"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." -Andrew Denton
I should mention that this trip was through my favorite travel company, Grand Circle Travel. I have been on 19 previous adventures with my parents on Grand Circle/Overseas Adventure Travel. Without their help, and the help of the dedicated crew of the M/S Corinthian, my special adventure would not have happened.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
The next day, during lunchtime, we were on our way! We crossed the somewhat turbulent Beagle Channel with many of the passengers on deck soaking up the sun, taking photographs and sharing excitement for our journey. We were advised that the trip, once into the open waters of the Drake Passage, would be very rough. There were instructions about "Drake proofing" each cabin. I didn't fully understand what this meant or why this was necessary. I would find out soon! Our expedition team repeated this... "Whether the weather is cold, Or whether the weather is hot, We'll weather the weather, Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not."
The beauty of stormy weather is the birds! We were treated to an incredible show by many birds. We spotted our first penguins (Magellanic) in the Beagle Channel! (The Beagle Channel was named after the ship with captain Robert Fitz Roy that carried Charles Darwin in these waters in 1834.) Then we saw Imperial Cormorants, Black-browned Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrels and Skuas.
I'll spare you the details of my not so pleasant evening but will say that the water went from acceptably rough to unacceptably rough (Drake Shake!) and I was officially sea-sick! I then understood what Drake proofing my cabin meant. I could hear the clothes in the closet sliding from one side to the other and the toiletries in my neighbors bathroom flying around. I could barely make it from the bathroom to my bed! Just a note for future reference... when you have had too much to drink, do NOT lie down, when sea sick, LIE DOWN!!!! Anyway, in my room, as in every room, lounge, and dining room, the chairs, tables and even the piano were chained to the floor. I had put most things away as well as set my cello so it was essentially lying down. In order to stay in bed, I wedged my foot between the 2 twin mattresses pushed together. It was quite the ab workout!
Monday, January 11, 2016
We saw many more birds the next day following the ship so closely and so beautifully! It's difficult to describe the fluid motion of these gigantic birds that just floated through the air inches above the raging waves which were pounding on the ship. To watch them was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. The most impressive were the Wandering Albatrosses, Grey-headed Albatrosses and Northern Giant Petrels. The Wandering Albatross which we were so fortunate to observe for so long on this trip, has the largest wingspan of any bird (up to 12 feet!).
There was an announcement the night before we would arrive in Antarctica... The first person to spot an iceberg wins a prize! After my thoughts wandered to the north and the Titanic, I had the realization that we were going to be among icebergs!!! When I woke up and looked out the sliding glass door and saw my first glimpse of icebergs, I pinched myself! I was here!
The white wilderness...
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
We would make our first two landings today... On Deception Island! We would take our first steps in Whaler's Bay and then we would go for a cool dip in Pendulum Cove. Yes! You heard me correctly.
We cruised fairly closely through the icebergs of Neptune's Bellows into the caldera of Port Foster and felt very thankful for our incredibly skilled Captain and crew navigating the Corinthian. There was a shipwreck which reminded me of the volatile waters and of how fortunate I was to be safe in a place so wild and unpredictable.
We would take our first zodiac ride and step on Antarctica for the first time at Whaler's Bay!! And... it was a beautiful day!!
Then, we had a little hike up to Neptune's Window for a beautiful view out of the caldera. After our hike up, we walked along the beach and watched the penguins play around the injured leopard seal (their arch enemy). We then wandered around the remnants of a whaling station used by Norwegians between 1910-1931.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
We woke up to another incredible, sunny day! We started the day off at Mikkelsen Harbor where we could see glaciers coming right off the mountains into the water. The Harbor was named after Caroline Mikkelsen, the wife of a sealer captain and the first woman to visit Antarctica! What better place to explore and then play the cello. I was able to wander around to observe the seals and penguins. There were many groups of Gentoo Penguins here and I enjoyed watching them and photographing them on their rock nests with their chicks. It was like living National Geographic... We also found evidence of an old boat, an abandoned Argentine rescue hut and humpback whales.
While I was basking in the beauty of this place, I was scoping out the perfect site to play the cello. The photos show the process of getting the cello off the ship.
