On the mines of South Africa, a long time ago, Easter was a special occasion. It was the end of summer and the beginning of autumn; it was a long weekend when even the miners did not work; it was a family time; and we went to Church to pray for lives lost and redeemed. For through the year, there were always deaths and distress. After Lent, this seemed an appropriate time to reminisce.
Today, Easter is North American commercialism. No holidays at all in the USA. Canada, compromising as always, takes Friday but not Monday as a holiday–or should it be indeed holy-day?
The suns has shone in Vancouver this past week. If this is global warming, let it proceed apace. I have been able to ride to work each work day. Friday and today, long rides on my road bike up the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve—the best ride in all the world when the sun shines. Some fourteen kilometers uphill as the legs groan and the heart & lungs pump. I am passed by fat old men on cross-county bikes. I am passed by slim young ladies on small bikes that are propelled by their tiny legs. I am passed by the muscled legs of young men and their equally fit female lovers who speed by on expensive road bikes.
But cycling is a personal equation: you ride only against yourself and what you want to do versus what you can do. You push your own body to the limit and revel in the pain that is pleasure. You coast downhill, only to change gears and push up yet another hill with the determination that old age grants. Then the grade changes and you fly. You are ageless and limitless. The sun flitters in the trees and the asphalt skims by as the slightest pressure on the handle-bars swerves the bike hither and thither through shadow, shade, and brilliant light.
You forget your disastrous loss at poker last night; only one hand in twenty produced the right sequence of cards and the chips steadily diminished until drunk and befuddled you drank yet another brandy, ate a disgusting desert of gluten-free stuff covered with sugarless chocolate and went home to sleep, exhausted from riding.
Tonight I watched two versions of what must surely be one of the most beautiful operas ever written: I speak of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. The story is ageless: Euridice dies; Orfoe grieves; he goes deep into the underground; see the gods and Euridice; the gods, persuaded by his music, let Euridice return to the world with him; but he looks back and she is gone. Lot and his salt lot, I suppose.
The first was from Festival Castell de Peralda: over-the-top with too much visual confusion and lack of grace. The second is presented as a dance-opera by Pina Bausch from the Ballet de l’Opera, national de Paris. Dancers enact the emotion, while shadow figures sing the gorgeous songs. All enough to make you cry for Opheus (this one is titled Orpheus und Eurydike.)
I emailed with a colleague in South Africa who was working in spite of the long weekend. We conversed of great inflows of water from the lake into the underground workings. He is confident it is under control—he is thus informed by the minions on the mine. I am less so: I heard them talk; they are terrified of an impending disaster; their words and gestures signified fear and doubt. They will tell the higher-ups what they want to hear; they will say what is politically correct; they will quote impressive statistics. Yet they, and the equally young regulator who sat next to me and talked in the dark of a wet mine, trembled and doubted.
This is mining: just like opera: a profusion of truth interspersed with doubt. A mix of fantasy echoing reality. The surpression of fact in pursuit of beauty and pleasure. The fascination of survival in the face of the wrath of the gods.
What we see in the underground, in the dark depth of the mine, Erudice or vast inflow of water, we cannot bring to the surface and the light filtering in the trees as we strive to record the truth—or at least insight into the human heart and the vengeance of the gods. For opera and the love of fantasy will overwhelm us. We cannot tell the future. We can only love, fear, seek, and grieve.
Cerberus is implacable!