Morning. We stumble off the bus into bright daylight. A flea-bitten dog with an enormous tick in its head greets us. We're parked alongside a huge wire frame and plastic hanger/Quonset hut. It is arrayed with a few thousand seats in rows and the sound echoes all over the place in weird ways. I think to myself, "uh oh, this is going to be depressing."
I look at this place and think, "jeez, from the perfect acoustics and sightlines of the Roman amphitheaters, it's all been downhill from there." Does this cheap structure on the edge of town (it looks like Co-op City) represent the relative importance of theater and the performing arts nowadays? Well, certainly it does performing arts of a certain type - I'm sure there is still an opera house in Bari and at least one other lovely Baroque (probably) theater....relics, of a sort.
The performing arts are, judging by these venues, spectacles. As an audience member, one only has to be present: the sound, the intelligibility, understanding and comfort don't really matter. One only has to witness the apparition, the manifestation. That is sufficient.
But, once again, I am proved wrong and have to eat my words. In the evening, when the hall is full, the sound improves slightly, slightly. And the audience is hugely appreciative - they even sing along. They are made up of all sorts and ages. Beautiful young women on dates and older couples - the men look like university professors. I can see that they are singing along with Un Di Felice, so I decide to offer a karaoke opera experience. After we perform the Verdi song I ask if anyone wants to try singing along and say the band will accompany them. A super energized guy with a barrel chest in front is chosen and he comes on stage and talks and gesticulates to me wildly. I gesture back and explain that there will be a two-measure count off - "oh, never mind" - I count it off and sing the fist line with him, then I back off, giving him the mike. He's timid, we can barely hear him at first, but after a bit, in a slightly wheezy but honest voice, he goes for the high notes - and does it. The audience cheers him on and laughs. He's a brave buffoon. Bravo. We hug and he returns to the audience signing autographs and shaking hands.
Earlier that day I rode my bike from the ridiculous Quonset hut to the port, where there are winding small streets and wonderful fish restaurants. As I cycled, I found that the Metro Rail tracks ran almost along the seaside, effectively cutting the town off from the water and its beautiful coast. There were almost no crossing places, so the mostly low-income concrete high rises that filled that part of town were isolated from the pleasures of the water. Was this intentional or was this where cheap land for the train was found at a particular time? I recall the highway building efforts of Robert Moses in NYC, projects that effectively cut off the city from its own seaways and harbor, forcing introspection. His work is only now being corrected, at least in Manhattan, and it feels like the city can breathe again.
As a cyclist I have a sense of where I am most of the time, something I find car drivers don't have. They seem to navigate solely by signs and landmarks. They told me the center of town was too far to cycle to, for example, but when I looked at a map I could see it was only about 2.5 km. However, the autostrada route, the one they would take, is about 5 times as long.
I found a restaurant I remembered filled with businessmen dressed in dark gray or black suits and, outside on the street, a makeshift charcoal grill where a man roasted fish. I look at the businessmen and think, "their only hope to catch a woman is power. They are boring and paunchy and who would want them, unless they are wealthy or powerful?" Maybe businessmen know this, hence their continuous and intense jockeying for position and prestige.