Written May 27: more of Cairo

I haven’t had the chance to update in a couple days while in Zamalek, Cairo (mostly because of the many activities the choir has been up to, but also because of faulty Internet)! What are those activities, you ask?

If you caught my last post, the photo op of our wanderings in downtown Cairo and visit to the Cairo Museum, then you saw just a glimpse of what we’ve experienced. Our morning that day consisted of a couple hours in the museum with a local Egyptologist, where we got an up close and personal look at some the world’s oldest pieces of art, things I’ve only seen in textbooks and on slides in art history classes. We saw the Narmer Stone, one of the oldest artifacts in the world, and met Ramses II and Hapshetsut, two of several mummies in the pharaohs exhibit. After our time at the museum, we saw several monuments and other famous buildings in Cairo and got a glimpse of the City of the Dead, which is deceptively full of slums as well as very, very old grave sites. Out of the dusty brown one can sometimes glimpse an Acacia tree, which blooms fiery red around here – it’s very pleasing to the eye especially for those used to more colorful climbs. Coming from Portland where it’s all green has been different, to say the least, and difficult for others (mostly adjusting to food and water and dry air). However, now we’re bound for Luxor in the south for a sponsored stay at the local Sofitel and our final concert, which may include audience members from the higher-ups in the Luxor government if I’m not mistaken.

We have had three concerts so far during our stay. The first was at a church in Maadi, where we had a brown-out which ended mid-song in our first set of early American music. The second was in collaboration with Cairo American College, which I may have mentioned already. The best part of that experience was to share our knowledge of college a cappella with some of the high schoolers. We were able to do a ten-minute improvised song with the CAC kids, which was fun both because we all got to share our talents, but also because I haven’t had the pleasure of singing with the a cappella members from different groups at school before – but now is as good a time as any, though, especially when one is graduated! Two nights ago, once we’d moved from our home stays to Zamalek, we performed at a popular venue downtown, which was unfortunately and entertainingly on an outdoor stage by the Nile. It was quite an experience to sing with bugs zooming around the stage lights and into our mouths while in our concert black in 80 degree weather.

However, this was after a phenomenal day at the pyramids, where I got some great shots:

20130527-224312.jpg

20130527-224328.jpg

20130527-224345.jpg

20130527-224414.jpg

20130527-224434.jpg

20130527-224523.jpg

Yesterday in Luxor we visited the museum, local monuments and the marketplace after checking out our performance space and checking out our hotel! Expect more photos soon.

The First Day

20130522-063147.jpg

Although yesterday was technically the third day we’ve been out of the country, it was the first day that our group really got to experience Egypt. And what a long day it was!

20130522-081203.jpg

Think of singing from 8am-4:30pm. 8.5 hours. Yes, that long! We had two class sessions with the Cairo American College choir to practice for our second concert (the first being tonight). We are singing our normal repertoire, which consists of both traditional, spiritual and modern American pieces as well as music from the Middle East, and then two songs with the CAC choir – “Battle of Jericho” by Moses Hogan and “O Nata Lux” by a local (local meaning Oregon) composer.

Battle of Jericho video (intro by Moses Hogan)

One of my favorite pieces in our Middle Eastern rep, Lamaa Badaa Yatathana (solo version)

It has been exciting, both to share our experience with younger kids and workshop with some of the composer of the music we perform, but also to experience the brown-outs that are recently common in Cairo, to see the rubble, graffiti, and the homeless on the streets, to taste some real Egyptian food and to feel the dusty heat on our faces while walking to school.

20130522-082033.jpg

Even then, Maadi is a nice neighborhood for Cairo – full of ex-pats and the privileged – so our experience is still limited to watching out of bus windows and from the side of a felucca.

20130522-081049.jpg

Yes, I did say felucca.

20130522-081303.jpg

We ate koshary on the Nile last night, strapping two boats together and floating along as the sun set. It was a rewarding end to a long day.

20130522-081624.jpg
20130522-081858.jpg
20130522-081802.jpg

Today we’re bound for downtown to see museums, and then we have our first concert! More details and photos to follow!

