Final thoughts on Egypt

Then: So. 2:26 AM, Cairo International Airport, Terminal F. We are at the end. I’m at the end! It has been a crazy, crazy couple of days here in Egypt, and those crazy, crazy days are ones I’ll never forget.

Tonight we celebrated at the house of one of our choir members who lives in Cairo, and whose parents have made much of this amazing trip possible. We ate traditional Egyptian dishes and sat outside listening to a band and talking and just enjoying the presence of the amazing, talented, warm friends we’d been making over the course of the trip, of the year, and for some for four years. While listening to music with my friends, we could hear the surrounding mosques go off for the evening prayers, which was just… a cacophony of brilliant sounds, which echoed around our garden party in the heat and made for quite an ambiance. It was a good night, reminding me why I love choir, why I love my school, and why I love travel.

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Now: It was bittersweet leaving Cairo because it was final. It was an end to my undergraduate career and and end to my time in collegiate choirs. Some people I spent time with I may never see again, but I’m grateful to have shared this crazy awesome experience with them, regardless. Now, back in Portland, I’m disoriented from jet-lag and from a lack of belonging – I have more options and opportunity ahead of me than decisions under my belt. All in all, though, Egypt was a great extended graduation party! I’m somewhat glad I have more travel to look forward to over this summer, just so I can adjust more to being alone, while also having these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experiences.

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A high point: I thought I’d end on a high note, though. Just before leaving Luxor to come back to Cairo, we were able to meet up with the supervisor of Karnak Temple and visit some of the areas of that 30-some acre ruin that everyday tourists don’t get to see (because the supervisor had seen our concert the night before – perks of being ‘famous’). We got to see some of the restoration of the paint in some of the smaller chambers in the main building, which was spectacular. One chamber in particular we ventured into, awed at the natural sunlight that lit up the small space and the intricate, precise hieroglyphics and reliefs of the pharaoh and gods. Naturally in the spirit of choral singers everywhere, we decided to sing “Lay Me Low” from our set of Shaker songs.

“Lay Me Low” arranged by Kevin Siegfried, as performed by the Washington State University Concert Choir

Around twenty seconds in, we were experiencing one of those moments that’s hard to describe, a moment that makes you choke on emotion and feel a certain connection to everyone who is participating. I had to pause a couple times during the song because I couldn’t quite get control of myself, the feeling was so strong. Think about doing something that’s a part of a close collective, that involves physical exertion and emotional investment, and think about doing that in a space that is acoustically brilliant and also happens to be 4,000 or so years old. You’d be choking up, too! The host of our final party (the one at my friend’s house in Cairo) described it like this,

“I genuinely believe that you all were touched by angel’s wings.”

Regardless of belief systems that anyone has, to hear that from someone who was not participating in the actual singing is a compliment beyond any I’ve heard in a while, and one that I will remember for years. This whole trip will be like that, in my mind, and as much as I’ve mentioned I’m thankful for sharing it with my choir, I’m also glad to have shared it with you! I think I’ll leave you with that.

See you in July, when I’m off to Florence, Italy for a monthlong stay!

nile

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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

London Leisure

Mom's here!

I promised I’d chat about the last couple of weeks, but I figured the important stuff has happened more recently, and after a while, hearing about yet another play is probably not the most scintillating thing I could talk about! THEREFORE, I will talk about the break in programmage (meaning, stuff I did without my group) that occurred when my mom arrived a day after my last post! There will be an overlying theme of good food and good shopping, so be warned!

Cadogan Hall from my seat.

We started her stay with a delicious lunch at The Kensington Crêperie I happened upon with my high school friend and now fellow Londoner, Claire, the other week. Plans were made for the next couple of days over delicious crêpes and gelato! Then, later on, we dined in Sloane Square at a restaurant that served my mom a fishcake shaped like a bowling ball, in typical bad taste, before seeing the London Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall. It was wonderful – starting with the “Crown Imperial” (which I can’t stop thinking of as the Imperial March – SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT), followed by Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (which was not really all that Scottish, as Bruch never even went to Scotland, but still beautiful with a violin soloist as young as I am. For what she lacked in subtlety due to inexperience, she made up for with enthusiasm and beautiful technique). The final piece was Vaughn Williams’ symphony, which was also lovely but unsurprising, as Vaughn Williams can’t escape Vaughn Williams – and I’m not sure he wanted to. I think the most compelling part of the performance was the sheer joy on many players’ faces in the orchestra. They were just having so much fun and had such energy that I’m sure the whole audience was in love by the first couple lines  of the Crown Imperial. Our group was seated on the sides right above the orchestra, lucky us.

