PYO tour 2000 journal
Louis doesn't get to fly first-class, ha ha. Nasty little simian tenor that he is. I wouldn't dislike him so actively, perhpas, if he hadn't reconfirmed to the whole orchestra his infinite ineptitude by conducting the penultimate rehearsal. Makes sense, I suppose. Primavera is old, and whie none of us wants anything to happen to disable the man, there's probably a reason our breaks during recent rehearsals have been so long. If you had acute arthritis, you wouldn't make it through a three-hour rehearsal, either. You'd go outside and smoke two cigarettes, too. Louis, as I say, is assistant conductor should anything happen to the old catankerous Prim. And it makes sense that Scaglione have at least some experience working with us, and we with him, just in case. But dear lord, observe the cesuras in Tchaik 4 movement IV! take playable tempi! The brass just laughed at him when we finished. I don't blame them.
So far we are no more advanced than Boston, travelling into the night at a speed of 584 miles per hour, which I find ridiculously mind-boggling. Not just the cliché-boggling, but like the game Boggle in which you put different cubes of letters in a container and shake them up, boggling the senses and defying speed. 6h30 left till Praha.
I am excited and feeling rather guilty about this country, this Czech Republic (which Erin didn't know had been dissolved in '93, and that Slovakia was now its own floating entity, autonomous). I have not learned the language. I feel like a guilty schoolboy who has not done her lessons, who has to go tell her teacher that she comes empty-handed to class. This is the first time I have gone anywhere not primarily anglophonic and not at least made more than a half-assed attempt at the language. For Italy with MCC in '96, I did Italian (and have been sporadically keeping it up since the. We'll find out just how much it has disintegrated in these four off-and-on years of quasi-neglect); when the same choir travelled to Brazil two years later I made a less-serious yet still respectable attempt at Portuguese; WYSO's trip to Japan the summer of '98 prompted an even more-neglectful study of Japanese (still, though, nihongo wa hanasemasen). But Czech. Uff, I am ashamed. I got four books / sets of tapes / phrasebooks out of the library, and started using one of the books with good intentions, but got sidetracked with the projects of painting my car, making my dress (which I still need to hem!), and co-authoring that cookbook (Oda a la Cocina; orders are available by reqest, $19 :-)) with Allison, that those three activities consumed the first three weeks of my summer before I came out to New Jersey, so this Slavic language with all its wonderful consonants fell by the proverbial wayside. "Prazené Slavé Orísky," [NB: I can't do all the accents with traditional ASCII characters, so you'll just have to imagine throughout that there are upside-down circumflexes on some of the z's and s's.] I read on the little silver bag the red-uniformed flight attendant hands me. And for the first time I'm grateful for a translation. (Well, that's an exaggeration--I could have figured out for myself that these were Roasted Salted Peanuts. But still.) --she, by the way, apparently got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Rachel, this cute, unassuming flute player, had a CD player on, and she bitched her out as she passed with a laden drink cart--"excuse me those are strictlyprohibited! Strictly prohibited! We told you several times, several times!" -- and then, going the other way, to a kid in the aisle, gruffy--"pleasetake your seat!" They're all allowed their off-days, I suppose. It's less permissible when you're paid to be perky.
On the other hand, I'm excited. "I've never been to Czechoslovkia," Erin said; "and you never will," I reminded her. But yes, and I've never been to the Czech Republic. It's Europe but it's Eastern Eurpoe, with a language that's almost Russian ("voda" is water--the bottles on the carts say "dobrá voda," good water), but a golden age--Zlatá Praha, after all--earlier than even the rest of Western European nations. Looking in both directions, as Patricia Hampl described it. I'm reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and its' interesting to gain some insight on the nation from solely its literature (and, in the case of Hampl's A Romantic Education, the literature it inspires). I know nothing of its history except what I've gleaned from my sparse, fictional and memoir reading.
So, this should be interesing. It's not as if I'll be entering rural, feudal Czechoslovkia--no, it will be largely Western. Blah on this, omnipugnacious (ha ha) culture. And yet I don't speak a word of the language. I think it's the fact that it's so steeped and brewed in a history is what's going to make this city interesting. It, unlike anything with which I've grown up, has an intact culture. America (the U.S. I guess I should say) is developing one, slowly, and has a firmer one in the South and on the East Coast in the colonies, etc. --that's one thing I've really noticed while out living in New Jersey and Philly (as opposed to being out here but largely contained within the bubble that is Swarthmore)--they have a sense of culture, or more of one. Olivia has this, having grown up in Haddonfield and Philadelphia. Consequently, I don't think she can fully grasp my sense of grafted-on culture in Wisconsin, taken from the colonizing Europe and the slightly-older East Coast, how out-of-place it feels in the fur-trader land, how unorganic.
Unorganic. A pidgin culture turned creole, unnatural in the spot where it landed, pollen spread on the wings of an errant bird 'crost the Atlantic. I like things with roots. Deep-seated, ancient, organic cultures--no rBGH, no artificial growth hormones added. Olivia tells me yes, you like finer things. You like to cook, but you make pumpkin pancakes. You like music, but not the popular stuff which has evolved during the past fifty years in this country, you like classical music, grown slosly out of an ancient tradition. (The one exception, jazz, has roots. Real roots. That validates it entirely.) She's right. You like un-American htings, European things, she says? I say yes, but also Brazilian things, Japanese things, not only the Italian I've seen. Brazilian culture is completely organic--capoeira and candomblé from the African slaves brought over and suppressed; Japanese culture is completely organic (and ornate!--geishas, kimonos, etc.). American culture lacks all sense of that. Consider: Born in Europe, out of a few thousand years' brewing, it came entirely transplanted to what was to be the U.S. via colonizing ships. It took root there, directly transplanted, and began to grow into what its the modicum of culture which New England has over the rest of the thirty-seven states. Slosly it begins to trickle west, leaving small enclaves, rootless like the tumbleweeds in which they settle. Like this, it slowly grows, and is still the inorganic, unincorporated and weirdly twisted-in-the-process culture that has brought us the cultural marvels of McDonald's, fuck-me pumps, and N'Sync.
At least I understand my weird cultural angst now. Perhaps, give the states a few hundred years, and it might happen. An organic culture might evolve. But I doubt it somehow. Call me skeptic, but I think now the damage has been done, and nothing can grow out of these rootless ideas we all carry around.
Erin just told me that Slovakia's communist! Shit, I know nothing about this country.
June 22, 2000 -- Hotel Krystal, Prague, 9:30 PM
I am beat. I think I may be worse tomorrow, but of the past 50 hours I have slept 8, and it shows.
We got to the hotel ("the projects hotel of Prague," on kid commented) rather thirsty, but under orders to only drink bottled water. Lugged shit up to rooms, which are cute, and quite European. I found a French radio station and listened to the news for a few minutes. Laura (Cline, my roommate, fellow violist) and I were asleep within minutes. I set my alarm for 11:15 so I could get up and shower before lunch, but slept steadily through it, as did Laura, and we also slept through a phone call. I finally awoke to the phone ringing really loudly. Thought groggily, I don't wanna talk to some Czech person, I can't speak their language and I'm too tired to try ... Maybe if I ignore it it'll go away ... Laura answered it--it was her dad (he's a chaperone on this trip; the entire family is along, including Helen, who plays violin II). He reminded us that if we hurried (it was 12:45) we could still catch lunch. We ate.
They then packed us on the (double-decker!) buses again, and we headed for the city. (Note, dear reader, that there is no water on the bus.) The guide on the mic in front with a thick accent is pointing out sites which most all of us are, at this point, far too jetlagged to see (we'd all been up since 8 the previous morning, and it was our equivalent of 8 AM--a full 24 hours isn't easy on anyone. Laura and I were doing fine because of the nap, but even after that I was still groggy). They marched us (in chaperone-bus-gropus! what's up with that?) through the city, the guid far ahead, talking so no one could hear her, towards the Charles Bridge and ending up by the Old Town Square (Staré Mesto Namesti, I guess) and its Astronomical Clock. Completely dehydrated.
Because of the stupid group-splitting, I lost Olivia around 3 PM and consequently hung around with Rachel Smith and Regina for the afternoon. We did the touristy shops, tried to no avail to get money from Rachel's broken ATM card (she now owes me 400 kc), and finally found Olivia and this bassist Ari on the picturesque Charles Bridge. I stopped for half an houra t one of the many internet cafés dotting the Vltava (I still can't get the Moldau out of my head) and sent an email to my family and about 13 of my friends. Thirty minutes cost me 60 kc, about $1.80. Not bad at all. What can I say, I'm addicted. In the ban where we were trying to get money for poor Rachel, we heard a French couple speaking to the Czech teller in English. Much as I disparage it, it must be useful to have a truly univeral language that allows not only me to speak to the Czechs (everyone, it seems, speaks English here) but for the French to communicate with them, too. Perhaps it's not as terrible as all that.
