Days One & Two: Florence

Hello world!

It’s me again, having embarked on my next foreign adventure: Florence, Italy.

Here’s what’s happening – as of yesterday afternoon (continental Europe time), I am in Florence for a month! I am taking a drawing course at Charles Cecil Studios nearby, and am staying with students of the school while I’m here.

Here are the facts:

I speak *zero* Italian.
I have never taken a formal drawing course in my life.
I have never stayed abroad all by my lonesome. Done it without parents, done it in a non-English speaking country, but never without other students who I had met beforehand.

Believe me, it’s not an introvert’s ideal situation, despite how excited I am to have this opportunity. Regarding my acceptance into a prestigious art school, yes, I know somebody who knows somebody, etc. etc. I am cousins with the founder of the school, who has been so gracious to offer the children in the family drawing lessons. Being the youngest one in my family, I am the last to have this opportunity! I have no idea of the talent I will be surrounded by, and I have no idea how prepared I am.

Did I mention I’m also not incredibly spontaneous? Well, there you are.

My first day, though, was great. We touched down in Florence and enjoyed an evening of extremely (incredibly, amazingly) fine cuisine due to my mother’s presence in Florence my first couple days here. We ate at the Borgo San Jacopo near Ponte Vecchio, the bridge famous for its accompanying buildings suspended over the Fiume. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. If you have questions about the food, leave a comment! I will tell you though, that the last picture is a tomato ice cream with chocolate “crunchies” and banana. It was indeed bizarre. But awesome, too!

foie gras wafers with apple sorbet and caramel accents
I don't even remember what this was called but it was my favorite dish
tomato ice cream

After dinner we noticed a chamber orchestra playing on the Ponte Vecchio and after further investigation we learned that someone had booked the bridge for the night (!!!) – what a ridiculously Italian thing to hear Vivaldi drifting down the river as the skies darkened and the streets lit up with nightlife.

Ponte Vecchio

Today was a lesson in going with the flow.

Having had minimal contact with my soon-to-be roomies, I informed them I would be showing up at 11am today planning to move in. Funnily enough, my roommates were no-shows, but my cousin appeared on his bicycle and offered to take me and my family out to dinner tonight! Eventually, (1.5 hours later) I was able to get into the flat and get a key.

the view from my flat

(Tip: if you’re staying in a foreign country for more than a week, I recommend getting international phone service, and even a wifi hotspot on your phone if you’re the type to be glued to the Internet – or blogging, as I planned on doing very frequently. As I have neither, this will be sure to be an interesting month.)

And now I’ve unpacked and plan to find an Internet cafe and perhaps a few photo ops before heading to Santa Spirito, if I’m reading my map correctly. Tomorrow is my first drawing class, so there’ll be a post as soon as possible!

Ponte Vecchio

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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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babushkas

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giza

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

“I walk into an empty ro-oo-om and suddenly my heart goes bo-oo-om – there must be an angel playing with my heart, yeah!”

Since it’s Sunday and I have a peppy Eurythmics song stuck in my head, I thought it would be a good time to post what I’ve been up to lately, considering how I’ve been neglecting that a bit, lately.

Since my last post, which I will designate to the weekend of March 17, lots and lots of happenings have been happening! (Surprise!) And, as things go, life has sped up so fast that all of us over in London are scrambling to get our acts together as the semester draws to a close (a very, very abrupt close). I will be leaving on the 16th for Barcelona, the plan at this point, although life is still up in the air when planning trips with other college students. I’ll be spending a couple days there before making my way up to Munich, where I’ll see my lovely friends Devan and Nora who are studying there for the year, and I’ll be camping on Devan’s floor until my mom flys in and we get the heck out of town! Next will be a whirlwind of travel through Switzerland (Zurich and Interlaken – and maybe even GRINDELWALD, for those Harry Potter fans out there), where I’ll be shoved onto a train to Stresa, Italy and meet my dad. The next week will be spent in Northern Italy with the Dad and his fiancée, Cathie. I’ll be back in London (Heathrow) on the 6th of May, and will be back in DC within ten hours of getting on my flight to Dulles (if all goes well).

BUT! Back to the past! As much fun as my weekend with Molly was, I quickly returned to the real world of required theatre nights and art journalling and listening to my Contemporary Britain professor say words and doodle intricate designs on my notes. Life is so hard! The week after Molly’s departure, the class went to the National Theatre and saw a physical theatre performance called Can We Talk About This?, a verbatim play about censorship, freedom, and hypocrisy in Islam, how when interpreted a certain way it can oppress its own followers, and has begun to override world politics because people are so afraid to offend. The play was a little odd because the performers were hopping around and doing really complex choreography throughout most of the monologues, but over all had a very impactful result. At the beginning of the play, the audience was asked whether they felt “morally superior” to the Taliban, to which only 50% of the audience raised their hands. I’m not about to go into the details and theory behind that, because I don’t have the eloquence to do so, but hopefully you get the point.