You should see the rest of the store.

On Saturday  mom and I went to Gielgud Theatre’s Ladykillers in the evening, which was a constant laugh attack, after spending the day walking through Soho and having much success SHOPPING. We are nothing if not predictable when the two of us are abroad together. The highlight of my shopping day was probably a pair of red leather heels with silky, teal laces and houndstooth details! Honestly, they were the most sensible and subtle pair of shoes in the store, Irregular Choice.

Sunday was a day of museums and good food. We went to the Natural History Museum (right in my borough) in the afternoon and then went to an Indian restaurant, Zaika. It was full of deliciousness including my ridiculous cocktail, this “Classic Martinique,” rum and lime juice served in a martini glass. Mom continues to be astonished that I can drink, etc. and do it responsibly. She sent this picture of me to friends, saying I’ve been corrupted! Couldn’t decide whether I was offended or amused so I left it alone.

Polyester installation of a staircase, complete with railing and lightswitches, all from the same material.

Monday, I managed to get a purse that goes across-body, which I can say definitely makes life easier. I shoved mom onto an old double decker (see the first pic in this post), where we rode up top up front to Trafalgar Square. Having done the touristy thing, posing in front of monuments we have very little knowledge of, we pubbed it up at The Sherlock Holmes! Then it was across the Thames to the Tate Modern. Mom hated it; I loved it. My favorite part, however, was not the art, but this little boy who was watching a video of trash blowing about in the wind (oh, modern art). He was having the time of his life, laughing and squealing at the styrofoam take-away boxes and tin cans and newspaper. You could hear him throughout the gallery. I imagine he was enjoying himself much more than the artist could have ever anticipated. We caught the tube back to mom’s hotel where I got to take a shower that didn’t run cold after 5 minutes – and got gussied up (read: put on new red heels) to went to PÉTRUS, a very shmancy restaurant associated with Gordon Ramsey. I had sea scallops with black truffle shavings, butter-soft potato and duck confit (paired with white wine from Borgogne). For my main, I had venison, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, and other gloriousness, with a red wine (also delicious); and finished the night with a pistachio soufflé and a TOUR OF THE KITCHEN!!! All in all, it was a brilliant end to mom’s stay in London.

Normal life returned with class the next morning, and a political theatre play in the evening – a compelling subject matter with a promising script but horrid, horrid, horrid tech and an underfunded set (especially for the ridiculous crap they were doing with it – lots of unnecessary stuff and clumsy interpretation of script).  At one point, there were blow-up fish swimming around above the audience. At least Cate, my roommate, had figured out a nice pub to go to beforehand. The Dove, the oldest pub still right on the Thames, was a writing spot of Ernest Hemingway’s and now a spot where Cate, Molly and I drank and looked out over the dark river, over the houseboats and canal boats to the Hammersmith Bridge. It was great.

The view from The Dove

Now, for a recount of my weekend of Scottitude. But I’m not finished yet – we’re taking a day to Bath and Stonehenge on Tuesday. We’ve also got a visit to the Tower of London and Parliament on Friday, the day before spring break!

After my next post about Scotland (in a few minutes), I’ll be checking in in the middle of next week so as not to overwhelm you all (and myself) with ALL OF THE THINGS!

Three Important Things Of Importance

It’s been a week and three days, now, and I feel a bit like the 27 of us in our two flats in flawed, yet perfect, London have passed out of the honeymoon phase. What’s our phase, now? Let us do our [bleep]ing program, already!

How certain unnamed trip-leaders and their clown-husbands make me feel.

Don’t get me wrong, life is still fantastic – can’t get us down about London – but we’ve been a bit babied in the first week and our trip leaders are clinging to our fingers like reluctant parents sending their children off to college. Except these parents are two of the most disorganized and still (somehow) authoritative people I’ve ever met. That aside, I’ve seen some amazing stuff for our co-curricular activities in the past couple of days that I thought I should write about.

1. The Riots by the Tricycle Theatre

As a verbatim play, “The Riots” was an experience unique to my exposure to theatre. The story is a true one – as true as theatre can get – and somehow managed not to present too huge of a bias in presenting the perspectives of those who experienced the Tottenham riots (those riots reported five months ago that we attributed no reason to) as it happened, and the political repercussions. Even with my seat-neighbours nodding off (quite violently) throughout the entire first and second act, I was incredibly fascinated. I hadn’t heard much about the riots, so it was like a heavily concentrated news program with all the fluff cut out, leaving only the gritty, uncensored, first-hand feelings and prejudices and excuses and philosophies that generated from and were generated by the riots. Equally interesting was the use of social media to convey the immediate response to the riots. Five minutes before the show, the projector showed tweets about the riots from all over the world.