All over the place as we walked, people on the street were holding up signs, passing out flyers, soliciting--not "Jesus loves you!" or "Save the Rainforests!" like you might expect to find in Philadelphia and Madison, but CONCERTS! all over! People selling tickets on the streets! I pointed to one particularly intriguing one--the Mozart Requiem--and asked Rachel if she wouldn't like to go. She would love to, she said. I asked a chaperone--after all, it would make little sense for them to deny us that, seeing as we're here for music!--and they said (rather to my surprise) sure, why not? So, Rachel and I purchased tickets for 400 Kc each (student discount of 100 Kc and then back half seats). Regina was exhausted already, not having slept and having been wearing her new, un-broken-in shoes all day 'round the city, so she stayed back. We found Olivia and Ari on the Charles Bridge and tried to get them to come with us, but they refused. Too tired, they said. Rachel then imparted some gossip--this morning, Maestro had fired the bass soloist who would have been singing the arias with us! Why? we asked, astonished. Apparently he'd called Primavera that morning saying he had a sore throat and didn't think he could do Don Carlo (Ella giammai m'amo!), apparently the most difficult of the three. Sensing he was just looking for a way out, Maestro fired im on the spot and then came out and told the group of astonished PYO kids sitting on the hotel steps. I'm disappointed; I really liked doing those with Eric Owens (with whom I also did Shosakovitich 14 with Orchestra 2001 in January) at our Bon Voyage concert; I had been looking forward to them. But oh well, I ugess. The program was arguably too long to begin with.
Rachel and I, bidding adeiu to Amy, Ari, Olivia, and Regina, found a small Israeli "pizzeria" and got dinner (pizza for her, yummy felafel for me--much better than the States'--and peach iced tea for only 119 Kc total!), and headed towards the concert. The woman who had sold us our tickets had given us a map to get to the concert. Following it down Parízská Street, into the Old Town Square, and up Dlouhá, and then finally twisting back to face the Vlatava on Dusní Street, we realized it had been rather roundabout and extremely confusing. Apparently Dusní Street has a large break in it, but the map didn't indicate that. We tried the doors of at least two other churches before asking an old lady in the street (whose English, while poor, was better than our Czech and more than sufficient) and finally locating the building about two minutes before the concert was to begin.
The concert was heavenly. I have never heard Mozart like this before. (The orchestra tuned to an A440--for some reason I'd had it in my head that European orchestras tuned to 435.) This was Mozart in its original setting, attached to its deep, cultural roots, in this tiny cathedral with sopranos and french horns whose pure high notes had no trace of vibrato, whose strings bowed everything deeply into the string and exactly intense. Echoing throughout this hall and perfectly contained in it. This was what Mozart was. I cried from the beauty of it straight through the first two movements. Talk about universal languages! (Though they pronounced "luceat" as "lu-tse-at," as the Czech goes.)
Rachel looked at the soloists sitting onstage, and said, hey, doesn't that soloist on the end lok like the bass with whom we were supposed to sing before Maestro fired him? (We'd seen his publicity shot.) I looked and said yes, but there's no way. I looked at my program: MILAN BÜRGER. No to soloistic basses in Europe could have that same name. And sore throat, my ass! He opened his mouth and sang that "Tuba miram ..." solo entirely unhoarsely. Rachel and I went up to talk to him afterwards. He spoke German, and while I'm fairly proficient in lieder-text German, I certainly can't hold a conversation. The conductor interpreted for us. I told them, thank you so much! That was beautiful! And Mr. Bürger, we're tin the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra adn we're really looking forward to performing with you tomorrow." He he, playing dumb. At the name PYO, he understood, pulled a fax of ours out of his bag, pointed to our logo, said, "ja, ja!", and told us he wouldn't be singing with us. Surprised faces--why not? --Babble of German to interpreter; he lowers his voice and makes gruff noises and it's obvious he's imitating Primavera. Ha. The reason he can't sing with us tomorrow night is not that he has a sore throag ("Ich habe kleine ... [gesturing to his throat]", he told us), it's because he's double-booked! There's anohter performance of the Requiem tomorrow night! Ha. Classic.
Anyhow, the performance was absolutely fantastic--something I'm not likely to forget for a long time. They only had one violist. I was tempted to go up and offer my services, had the run not directly conflicted with this tour. Another time--cuz oh baby, I'll be back.
Last night was rather restless. I slept well (on my humongous pillow! the size of 2 or 3 regular ones!) until 3:30 AM, at which point I woke up to the sound of the rain gently out the balcony. I got up to look, and Laura joined me. A pretty night (hezké noc, but that's the wrong gender of adjective--too bad my Czech sucks!); rain smells the same in all cities. Comforting and unifying. Laura went back to sleep but I, the bear (as Olivia and her family call me--I will sleep forever, and can do it anywhere), tossed and turned (now I understand the cliché) until about 5:45. Finally, after shutting the balcony door and window and tying an orange bandana over my eyes to block out the rising dawn, I slept for another 1˝ hours. Breakfast at 7:30, goddamn sadistic tour moms.
Now we drive to Ceský Budejovice, a 3-hour trip, where we will rehearse (though what, I'm not sure--maybe with our basbaryton Milan Bürger gone, we can learn another Smetana Bartered Bride dance), and perform. Erin declared about thirty minutes ago that she was going to learn Czech from Rachel's phrasebook, and proceeded to mutilate several phrases. She's still going, and has gotten Dave the bassist going, too.
Excerpts from conversation: "diphthong? Wahat kind of a word is diphthong?" -- "I think it's, like, ay-ee, at least that's what I've been taught in chorus." -- "Wenceslass was murdered by his brother." -- "Did you say banana? Ha ha ha!" -- "Ja-bul-kov. What's that?" -- "nine phrases, I'm almost fluent!" -- "I wish I could find someone to speak Spanish to." -- "When you got on the elevator this morning, were all the buttons pushed? Mine were ..." -- "My eyes can smell soap!" -- "They cannot! Okay, hold her nose! smell this!" ... Wow, and this is the attempt they make to learn Czech. Not like I can talk. I'm not even to the stage where useful phrases are going through my head. The ones that might be useful are coming out in Hebrew or something over which I have an equally poor command and which are equally useless here. I feel so guilty! (I wonder how mom ended up faring in Turkish?) Promise to self: always learn the language before you go to the country, even if only for your own peace of mind.
June 23, 2000 -- Ceský Budejovice, Dum Kultury, 4:00 PM
Rehearsing after lunch, before the concert. They put us on a bus this morning to drive here, told us it was 120 miles (not km, I'm not that dub). So that's two hours, right? Give or take half an hour for traffic. No -- this took FOUR HOURS. Don't ask me why we drove 20 mph the whole way there. I hate riding on buses, and this one was no exception.
At least our hotel is nice. They split us up into two groups, by gender, but the two families (the Stahls and the Clines) are staying with the boys, whose hotel is an ugly mess they call "Hotel Gulag" on the outskirts of this Bohemian town founded by king Okatar II in 1265. Ours, on the other hand, is a pretty little European pension downtown, and for the next two nights due to Laura's absence, I have a cute single. Yippee!
Lunch at the Restaurace in the Dum Kultury was less than exciting. I berated myself for the thousandth time for not attaining proficiency in this language before I left--Aah, the shame of flipping through a phrasebook to figure out how to tell the primarily-Czechophonic staff that I don't eat meat (nejím maso), that I'm a vegetarian (jsem vegetarian). I began to piece together extra phrases should I need them, like "máte jiný jidlo?" (do you have other food?) but all I got to use was the former. It's like in Italy--"non mangi carne? Allora, mangia formaggio! Molto formaggio!" They served the herbivores fried cheese (sýr) for lunch. Oh my. Back to WI, boys and girls. It was like ten mozerella sticks melted together. Not my favorite food. Side of French fries; dessert of chocolate cake (heavy on the whipped cream). Poor vegan Laura. So all I've eaten since breakfast is fat. That on top of the bus ride is not a great combo on my stomach ...
We're in the "concert hall" right now (not much of a hall) and have been told to warm up. We'll then rehearse for 10 minutes (the truck with the cellos and basses didn't get her until just recently), change, play the concert, and then find dinner. I want more than cheese, but I have faith in my abilites to find dobré jidlo if I'm on my own. I hope.
Random brass in one corner playing Ride of the Valkyries. Jacob started trying to play matchmaker between me and my 14-year-old stand partner, Will. I hate boys. The gender separation always accentuates this.
June 24, 2000 -- Ceský Budejovice, 1:06 AM
They made us wait for dinner until after the concert, and then we went to procure it on our own. I think they're usually paying for one meal plus breakfast per day. The concert went quite well. The Dum Kultury is more of a dance hall than a concert hall, but hey. Sounded pretty good nonetheless and this isn't Prague. The program was not even significantly shorter without the arias, which were missed but not necessary. Primavera cut out one of the encores to compensate--three encores for four pieces is ind of dumb, after all. We're doing Bersaglieri March, The Liberty Bell March, and Stars & Stripes Forever. And a randmo C-Major chord. We played our program quite well (I decided to play the first half without a shoulder rest, using only makeup sponges rubber-banded to the bouts, but I didn't make it further than the Della Joio--I guess those muscles aren't used to that kind of work and I need to do that slowly), and then Primavera works the audience as usual, walking back on just as he sense that they're about to stop clapping. We played the first two encores, then the C-Major chord--he gears up for it as if for Tchaik 4, conducts this ridiculously overdramatic major triad, then stalks off the podium like the lunatic old conductor he is. I was glad we didn't do three encores, even thought the audience was claaping in rhythm--that would have been excessive.