20130522-081946.jpg

7:56pm Portland/4:57am Frankfurt

As I write this I’m at the point of not knowing quite what day it is or how long I’ve been on this plane, having spent much of the last couple of days in a whirlwind of celebrations of graduation and preparations for the future both immediate and distant. A big group of us choir geeks departed from Portland for SEA-TAC at an unreasonably early hour for the amount of sleep I had the night before, and spent a lovely, bumpy bus ride chattering and/or sleeping, only to get on a 10-hour flight to Frankfurt. From there, we’re destined for Cairo.
Image
Other than the bus ride, it’s been remarkably smooth-going, aside from the fact that our choir director was the only one to forget her passport in her safety deposit box, and so will be joining us a day later than planned! Don’t worry, we’ve got our assistant director (who I happen to be sitting next to – hello, Charlie!), our accompanist, my previous trip leaders from London (joy), and a classmate’s parents who live in Cairo and have been the main liaisons and reasons for our international tour. Essentially, we’re well taken care of!
Image
image
This is to be the first bit of international travel for some of our choir members, which to me is immeasurably exciting! I love sharing my passions with people (especially friends), and one of those passions is experiencing new cultures. It was especially fun to coach people through security. Ha. This time, though, it’s going to be a new and different experience for me, as I’ve only traveled to Europe, Mexico and other English speaking countries. We’ve been preparing to wear headscarves, wear our hair up, and bring modest clothing as well as exercise caution on the streets and to be well-behaved, and although this isn’t necessarily something I wouldn’t do anyway, it’s not something that we as a group (and certainly for some more than others) have had to think about before while at home or abroad). It will be fascinating to see the adjustment process, and to experience it myself.
Once we land in Cairo we’ll be meeting and eating with our home stays, and the day following we’ll be performing in our first concert of the tour! But that’s only after we attend some workshops with the choir at Cairo American College (which is deceptively a high school) and the composer of one of our songs , “Aiyu,” which I have a brief solo in. Oh, and a tour of the Nile. As you do. It’s going to be an exciting start to our tour, unless some other crazy stuff happens during our layover in Frankfurt! I’ll keep you posted.
Expect a set of photos from our first views of Cairo!

Travel Alert!

Hello folks!

It’s been an incredibly long time (minus that one ghost-post you may have caught weeks ago), but I have come back online to announce my looming journey to Cairo and Luxor in Egypt! I leave on Sunday! And not only do I leave on Sunday but I leave on Sunday at 7 AM, the day after I graduate from college!

I'm fancy, huh?
(Those white/red/blue ribbons are for my semester abroad in London, if you cared to know.)

It’s been and will continue to be a whirlwind of a time as I shove various and sundry items into boxes to ready them for storage (as I can no longer live in a dorm) as well as pack for a ten day trip to Africa, as well as spend time with my family and friends and choir. Will I have time for sleep? (Unlikely.)

Anyway, I’ve never been to Africa! So. That said, I felt it would be good to keep and share a record of my first experience of such a culturally different and growing country while on tour with my college’s chamber choir. I’ll keep you posted of my whereabouts and of the shenanigans that may take place along the way. Expect pictures, crooning about choir, and of course my usual gushing about new cultural experiences.

And that concludes my rambling for now! Enjoy your Thursday!

-Ava

The last stop.

So, Italy.

“Well, here we are at the end.”

Life since I’ve been back in the states has been both invigorating and a bit like swimming through molasses. This is likely why I haven’t updated this blog in a month, although it may be in part because I haven’t wanted to acknowledge that my time abroad is actually over! In the time between leaving Europe and now, I have had my 21st birthday, have started work for the summer and participated in a national convention, have been to the beach, and have almost finalized a deal on a new (and my first) car. Turbo diesel. How European of me. So, it’s not like my life has become less exciting!

A tractor spreads fungicide in a vineyard near Treiso, Italy

But I think you all deserve to hear about my wonderful time in Italy, even though it feels like an age ago. It was a Saturday in late April when I, accompanied by my dear dad and Cathie, embarked on an intrepid adventure on the 28th of April. Traveling from Switzerland with my mom and her boyfriend, I met Dad and Cathie in Stresa. Stresa is a town in the Lake Country of Italy with a fairly sketchy train station but a steep hill that falls toward a deep blue lake. The roads are narrow, so driving parallel to the water reveals a pinstripe of blue between hundred-year-old houses every block. I had arrived fifteen minutes late in the train station because the ICE train had stopped after crossing the border and sat for about ten minutes. It has been explained to me that they have to do this because Switzerland is not a part of the European Union and therefore has different “union” laws, but I still like to think that the Italians DON’T want to be on time.

Stresa and Lake Maggiore

Dad drove us to the Piemonte (the foothills of the Alps) region where we would spend a week eating good food, imbibing fine wine and basking in our beautiful surroundings. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Along the autostrada I saw the landscape change – from leafy, craggy earth against blue water to vast farmlands and rolling hills. I discovered that there were family farms older than my country, that cemeteries are all above ground in mausoleums because of the type of earth in the area, and that risotto is actually grown in rice fields. Yes, rice fields. If you had already figured that out, I commend you, because I had never given it a second of thought.

