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Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Sublime and the Ridiculous 4 

Hello from Ottawa! Yes, I have actually ventured out of the relative warmth of the west coast to the wintry metropolis known as our nation's capital. This week, I was assaulted at every turn by the ridiculous, but have been enjoying some sublime moments as well.

The process involved in getting from Vancouver to Ottawa was a most ridiculous one. When we arrived at the airport, we were first told there were no seats together on the flight and that we were going to be sitting two rows apart. Now, having known Ryan for more than nine years, I am able to be parted from him for four hours without undue angst. However, the prospect of being wedged between two individuals with bad hygiene practices and unlimited onboard alcohol consumption was truly frightening (believe me, I know of what I speak). Anyway, we were told that we could discuss this matter with the boarding attendant and see if two seats together could be found. While we were waiting for boarding, the gossip amongst the passengers was about the blizzard in Ottawa and the possibility of being re-routed to Toronto. Not a pleasant thought. As it turned out, two seats together were found on the flight. The flight itself was not uneventful. There was a bit of a rocky takeoff, considerable turbulence, an onboard altercation between two passengers across from us and some rather "institutionally-flavored" mashed potatoes. I've had more bizzare in-flight encounters, but I will restrain myself from the considerable digression I'm tempted to make and move forward. The good news was that we landed in Ottawa. The bad news was that it took about 20 minutes for the plane to drive around, find a spot and then wait for the snow to be cleared. We were greeted at the airport, which looked so much like the one back home, by my best friend. This was a very happy moment. Yet, more ridiculousness was to come. The luggage, for some reason connected with the snow and cold, could not be delivered to the airport with the same speed as the passengers. So, we waited and waited and waited..... We then decided to leave and come back. Ah joy, at 12:30 a.m. my luggage was delivered into my icy fingertips.

I return to Vancouver for my sublime moment, which occurred somewhat earlier in the week. My friend and I went to see the opera "Madama Butterfly." I have seen this opera on at least two other occasions, but this was my friend's first experience with a live opera performance. Briefly, "Madama Butterfly" is an opera written by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The story was based on an earlier, American play, but the opera was first performed only 100 years ago, relatively recently for opera. The story involves a sailor called Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton who arrives on the equally patriotically named ship, Abraham Lincoln, in Japan. He falls in lust with a beautiful geisha who was once a member of a wealthy family, but has fallen on hard times. He marries her, but like the leases in Japan, he says, he can give 30 days notice and get out without much ado. Sharpless, the American consul, warns him that the fifteen-year-old girl he has married is truly in love with him and he shouldn't be so careless with her heart, but Pinkerton is unmoved and dreams of the day when he will marry a real American wife. By the second act, we find out that Pinkerton abandons Butterfly shortly after the honeymoon phase of the marriage. He says he will return and she believes him, unlike everyone else. Unknowingly, Pinkerton has impregnated Butterfly and is unaware that he now has a son. Finally, Butterfly gets Sharpless to write about her son to Pinkerton in an effort to hurry his return from America. He does return, but with an American wife in tow and a mission to take his son with him to America. Pinkerton is sorry for what he has done to Butterfly, but the damage he has done is irrevocable. Butterfly chooses to die with honour and kills herself. This particular performance of "Madama Butterfly" was the most moving one I have ever seen. It was sublime. The music and the story really were brought to life as the acting of the singers, particularly the soprano playing Butterfly, was so well done. I almost wept at the end when I realized that the real tragedy of the story was that Butterfly's idealism about love is what is destroyed and her physical death is the manifestation of the death of her innocence. I know the story can be interpreted on the metaphorical level, as a representation of all the evils of colonialism etc... Yet, the story is at its most moving if taken on the personal level. Unlike many operas, "Madama Butterfly" tells us a fictional story that is realistic. There are countless examples of women in many nations who were left in situations very much like Butterfly and had very limited and unattractive options.

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