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Have a Very Merry Christmas!

My dear readers and visitors,

I wish you a very merry Christmas! Wherever you are, I hope that you find peace and joy on this day, and take it with you to the next year!

With love and best wishes, Julia x


P.S. I’d like to thank all my friends for their lovely cards and presents. Special thanks to John Grundeken for the beautiful Dove of Peace card (left). The card on the right is from my family archive of old postcards. And thanks to 123Greetings.com for the awesome free ecard service!


Flickr-Day in History

Two years ago, October 17th 2006 saw a project called “One Day in History” as a part of History Matters campaign organised by the National Trust and key heritage organisations. People of all ages and nationalities, living in Britain, could send a blog post describing what they did on the day.

Whether or not the guys at Flickr knew about this project, they have certainly taken up a similar idea, and last year pioneered 24 Hours of Flickr – a pool of photographs taken on May 5th 2007, capturing a moment in life of over 7 thousand people. You can visit the link above to flick through the photos, and some of them are sure to put you in the mood for Flickr 888, which will take place on August 8th, 2008.

Better yet, Flickr are teaming with MOO, to print exclusive Flickr 888 Postcard Packs, to be available in early autumn. Suddenly there seem to be more reasons to think of participating in this project.

One of the Flickr friends who, I think, should consider taking part is John Grundeken from the Netherlands. You surely have seen his amazing design for a tie, commemorating his adoration for Barbra Streisand. As an artist, John specialises in linocut, and you can view some examples of his work online. I faithfully followed his Paris 2007 and Paris 2008 sets, but, if I am honest, John’s treatment of flora can leave one spellbound. This may sound strange, especially if John reads this, but he photographs flowers and plants, like I photograph streetlights – passionately, copiously, and lovingly. Hyacinths, roses, irises, peonis, orchids… you name it! I should also note his love for gardening and planting, which obviously adds an extra touch to his work. And with John’s permission I have an ace work of his, but just for some more time this is going to remain an ace up my sleeve.

Barbra Streisand in Manchester (M.E.N. Arena, July 10, 2007)

 And so, Manchester has finally joined the cities on the route of Barbra Streisand’s first European tour. Some reports prior to Manchester concert expressed fears that the night might fall through because of high ticket prices. Admittedly, pleasure of seeing Streisand on stage wasn’t cheap: add a program’s price (£25) to your cheapest ticket (£75), and you’ll get quite a sum. Looking from my seat in the stalls down on those who sat in the first row in the box did bring certain thoughts to mind. But as the show went on, I realised that with my £75 ticket I bought myself much more than just a lifetime experience.

Like with quite a few other things, it started thanks to my mother. I said before that my mum has got this tremendous ability to discover things – and once Russia has opened her arms to the West after 1991, there was (and still is) a lot to discover. I believe that the discovery of Barbra in my family has started with the song Woman in Love, which was in an audio cassette collection. Around 1996-97 the articles about Streisand have really flooded our first Russian editions of Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE. They wrote about her youth, her romances, her music, but, being an adolescent, I was most interested in her portraits. As terrible as it sounds, before I saw those photos, I thought I would never look good in front of the camera. Studying them, thankfully, changed me in many ways. I still haven’t seen a lot of Streisand’s films, but Funny Girl, The Mirror Has Two Faces, and The Way We Were have entered my memory forever. I would watch The Way We Were anyway because of Robert Redford, but the first two we watched because of Barbra. So, it was only natural that when I saw an email about the release of her tickets I knew I had to go. I wanted to surprise my mother, but in the end we had this conversation on Sunday night:

I: Mum, do you want to be jealous?
Mum: Why?
I: Do you know where I’m going on 10th July?
Mum (anticipating pause)
I: I’m going to Barbra Streisand’s concert
Mum (after a long pause, and with a sigh): Yes, I’m very jealous.

Although I’ve been living in Manchester since 2003, July 10th was the first time I went to a concert at the M.E.N. Arena. Contrary to all fears and misgivings, the hall was full: at 7pm people were coming in tides, and by 7.40 there was virtually no room to move in the foyer. The audience’s rapture was palpable; and how could it not be if the man with a black-and-grey scarf around his neck was one of the first to rise from his seat when Barbra appeared on stage for the first time? I cannot say I’ve been to many concerts, but I’m certain I won’t see such frequent standing ovations any time soon. Where I sat, people behind me were humming and singing along with the performer who – we all hope – celebrates the 50th anniversary of her stage career in three years’ time.

As you can guess, from photos on Flickr and from videos on YouTube, the organisers’ appeal against taking pictures wasn’t acknowledged, and we shouldn’t blame the fans for many of whom this was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and hear their favourite performer. In the audience there were Mancunians, Liverpudlians, Geordie, as well as Italian and Spanish fans whom Streisand greeted in their native language. When answering questions, she admitted that of all three – singing, acting, and directing – she enjoyed directing more because of what she called ‘inclusiveness’, and this show may very well be the proof of her directorial hold. Alas, we were not introduced to Samantha; instead we saw Streisand putting on glasses and demonstrating her – quite good – piano technique.

