Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - Eurovision Performers Arrive

I am in Düsseldorf ("Dull Village") to cover the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. The Eurovison Press Centre opens on Saturday, an event seen by many as the unofficial start of the Eurovision Song Contest. Rehearsals begin the following day.

So the first Eurovision performers are arriving! I spent an amusing half-hour watching the unpacking of Eric Saade (Sweden) from his crate. Even with a few loose packing peanuts stuck in his hair he looks more life-like than Madame Tussaud's best work. His blank stare is unsettling, but once he is animated by the talented Euro Disney Imagineers he will "come to life" and thrill an estimated 125 million people around the world.

I wanted to take the Maja Keuc animatronic out to the Günnewig Rheinturm Restaurant. She is a simulation of an 18 year-old Slovenian female (though in fact she has been in development since the Tito era). She is abundantly attractive and, the Eurovision site says, programmed to be "a self-critical girl, with both feet on the ground and a firm belief in the good in this world."

Sadly, Belarus's crate, which contained Anastasiya Vinnikova, arrived damaged, and rats appear to have gnawed off one-third of Ms. Vinnikova's "living skin," revealing the Terminator-like hydraulics underneath. While it is doubtful she will look herself during the first round of rehearsals, Belarus believes the biologically-engineered flesh-like substance will grow back in time for the semi-finals. More worrying than these cosmetic issues, however, is the damage done to her singing voice, which is now a deep, metallic gonging sound. A new voice-box will arrive from Minsk soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - Eurovision - Pause for Reflection

The stories that the "Mythbusters" TV show investigates are all-too-vivid reminders of the deaths of my own friends and family members. "Killer Tissue Box," "Exploding Breast Implant," "Jeans of Fire"--these and countless other tragedies have deleted loved ones from my life. (Confession: I never wear jeans.)

As I sip a cappuccino and gaze hazily upon Düsseldorf's Altstadt exactly two weeks before Eurovision, I find myself in a pensive mood.

I replay the last moments of my father's life. He is coked-up and having the time of his life as he barrels down the ski run. He playfully moons other skiers as he passes them by. And there's the arctic fox, frightened out of her den, streaking white on white across the landscape, impossible to see or avoid. A surprised yelp from both parties.

Contact. Chaos. Catastrophe.

My father sailing off a cliff, his pants around his ankles, and the terrified fox wrapped around his head like a living ushanka, their separate screams blending into one.


My server mops off my table. I seem to have knocked over my cappuccino during the flashback. "Is OK, is ok," the server grunts for the third time this morning. He is an old Polish man who no doubt came to Düsseldorf seeking a better life. Aren't we all looking for something?

I consider leaving him a tip for his trouble, but think better of that when I remember the cost of my hotel room. How do the Eurovision delegations from less well-off countries (and considering Germany is the EU financial leader these days, that would be everyone) manage to cover their boarding costs? I think a good journalist should investigate that. Then I remember that I am supposed to be a journalist. Then I sigh with relief, remembering that I am writing only for a blog, and I can leave the tough stuff (read: boring) for the professionals.

Cheered by my newly-realized lack of responsibility, I stride out into perfect weather: sunny skies and temperatures at a perfect 20°C, enough to distract me from the receding yells of my angry server. I remind myself that my father is disco dancing in heaven with Marie-France Pisier. An arctic fox frolics at their feet.

Dance, little fox, dance! :'-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - The History of the Vatican at Eurovision

I spent my morning listening to the Bach Cantatas for Easter Sunday (BWV 4 and BWV 31, under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner), which put me in a reflective mood.

I considered the history of the Vatican at Eurovision. The Vatican is located in Rome, a city which, due to its location; its considerable commercial power; and its glorious, multi-millennia history, is known by many as "The Crossroads of Europe."

Vatican City proper is either a sovereign country or not, depending upon mood and necessity. For example, when asked to pick sides in a military conflict, the Vatican refuses because it is not a country. When asked to extradite bishops to testify in pedophile priest trials, the Vatican refuses because they are a sovereign country.

We all remember that Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to send a delegation to Eurovison (1988, Dublin). In what was interpreted as a troubling sign of growing irreligiousness in Europe, the song, "Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus Tibi, Quia per sanctam crucem Tuam redemisti mundum," placed last. More humiliation followed when it was revealed that, although the song's house music melodies were original (courtesy of one Frankie Knuckles), the lyrics were not, having been written a thousand years earlier. A red-faced Vatican had its appearance annulled. With that bold stroke the Vatican's Eurovision record was stricken from all official histories of the contest.

A campaign was launched in late 2008 to encourage a Vatican return to Eurovision (see illustration above), but this failed to gain traction. However, if Italy is back in the 2011 contest after a 13-year absence, could the Vatican be far behind? Popular opinion says, "Probably."