The following weekend I journeyed way up north to Finchley, which took much too long because the Northern Line was closed and I had to take replacement bus services all the way. I made it though, and just in time for a writing workshop at a church community center (this was for my independent study project). There was much talk about social networking and blogging (which I’ve got down pat – too many blogs to count!) but there was also a bit about self-publishing, competitions, and sites to submit to to get noticed, which was cool. I learned a little bit – and I got a small bit of fiction out of it, so all in all a good day. I felt good about my writing after leaving the group, and maybe even a little inspired – I wrote all the way back to my flat. Also, buses are therapeutic and I wish we had double-deckers in DC.

The next week was a whirlwind! Story of my life. We had our music history papers due in class on Wednesday, and immediately after, Willa, Kaley and I rushed out to the Adelphi Theatre and saw a matinee of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton (YES, IMELDA STAUNTON.) It was a fantastic performance and a great stress-relieving adventure after the last several nights of writing ten pages on Scottish folk music. I didn’t know how much of that show I could sing by heart. The story was set in – I want to say – 1930’s England instead of the original 19th century setting, and it all seems to take place in a factory, as the ensemble tells the tale. It was pretty magical, even if the three of us were stuck up in the rafters.

AT LAST, MY ARM IS COMPLETE AGAIN!
Can't believe these two were in the matinee on a Wednesday! I'm so lucky.

The class saw another performance on Friday night, which took forever to get out to, and with the day we’d had in class, it was a bit much! We’d been out to Shoreditch with our art professor, Giovanni, and looked at a bunch of modern art, including some poorly executed conceptual art and other stuff at the White Cube and Whitechapel galleries. Reasons to Be Cheerful was a bit of disability theatre over in Hackney, which used the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads to tell a story about coming-of-age and learning through personal struggle. It was a cute play, and used differently abled actors but did not place them as the centerpiece of the play, just included them, which was awesome. However, I was not in the mood to hear a 3-song encore after the play ended at 9:55pm.

Nadia Albina and Gary Robson dance around to "Blockheads" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

On Sunday a group of us accidentally saw The Hunger Games instead of The Woman in Black at a massive theatre in Shepherd’s Bush, and I got a pair of sandals, before heading over to Southwark to see the Sam Wanamaker Festival at the Globe Theatre, an even hosted by the Globe where all the best talent from the UK’s best arts schools come together and put on scenes from Shakepeare and his contemporaries. Our class got to stand up front and center, and saw some really awesome scenes by talent who may be famous one day! It was an action-packed day, and just the beginning of an action-packed week.

On Tuesday, I gave a presentation on multicultural theatre in London for my – you guessed it – Theatre In London class, and turned in my art journal that evening before Contemporary Britain, where we talked about the Jack the Ripper case and the Cray twins, two urban legends that are as much a part of London as the history of the monarchy. I’m excited to get my art journal back, because it’s got a lot of good notes and doodles, and quite a bit of space left that I can use to journal about what I find on my travels in the next couple weeks.

Duchamp's "Fountain"

We had our art history final in class the next day, wherein we essayed about Duchamp’s “Fountain,” Dalí’s “Mountain Lake,” Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergère”, as well as comparisons between Mondrian and Fontana, Millet and Van Eyck, and Oldenburg and Pistoletto.

Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergere"

It was a good, satisfying exam, and I heard from everyone that they felt the same. I guess these means I learned a lot? Ha.

Thursday night was a bit of a crazy one. Combined with the celebratory vibe of finishing up 1/4 classes, and the knowledge that we didn’t have class the next morning, the group had a bit too much fun. The good, generally safe kind, involving Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, rum and ginger beer, and dance playlists. The following day, Louise and I shopped for weather-appropriate attire for travel after London, with major success, I must admit.

Got a deal for this lovely dress, which I think I'll be wearing quite a lot this summer!

The following day we completed our “challenge” for our Theatre in London class, by going to see a play called ” adapted for children with autism. It was so much fun, and interesting to see how that sort of disability theatre compared with Reasons to be Cheerful. Last night Julia, Monroe, and Nate hosted a seder for Passover, which was lots of fun, and then there was Mario Kart and hanging out until the wee hours. Today, I plan on booking a flight from London to Barcelona, from Barcelona to Munich, booking a couple nights in a hostel, and working a bit on last-minute homework and talking to the rents. Perhaps going to the Notting Hill Arts Club, after? Should be a good day.

My next update will probably have more solid plans, which both you and I look forward to, I expect! Thanks for reading!