Justin Chou, a cellist, had his soundpost fall right before the beginning of the second half, so he had to sit out. Consequently the back five or six cellists moved upa desk. I was therefore sitting next to Justin Lewis for the Tchaikovsky. Afterwards, as I'm putting my viola away, he comes up to me: "Nori, yoou are the strongest violist I've ever sat next to! No, really, you're the backbone of the section! [etc., etc.] You rock! (turning to Alex, pointing at me:) this girl rocks!" I love unexpected compliments.
For dinner, we all headed towards the central square of Ceský Budejovice where some kind of festival commemorating the town's founding was going on. We headed straight for the beer tent. Czech beer, they say, is arguably the best in the world, and "Budweiser" gets the BUD in its name from "Budejovice." Alex bought me a beer (10 Kc!--also possibly the cheapest in the world!) and we began dinner. Olivia bought one, too, after a moment's angst about not being supposed to drink on this tour. We bought croissants (6 Kc) and O. bought a giant, heart-shaped gingerbread cookie. I love the chaperones' brilliant idea to have dinner after the concert at 10:30 PM, when all the restaurants would be closed. So our dinners consisted of beer (primarily), croissant (a bit), and gingerbread (one small cookie-worth). Laura's dad came over and commented to us on the extraordinary cheapness of the beer. Obviously this chaperone didn't care if we were drinking! The beer was good, but beer's still not exaclty my thing. I did drain my entire huge cup, though. (Am no longer feeling it.)
June 25, 2000 -- Prague, Hotel Turist, 1:10 AM
The day after lunch was greatly improved. Merci ŕ Dieu. I went up to my room with Celina Velez (viola, cool hispanic girl) and Ilana White (neat bassist, going to Oberlin in the fall), and bitched and screamed for a while, then felt much better. We went down to the bust for our afternoon, a tour of the Hrad (Prague Castle). The castle was beautiful, but it rained. Frank was our cool guide. He was informative and funny, but there's only so much history I can take before I stop caring.
Ilana, Alex and I broke off from the group around 5:30. We walked down the street that Rachel and I took the other day (Paríská) to the Hotel Intercontinental to find her mother and mother's boyfriend. The couple was there on business, and volunteered to take us out to dinner. We ended up at this fabulous Indian restaurant on Parízská Street--Jewel of India. The waiters spoke English and Czech, even speaking English to the French family, further confirming my perception that English is the universal language and perhaps not all bad. The five of us got into a very interesting discussion on that topic. Very very intelligent conversation. I've been sort of starved for it.
We had a fabulous dinner. Sag paneer, naan, raita, mango lassis, etc. Great conversation, great company, great food. A generally great time (and Ilana's mom picked up the check, which was very cheap compared to the states, and very nice). It was weird, eating at a swanky Indian restaurant in downtown Prague, speakin English and hearing French. I took two lefover samosas home for lunch tomorrow.
After dinner, the thre of us started walking around the Old Town Square, and encountered a woman passing out fliers for another concert. We looked at it--Brandenburg III, Vivaldi's Stabat Mater, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. 250 Kc for students. Praga Sinfonietta (the same group that I saw do the Requiem two nights ago). We decided to go. Alex a little reluctant, but Ilana and I were gung-ho so we dragged him (not unwillingly) along. --Earlier we had been thinking of seeing Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic perform in Smetana Hall (in the Rudolfinum) but decided not to go because of dinner, because we could see them in NY, and because there are cooler things to do in Prague--like see local concerst. We sat so far back we could barely see. All three pieces were fabulous--so loose yet so tight, if those seemingly-opposite words make sense together. Perfectly in tune. The alto on the Stabat Mater was gloriously in tune. That was the first time I've ever hreard Eine Kleine as music, not just as wedding background noise.
We walked around after the concert, looking for an internet café (internetová kavárna). I had the biggest smile stuck to my face. Prague in the post-rain twilight was glowing from within, and I began to see how this whole concept of zlatá came to be. I had had god food, good company, good conversation, and now good music, and I was in a beautiful city and would the next day perform in a better hall than that in which the NYPhil was currently performing.
After asking directions, not following them, and eventually relying just on my memor, we located the internet café that I had used the other day. Ilana was cold and wanted something warm in her, I wanted to check my email, and Alex was game for either. I wrote another email (hurried, as they were closing in 25 minutes) and ordereed a hot chocolate, as did Ilana. Yay email. Whe they finally kicked us out at 11:00 PM, I still had the smile on my face--the total of good things had been upped by hot chocolate in my tumy and email. Saw a street violinist with a case full of crowns playing Medidation from Thaďs on a corner. This is so cool (even though her intonation wasn't perfect). I put some karma in the case.
Saw Franz Kafka's house. Is now a gift shop. Luke took a picture of the puddle outside of it--he figured that was more kafka than the house.
Ate leftover samosas--one for breakfast, one for lunch. Stopped at a restaurant for lunch (we ran into Ilana's mom and mom's boyfriend on the street; they're coming to the concert today). I had a Greek salad with feta cheese and convinced myself to eat the olives. Psychosomatically, they were good.
Now all are warming up in Dvorák Hall in the Rudolfinum. We care in through a door marked "Czech Philharmonic--Staff Entrance." :-)
June 26, Prague -> Airport bus, 9:55 AM
Please excuse handwriting. Am on a bouncy bus, and half the roads in this city are cobblestone. Quaint and characterisitc, but not exactly conducive to a smooth ride (or a legible journal entry).
Yesterday was quite enjoyable, as have been all four or however many days I've spent in this fascinating country. The concert in Dvorák Hall was really fabulous. The Aďda was tight, the brass were on, and the strings together; the Czech audience loved the Dance of the Comediennes of Smetana's; the Della Joio was --I LOST MY HUG RING! -oh, hopefully it's in my glasses case! --The Della Joio was not perfect, but damn good; the Tchaikovsky was again not perfect but I'm not sure it ever will be. The concert hall soudned great. It was relatively smaller than I was expecting, but beautiful, with a huge organ behind the stage on which they hung Czech and American flags. The acoustics were fabulous. Everything rung, but not like it does in a cathedral, endlessly reverberating, but just expanded in acoustical space. They were large but not echoey; resonant but not reverberant. It was fantastic to watch Maestro conduct to allow for them--an upbeat was a fraction wider to allow for the extra space in the sound, but took no extra time. So cool. I'm glad this was the concert we recorded for the CD. Afterwards they packed us quickly out of the beautiful concert hall and onto a boat on the Vltava (I figured it out--Vltava is the Czech; Moldau is the German) for dinner where Primavera was waiting at the entrance to greet each person individually. Such a rare gesture from that man! Apparently he said something different to everyone. Alex just talked to him (we're now on the ploane--Primavera is, of course, flying business class)--and apparently he was really pleased with the Tchaik. It was evident from the way he greeted everyone, but still! This is going to be a fabulous tour. Is. Anyhow, this small cruise-like thing on the Moldau--we went under various bridges a few times, watched the swans, and had more yummy czech food. :-( (I'm looking forward to Italy.) I had a beer, half of a drink with Kahlua, and most of another beer. Pictures of Matt, Dave, and Olivia holding beers. :-) Cute cruise.
We went straight back to the hotel afterwards--we're flying to Florence (one going to Milan, the strings going to Rome, and then both bussing to Firene) tomorrow, and the winds and brass (pluss the few bassists and celli who were going with them) had to leave at 4:30 AM, so they didn't particularly want us going out. (They didn't particularly care, either, but weren't going to leave us in the city.)
At 4:30 AM this morning my alarm clock went off, Ilana got up, said, "sorry, guys," turned on the light, and began loudly throwing things in a suitcase. --Or so Celina tells me; I slept through the whole thing. We got to sleep longer. In fact, I opened my eyes a few minutes later, noticed some construction guys outside the window making loud noises, glanced at the clock, and realized it was 9:05. We were supposed to leave at 9:30. I showered and dressed and packed superfast and got my ass on the bus. Celina procured rolls from the diner. Bus to the airport, flight from Prague to Rome, and now we're on the bus that will take us to Florence. Why we didn't fly into Florence initially I have no idea. I hate busses.
But I love this country! I am understanding so much Italian! Standing in the Prague airport at the gate, two Italian men behind me were talking about various restaurants they'd been to, and I understood almost every word! I didn't realize my Italian was that good. Likley it's not, but this is damn exciting to be in a foreign country when I have at least a prayer of understanding the language. I'm psyched!
June 27, 2000 -- Hotel Firenze Nova, Florence, 2:32 AM
We got into our hotel finally around 8:00, with an hour and a half to go before the concert. We found our respective rooms (which are really neat!--a 2-room double, connected by a stairway (Laura & I are downstairs) and with a shared bath),
We got to the concert site, this ancient amphitheatre in Fiesole, right above Florence, around 9:25 PM (the concert was scheduled for 9:30), but then had to set up, unload basses, percussion, celli (I kept wanting to write "coeli!", and tuba, etc. The concert actually started at around 10:10 PM. Ridiculous. The the theatre was beautiful. Ancient Etruscan ruins yet still fully functional. Lights installed and everything.
