Monitor: Forbidden opera, ad-free railways and royal salami - culture as seen by the world's newspapers

The Washington Post
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The Independent Culture
MAINLAND CHINA is in vogue and in cultural spring. These days many visitors gush over the Chinese renaissance. None of their exuberant words can describe the spectacle in the Forbidden City where Giacomo Puccini's Turandot opened. The opera featured the choreography of famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, a cast of hundreds from Beijing and an audience of luminaries and aesthetes at roughly the same time that, 2,000 kilometres south, Hong Kong staged yet another Canto pop concert. The contrast between the glitter up north and the songfest down south was about as great as the Forbidden City is vast. Hong Kong was justifiably contemptuous of the mainland for the decades when it was open and prosperous and the mainland was insular and abjectly poor [but] unless Hong Kong can for once see beyond its myopia and paranoia about the mainland, then this great city will lag further behind, moulder, and become the last rest stop for weary travellers overwhelmed with the Chinese kaleidoscope.

- South China Morning Post

IT BEGAN 35 years ago, pre-cable, pre-Internet - the New York Film Festival returns on Friday with Woody Allen's new film, Celebrity. The event will offer 28 films from 15 countries. Richard Pena, chairman of the screening committee for the festival said: "There's much more culture, many more outlets than people might have imagined when the festival began, but almost none of them doing anything like what we do. Thirty years ago, there was a much healthier alternative, or independent, or art-house scene showing foreign-language films. There's been a great lessening of the role these kinds of films play in the American cultural life. There's an enormous amount of wonderful stuff from all over, from Iran, from Taiwan. A festival like ours is such an important launching pad because the commercial possibilities of these films are so much less than they once were."

- The New York Times

THE RESTORATION of Grand Central Terminal is a triumphant moment in the modern history of New York. John Belle, who describes his job as peeling off the excrescences, has spiffed up the terminal to look more elegant than it has at any time since the nineteen-twenties. Belle and the Manhattan Transport Authority have stripped away most of the advertising signs that for years turned the main concourse into a kind of covered version of Times Square. No more Kodak sign, no more huge clock, lots of architecture. You can wallow in the main concourse now; it is pure space. Grand Central teaches us that monumental architecture can transcend issues of refinement and enrich the minutiae of daily life. The building, with its swarming crowds, is an oasis of calm, a serene eye in the midst of the swirling city. Now that Grand Central no longer functions as a place for long-distance arrivals and departures, it is more like a town square. Its clarity and its serenity, as well as its majesty, belong to everyone. - Paul Goldberger in the New Yorker

STEPHEN KING is [now] 31 on Forbes' list of the world's most lavishly paid "entertainers," earning an estimated $40m this year. Novelists, King says, are "paid to play while the rest of the generation grows up, they are left behind on the playground with the understanding they will report on how its going". King once said: "I'm a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can't sell it as caviar." Although King likes to say, "It is the tale, not he who tells it," the selling of Bag of Bones has gotten more attention than its writing. Last year, in a publisher's version of horror, King's agent asked for a record $17m from Viking, his longtime publisher. King now says that was a mistake. "It made me look greedy." He ended up signing with Scribner for a mere $2m but will get half of all profits, not the usual 15 per cent royalty. - USA Today

OPERA WORRIES aren't confined to the English. This year is the 90th anniversary of Argentina's most important cultural monument - the Colon Theatre - but festivities have given way to protesting employees, financial pressures and management changes. Hundreds of part-time workers and performers, part of the theatre's 1,200 staff, rallied outside the theatre earlier this year, complaining of being owed two years' back pay. "It has been a special year in many ways," said Sergio Renan, the Colon's artistic director, before resigning in late July. "But it also has been one of tremendous conflict." He called the building "our national treasure". But more pressing, he says, are "our organisational and economic problems."