dr. Laurens Winkle (a friend of a friend) , a judge and professor of law at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. We meet Luc Sala and Yolanda Ooyens at Mystèr 2000, an internet café, then we arrange to stay in Yolanda's apartment while we make an academic assessment for a student completing a degree at Antioch University. Under Luc Sala's influence, we try brain wave modulation hardware, attend the Internet 95 Conference in Utrecht, and test virtual architecture systems.

Amsterdam: jazz and paintings and graffiti and street theatre. We begin to read The European newspaper once a week, a habit we continue for the next six months. For two and a half weeks, neither of us take the tram. We walk everywhere, often in the rain. At the Rijsmuseum, an amazing painting of Salomé by Carel Fabricius gets under my skin, and I begin seeking out paintings on the subject of Salomé in the rest of the museums and galleries we visit. I find a few decent shots of distressed posters.

Amsterdam 1995

Prague

From Amsterdam, we take the bus to Prague in the young/old Czech Republic. On the bus we meet Wil Benneker, an artist from Amsterdam, travelling to visit her boyfriend, Pavel Mikes, a history and language professor, and travel agent! Prague is incredibly rich in music, theatre, art, and architecture. We attend Baroque marionette theatre, traditional Black Light theatre, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and Richard Strauss' Salomé. An excellent photography exhibit--The Bitter Years--documents the Third Reich's occupation of Prague. This is our second exhibit--the first being in Amsterdam--commemorating the 50th anniversary of V-E day. We spent our last evening in Prague with Wil and Pavel, discussing Czech politics and culture, and listening to folk-jazz music by Vlatava. We are intensely curious about the post-communist state of affairs in Prague, and Pavel turns out to be a wonderful resource.

Graz: Ed-Media Conference

On June 16, we take the train from Prague to Graz, Austria to attend the Association for Advancement of Computers in Education (AACE) conference on hypermedia and multimedia. It is an excellent conference on subjects ranging from distance education, curriculum design, multimedia applications, and advanced computing applications. I write a review of the conference and e-mail it to Luc Sala in Amsterdam and John Shinnick in Vancouver as an extended news report. We meet computer types from all over the world, including Peter Enders, a manager for Springer Verlag publishing. An exhibition by Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist is so evocative, I see the show twice.

From Graz to the Swartzwald

Hallstatt, Austria. (June 24--30): A remote lakeside village in the Dachstein Alps, home of the original tool-making European, the Hallstatt Man, and site of ancient salt mines. It was here that I write the piece on the Ed-Media conference.

Salzburg, Austria (June 30--July 2): It is the middle of a holiday music festival, and the streets are crowded with bands playing and people partying. Across the city, in the square adjacent to the cathedral, German students sing beautifully. We see Cartier-Bresson photography exhibit, Kurt Switters collages, and run across another reference to the legendary Austrian theatre personality, Hermann Nitsch.

Stuttgart (July 2--July 6): The advanced robotics of the Mercedes Benz factory leave a lasting impression. Jurgen Baur, manager of the Stuttgart Jugendgastenhaus, suggests that we propose a student exchange with Malaspina students with the goal of exploring cultural stereotypes between Canadians and Germans. Atom Egoyan's Next of Kin is playing in an art cinema. The photography exhibit, Stuttgart: Between Bombing and Ruins, like The Bitter Years in Prague, commemorates the 50th anniversary of V-E day with an appalling vision of destruction and an inspiring testimony to human resiliance. The Stattsgalleri has a comprehensive retrospective of painter Paul Klee, and an excellent collection of contemporary painting and constructions.

Freiburg (July 6--9): Another music festival animates this old university town: we see performances by percussionist Babette Haag, folk singer and entertainer Lenard Bardell, and the Saxophone Quartet Basel.

Schluchsee (Swartzwald) (July 9-13): We meet the Fischer family from East Berlin, hike in the Black Forest, and travel with the Fischers to Islen Mainau, and the Rhein Falls, Switzerland. We have many discussions on the reunification of Germany.

Provence

Avignon Theatre Festival (July 13): Over 400 productions of theatre, dance, music, and performance art turn the walled city of Avignon into a carnival. Theatrical highlights include Ubu Toujours by a West African theatre troupe, Beckett's Fin de Parti (en francais), commedia del' arte by Calabaza, and jazz singer Rachel. The variety of performance is overwhelming and many of the venues once hosted the popes when they temporarily took their leave of Rome.