The set was minimal, with characters literally talking to the audience as they had spoken to their interviewers.

2. The Zehetmair String Quartet at Wigmore Hall

This was a wonderful venue, with a wonderful setlist of Mozart, Hindemith, and Beethoven. It was a very good concert – but the concert’s not the thing I wanted to talk about. Ha. Just when these four amazing string players were perched on their seats, bows raised to play the first note of Mozart’s String Quartet in G, some guy in the audience – and I am quoting as best I can, here – called out, “Will you hold on a moment? We have some seat confusion.” I think there was a collective, scandalised gasp. My reaction was quite comical, actually. I had my hand to my chest and I spun around in my seat with wide eyes to look at my peers, who were murmuring something along the lines of, “Holy shit, that didn’t just happen, did it?” The music performers among us had a lot to talk about after the concert ended. At the end of the same piece, after an otherwise seamless and gorgeously performed final movement, someone’s phone went off in the tension-filled silence after the final note. Ruined the whole moment. It was one of those jazzy ringtones, like the beginning of “Bad To The Bone.” Not quite the genre we were in for when we bought the tickets! Otherwise, the night was a wondeful one, and the Hindemith was probably the most intriguing. It sounded a bit like a psychotic break after a broken heart, to be honest. I made an interesting decision before the LSO concert last week to not look at the program until after each piece, in order to listen to the music with just my ears. It was much more fun, as I later learned some things about the composers and the pieces that would have tainted my experience in listening – would have changed the way I interpreted the music and the mood in which I would listen to them. The Beethoven was boring in comparison to the pieces before. Beautifully played, but boring. After, a group of us happened upon the Lamb & Flag (hey, hey Chuck!) quite by accident, and I informed everyone that we had to have drinks there because John Donne had been beat up in the back alley because he’d written a satirical poem about a gentleman who gambled in the back room there (called The Bucket of Blood) over bare fist boxing. Although, looking it up now, it seems there are many [fraudulent] establishments of the same name, so who knows if it was the right place. Point is, there is a place in back of ONE of those pubs called the Bucket of Blood and it has a cool backstory. In any case, my double rum with cola was quite delicious. All in all a very fun night!

A poorly photo-shopped image of the Zehetmair String Quartet!

3. Today’s Contemporary Britain class

Justin, our British culture professor, has lived in London all his life. He’s conscientious, well-dressed, and hilarious. And he’s very knowledgeable and succinct. Tonight for our 6-9pm class (in the middle of which I and Leslie and Nate took a break and got ice cream – and sushi in Nate’s case – at Waitrose across the street from Foundation House), we basically had a three-hour chat about our perceptions of the UK. We started with our lists of famous British people, trying to list a few that Justin hadn’t heard of (we mostly only achieved that when the theatre majors started throwing around contemporary playwrights… and after I called out a few silly BBC actors). It was a very interesting reflection of what our interests are: a combination of the very high brow and the very low brow. Which is perfectly great in my opinion. After, we discussed British stereotypes, from bad teeth to repressed emotions, and American stereotypes from Justin’s perspective, from loudness to over-demanding consumerism. The last hour of class was a good chunk of contemporary history, where we discussed what it means when you say “Great Britain” or “United Kingdom.” Here’s a hint: they’re not the same thing! It was very revealing (of the American education system) to see what little we knew about UK issues and culture other than the basics (which were pretty muddled as well). Perhaps I’ll post some class notes later, because I know that class holds so much potential for things that I can repost here so I look extra smart and awesome and informed.

Click on this link to see Monty Python and the intrigue of the British Dental Association – which is also extra smart and awesome and informed!

Whew!

It was all cotton-candy for miles and miles until you go below them, and then it's - oh, hello - grey.

What a week it’s been! For the sake of your eyes and the safety of my keyboard, I will go in order of events of my first couple days here in London (LONDON!). I arrived in London Heathrow after a smooth flight, and what’s happened since has been a bit of a blur. The group of us, wide-eyed and sore-footed, have been taking as much advantage of our prime spot in the Royal Borough of Kensington. What that means is you’re about to get quite an idea of just how much truth there is to the statement, “hit the ground running.”

