Part 3: Ambulomancy and the three act pax
As is my wont, when I need to pull together the disparate threads in the fabric of my life, I practice the art of ambulomancy: divination through walking.
Early one morning in Ruse, I ventured out from my hotel room in the city’s central square, Svoboda (which shares a name with Elitsa’s mother, for which see the previous blog), pondering the ramifications of the Hamlet project, one day after the first orchestral rehearsals. Why was I here in Bulgaria, with my Hamlet opera; my four hour long, three act grand opera? Was this a mistake? Had I overreached? Was this the right locale for the premiere, the recording? Why here and now this enterprise of great pitch and moment?
What I wanted — as I began my early a.m. ambage — was a cigar and an augury. I wandered the narrow labyrinthine side streets of Ruse for a little more than an hour before heading back to Svoboda square, unresolved; when finally I was delivered a sign, in the form of a gargantuan yogurt drum. It stopped me in my tracks, this absurdly outsized yogurt container, the size of a garbage bin, adorned with an indecipherable — to me — image of a verdant mountain peppered with boulders in the midst of some gaping glacier. On top of the yogurt barrel, three feet above the ground, was the beginning of a magical message: the word “Divine,” though slightly misspelled. The mountain, the glacier, the conjuring of the divine; combined to compel my eyes upwards where was revealed, in golden majuscule and Bulgarian alphabet this:
I read that as “Three Act Pax, Obey!” And “Pax” I transliterated first as “Peace,” and then “Piece.” The Brobdingnagian Yogurt Cup was telling me that I must be at peace with my three act piece; that I must obey the K. (PK was the abbreviation I used in the Hamlet score for Player King, so “K” meant “King” as is abbreviated in chess shorthand, though it could be argued that “PK” also means the King’s pawn.) Could this be right? A small sign adjacent to the portentous yogurt vat assured me, in English, that this mystical letter was delivered expressly to me by “my courier.” And yet, there was another message, mocking me, as another sign declared that it found my discernment of meaning in the ambiguous gibberish surrounding me to be laughable. The sign stated, “Snickers! I scream.” I took a picture of the scene, so I could ponder it later.
A Sign in Svoboda square
The titanic yogurt receptacle, the Golden Symbols, the sneering snickers comment, the flamboyant letters; they seemed to cast doubt on an oracle I’d chanced upon near a cemetery in Prague more than two decades prior to this enormous bin of bacterial haruspex.
My first experience in Eastern Europe for the purpose of a recording session – as well as my first visit to Eastern Europe, as well as my first recording session – was in Prague in 2003. MMC Recordings was running a project to record several of my Shakespearean settings for voices and chamber ensembles. I would speak at length about this triumphant catastrophe, but that’s a tale for another time. The event, if I can call it that, about which I was reminded yesterday morning (May 17, 2021) was a seemingly supernatural and oracular watershed moment — like the recording session itself — which to this day I endeavor to logically apprehend with a persistent lack of success.
Back to 2003. After some disheartening recording sessions at the Martinek recording studio just east of the Vltava from central Prague, I awoke early — before 6 a.m. — to take a walk and contemplate my future. I wanted to determine whether I should continue on my lengthy journey of creating a cycle of comic operas based on Boccaccio’s epic The Decameron.
I had purchased a Cuban cigar, which was prisoner in a glass vial. Do not believe it was a great cigar because of its elegant vessel. It was bitter and disappointing, as I soon discovered. It tasted of ambiguity.
Turning left outside the door to the monastery turned hotel in which I resided, in the red light district (including a “dance studio” across the street, with veridical red lights in a translucent window), I stopped by a large garbage bin whereupon I removed the Cuban from its transparent tube. I placed the tube on top of the lid of the garbage can, as I wanted to retrieve it after my walk. It was such a nifty container, a test tube with a brown plastic cap, rather than a red plunger.
Cuban cigar glass vial