Risotto fields

Our rental, called Il Ciliegio (the cherry tree), was located in the little town of Treiso near the larger towns of Asti and Alba, which have a centuries-old rivalry. The kind of rivalry where Alba likes to hold an annual donkey race to mock the horse racing that occurs in Asti. The area around these rival towns is best known for its truffles during the fall, but when we went, it was the season to celebrate of wine (and asparagus season, but not AS exciting as wine). The local wineries that grow nebbiolo, chardonnay and muscato grapes surround you from every soft-edged angle, and you eat locally and seasonally in every restaurant you find. The Piemonte is the region from where the “Slow Food” tradition came, so every restaurant you will find will likely serve the same dishes, if not similar. The goal is not to serve unique dishes, but to serve the best dishes, which of course means that guests to the region benefit quite a lot!

View from Osteria dell’Asilo

The first example of this was at our first dinner that Saturday, in Coazzollo. Osteria dell’Asilo is a half-hour from Il Ciliegio, so we drove a spindly little road that threaded through the vineyards and over steep hills. Upon our arrival, the restaurant staff served Brut of Cascina Galarin, a sparkling wine that belongs to Beppe and Fabiola Carosso, friends of my dad and Cathie. A glass and a cheese platter later I met them for the first time – Italians always arrive when wind settles, it seems – and was very pleased to meet them, too.

From left: Dad, Fabiola, Cathie and Beppe

Fabiola is a schoolteacher who can speak English rather well and her husband Beppe (Giuseppe) can only speak ten words of English and runs his family winery where they make chardonnay, rosé, barbaresco, and muscato (which I immediately fell in love with). We had a six course meal at the osteria! The dishes included: insalata Russo, fassone cruda (thin slices of cold beef with rosemary sauce), magliotta pasta (like ravioli without the filling), faraona (guinea hen), and assorted desserts! Beppe insisted that I pour his muscato over the strawberries I had ordered for dessert. What a delicious discovery!

Venezuelan “Christmas bread”, made by Fanny

The next day, we met with friends of Fabiola and Beppe at their home for an extravagant lunch! Sensing a theme here? What I learned from that lunch was that as well as serving the same dishes for the most part, almost all special meals involve at least three courses, one of which is ALWAYS pasta. We had plin with veal filling and fresh sage, which was rich and deadly – I mean – delightful.

View from Fanny and Frank’s property

After, even though Cathie, Dad and I were pretty tired, Beppe and Fabiola dragged us to several homes for sale in the area, because they are the type of people to take an idea and run with it. And they had. My dad had asked them for their opinion of a house in the area several months back, which they took to mean that Dad meant to buy a home immediately. Well, my dad is the type to explore and test out ideas and research in order to gather insight BEFORE he actually does whatever he’s thinking of doing. You can see why it might not be well-communicated when these two types get together, not even adding on the issue of language barriers and cultural differences, like America’s and Italy’s vast differences of opinion on the concept of time!

It was a pretty ridiculous second day in Italy, but we were all determined not to let stress get to us, because it certainly wasn’t getting to anyone else within a 100-mile radius!

The view from our rental on a relatively normal morning
The view from our rental on Monday morning

Monday was misty and rainy in parts, so I skipped out on another “house-hunting adventure” in the morning before we went to another fantastic lunch at La Contea in Neive. We shared gnochetti, which was flavored with sage and nettles! A wine-tasting followed in the afternoon at Albino Rocca, which was actually kinda fun! Yay for being legal in Europe!

Gnochetti (or gnudi) at La Contea

We drove to Torino the next morning to pick up my dad’s cousin, Charles, who has lived in Florence for the past 40 years. With just that in mind, we were anticipating a grand old time when we got to the city, but we found a lot of random, cool things happening already when we got there! The first stop, when we finally got past the traffic caused by the May Day protesters in town, was the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in the renovated Mole Antonelliana.

May Day protester

The museum takes you through the history of photography and cinema, from shadow puppetry to photography to projectors to modern film. It was really awesome to see how cinema used to be an act at a carnival, like a magic show, and was thought not to have any particular potential. If you’ve seen the movie Hugo, you’ve seen a film that showed in the museum – the first ever film shown to an audience. It is of a train arriving at a station, and it scared people so much that they dived out of their seats when they watched it, thinking the train would just ride right into the midst of the theatre. Cool stuff, huh?

Museo di Cinema’s glass elevator inside the dome

The main part of the museum was a giant atrium, where there were several interactive exhibits where you basically entered film genres, but there was a space in the middle where a glass elevator went straight through to the panoramic city view at the top of the dome. It floated up from a lower floor, through the large space, and up, like an acrobat on a trapeze!