I settled on a location near the old rescue hut, several groups of penguins and by the water. My program director, Martin, was my Sherpa for the trip and he carried my very heavy travel case over the snow to the location where the concert would take place. It was very cold and the wind was raging! I perched on a rock with penguins behind me and many of my fellow travelers, guides and crew in front of me and I played Saint Saens, The Swan, and the Prelude to Bach's G Major Cello Suite. It seemed that the penguins got quiet as I played... I imagine it must have been a strange experience to hear something like a cello for the first time. I think that it will most likely be the last time as well! I will admit to being incredibly uncomfortable from the wind and the cold. Although I was wearing fingerless wool gloves, I couldn't feel my fingers or hands the whole time and it was a very strange sensation to play the metal strings on a cello in such an extreme temperature. We tried to record the performance but the only thing that could be heard in the video was wind! I guess I would have to try again.
The next adventure of the day was a zodiac tour of Cierva Cove. This was spectacular!!! We were able to see vibrant covered lichen on the face of the rock cliffs, leopard seals on icebergs, chinstrap penguins on the land and ice, a Weddell seal, penguins porpoising in the water and the most incredible icebergs! I thought that this was paradise but... That would be tomorrow! Paradise Bay!
Before bed and during the sunset, we were treated to a spectacular show by a group of humpback whales. This place is unlike any I've ever seen!
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Waking up in Paradise Bay... I had to pinch myself! This scenery and the scenery of this entire trip really is the definition of "awesome"... I have yet to find the unique word that actually does it justice.
The water in Paradise Bay was so calm that the reflection was a mirror image of the scenery around it. After gazing dreamily out my patio door for a while, it was time for a zodiac ride in Paradise! We cruised through brash ice near the glacier as well as visited the nesting site for Cape Petrels, Antarctic Cormorants and Antarctic Terns.
Our landing here was at the former Argentinian Brown Station. There were many Gentoo penguins nesting around the ruins of the Station. We spent our time here climbing up the first tier of the mountain. It was a beautiful view after the somewhat vigorous climb!
(A view from the top and the climb!)
Our last landing of the day would be at Port Lockroy- the most visited tourist attraction in Antarctica. Port Lockroy was named after the French politician, Edouard Lockroy, who helped the explorer Charcot to get funding for his expedition. This place houses a small museum and gift shop! Imagine... A gift shop in Antarctica!
There was also a huge number of nesting penguins. Because the penguins were so close to the building, we were allowed to be closer to them then in all of our other landings. They live with a little less fear here because of the number of tourists visiting. Their natural predator, the skua, is scared off.
I was able to dry off and warm up for my on board recital in the evening. One of my wishes for this trip was to have the incredible opportunity to play the cello in Antarctica. This was only possible because of the generosity and efforts of many people... My program director, Martin, and the captain and crew and expedition team with leader, Claudia. These people are some of the most wonderful, committed, dedicated and genuine people I've ever met. They are purely motivated and driven by their desire to provide the most natural and unspoiled experience of this magnificent and magical place! They made my playing on the continent possible so when they asked me to perform on the ship for all of the crew and the passengers, I couldn't say no. It was a very small thank you to all of them and to the passengers for dealing with my practicing on board, Thankfully, and kind of unbelievably, in my group of 19, there was a pianist! Robert Chauls also agreed to play and accompany me. We did a concert of Bach, Beethoven, Elgar and Saint Saens. It was another first for me, performing on a ship moving quite a lot from side to side! I would say that we had a good time. It was an exhausting day... Amazingly exhausting!
Friday, January 15, 2016
I couldn't believe that it was our last day exploring today. I was sad at the thought of leaving so soon. But, today would be my favorite day...
This morning we made our landing at Neko Harbor. The shore had huge numbers of Gentoo penguins in the water and on the land. The best examples of "penguin highways" were found here! Seeing the penguins awkwardly hike up and down the mountain was so entertaining. Unfortunately, I relate all too well with the waddling of the penguins!