The importance of seeing an “old league” performer cannot be underestimated. A rather simply decorated stage was a perfect backdrop for the stunning costumes (designed by Streisand and Donna Karan), a warm smile, and the beautiful, powerful voice of the world’s first showbiz diva. I must admit, after reading several fans’ reviews, that I couldn’t put my feelings about the evening into words better than John Grundeken from the Netherlands did, which is why I hope a lot of you will follow through to Barbra’s Archives to read his heartfelt story of the night at Bercy in Paris. Moreover, John is travelling to London’s concert, as well. What I must absolutely agree with John about is the incredible power of Streisand’s voice: ‘”Starting here, starting now”, her voice sounded so warm and rich. I realised this was the first time ever I wasn’t listening to a recording of her voice, this was the real thing’. And one more fact about John: I am used to seeing people wearing T-shirts with John Lennon’s or Che Guevara’s face, and I made myself a T-shirt with the print of the Beatles’s Let It Be cover. But, upon my word, this was the first time I saw someone decorating a tie with their favourite artist’s portrait. I’ve got a feeling that the world of fashion has already been there, but this tie is special for its colour, design, and image. Above all, the whole work glows with admiration for Barbra Streisand, which makes it really impressive, and this is why I asked John for permission to use the image in my post. Thank you, John.

I have a confession to make. As I mentioned above, my mother is a huge fan of Barbra Streisand. I haven’t been back to Russia since I came to Manchester, which makes almost four years. So as a present for her I recorded several songs from the concert, which are strictly for private use and will not be put up anywhere. However, I noticed that there are many videos on the web, which probably warrants my action: I cut and put together two extracts from the concert. The first extract is a great proof of cordial atmosphere at the M.E.N. Arena, not without a few funny moments. The second is the song Unusual Way from the second half of the concert. Please note that the audio, like all the content of this site, is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial – Non-Derivative Works 3.0. If you wish to cite it, please do so accordingly.

[To be reuploaded soon – JD]

The songs may very well be the ones that people older than me have already heard Streisand singing live before. Yet, as Paul Vallely from The Independent puts it, ‘she progressed from one song to the next in a way which was not autobiographical so much as the story of the lives of those who listened. She was singing the soundtrack to their joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures’. In spite of my age, Smile, Unusual Way, Papa Can You Hear Me resonate in me deeply, while People and Somewhere fully correspond to the views and ideas I behold dearly and often express in writing and here, in Los Cuadernos, for which you can certainly call me a Cockeyed Optimist.

The peak of the performance for me was when Streisand run and danced barefoot on stage. And it was most lovely to see the audience standing and greeting Barbra with several rounds of ovation. In Russia, it was a part of nearly every performance experience: to call actors or singers come back on stage several times. In four years here, attending theatre and cinema many times, I almost got used to people giving a few claps, standing up and leaving, so seeing this “Russian” reaction felt incredibly warm.

It is evident that I, like many others, enjoyed every minute of two-and-a-half hours of Streisand’s concert, including the interval, when I took the photos of the Arena’s hall that are now scattered throughout this post. And I feel I should comment on a criticism that the show was scripted. Where I sat, on the side, was the perfect place to see both the stage and the screens with running scripts. First, the lines run fast, so unless everyone (Barbra and the Broadway guys) knows what they are to say, they won’t be on time with the script. Most importantly, though, is that they didn’t actually follow the script word for word. Yes, maybe it’s bad to direct your own show, but as a spectator I think it would be worse to listen to an artist, who sounds and looks like a sheep, not knowing what to say. From my own experience of writing scripts or watching written scripts going live I can only say that it’s essential to know where your carriage (be that a play, a radio or TV show, or a performance) is going at any given minute. To ensure that it runs naturally is up to a performer, and for Barbra Streisand it was a piece of cake.

“Barbra – was she worth the money?” – a sly question that has left many a reviewer’s pens. Someone cynical may say a performer like Streisand is used to the crowd’s adoration, but no matter how used you get to people praising you, there are always new people, and every performer needs them, not only because ‘people need people’, but because people need art, and a performer is the mediator between art and the world. This entire contemplation on worthiness reminds me of Maugham’s Theatre, one of my favourite novels. In one chapter, the heroine’s son reproaches her for being “false”. He fails to understand how one minute Julia Lambert can be all emotion on stage, then have a go at the technician during a short interval, and then immediately regain the altitude and power of her performance once again. She feels disturbed, but in the very final passages of the book she realises that the actors give substance and meaning to the lives of people in the audience: ‘… out of them we create beauty, and their significance in that they form the audience we must have to fulfill ourselves… We are the symbols of all this confused, aimless struggle that they call life, and it’s only the symbol which is real. They say acting is make-believe. That make-believe is the only reality’.

You may cue in Vallely’s review or Gogard’s musings on image and reality in Notre Musique. Or you can read the review of one of the concert’s attendees, who (though not without some inner struggle) has taken from this single night something precious and indelible. One thing is certain: art transforms life, and ever since coming out on stage 47 years ago Barbra Streisand has been doing just that.


Barbra Streisand official website

Manchester reviews: BBC and Manchester Evening News

Paul Valley, Broadway Diva Lives up to Her Billing, The Independent, 11 July 2007

Set list, photos, press and fan reviews at Barbra Archives.

Barbra Streisand group on Flickr

John Grundeken

The Cotton Mill Blog

Barbra Streisand in Manchester set on Flickr

About images:

All images used in this post are copyrighted. The details for the booklet illustrations can be found in the captions to the pictures here. ‘The Tie’ is designed and produced by John Grundeken.

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