The concert was good, if quite abbreviated. We did the Aďda, then the Bartered Bride, and then only two movements (I & III) of the Della Joio. That was it.
Afterwards, I found Richard Tayar (Swat '03) and his parents talking to Olivia and joined them for a few minutes, and then went to the very back of the theater to find Joel Blecher, who had been sitting by himself on the grass. It was so weird and random to be chatting in a group of four swatties in this 2000-year-old amphitheatre in Fiesole! It's reat to see Joel. He looks good, and appears to be doing well.
Introductions were made, and we decided that Richard would take his parents home (they lived about five minutes away) and then come back and get us, and we'd all four of us go into the city and hag out. So he did, and we did. Fiesole is this tiny, beautiful town on a mountain overlooking Florence. It was so cool and random to be driving down the winding roads in a swanky little sedan with Richard at the wheel, Olivia in front, and me and Joel in back. We parked in downtown Florence and walked towards the central square. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and there was a random group singing something a cappella in a tight circle (this is what I did last time I was here, I thought!); we saw the Duomo and the Uffizi (only the outside of both) and a few other random piazze. Joel and Olivia and Richard seemed to get along really well, which is cool. My one goal for the night was to partake of the gelato. Damn, but I'd forgotten how good that stuff is! I got strawberry, Olivia got chocolate, and Joel half-lemon / half-mango Sooooo yummy.
We drove around for a bit after we'd spent some time chilling downtown, trying to find the hotel, but to no avail. Finally we just stopped at the train station and got a taxi. This was my crowning achievement for the night. Yes, I ordered the gelato in Italian, but I had a conversation with the taxi driver. In order to better understand where the hotel was situated, I asked the driver what we were passing. At that point we were right next to a giant fortress, though, to which he gestured and said the Medici family constructed. I asked him if it was close to our hotel and he said no, not really. The hotel's on the periphery and the Fortezza is in the middle. And I paid im at the end--all in ITALIAN! Yay, I rock! I'm very pleased with my skills. And with gelato. And that we're going to hang out with Richard & Joel more tomorrow.
We found Joel and Richard, and headed downtown. First stop: colazione at a tiny trattoria. Joel got a pastry and Olivia and I split a spinach and mozzarella sandwich. I adore Italain fod. I changed money to lira (ATM's are the way to go!) and bought film (mine was still stuck in the zippered pocket of my viola case, which Mrs. McCann still has from last night when she brought it back for me).
Next: il Duomo. Built in the 14th century. Huge, ornate outside; spare, gorgeous inside. I remember singing in it the last time we were here (with MCC). Joel pointed, said, let's go up there! And--indeed, people were milling around right under the huge rendition of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso on the dome. So we exited and stood outside in a hot line for about fort minutes to pay L. 10.000 (~$5) to get up the four hundred and sixty-three stairs and see the top. While waiting, we made Alana part of a tape--Joel had his tape recorder and had bits of our concert from last night on it, and we talked at her for a while while in line.
It was well worth the wait and the price. Arriving finally at the circle surrounding the gruesome pictures of the inferno, we walked around that and then progressed up to the summit, to stand on top of the Duomo and survey all of Florence. Beautiful. Richard pointed out Fiesole on the near, small mountains. It's funny how a universally-known and -practiced gesture of tourism is the exchange of cameras to take pictures of groups. We hd a celebratory portrait overlooking the city, and gave our cameras to some German tourists. A French girl gave me hers and I photographed their group. It's kind of weird, in a way, that we should just glibly pass these expensive macchine fotografiche into the hands of strangers, and that they--and we as the strangers behind the lens--just click the shutter and return the camrea.
After we finished with all the excitement of the Duomo, it was almost 2:00 and we needed to eat lunch--abbiamo avuto fame. Joel took us to this cute little trattoria ([trat.tor'i.a]; the accent's on the "i" even though it wouldn't be in Spanish) that he'd gone to before the concert yesterday, and the waiter remembered him. Trattoria Guelfa, just off the Via Nazionale and Via Guelfa. Olivia and I are going to find it again Thursday for lunch. Very very good food. Oh, I love this country. My pasta was excellent. We ordered a carafe of the house vino rosso, which was quite good. Great bread. Great food. Cappuccino! (I do not drink coffee, but I drink this!) Cheap. Mmm.
Aprčs ça, the Boboli Gardens. I saw Rebecca Nagel's goose-duck-turkey-fish, and took a picture of it for her. Beautiful, as I remembered them to be. We walked around the fountain at the bottom right edge for a while, Joel and I talking about why I chose Swat, school, music, and how it fits in, etc. It was so entirely random, all today--four Swarthmore students chilling together in Florence. Intellectual conversations in the Boboli Gardens. We taught Richard how to play Duck, Duck, Goose on the lawn. We were quite the spectacle, I think. Richard's so cool and smooth.
We walked from there towards the car, slowly. Olivia stopped at a leather stre and bought herself a very cute, tailored, Florentine leather jacket for L. 300.000 (~$150). Very nice. I'd never buy a jacket of pelle (the name is too graphic in Italian!), but it looks great on her; I don't know why she hasn't owned something like this before.
Doing more shopping (though we've agreed to come back and do a lot of hardcore shopping Thursday morning), Olivia entered a really nice store and started looking around. Salvatore Ferreio or something; very swanky. R & Olivia shopped while Joel and I colored in a Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame coloring book (we made the manly man pink, hehe) and translated it. Joel and I debated whether or not we by definition lived illogically. I love Swatties. I'm so glad he's coming to Swarthmore!
Back at Richard's car, we drove to the lookout over Florence and chilled there for a while (again, I remember when MCC was here--I have pictures of Alanaon that lookout). Joel and I decided to call Alana in Chile. It took us about 15 minutes to actually get through to her, but when we finally did, it was great to talk to her (I haven't heard her voice since January!). Joel was commenting to me how thoroughly random this is, that he and I know each other and are friends and are now wandering around Florence together. We started planning the commune in more detail.
Somewhat at a loss for what to do at this point--no one was super-hungry (though I wish in retrospect that we'd had somethin) although we did get some gelati near the Uffizi. Richard suggested hanging out at his place. Joel had been musing out loud (to me, of course) earlier about seeing Richard's pad. It was beautiful. The property has olive groves (orchards?) on it, and they make their own delicious olive oil (I craved it for the next three days), which we ate on breadsticks. It's a nice villa overlooking Florence with plum trees in the backyard (more like back-forest), and we ate some almost-ripe plums and wandered through the property. Ate a few chocolates, some Tayar olive oil, and chilled outside and talked for a few hours. About school, about everything. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Richard was a very genteel, very nice guy the whole day. I've got to throw two coins into the Trevi Fountain when I get to Rome. ;-)
Everyone back at the hotel (we caught a late PYO bus home around midnight, randomly!) was jealous. Damn straight.
I'm so glad today went well. It could have been really weird and awkward, but it wasn't. I barely knew Richard but I started talking to him; Olivia and Joel were doing well, and Richard and Joel hit it off. I'm so pleased. And so tired. We're doing the Uffizi tomorrow alle nove.
Today was fabulous until 1:15 PM. Olivia and I woke up around 7, took a taxi into the Uffizi (we pay less for farther distances every day--I think that first taxi was a ripoff). I parked her in line while I found an ATM machine and a gelateria, where I bought water and a hot sandwichy thing with mozzarella and spinach. A good Italian exchange. I love that; almost always in Florence (I think it might be different in Rome), even if I don't understand every word the shopkeepers say, they're mostly willing to speak to me in Italian. I had it warmed up, figured out where the bottles of natural water were, paid (all in italian!), and took it back to Olivia in line. We found Richard and Joel just as we were getting into the building (I was glad we'd gotten there at a quarter to nine; we only spent 45 minutes total in line). As Joel had to leave for Venice the next day, he'd gotten his train ticket and put in my bag for safekeeping during the museum tour.
--"Che cazzo facciamo?!"--I just heard the busdriver, Pietro, yell. (Joel taught me swear words today.)--
The Uffizi was worth the L. 12.000. I'm not super into Mediaeval / Renaissance art, but seeing it with Olivia and the boys was fun. Joel started asking questions about Christianity (so many Madonnas with children! So many annunciations! so many crucifixions! so many adorations of so many magi!) and we got into an interesting discussion (again, I love swarthmore students! It's great to be in a group of 4 swatties in Florence). We tried to figure out what "INRI" on the top of crosses stood for (Ici Nailed Rex Iudicari, or whatever the genitive of "Jews" is, was our first guess; we think it's "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews but our 14th-century painting had a Y as the first letter so we're not sure); we tried to remember the acronym that ixthus was fish. I got the first three words (jesus christ theou (son of)) and bet Olivia L. 1.000 that no one in the orchestra would know, either. She tells me I just lost. I don't believe her. Even Richard, who studied Greek and Latin for 4 or 5 years in liceo, couldn't remember. All the halos and crucifixes began to blend together after a while, though, and we left to go find lunch.