Arles (July 17th): International Photography exhibit in over fifteen different venues inspires me to exhibit my own photography. Concurrently, a sound and radio exhibit called "Babel" demonstrates some interesting aural artifacts. I meet a couple from Marseille who have set up an Internet café in a local restaurant; I rent some time on their computers to check my e-mail and send some messages. Here, in Arles, in a short note from Mike Matthews, I learn that Morris Donaldson has died of a heart attack. After we see a Spanish-style bullfight in the Roman colliseum, I write "Death in Arles."

Paris

July 23--August 28. We stay at the apartment of a friend, Jean-Jaques Labia, a professor of literature, who is vacationing in the Alps for one month. We now have an apartment in the 17th arrondissement, no rent, a great relief after two months of living in pensions and one-star hotels. Jean-Jacques has an excellent library, so we indulge ourselves by reading through his collection of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler. As we walk through the streets of Paris, we develop the story of the evil Dr. Renaud who blackmails beautiful and vain women by threatening to withhold their addictive skin care products. I can write more routinely in Paris, usually in the mornings, and work on "Pont Neuf," "Nomadology," "Salomé's Kiss," "Improvisation in Computing," and "Graffiti Manifesto." A great city for graffiti photography.

Paris provides endless artistic stimulation. Highlights include: art stamps on rue des Trois Frères; Mud, a play by Maria Irene Fornes in a vaulted, underground Théâtre Nesle; bombings on the metro; excellent Paris radio; exhibits by Chagall, Picasso, Louise Bourgeoise. We have dinner with Marie-Claude Cassegrain (public relations) and her son Jérôme, a painter, whom we met in Arles. We spend time with Cynthia MacPherson, a jazz singer, we met in a previous visit to Paris five years ago. She introduces us to a corner of the Paris jazz scene, and I am able to explore my interest in musical improvisation with some talented practioners. At the new Parc de la Villette, we see Ray Lema in concert, where we meet Kathy Kidd and her partner/manager Ron. (Later, at dinner, Kathy and Ron tell us about the business of being jazz perfomers in Paris, Morroco, and Vancouver.) The Cité des Sciences et de L'Industrie at the Parc du Villette has impressive exhibits on communications, computers, the senses, etc. A visit to the Louvre reveals more images of Salomé. Brancusi and Robert Morris exhibits at the Centre Pompidou. A visit to Versailles inspires us to further our knowledge of French history.

Altogether, our month long stay in Paris provides an opportunity for writing in artistically stimulating surroundings. While Paris theatre is somewhat disappointing in the off-season, I have some good opportunities to explore the improvisation theme with musicians, and I come away with many photos of graffiti art and distressed posters.

Loire Valley

After we bid adieu to Jean-Jacques, we rent a car for a short tour of Chartres and the Loire Valley from Blois to Saumur. Chartres Cathedral is a magnificient example of the cathedral as book: the teachings of the church are embodied in the architectural details of Chartres, and foreshadows our later visit to the Vatican Museum. One of the surprising highlights of our trip to Saumur is a visit to the horse museum in the local château. The exhibits survey the use of bridles, bits, spurs, saddles, and other equestrian tack used by different cultures. I have come to appreciate these devices as a kind of disciplinary hardware, a technology of control, using a variety of mechanisms to keep the power of horses in check. The contrast between the equestrian hardware used by the nomads of Mongolia--bridles without bits--and 18th C. French cavalrymen--terrifying instruments to inflict pain--are provocative. In a piece of writing on the subject, I draw parallels between these equestrian technologies and the mechanisms used to harnass the energies of the populace into gainful employment: cellular phones come immediately to mind. We return the car to Paris, then take the train through Dijon to Beaune, in the heart of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

While Donna tours the Bourgogne vinyards around Beaune, I visit the exhibits on the photography innovator Jules Etienne Marey, a scientist fascinated with recording movement, who developed the technique of chronophotography, and one of Beaune's native sons.

The next day--September 1st--we take the train to Lyon to meet with a painter friend whom we will stay with in the small village of Buis-les-Barronies in the lee of Mont Ventoux: the heart of Provence. The markets amaze with their selection of meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. The ambiance of this historic medieval village , surrounded by exotic scenery, is inspirational: lavender, sage, rosemary, olives, red wine, goat cheese covered in ash.

