David Bouchier

We spent a few days in Berlin last week, and we had seldom been in a city that produced such contradictory emotions. On the one hand we had to admire the sweeping boulevards, the grand architecture from the past, the green spaces, and the splendid public transport system. On the other hand, at least for people of my generation, Berlin evokes some very dark images indeed. Seeing the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden and the site of Hitler's Reichstag, it's hard to forget that this was the capital of the Third Reich in all its baroque horror.

The Roman poet Horace divided all travelers into two groups: those who travel for a change of climate, and those who travel to change their minds. The twenty-first century seems to have added a third category: those who travel to lose their minds.

Every year when we came back from our annual vacation my parents would say, without fail: “Well, that was a nice change.”

It was always a change, certainly, but how “nice” it was depended on a whole lot of factors: where we went, how many days it rained, how bad the food was, how often the car broke down, and so on. I would point out to my parents the inherent ambiguity in their use of the word “nice,” but they ignored me. Parents don’t always appreciate the wisdom of children.

One of these days we are going to see La Grotte des Demoiselles. This is an obscurely famous limestone cave in southern France, a big tourist attraction, which we drive past about once a year on the way to somewhere else. Every time we see the sign we say “One of these days…” and perhaps one of these days we will, and perhaps you will too. But probably not. The grotto may be a remarkable sight, but not remarkable enough to overcome the gap between intention and action, and to find a parking space.

Everything moves outdoors in summer, including music. We happen to be in a place where a lot of outdoor performances are going on this season. It's a common sight to see temporary stages being put up in parks or open spaces, ready for the next show. Typically the stages are pretty basic structures, made from scaffolding covered with boards, and about three feet high. From Carnegie Hall to the village square, every performer needs a stage.