It was a little early at 12 noon to get any real food on the Italian schedule, but I anticipated (and rightly, it turned out) that our stupid tour guides would not feed us before putting us on the bus to Parma for this evening's concert, so we got sandwiches of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves on wonderful bread and ate them on the steps of the Uffizi. Joel and I bought a postcard of La Nascitŕ di Venus (or whatever that Botticelli's name is properly) and took turns writing a word to send to alana. It read as follows:
Joel fed us cannoli (which I want to eat for breakfast tomorrow with more sweet cappuccino!), and calls them cannolini (a Venezian-ism). So good. We wandered back towards the Stazione to catch the PYO bus back to the hotel--they wanted us back at 1:00. Stopped at a photo booth and took four pictures of the four of us. Barely made the bus. Joel had to leave for Venice tomorrow; we bid him adeiu and said ciao to Richard and got on the bus.
From there, my day took a nosedive. Five minutes later, I looked in my bag and realized that Joel had left his train ticket, L. 46.700 worth, with me. I left it at the hotel desk but had no other way of getting it to him. The bus ride to Parma was decent (if you like 2-hour bus rides)--I slept most of the way and woke up feeling decent. The stupid tour guide then comes on the mic--"okay, we are in Parma, we will pick you up in forty minute right here." (I found out today that they're both 19. I'm 19, but I don't go around planning dumb, fucked-up tours! I hope they're getting paid shit.) The chaperones are appalled--"what, turn these kids out for 40 minutes into a foreign city with no map and nothing to see or do?" Maestro was pissed. We wandered around (me, Laura, Alex, and Ilana) and bought gelato (they were impressed with my Italian ice-cream-ordering skills), a peach (15 cents, L. 300), and an Italian cooking magazine, La Cucina Italiana, for my mother--if she redeems herself. Back at the main square, Laura (violin, not my roommate) says, hey Nori, have you been sending emails to your mom from Prague? And I said, yes, I've found a few internet cafés. Laura said, because my mom's been reading them. What?! I don't get it... --Apparently my mom's been posting my emails to a PYO listserv while I've been gone! Not that I've said anything compromising or anything, but I know my audience when I write, and was not writing to anyone except 12 or so of my closest friends and my family! Rar. [NB: later I found she had only sent a paragraph or two from each, and only the parts describing the city. Good mom.]
Dinner was the high point of the otherwise-wasted afternoon and evening. We ate at a cute little ristorante, which served us gnocchi with the best parmiggiana in the world (no exaggeration--we were in Parma, after all). I got mistaken for an Italian by the waitress! I quickly proved her wrong, of course, but still that was a compliment. I told her I didn't eat meat, so for the second course, she prepared me a huge, delicious salad.
Okay, back on the bus, they tell us! 30-minute ride to the concert site. We get to the base of a large hill or small mountain, and followed the scene which opened this entry--sitting on a bus, no idea what's going on. Laura Cline told me later that the concert had been booked for an open-air venue, and we'd actually had an audience of about 500 waitin for us there, but when it started pouring, they moved us to the backup site, this church in Parma. We sat there for a good 20 minutes but the instruments (celli, basses, & tuba & percussion) had gone in a different direction, and there was no space to play anyhow. It was at this point around 9, 9:15 PM. Finally they give up and cancel the concert. They tell us, we're leaving for Florence around 10, so meet us here then!
Deciding that this afternoon had sucked enough, a bunch of us (including Erin, Olivia, Ilana, & Celina) set off to find its redemption in a cappucino . We locate the one open bar in Parma and have a great time until 9:45 or so, whereupon we set off in the direction of the church--or so we thought. Somehow we made a wrong turn, and got completely lost. Each time we asked directions (each time in a different language), we got different responses. We finally found the buses and the rest of the tour, thanks to Celina's and my french, around 10:20. The caffeine had started doing awful things to my head and I was exhausted, but we didn't get back to the hotel till 1:00 AM. We did see a full rainbow, full arc and double, so perhaps between that, being mistaken for an Italian ("sei italiana?"), and the cappuccino, the afternoon/evening wasn't a total waste. But it was damn close.
We woke up at 7:30 and met Richard at 9 by the train station, as usual. I wanted to be dropped off by the McDonald's next to the statoin, but I couldn't convey those 3 syllables in an intelligble Italian accent, so I ended up referring to "cucina ... sai ... il grande M giallo." Worked.
Today was our designated shopping day--or should I say, Olivia's and Richard's. I bought a large orange scarf/shawl thing for myself and a purple one for my mother at the market. Other than that, we entered every swanky Gucci & Versace & lesser labels store, looking for a scarf for Olivia's mother and a tie for her father. It was funny to watch the two of them in action, fingering ties, saying, grazie, arrivederci, and walk into another men's store smelling of lavender and curry (they denied the latter scent). At the shop where Olivia finally bought a tie, the shopkeeper was apparently good friends with Richard's father, and greeted him and us warmly. They showed us arrays of ties, pulling out drawer after drawer, and finally wrapped up one beautifully, giving Richard a discount. The shopkeeper broke off his phone conversation in order to vigorously pump all our hands and beam. Richard, you da man. (He just smiled self-consciously).
He took us to lunch at this White Boar Café or Restaurant or Trattoria or something, situated in an old tower of the ancient Florentine walls. This owner, too, knew Richard, had known him since he was "this big!" (gesturing a foot or so off the ground)--"and 19 years, and now look!" Avuncular, chatty man. You are from Philadelphia? My daughter-in-law got her master's there! Etc. Lunch was excellent. Misto di bruschetta (mix of) as an appetizer (Olivia had the famed prosciutto e melone and pronounced it excellent); taglierini al pesto for the meal. Sparkling water. I've begun to subscribe to Joel's philosophy on acqua minerale--if you have to pay for it, you may as well pay for taste & something interesting. Dessert was a thick, rich cream, eaten with "lingue di gato"--cats' tongues (everything so descriptive in Italain! leather--pelle; a kind of stake with a bone in it--ossobuco; etc.), long cookies. The whole meal was fabulous. We don't understand how Richard can stomach Sharples' attempt at food having grown up on these Italian culinary marvels. Sooooo good.
We went back via the market, where Olivia got a wallet for Chris, and we ran into som PYO kids chomping on panini (we had a better lunch than they did, neener neener) and browsing. Found out that the departure time had been pushed up by half an hour. Good thing we found them, then. Bid adeiu to Richard and got on the bus. I'm sad to leave the boys; we had such a great time hanging out with them these past 4 days. I think I've done pretty well so far in the two cities in which we've hung out--in Prague breaking free and going to concerts, out to dinner with Ilana's parents; Florence hanging out with Swatties to see the Uffizi and Duomo. I miss them already. Good thing they'll be at school in a couple months.
The afternoon and evening were good. Not quite a repeat of the day before. Busride to Reggio Nell'Emilia, dinner--far too early! So much for "when in Rome" ... that went out the window early on, with our disregard for meal times and customs. It seems the country whose customs we've best followed seems to have been the Czech Republic, especially Prague--we've defestrated customs left and right as we go.
Mr. Cline is so cool. He found some honeysuckle outside the restaurant and taught a bunch uf us how to eat it by biting off the green end and pulling out the stem, then sucking the nectar. Vanilla flavored flan for dessert, mmmmm. I'm never leaving this country. You can tell Maestro's in a much better mood in Italy than he was in the Czech Republic--he got up during dessert and told us what we were eating, then said proudly, "It's our version of jello." :-)
The weather was beautiful, so the concert was outside. And yes, it took place. The first half was fabulous--we ditched the Smetana dance and did Aďda and the Dello Joio. I was playing really well, was in a mood more mellow than the aggression of misanthropy (Will noted I hadn't been myself recently), and from that vantage point was able to play every note and preciesly, and still listen to the whole concert as from outside. We were ina courtyard somewhere, with a decent-size audience. I love playing the Aďda here--they all know and love it (especially when we play it well, which we do). After the Fiesole concert we asked Richard how it went, and he was quite complimentary. Did he know the Aďda, we asked? --of course he did! --I love that response, "of course." Italians know Aďda, know operas. Vanilla flan and national Verdi; I'm never leaving.
The second half of the program was not as tight. The first violins got about a beat ahead somehow during the Tchaikovsky (which is the entire second half), and managed to confuse the rest of the orchestra. One of the musically-inclined chaperones said that you could hear our fatigue but it wasn't as bad as we thought. I'm not so sure ... fatigue is right--missing beats, making tired mistakes. We hadn't played a full concert since Dvorák Hall, though. All in all it went well.
Having started only around 9:15 or 9:30 PM (we waited for the soccer game to finish in order to gather a bigger audience--Italy won), we didn't finish until 11 or 11:15. We gradually changed, schlepped instruments onto buses ad trucks, and rode two hours back--after the entire orchestra found and patronized the local gelateria. I got to use my cool Italian again. Bus ride back sucked, as buses are wont to do. Immediate sleep.