The Riviera

Antibes. (Sept. 7th): Antibes is a bustling resort city. The Picasso Museum occupies a few floors of the Grimaldi Castle. The works from 1946-47 are playful, filled with images of food, and inspired by Francois Gillot. The French love Picasso and would like you to forget that he's Spanish.

Monterosso, Italy (Sept 9th): A picturesque town in the Cinque Terre region of the Italian riviera. Hiking along narrow paths to Vernazza, swimming, reading, writing in a small apartment a couple of blocks from the beach. The Powerbook is doing well in the new power grid of Italy. In a restaurant, an elderly Brit exhorts us to "Remember the classical world! Remember Greece and Rome!" As we have so often done in our travels, we take the next best advice we receive and act on it. We plan our trip to Firenze while we bath in the splendour of Monterosso.

Tuscany

Firenze. (Sept. 13th): Great numbers of tourists line up to see David and the Uffizi. The squares and cathedrals are thronging with tourists of every nationality. There are students of art from every country on Earth studying in Florence. It's busy, rich, complex, noisy, and stylish. Later, in Siena, a German woman we meet tells us about the Stendhal Syndrome, dubbed the "Shock of Florence": the manic depression one feels in the presence of exquisite beauty when disoriented, exhausted, and tired of being told to stay in line. The Uffizi is, nonetheless, a lovely gallery, with a nice representation of beheadings and their stories: Botticelli's Storie di Guiditta; Bernardino Luini's Il Cornefice Presenta ad Erodiade La Testa del Battista. Berrugueti's Salomé; and Artemesia Gentileschi's Guiditta & Oloferne. I discover the secret Renaissance obsession with beheading. The "Salomé's Kiss" work-in-progress continues. My frustration with a dysfunctional auto-focus camera ends with a desperate purchase of a (wonderful) Canon EF camera--heavy, black body, reassuringly mechanical-- that I can look through with some analogue pleasure. (In retrospect, I see that Florence marked a shift in focus from the written to the visual. The new camera no doubt aided in this change. Also, I was now writing every day in a journal, writing less on the computer, using it differently (notes to myself) and for the spreadsheet of expenses.

Siena (Sept. 16th): A vibrant, spiritual city of great beauty. St. Catharine had her visions here. We meet two German tourists, Andreas and Klaudia from Oberhausen, and accept their invitation to tour the Chianti wine growing region on the way to San Gemignano, the "Manhatten of Toscana." For a couple of days, we enjoy the company of Andreas and Klaudia, talk about wine, food, and German culture (at our insistence).

Venice (Sept. 19th): The Venice Biennale is hosted in many magnificent venues throughout the "city of mazes." The Doges Palace, for example, has a retrospective of 100 years of biennali, once considered a trend-setting exhibit of international painting, photography and sculpture. The main event is held in the Giardini di Castello, in pavillions for participating nations. We spend the whole day here. Particularly memorable for me are the large photomontages of Venezuelan Paulo Gasparini and Australian Bill Henson, video/sound scultures by Bill Viola (U.S.), and Romanian sculptures. We discover an outdoor performance of traditional commedia dell'arte--Il Trionfo di Zanni--in the mysterious Campo Pisani. (Even the Venetians can't tell us where it is because there are more than one Campi Pisani!) Even though the dialogue is in Italian, the skill of the actors and the virtues of the performance genre are obvious. This is a rare opportunity for me to see this dramatic form (besides Avignon) in somewhat traditional setting. We eat in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice for a couple of nights, partly for the food, partly for the lively evening concerts and political rallies.

Rome

From commedia dell'arte to soap opera! The graffiti in Rome is exciting, and walking around this city immerses one in the heart of history and culture. We meet Nando Moretti and learn, late at night in a sidewalk café, how the Italians fought against the Americans in WWII: Moretti was a young man of 19 in 1942. The next day, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basillica make quite an impact on our impressionable minds. Out of this experience grows my thinking on how architecture is a teaching technology: the shape of the structures, the entrances, exits, and volumes prepare us to be taught. A visit to the Vatican, or to Chartres, or to the Mevlana Museum, convinces one that the world class shrines are instruments of instruction. Enough to say, the Vatican Museum is a wealth of nations.