[An Easter aside: Italians have expressed outrage this week over Lady Gaga's latest single, "Judas," and they have shown their displeasure by allowing the song to ascend only to number 5 on their pop music charts. Pope Benedict XVI's complaint: "The song as a whole sounds like a desperate knock-off of last year's 'Bad Romance.' " Amen, Popey, amen!]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - Measles March on Eurovision

Mr. Lava has volunteered to send dispatches from Eurovision Song Contest 2011 in my stead. Here is his second report:

Autism, in combination with rampant paranoia and under-informed parenting, has given Europe, and probably soon the entire world, a bad case of the measles. Writes Huffington Post:

"To prevent measles outbreaks, officials need to vaccinate about 90 percent of the population. But vaccination rates across Europe have been patchy in recent years and have never fully recovered from a discredited 1998 British study linking the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella to autism. Parents abandoned the vaccine in droves and vaccination rates for parts of the U.K. dropped to about 50 percent."

Ground zero seems to be France, which has already seen almost as many measles cases in 2011 as it did in all of 2010. Paris (which, due to its location, its financial power, and its considerable cultural contributions to the world, is often referred to as "The Crossroads of Europe") has begun executing the infected (and, as a precautionary measure, the non-infected) living in that city's suburbs.

Now measles has its sights set on Eurovision. It would be a dolorous competition indeed if we had to endure the sight of the beautiful Mika Newton's porcelain features speckled with contagion. Fortunately, the heavily-fortified Fortuna Düsseldorf arena, where the contest will be held in May, is serving as a Decameron-style hideaway for the uninfected. Your correspondent, sadly, is not one of the privileged few who will get to pass the next few weeks swapping tales with Moldova's Zdob şi Zdub. So I and thousands of others are pawing mindlessly at the arena gates, moaning piteously in the desperate hope that we will be allowed entry into the safety zone.

If only I were "Popular," like Sweden's Eric Saade, who recently explained that "the word 'popular' is just an expression for wanting to be the best." This is so true; popularity and high achievement often go hand-in-hand. One need only look at the facts: Charles Darwin developed the grand unifying theory of biology called "evolution," and over 150 years later he remains popular in America's Deep South.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - Eurovision 2011: An Introduction

I had hoped to receive press accreditation to cover the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, but I was denied. Fortunately, Mr. Lava, a DJ of international renown, already lives on the continent. He has agreed to write a series of articles following the build-up to May's Eurovision showdown.

Because of its proximity to the Dutch and Belgian borders, its easy access to the Rhine, and its sterling reputation as an international business and financial center, the German city of Düsseldorf is often referred to by its residents as "The Crossroads of Europe." But this May the city will live up to that slogan more than ever before, as Düsseldorf's half million residents will soon be joined by hundreds of enthusiastic Eurovision Song Contest fans.

Germany is celebrated for its financial savvy and its bratwurst, but in recent years the country has perhaps become best known for its carnaval des animaux. Thus, the rising tide of tourists arriving in Düsseldorf's market square are now greeted by the stuffed remains of Knut the Polar Bear, who dramatically rears up on his hind legs with a face frozen in a perpetual roar of victory. Spirited zoo-keepers last week euthanized and stuffed Heidi the Cross-Eyed Opossum so that she might join her big brother; opossums are famous for hanging by their tails, and so Heidi now dangles stiffly from Knut's burly neck like a grotesque necktie. Paul the Octopus had once been a part of this tableau mort, but the mason jar containing his remains has gone missing--rumored to have been mistakenly sold as fruit preserves in one of Düsseldorf's outdoor markets.

Eurovision! Like the Olympics, the song contest is a bastion for peace and international good-will. Consider that today Italy talks about leaving the European Union, but in 2011--after a 13 year absence from the song contest--it will compete in Eurovision. Croatians have no interest in joining the EU at all, but they are determined to take home this year's trophy. Even staid Finland has lately shown more pride in Lordi's 2006 Eurovision victory than interest in the EU. Eurovision unites, whereas the EU divides!

One need only look at the facts. Before 1956, the year of the contest's inception, Europe knew only war. After 1956 a peaceful Europe came into being, although a fear of total nuclear annihilation hung over the continent like a raincloud over Charlie Brown's head (Cold War paranoia survives today in the form of that country-sized U.S.S.R. museum called "Belarus," the world's wilting hopes for Ukraine, and a general terror of Georgia-occupying Russia). Of course, one cannot also forget the wars that shredded the Balkans during the 1990s. And there is also Armenia's and Azerbaijan's "frozen conflict" regarding the disputed territory of the NKR which, due to complex loyalties in the region, plus gas pipeline transit issues, will probably lead to World War III. Besides these few things, Europe has never known such peace.

I am Mr. Lava, and I have come to Düsseldorf to suck all this in and blow it back out to you in a series of dispatches that have not been fact-checked, because this is only a blog. I look forward to sharing my impressions with you between now and the final day of competition. I am a Eurovision believer, and I will goddamn make you into one, too.

Eurovision, I have never felt more alive!