Woke up this morning after five hours of sleep, still exhausted. Breakfast; bus ride to Rome. Hemmed my dress and had a discussion about Erin's religion (she's Christian) with her. Stopped at an "Autogrill" for lunch (much better than Ohio Turnpike rest stops!), got into Rome, crashed. Got on the bus again to go to dinner, which was cool. I sat next to Luke Terlaak-Poot on the bus (Jacob's younger brother, 17), who's pretty dam cool, aloof, and really scathing in his own right. Dinner was hence fun. Though Mirak the overly-happy Czech instrument truck driver made a nasty overture to Ilana. Nice red wine, though Barbie & Ken got a little tipsy (more the latter than the former, by a long shot). Luke and I just laughed. Back on the bus, and we did a bus tour of the highlights of Rome by night. Maestro narrated. Luke & I talked. Pretty sights. I wore purple lipstick and a spoonhead.
Now back at the hotel, and Maestro's in his underwear yelling at stupid kids who don't want to go to sleep. I'm going to kick these girls out soon. Johnell wants to be an officer in the Marine Corps. Anna the Hungarian violinist can't reconcile giving her life for the country if she, a non-citizen, can't get Social Security. Laura's returned with a pretty shell necklace, which she's giving to Olivia. A good day, but nothing happened much beyond talk. Erin, Luke. The Bus. Ick.
Note about the religion discussion. In talking to Erin, I realized that the two of us could only describe our beliefs to the other in terms of a leap of faith--I believe in evolution, she in creationism. (I have problems with narcissistically assuming humans had to be the end product, but that's another tangent for another time.) Luke astutely commented that to prove God's existence either way is to invalidate the question. I haven't lost complete faith in the intellectual level of this tour, I guess. :-)
July 1, 2000 -- Isla Tiberiana, 7:54 PM
Violinists showing off their high arpeggios. The fat trumpet whiz in front of me playing fanfares up by halfsteps. Regina sitting next to me, burned--we all got some color today. Ancient Roman walls, ivy-grown, line the banks of the Tiber. An hour and a half yet till showtime, but cellos are already coming out of cases, and the slow arpeggios and ostentatious concerti of Jordan's trombone, Beata's violin, Amanda's cello, and David's flute mix with the forceful sussurus of the Tiber and the cars driving behind the trees on the banks.
This morning we woke up at some ungodly hour (6:00 AM) and were schlepped off to Vatican City "in order to avoid the lines." We still had at least thirty minutes in a queue (yeah, I know, it could have been a lot more. I'm still bitter though). I got a L. 6.000 discount on entrance fee because I'm a student. Some kids paid $30 to get a special International Student ID; this is the first [and only, it turned out] time they'd gotten to use it, and only a $3 discount. Not worth it and my UW ID worked (as did Olivia's Swat one). Into the smallest & holiest nation in the world. Has its own post office (but no stamp on my passport, wah)--Ari (random violinist whom I don't really know) and I speculated as to what would be on their currency if they had one--Pope dollars with John Paul on them? God dollars, blank? The Sistine Chapel fascinating and overwhelming, as usual. Far too much on one ceiling and wall--too much square footage fo genius to absorb. Didn't want to buy the book our tour guide was pushing on us, either--L. 40.000 for something whose binding fell apart in 30 minutes. I guess you just need to absorb it while you're there (no pictures, the Japanese own the copyright) and move on. Through the Vatican galleries (not all of them, there are ~5 miles) and to the outskirts of St. Peter's. Outside it is boiling, the sun is brutal, and I forgot sunscreen. I wear my orange shawl protectively. It's some kind of special Jubilee day, so there are thousands of Jubilants wearing red polyester baseball hats that say "IUBILEO 2000 -- SANGUINIS CHRISTI" on them crowded into the courtyard, where the Pope is delivering some kind of speech, and we can't get in to see the basilica. I'm not desperate to but some are really disappointed. The Pope sounds ancient. Intersting to realize that hi's the living continuation of a tradition how old? Almost two millenia. All the papal tapestries we saw have him (whoever he was at that point, Piux X; Leo XIII) in the same white garb, same small yarmulke (you really realize Catholicism's roots)--these Pope duds apparently haven't changed with the years. He sounds old, muted, so I can't even discern if he's delivering the speech in Latin or Italian. I wonder whom they'll elect next as pope. It seems like something that shouldn't still exist, almost. Later we saw the Roman Forum, and Luke commented (ever astute) that "you can't look at it." It's too much, it shouldn't still exist, certainly not with the faux gladiators running around the Colosseum. This is where everything happened, emperors had their Triumphs, were assasinated, coronated, delivered speeches, et cetera. Roman history--which was western history for a thousand years--all transpired on these ruins (Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / stand in the desert ...). They shouldn't still be here. The office of the Pope shouldn't still exist. Yet there he is, speaking to the assembled multitudes, his religion still going strong, and it's being televised. What an anachronism.
We had half an hour (which ended up being 60 full minutes--I'm disgusted with the continuous disorganization of this tour) to change money and eat "lunch" at two tiny, overpriced snack carts. I had bad pizza (if I'm in Italy, at least let me eat good pizza!). Then they marched us off in the direction of the Colosseum. We couldn't go inside becuase (a) it cost L. 10.000, and (b) we had to be back at the bus at 2:30. Because it's a Jubilee year, we need special permits for the bus to go downtown, and then we only got small windows of time. The Colosseum is huge, and cool, but walking around it in the hot sunlight is not exactly something I want to do all day. We're all tired and dehydrated at this point, and need food. Air-conditioned bus comes and picks us up. Yay! Luke and I sat and were misanthropic.
Dinner early (4:45 PM) and small. I want to eat on the Italian time schedule! I love doing that. Huge, fabulous meals around 1:30 - 2, nap (riposo), evening activites, and then dinner (8:00 - 9:00ish). Stupid PYO planners. Hopefully I can find a real lunch tomorrow; we get a little free time before 1. I did get a much-needed nap, though. Hurrah for sleep. Discovered I was burned. Dumb me--I wear sunscreen tomorrow.
The concert was on an island in the middle of the Tiber river. How cool is that. Bugs were rampant, wind was a little breezy (so my stand partner proved himself to be an inept page-turner and -clipper), and the acoustics were not great. The 3rd movement of the Tchaik barely held together because no one could hear. But a good concert. Aďda and Della Joio great, as usual.
Sabato Sera ( ... ti porto a ballare, ti potrň bacciare ...)
Back at the hotel, nothing was happening. Olivia, Landon (bassoon), Erin (horn), Erin (viola), Hanna, Ari (bass), and I went to a little Ristorante / Bar down the street with a dance floor in one room. We shook it for the better part of two hours. Dave (bass), Teross (tuba), and Alex eventually showed up, too, along with Dagmar (our dumb tour guide) and Domenico (the other bus driver). The two former mostly sat and drank, but Alex got ... on the dance floor. [...] We had a ton of fun dancing, and have plans to bring the rest of the orchestra there tomorrow night. We'll see. Hit on by a random Italian guy at the disco. He he. Showered, am now sleepy. Buona notte.
This morning early into the city (8:30) in autobus, come sempre. St. Peter's basilica--I wanted to stay for mass, as Maestro and his small entourange of wife & assistant did, but we had all the sites to see before 12:30, when the bus was to pick us up. So, perhaps later. I'm not Catholic anyways. Travelling in a relatively large group--20 as opposed to 40, but still too many. The Pietŕ gorgeous. We walked through the doors which are only open during holy years, andall my sins were washed away. Good, I think I needed that.
Travelling in a herd is never exciting. No one was quite sure how to get anywhere, or how many tickets to buy for the metro, but we got up to the Spanish Steps intact. Pretty, but I kind of agreed with Mr. Cline when he said--"That's it?" Yeah, one big staircase. Trevi fountain close by. I did not see Claire Weiss's suitor, though I looked. Olivia threw in one coin ("to return"); I threw in two ("to marry a Roman," though I'm taking it to mean "Italian"). Group pictures all over the fucking place. Had enough. Still, if you're gonna do the tourist thing, you may as well go all out and do it. At least no one was wearing a fanny pack.
From there things started to get a little crazy. Kids went into the gelateria on the corner to get ice cream and water. It was 11:30; we had 1 hour to see the Pantheon and get across Rome back to the bus. No time for food and dinner wasn't going to be until 8. We marched over to the Pantheon, and saw it a little ... no time! no time! echoed over the piazza. Olivia took me aside and whispered, what if we invite Laura, Erin, and Mrs. McCann to get a real lunch with us and then split a cab back? So we did. Split off from the group, and found a lovely little restaurant on a side street next to the Pantheon. My mom and I did that last time we were here, I remember. Just split off from the choir and had a lunch at a small trattoria. This time the five of us found a small ristorante with tables outside (it was lovely and cool in the shade, under an overhang) and sat down. The first (and, I expect, only) sanity of the day. They mostly had lasagna and cannoli (not all the pasta dishes were ready; we were yet early for lunch); I had caprese (fresh mozzarella balls and tomatoes, mmm). Satisfied my craving for Richard's olive oil with some oil on the great bread they brought out; ordered mineral water and a bottle of the house vino rosso for the table. (I love that all restaurants here have a good house wine!) Chocolate mousse for dessert. Great company, great food. Sanity. And the cab back only cost L. 23.000, split five ways. La vita č bella, certamente.