Amalfi Coast

Sorrento (Sept. 28): After the surfeit of Siena, Venice and Rome in quick succession, we seek refuge not in Naples, but Sorrento. We discover a bustling and crowded city perched on a cliff above the Mediterranean, with Mount Vesuvius dominating the horizon to the north. After a day to relax, we visit Pompei, just north of Sorrento. It is plain to see how important theatre was to the citizens of Pompei, since the small city has two exquisite amphitheatres.

Capri. (Oct. 1st): A short ferry ride takes us from Sorrento to the picturesque Isle of Capri. We stay at the quiet Villa Eva in Anacapri: the vegetation is extravagant and colourful, the swimming pool is crystal clear. Naples flares in the brilliant too-lovely night air. I'm reading The Thin Man (Hammett), The New Italians by Charles Richards. I swim into the Grotto Azzurra, and hike up to Villa Juvé, the retreat of the Emperor Tiberius.

Sicily

Taormina (Oct. 4th): By steamer from Capri to Solerno, by (packed) train to Toarmina, Sicily. High on a bluff, Toarmina was a city much beloved by Goethe, and is still visited by many German tourists. It is a lovely and sociable city, in full view of a smoking Mt. Etna looming to the southwest. There is an excellent Greek amphitheatre. At this time, I'm working on the analogue/digital piece, thinking about digital technology surrounded by classical ruins. One night, after dinner at an outdoor café, we talk to a retired fisherman who served in the Italian navy, fighting against the Canadians and Americans in 1943. At a fashion show in the park, I resolve to interview runway models on the theme of improvisation.

Greece

Athens (Oct. 8th): The train takes us to the crummy port of Brindisi where we catch the ferry to Patras, then the bus to Athens. Great graffiti. Impressive Parthenon. We see a rehearsal in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a theatre dug into the side of Acropolis. A visit to the National Archeological Museum impresses on us even more strongly the degree to which the riches of the classical world have been confiscated by various world powers. The Greeks wonder why we are staying so long in Athens, so we take the ferry to Naxos for a few days, then another ferry to Paros, then Samos, then on to Kusadasi, Turkey on Saturday, October 14th.

Turkey

Selcuk, Turkey (Oct. 14th): The ruins of Ephesus and the Cathedral of St. John indicate the historical importance of this part of the world. We are introduced to the Turkish entrepreneurial spirit, the friendliness and hospitality of the Turks, and the rich beauty of Turkish carpets and kilims.

Konya. ()ct. 16th): The Mevlana Museum, the shrine of Rumi, is considered to be the home of the Sufis, or Whirling Dervishes. Konya is a devout city, without alcohol of any kind, and incredibly musical when the muzzeins call out their prayers.

Cappadocia (Mustafapasha, Goreme, Urgup & Ihlara Valley.) We rent a car for five days in Konya for a trip to the central highlands of Turkey. We visit a famous caravansarai at Sultanhani. Cappadocia is reknowned for its exotic landscapes of weathered lava which became the home of 8th & 9th C. Christian communities in exile. We visit the Pancarlik church and monastary, and the Balkanlar kilise (with the oldest frescoes in Cappadocia), all carved out of the soft rock. Many of the churches have colourful frescoes, though most are defaced (literally, by scratching out the eyes and facial features) to effect a religious change. We visit an underground city in Derinkuyu, hike the length of the Ihlara Valley, exploring the Christian churches and cliff dwellings, and try an ancient Turkish bath fed by natural hot springs and with unforgettable acoustic properties.

Istanbul. (Oct. 23--29): After we drop the car off in Konya, it is a 12 hour bus ride to Istanbul, a city which has grown from 1.6 million in 1960 to 12 million today. Our accommodation is in the Sultanahmet district, the old city, home of famous mosques and vibrant bazaars. Interesting graffiti around Istanbul University. The idea of a palette of colours representative of a city comes to me. We visit Topkapi Palace, the Harem, and the excellent small art gallery. The city provides an education in Islamic art and culture: the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, Rustem Pasha mosque, the Aya Sophia. We discover interesting Turkish music and graffiti in Taksim district. The city prepares for the national Ataturk celebrations.