The dome of Superga

For lunch we had pizza in the Piazza Carlo Albergo before picking up Charles in a torrential downpour. The afternoon was spent exploring unknown gems in the city in the pouring rain, such as Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Shroud of Turin, and Superga, up on a hill across the river.

Me with my cioccolato calda

San Lorenzo was my ultimate favorite, and the site of one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

That evening we met at Osteria dell’Oca Giuliva with Beppe and Fabiola for a wonderful dinner, Charles included. Charles always makes things infinitely more entertaining or at least eccentric.

One of my favorite vegetables

On Wednesday, we went to the local market in Bra and bought lots of delicious things, bought cheeses at Giolito’s famous cheese shop, and then took a tour of UNISG, a internationally renown university for the gastronomic sciences. Which was pretty darn cool. We cooked dinner at home that night, and we still managed to stuff ourselves silly! If you can believe it, I was actually tired of eating so much good food! It happens!

From left: Cathie, Dad, me, and Charles!

The following day, we visited Monforte d’Alba. Lunch was an improvised affair by the gracious owners of Albergo “da Felicin.” They were kind enough to fix us a four-course meal, even though they weren’t serving lunch. We ate in a lovely garden with an old olive tree and a pond full of turtles in the background.

That night, though, was the Fancy Meal.

The cheese cart at La Ciau
Dad and me on the terrace

We ate at a 2-star Michelin-rated restaurant. It was kind of fantastic. We went to La Ciau del Tornavento to celebrate a trifecta of birthdays: Charles’, Dad’s and mine! This of course meant that we were pampered with great service and fantastic food for four hours. The usual. The chef, Maurilio Garolao, came and welcomed us to the restaurant before we began our meals with a selection of wines and antipasti. One of the highlights of that evening was probably the palate-cleanser, funnily enough. It was a mysterious sorbet – made from grasses in the nearby foothills!

Probably 500 Euro worth of mushrooms. Ya know.
Cathie, Maurilio Garolao, and me!

Friday was our last full day in Italy, because we’d be flying back home from France (believe me, it was probably for the best). We had lunch at a small osteria with big portions and bigger taste. I had a salad with duck carpaccio, orange slices, blueberry and olive oil. IT WAS THE BEST THING!

My salad at Osteria Italia

That afternoon Cathie and I went shopping and I got an awesome white scarf with a turquoise detail, the one souvenir to bring back with me from Italy… besides maybe some wine to sneak through customs. SHH! Wandering around Alba was pretty cool, too. Cathie showed me another Chiesa di San Lorenzo, which had been recently excavated and renovated. Parts of the floors were made of grate instead of solid flooring, so we could see through to the remains of the old church foundations and baptismal fonts.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

The last night, we went to a wine-tasting dinner as a part of the Barbaresco wine-makers celebration that would be taking place in the following week. Beppe and Fabiola got us in free of charge, although I think they just paid for us. They’re so nice! Ahh! The catering happened to be done by the same restaurant we’d gone to the night before, so we got to see our friend Maurilio again. And he recognized us. Crazy stuff!

Cathie and Dad at the Barbaresco Winemakers Association Dinner!

Sad to leave, we drove to Savona the following day for a final Italian meal of seafood at Restaurant Luna, before saying goodbye to Charles at the train station. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to St-Paul-De-Vence, France, but not before passing by Monaco and other fantastic seaside places on the way. Upon arriving, we sat out on the deck at the Hôtel Le Hameau, and I tried out the hot tub, before we wandered into the town of Vence and found a restaurant in the old, walled city. Dinner was nice, but not Italian, of course. It was interesting to be back in a place where I could understand the language again! We reflected on our adventures while sipping rosé de Provence, and finished our meal with a nice crème brûlée.

Hôtel Le Hameau

On the plane from Nice the next morning, I missed the melodious hills of the Piemonte, but I also came to the realization that this very short part of my life was coming to an end. What an unforgettable experience. Now, I miss London most, but what I think I miss about it is the wonderful experience of being in a new place with new friends, and learning along the way. I look forward to getting back to school in the fall, to return to that sort of environment. I am so, so thankful and pleased as punch that I got to do this. And I recommend – to whomever gets the kind of opportunity I did – to take a trip like this by the reins, don’t take it for granted, and have all the fun you can.

Cathie at Nice Airport

Anyway, thanks for reading this lengthy post, and thanks for following my blog! I may return to it for my cross-country road trip/adventure in August, but it’s TTFN, ta-ta for now.

Until next time,
Ava