Now on the bus driving to Viterbo for the concert. The early concert time (6:00 PM) is to try and beat the football (soccer) game at 9:00--or is it 8:30? or 8? Everyone's hearing different things. The tour guide is reading Kafka's Trial in Italian. Maestro's talking to Pietro about his family. Louis is sleeping next to me. The bus is relatively quiet. 1.5 hours till we get there, I think. The bus-riding on this trip is interminable. 7 hours tomorrow for the strings as we go from Rome to Milan. Mrs. McCann's trying to find some kind of diversion for us to make the day more interesting. She's a great chaperone. She really needed that lunch today.
... [later:] The afternoon was blessedly more sane than expected, contrary to my earlier prediction. I don't think we actually ever made it to Viterbo, only to right outside of it, but apparently that was the plan. While we waited for mass to end in the church in which we were told we were going to play, the entire student body of the orchestra descended in one large drove on a tiny gelateria on the square. Mr. Stahl pointed out that there was another one across the square, so Luke and Anna and I went over there. Last day in Italy, so I figured I had to ahve a last gelato, last cannoli. The pre-game stuff was on for the Euro Cup finals--tonight at 8, France vs. Italy. Luke was going around muttering «vive la France» under his breath. I told him he was going to get beat by some old Italian man if he said that too loud. Anna (Pelczer) the Hungarian says that soccer runs in her blood, being European, an Luke (with his Terlaak Pootian Dutch claims) concurred. They were so funny--I've never seen Luke so vocal as when he and Anna were debating the fine points of the various teams.
The concert went well, though it was abbreviated. The Smetana (as usual in this country) was ditched, so the first half was the Aďda and the Dello Joio [i realize I have no idea how to spell his name, whether it's DellA or DellO. Pardon my indecisiveness.]. There was wind, more than the previous night, and Will again proved his incompetence in the art of page-turning. The middle page blew off the stand and I had to stop playing and half crawl under the stand in front of me to retrieve it. The Stars and Stripes almost blew off and I just put my viola down and clipped it, snarling "play" to Will as he started to go to clip it, too. There was the better part of a page in the Aďda where Will just fumbled with the music, making it impossible for me to read. Primavera was clipping the first stand of cello and violin's music for them as he conducted. But the first two pieces were good. The second half was not the Tchaikovsky--just the three marches, because Primavera wanted to let the audience go watch the soccer game. «Vive la France», muttered Luke.
Afterwards we were served a catered dinner in the courtyard, with more vino rosso and a really good spread called "tonato" made of tuna fish. It was on turkey; I scraped it off and had it on bread. Pasta al pomodoro. I'm really enjoying this vino rosso with meals. Too bad I'm not of drinking age in the states. I'll just have to get my parents to buy me wine, I guess. I asked Mrs. James what time we had to be back at the bus to depart and she said, "I don't know ... I've had a little vino, and I'm happy ... ask someone else." Ha. On the bus on the way back she announced our plan for the next day: "Breakfast ... at 8:00 ... load the bus at 8:30 ... Day ... of ... misery." Ha! A little vino? Crazy woman. She cracks me up.
Luke greeted me as I got off the bus--"we won! Vive la France!" He looked so pleased with himself that I smacked him.
At the hotel, some of us decided we weren't tired (all deluding ourselves, of course) and went looking for some place to dance. But it was Sunday night, and Italy had just lost the Euro Cup to Francia, so no one except us was in a partying mood. We found nothing, danced under a street sign for a while, and then went back to the hotel and to sleep.
Pandemonium. We're trying to get on the road en route to Milan. Now, astute readers will realize that we are in Rome, in the SOUTH of Italy, and Milan is decidedly northern. About 7.5 hours by overstuffed autobus northern, to be exact (not allowing for lunch or traffic jams--what kind of a country has a 45-minute backup on the highway at 1:30 in the morning, as we did coming back from Parma?). I have a sweater tied over my head. This does not exist ... this does not exist ... Orian screaming when she realizes that she, her Gucci purse, her large ass, and her burgeoning "carry-on" can't physically occupy the same space as Justin Chou. Luggage and violins being piled between seats. Saveri and some unknown other random girl screaming that they have to sit next to me, that I have to braid their hair. I turn around: "I'll braid every person's hair on this fucking bus once we get going!" Applause. Dagmar--or was it Isabella? (they're equally stupid--they can't possibly have been the last tour guides left in Europe)--on the mic, asking if everyone has turned in their room keys. We're kleptos like that. The bus sighs in expectant weariness several times, and slowly pulls away from the Hotel Cristoforo Colombo. Arrivederci, Roma (where's Luigi to sing the song?).
This morning we have been on the bus for fucking EVER. Celina cracks me up--stories about her psycho boyfriend in fourth grade, announcements that she could live on soft pencils ("pretzels!"), condemnation of the validity of the existence of Italian sunflower fields. I should go braid Saveri's hair.
July 3, 2000 -- Milan, Hotel Leonardo Da Vinci, 11:57 PM
Stnding in the aisles, sprawled in contorted positions across strewn violins, curled in a futile attempt at comfort, we travlled the 9 hours and 40 minutes (including 2 rest sops and 1 Autogrill stop) from Rome to Milan. Laura Cline was ready to explode by the end. At one point Erin and I were so twisted up that Jacob declared we looked like Michaelangelo models and posed us as such, God and Adam, almost touching fingers. Much boredom. I taught Eleanor some Greek.
We arrived in Milan at 6:40 PM, and went straight up to our rooms. Laura took a quick shower and I changed my clothes. We then opened our door and looked down the hall, only to find all PYO floors completely deserted. We thought they might be in the hotel restaurant, so we tried to fined that, but to no avail. Fuck, they've gone into Milan without us [distribution of information, much like organization on this tour, was never the best]. We decide to screw it and sleep. Just as I'm in the middle of a shower, Laura knocks on the bathroom door--"Nori, they're here, they didn't leave us!" No one had told us that dinner was immediately after check-in, and downstairs in the well-concealed hotel restaurant. A rather bad dinner. Louis threw a napkin at us. Random man!
The bus (how I detest that vehicle now!) left for downtown Milan at 8:30 PM. We didn't have much time or a lot to see, but Mrs. James tried to be as cool as Maestro had been in Rome and dictate a tour. Best quote from it: "Well, there's something old on our right ... I'm not quite sure what ..." How much vino has that woman been drinking? She is funny shit Poked around Milan on foot for an hour or so. Drove by La Scala. Saw the Duomo of Milan (it had no dome ... hm). Beautiful, ornate, gothic building. Laura and I were stared at--nay, ogled--by many skeevy (they transcend "sketchy" and take it to a new level) Milanese men. Laura was quite taken aback; I was used to it from previous Italian tours (glad I was prepared for it this time 'round), even enjoying it. I think I'm a lot better equipped to deal with that at 19 than I was at 15.
On the whole, Milan was cool but kind of closed down. People enough milling around the streets, but we were all dead anyhow after that god-awful bus ride. Stupid winds, brass, and basses got to go to the beach today. :-( No fair. We're all crashing now--6:00 AM wake up call tomorrow. The one and only reason I'm looking forward to returning home (that's not true; there are actually many) is that I'll be able to sleep!
Woke up at 6AM with a huge mosquito bite on my hand [which took a week and a half to fully recede!]. I don't think the bugs eat the Milanese, only the foreigners. Mmm, fresh blood. Back on a bus, fed a crappy bag lunch (I ate only the apple). Ride to the airport. Schlepped from here to there, always in lines, waiting, wandering through the labyrinthine and cryptic corridors. Anna and I found an Autogrill (the Ohio Turnpike really ought to have a few of those!) and I got a small spinach and ricotta sandwich and shared her cappuccino. Didn't get one myself--after that last lunch outside the Pantheon in Rome, I knew I was going to get no more decent food on this trip, and the Italian cappuccino is at its peak in a trattoria off the Via Guelfa in Firenze. I threw two coins in the Trevi fountain; I wlil at least return.
Now we sit on the plane, awaiting takeoff. I am at least not hungry, but I am exhausted. This is the second straight day of solid travelling, and I have two more days to go--one Prague -> New Jersey, the next Philly -> WI. Ask me if I'm excited. (Eleanor Kaye: ma shlomech? me: sabbaba.)
I'm sad to be leaving all these languages. In the airports in the states, even Philly & CDG, all you find is English and a little Spanish. The assorted traveller, but nothing so truly a mélange as in Europe. It is ironic that America is deemed the melting pot--it seems to me that nowhere do cultures more exist independently yet all together at once than here. Perhaps--nay, indeed--that is one of my problems (or the root of it?) with America: it is no utopic melting pot but a homogenizing crucible, decanting it through filter after filter to strip it of its personality and be subsumed under the grand heading of "America." (Yet they say that no matter is ever destroyed--by analogy, where must this shed identity and culture go? Perhaps over the Atlantic. Europe is the richer for our loss, certainly in our perception.) Happy birthday, you stupid nation.
