A Day at the Opera

In December of 2001 a new opera by Robert Wilson, based on Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck with music by Tom Waits, came to the Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris. I am a great fan of Tom Waits, and was -- at the time -- living a kilometer from the theatre.

The advance tickets were sold out. I arrived early and queued up for will-call tickets. The will-call queue was extraordinarily long, especially for a matineé — we stretched far into the lobby and up the stairs, seated in order of arrival.

As I sat on the stairs, writing in my journal, I noticed a lovely young woman seated one step down from me. She was also writing in a journal, but her writing used a different alphabet from mine, an odd Cyrillic it seemed. I overheard her answer a question in distinctly North American English and, later, another in very serviceable French.

I couldn't help myself. Her name was Lenka. She was from Belgrade, but she had an American mother and an aunt in Paris, from whom she had acquired her surprising linguistic versatility. She had hitchhiked to Paris to see the show, listening to Tom Waits the entire way. We chatted for the rest of our time in the queue, both despairing of missing out on the remaining will-call tickets.

When we arrived at the ticket counter they had only two tickets left, both in the grand box of the theatre. We each purchased a ticket and were treated to the best seats in the hall for something now worth around thirty-five euros.

The opera was fantastic, in turns dramatic and hypnotic, frenetic and heartbreakingly sad. We both wept during the final scenes, holding hands in a momentary bond of artistic solidarity.

After the opera, I helped her into her winter coat, donned my own, kissed her on both cheeks and departed. We never saw each other again, but I still feel a connection to her over this time and distance because of the experiences we shared that day.

This entry is part of my journal, published January 21, 2004, in New York City.