Berlin

We stay with the delightful Fischer family in (former East) Berlin. They are a wealth of experience on life in the (former ) GDR and divided city. Berlin seems immense and exciting, but we are getting tired and winter is coming on. Construction is transforming Berlin, stitching the city back together. We visit many historic sites, mainly in (East) Berlin: the Berlin Wall, Reichstag, Pergamon Museum, Alexanderplatz, Potsdammer Platz. The art scene is rich and varied, as is the graffiti. Thorsten takes us to the Museum Pub where he had his first beer after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. We meet Peter Enders (whom we met in Graz) at Charlottenburg for a fine dinner. Peter is able to provide much insight into German culture. Conny and Thorsten drive us to Dresden, a city levelled by allied bombing on February 13 and 14, 1945. The Albertinium Gallery of modern art is a good one. The rebuilt palace and church are ominous reminders of the devastation of war. We introduce Peter to Thorsten and Conny in the Virtuality Café back in Berlin. Peter is a publisher of chemistry journals, and Thorsten is a chemist and article writer. Thorsten and I explore virtual reality together.

Amsterdam

Nov. 6th. We stay with Laurens Winkle again at 42 Binnenkant overlooking a canal and water tower. Amsterdam seems even more picturesque than our first visit six months earlier. We are incredulous from the hospitality we have received in Germany, and now in Amsterdam. I return to the Rijksmuseum to study The Beheading of John the Baptist by Carel Fabritius (1622-54). We visit two of Laurens' colleagues at Erasmus University in Rotterdam who are experts in the field of Alternate Dispute Resolution. It rains on our final day in Europe, November 10th. We are weary and very grateful.

The Outcome of All This

This journey was an excellent professional development opportunity for me. I was given an extended period of time to pursue many of my academic and personal interests with a great deal of freedom, and with an extravagant degree of choice. From the preceding itinerary, you can see that Donna and I travelled to some world class destinations, especially considering their wealth of art, music, architecture, and physical beauty.

While one of my goals for my leave was to explore varieties of writing--thus the Powerbook and the journal--I was also able to educate my eyes, and develop a wider appreciation of art (and Beauty.) I'd have to say I was disappointed in the amount of theatre I was able to see. For this medium, language proved to be a practical barrier. On the other hand, I was steeped in a mediated world, and the whole trip was an invaluable study in the media: from the way the news was reported, to the focus of the analysis, to the way different cultures used their media differently. The subject of my dissertation being improvisation, I was naturally drawn to any demonstration of improvised behaviour: cultural anthropology field work. My writing records some of these encounters, I sketch out the incidents in my journals, and I record the visual improvisation of distressed posters and graffiti. I returned with hundreds of photographs of torn and defaced posters from all over Europe (and Turkey). I have scheduled a show of these photographs, digitally reproduced, in the Nanaimo Art Gallery in April 1997. I learned to see theatre in the streets, and the continuum between photography and history. Photography was probably the big surprise: there were strong exhibits almost everywhere we went.

My knowledge of improvisation improved with exposure to jazz, commedia dell'arte, street theatre, improvisational acting, painting, photography, and writing. I have returned with many writing projects underway, which now require that I have time to develop and polish them up for publication.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this report, when I began this trip my academic interests were becoming more focused on the common ground between drama and media studies, an area I have come to think of as performance studies. This trip provided me with many opportunities to explore this interface: computer conferences (Graz and Utrecht), Internet Cafés, mobile computing, virtual reality, brain wave technologies, photography and technology exhibits, robotics (Mercedes Benz), radio, telephone (!), e-mail, ftp, popular culture, advertising, posters, newspapers, television reporting, video art, film, business reporting, oral histories, transportation systems, politics, archeology, music of all kinds, festivals (Avignon, Arles, Salzburg, Frieburg, Paris, Venice, Prague), drama and opera (New York, Prague, Graz, Avignon, Paris, Venice).

When I arrived back in Nanaimo in mid-November, I had a great deal of preparation to do for the Media Studies 113 course since it required that I consolidate my current knowledge on digital communications and prepare myself to instruct in a video-conferenced classroom using on-line facilities such as e-mail, newsgroups, hypernews, the Internet, and HTML. Many times since returning, I have considered how much I could have used another semester to finish writing projects I have started, including pursuing the publication of the Sam Shepard project more actively. However, the leave provided me with an opportunity to develop my academic interests in a variety of important directions, not the least of which concerns notions of performance which are as relevant to drama as they are to media studies. Given that I will be teaching both drama (English 437) and media studies (Media 111, 113, and 212) in the 1996-97 year, I consider my experiences to be invaluable to my work as an instructor. Finally, I hope that I will be able to continue my writing projects now that the Spring 1996 semester is finished.