Languages I have heard in the past hour: Czech, Italian, Portuguese, Eglish, Hebrew. My Italian has become damn good comprehension-wise, but I need to just buckle down for a couple months and fucking learn the language so I can stop feeling like una delle ragazze Americane, una straniera. I promised Richard (just to have a witness, really; it was more to myself than to him) that next time I came to his country I'd be fluent. My Italian skills have certainly vindicated my utter failure at Czech, though. I think even Joel doesn't quite realize that I'm really disappointed in myself at this. Again, next time. My Hebrew, on the other (third?) hand, is deplorable, dare I say worse than my Czech? Ceratainly conversationally it is. And that's more important to me at this point in time than the Slavic languages (though I'd love to be proficient in all of them...). Good thing I'm fluent in at least English, and haven't had a change to disprove my French worth.
[later...] We got into Prague and checked in haphazardly at the hotel. Lunch courtesy of the house. I had a little chicken--I was damn hungry and it was good. Bad vegetarian Nori. We drove into Prague around 3 or 4 PM (more bus riding! Goddamn, I will never get on one of those godforsaken vehicles ever again!). Anna, Becky, Olivia, Erin, Laura, Saveri, Celina, and I went out shopping. We got some presents for parents, siblings, and just roamed. It was nothing especially exciting (with the possible exception of Celina doing the meringue outside a Bohemian Crystal shop blaring Latin music), but it was good to be back in a city we knew. I had my map but I never used it. I've told Olivia I need a river t orient myself, and the Moldau served well.
Five of us (me, Laura, Celina, Saveri, and Becky) went for dinner at Jewel of India, the swanky Indian restaurant where Ilana, Alex, and Ilana's parents had dined over a week ago. Again, a fabulous dinner. Again, I broke my vegetarianism (the delightful sin of tandoori chicken). So this meat thing (maso)--it has been for reasons which have nothing to do with morality, but I still get the animal rights fringe benefits, as it were. Now, I've eaten some--will I continue? If so, can I put aside the rather Buddhist mentality I've developed over the past seven years? If not, will it be because I still don't like meat (because that tandoori chicken ws damng ood), or because I believe in animal rights? Should I go vegan (i could still eat dark chocolate!)? Something to consider, I guess. I'll probably just stick with the default for now. --Everyone paid me back in crowns and lira; I now have 4 kinds of currencies in my wallet: U.S. dollars, Czech crowns, Italian lira, and Japanese yen, a relic from my WYSO tour two years ago.
After dinner we met the rest of the PYO group at the astronomical clock in teh Staromęstké Námesti (<- spelled wrong), and were told that the curfew had been extened till midnight if you were 18 or older. Power to the majors. :-) Erin, Olivia (who bragged about her day at the beach while we had been in a bus during our Day of Misery) and I headed off in search of desserts and drinks. We found a small bar with an enclosed garden right across the Vltava off the Charles Bridge in the Staré Mesto. Olivia got chocolate crępes and two hot chocolates; Erin and I each ordered a Vodka Tropic (exotic screwdriver, essentially). Erin's first drink. She finished about half of it.
It's so nice in these countries to be able to order alcohol legally--I'm a resonsible drinker. I'm not a destructive or disruptive drunk. Wine with my meal in Italy, pivo in Prague, a mixed drink after dinner--nothing wrong or irresponsible about any of that. And yet in the States I have to resort to--not subterfuge; I don't hide it--but illegal methods. It's ridiculous, really. European nations in which kids are brought up around alcohol don't have anywhere near the drinking problem that the U.S. does. There's a page Laura tore out of the CSA in-flight magazine aboug the medicinal value of Budvar. Everything in moderation! Too bad I have another year and some before I can do this legally in the states.
It was good to be back in Prague that night, clowning around on the Charles Bridge. The Indian food made the evening, too. The best food in the Czech Republic. (Ironic & sad, but true.)
At least we had yesterday afternoon & evening as a brief respite from the nonstop chaos and schlepping that has been these three days, and will be tomorrow (though minus a degree or two of chaos, hopefully--travelling by one's self is always much easier).
I met Luke on the way back to the bus, he had been drinking shots with his brother. Silly and more loose for the alcohol, yet retained almost every bit of lucidity. What a crazy, intellectual boy. (Crazy-intellectual--I suppose I should hyphenate it.) Steeped and saturated up to his eyeballs in literature, mostly the classics, but a little modern. So well-versed. It's not intimidating yet, his sheer knowledge base, but it will be in a few years if he keeps devouring literature at this rate. And he doesn't just suck it through a vaccuum tube into a growing list, either--last night, wanting to prove his sobriety, he insisted on debating a book. He retains details, themes, symbols, names, significances, everything. --What book? I don't know, I'm drunk, you think of one. We never got around to debating any specific work, but lapsed into a conversation about the symbolic versus the semiotic, fiction versus philosophy, life experiences (his gf) vs. bookishness (him), etc. He held his own quite well for about ten drinks in an hour and a quarter. I tried again to suggest Swarthmore--he would eat it up--but he says, no, he wants to go to Cornell. Likes the anonymity of the size; wants to be near his girl. Luke, wake up. I think that's got to be his youth talking (yeah yeah, me at the ancient age of 19 talking about a 17-year-old's "youth," but indulge me)--for him not to jump at it. Just now, on the plane, I made him make me a list of books I needed to read, and I made him one. We fell to discussing several of them, and at one point Olivia looks over and mutters, disbelievingly, Cornell?! I say, yeah, I don't know. Because he's a recluse. He's the Swat poster boy. We were talking about having seen Kafka's house and he says, I took a picture of the puddles outside Kafka's house. I figured that was more kafka than his house, you know? --WHY is he not considering Swat?! --I'll keep working on him. Cornell does not deserve that much functioning intellect.
This has been the longest culmination to a trip ever. These four solid days of travelling. I'm glad we came back to Prague in the end. Glad we did the Czech Republic before Italy (I don't think any of us would have put up with the fried sýr or the DOBRÁ VODA then); glad we came full circle back to Zlatá Praha. It rained yesterday, and afterwards the city lived up to its name (footlights at the base of the Hrad and Hampl's golden globes of streetlights along the Charles Bridge, so soft and butterscotch they need to be réverbčres instead of the vowelless word they likely are in Czech. This langauge has settled into the Central European groove--Luke postulates that the culture is just old and stagnant, which is perhaps true with the proliferation of English, the internet, and the omnipresence of credit cards, but yet it grew out of this chunk of Bohemia and Moravia cradled between Poland and Germay, Austria and Slovakia and Hungary, rooted in this soil. All the palatalized consonants serve a purpose). In the golden light of the twi- against the Vltava (Czech still sings rivers swelled full of Smetana), the low mediaeval skyline and a faded crescent moon, I remembered that the Czech Republic was not all fried mush on airplanes, elevators without doors, and misnamed bottles of water, that, old and stagnant as it may be, it still glows.
July 6, 2000 -- Haddonfield, NJ, USA, 7:33 AM
One assumes--must assume--that time is stagnant. Everything except the here and now (in which we must believe) is frozen: above the Prague Hrad a crescent moon hangs suspended, a golden dusk filtering through the post-rain dew; the Vltava pauses with its tongue in mid-lap at the knees of the Charles Bridge; twentysomething patrons of the dark internetová kavárna in the wall of a Czech open-air mall stop in mid, thought, their fingers about to drop on the complicated Czech-or-English keyboards; the Indian waiter on Parizská Ulicé laughs as Celina is confronted with a belligerent samosa; the street violinist with short blond hair has her eyes closed, her case mostly full of crowns, her bow just at the frog in the middle of Air on the G String; a puzzled waiter holds his ladle at 45 degrees over a customer's bowl, not understanding that she won't eat meat; bored store clerks and vendors at booths along the Staremestké Námesti mouth clusters of consonants at uncomprehending tourists; in St. Nicholas Church, a double scene: Mozart's friend splay the requiem for his death, the small string section of the Praga Sinfonietta bow synchronously the frozen fugue of Brandenburg 3. In Florence, vendors at the bazaar try forever to convince tourists that theirs is the best leather, best silk, best paper in Italy; gelaterias with their doors wide open onto the cobblestone streets sit, their ice cream in mounds above bins labelled "tiramisů," "fragola," "nocciola"; the four hundred and sixty-three steps of the Duomo wind interminably up; Michaelangelos line the piazza outside the Uffizi, Bocaccios its passages within; Joel, Richard, Olivia and I sit in the sedate Trattoria Guelfa, a carafe of the house vino rosso between us, speaking in two languages, taking pranzo the Italian way. In Rome, gypsies sell postcards (20 for L. 2.000!) and gladiators in plastic muscle suits parade around the Colosseum; chunks of exhausted tourists shuffle their fanny-packed and video-cameraed way from historical site to historical site under the intense Roman sun, needing to see everything before they return; coins fly suspended over shoulders to Poseidon's feet into the waters of the Trevi fountain; the Pope blesses thousands of pilgrims in Latin red IUBILEO 2000 hats thronging at the base of St. Peter's basilica; tired Romans ride the graffitied metro between the Spanish Steps and Egyptian pyramids and columns from Carthage, via elephant; again a quiet side street opposite the Pantheon holds a double view, the first of me and my mother eating real Italian pizza four years ago, the second of four PYO-weary orchestra members and an equally-tired chaperone enjoying the first sanity of the day in the form of chocolate mousse and cappuccino. On all the autostrade of Italy, two tourbuses full of an exhausted orchestra wheel endlessly.