27 of us occupy two flats in this building, with our RLS, Mike and numerous other international students.

Monday, just hours after everyone arrived from their respective parts of the world, we moved into our flats, right across from Hyde Park and snuggled up next to the Dutch Embassy. Orientation began quickly after that, where we met our RLS (like a Resident Advisor, except not a student) and toured around the urban campus where we saw where we’ll walk .7 miles to class from Tuesdays through Thursdays, and where our nearest laundry stops AND tube stops are. And THEN, on to the next thing with the groups first pub experience near Charing Cross. We had nice pub food and drink at The Princess of Wales, but not before a couple of us scurried to the Thames and took a big breath as we gazed out at the city, Big Ben and The Eye in our sights. Then to Sainsbury’s (grocery chain) for an overwhelming first adventure for food and other goods.

And... breathe. Just great.

On Tuesday, we had ANOTHER orientation meeting at FIE, but the fun part came afterward, in which Thai food and cheap-cheap mobile phones for less than £10 were involved.  I felt very money savvy and super cool walking down High Street Kensington after that. I’ve found that I do have a rather good sense of direction, even if London (which is an organic city) tries its best to confuse all of us with its twists and turns and little nooks. The energy quickly left us that afternoon, however, with our first class of the semester. Our Theatre in London professor was great, but even his charisma couldn’t keep half the class from falling asleep! Cut us some slack, though. At this point we were all still waking up at one in the morning, thinking it was 7am and rolling around forever in our groggy jet-lagged semi-wakefulness. That evening was much of the same thing, unfortunately. And I say unfortunately, because we were to see the London Symphony Orchestra, which is an amazing opportunity, but most of us could barely stay awake! I was able to keep my eyes open for the first two pieces. The first, a fascinating atonal work by Thomas Adès, felt like a bad relationship: great sex, big fight, adultery, uncomfortable ending. Turns out it was a programmatic work written for an opera, but I was quite content imagining this sordid affair instead. The next was a viola concerto. I was glad to have heard such a rare thing by one of the greatest orchestras in the world. The final, which I mostly went cross-eyed over in my haze, was Elgar’s Symphony No. 1. Woken up by the abrupt finale, we had an adventure getting back on the tube wherein no one trusted anyone and therefore everyone took a different route. We all returned safely… eventually!

The sound was fantastic, but most importantly, the silence was deafening.

We had Music History (a bit of a drag) in the morning on Wednesday. But the exciting stuff happened after our class, when a couple of us went to Little India, and had our first taste of Indian food, which was delightful aside from the violently angry Eastern European couple in the front window. It was certainly exciting, and makes for a good story. It was like we walked into a mafia movie for a moment. Willa and Kaley and I walked through Hyde Park for the afternoon, and returned for a (very brief) Contemporary Britain class with Justin (fun fact: a stone is 14 lbs) before the Welcome Social for FIE. Free (read: bad) alcohol and… more Americans. A couple of us managed to meet an engineer from Imperial College, who was mooching off the free food at our event, but never learned his name! Quite a funny experience! When we returned to the flat, we watched (read: I made everyone watch) Russell Howard and finished the day with the second BBC Sherlock episode of the season, “The Hounds of Baskerville!” We were able sleep in the next morning (in theory), given the construction outside didn’t decide to wake the whole of London.

An artsy fartsy photo of the Prince Albert memorial.
This beautiful performance space is right next door!

We had Art History with Giovanni (from Milan) at 2pm, which was very, very fun. He’s spent a great deal of the past 15 years in Scotland, so his accent occilates between Italian and Scottish from one phrase to the next. It was fascinating to listen to! All in all, it was a fun three hours consisting of an overview of over 30,000 years of art and a discussion of our backgrounds in art, etc. In conclusion, we found that art, or at least neoclassical art, is a burger. (It’s not supposed to make sense.) We took a double-decker bus to Picadilly Circus to see the 2-Tony-winning “The 39 Steps” playing in the evening. It was entertaining at most, but we had fun wandering around the area and found The Two Chairmen where we had homemade Bailey’s (which was also entertaining at most) and then searched for other pubs to no avail. Better success was had back at the flat where, with pear cider and friends, we played music and chatted with our RLS!

Today, I slept in. FINALLY! But I think I’ll recount what happened after in my next post, because there are plenty of pictures! :)

Cheers,

Ava

PS ~ Expect another update soon, because we have an action-packed weekend, too!