The expedition crew marked a path for us to hike up to the most spectacular lookout point of the trip. These are the images that will remain with me forever... We were allowed to sit there and just take everything in. The weather was idyllic! In fact, I was so warm hiking up that I had to strip down to just my t-shirt! Ironically, I was wearing my Trio Nova Mundi Africa tour shirt... It felt like the girls were with me there. I spent as much time as I possibly could breathing the incredibly fresh air, and at times, sitting in silence just listening... the popping within the glacier, the calving, a small avalanche in the distance, the penguins, the skuas, the incredibly light breeze, the lack of other sounds associated with civilization. I thought about the remoteness of this place and the fact that only 300,000 people have ever been here and how fortunate I am to have had the privilege and honor- a life changing experience. I slowly made my way down with the leaders who were taking down the poles that guided our path. When I arrived again at the bottom, I was able to enjoy some more time with the penguins. I could have appreciated and enjoyed watching them for days on end.
But, we had to board the zodiacs and head back to the ship for our last landing of the trip- Cuverville.
In Cuverville, I again enjoyed the penguins and got to experience more typical Antarctic weather. I was fortunate to see a different type of penguin here! There was an Adelie all by himself... clearly rejected by all of the Gentoos. It was sad to see him alone, but... someone has to be the explorer, the adventurer, the revolutionary...
The expedition team encouraged me to play one more time while here and I brought the cello just in case. Many of the passengers and crew had asked me for a repeat performance but I felt as though I owed the expedition leaders, guides and my parents the final Antarctic performance. After almost everyone had headed back to the ship, I pulled out the cello, found a rock, and one more time played for the penguins. It was snowing lightly and the sky was darker... More typical weather, apparently. It was cold but not quite as windy as the first time. Maybe I just didn't care as much as this was just more icing for me. I played to the ocean and to the penguins and for the people who made this possible for me! We recorded it and it is the video that you can find on YouTube. It was certainly the most authentically beautiful and remote concert hall I'll ever play in. Hopefully it's the coldest performance I'll ever have to experience... It is difficult to play well with frozen fingers!
What better and more inspiring place to make music than in the most magical and mystical location on earth where before your eyes nature performs its wonders.
Saturday, January 16 and 17
We headed back into a rough Drake, although not as rough as the previous crossing... we enjoyed more lectures on history and wildlife and relived our experiences from the past few days. I have a feeling that I'll be reliving them forever! If you have a chance to go... Do it!
It's difficult to put into words what you are a part of... A sight that is ever changing! Never before as it is in this very moment and never the same again! It is a magnificent performance... It is an inspiration!
Saturday morning Becky got up early and spent a bit of time practicing on the keyboard before we needed to return it to Dulce. Maureen's dad made us a beautiful breakfast and then we headed to Dulce's. After dropping off the keyboard we took a little driving tour of San Miguel on the way back to the house. What a spectacular city! Definitely a highlight of the trip.
After practicing a bit at the house and getting our showers, we went to a place in town for lunch before our rehearsal with the orchestra. Sadly we were running a bit late so by the time our food arrived we had to leave in order to not be late for rehearsal. We were not late to rehearsal, however, apparently this would be the one time that something started early? As we walked in, the orchestra was half way through the first piece. We made our way in and got to work! Maureen's parents were kind enough to bring our food down to the hall which we ate later during our break.
The rehearsal ran right up to the time of the concert so we ran off the stage and dove into our gowns in the dressing room. I don't think we've ever gotten dressed for a concert so fast in our entire lives--about 3 minutes later we were walking onto the stage!
Needless to say, having only had one short rehearsal during which we didn't even cover all the repertoire for the concert, our adrenaline was a bit high. However the concert went off fine without any major disasters--and even some really lovely moments. At the end the trio played the first movement of Cafe Music for which we got a standing ovation and then the audience starting chanting for another encore so we ended up playing Oblivion as well.
While some of the orchestra members left right away and we didn't get to talk to them, others were incredibly enthusiastic and were excited about the prospect of us returning for a future collaboration.
Maureen had friends in the audience as well and it was fun for all of us to meet them.
We finished out the evening at the local spot in San Miguel where people line up out the door for the churros and hot chocolate. It started sprinkling as we were waiting in line and by the time we finished in the restaurant it was full on pouring and there was a rushing river flowing down the street about 4 inches deep. We waited by the door for about 30 minutes thinking it would let up so we could get to our car without soaking our feet. But....no. Finally Maureen's dad braved the river and brought the car up to the curb for us so we could easily crawl in (the 3 amigas in the back seat under the cello!).
It's our official last night of the trio tour as Becky flies back to Pittsburgh tomorrow. Maureen has other performances here in Mexico in the upcoming week and Elisa is staying on with her to enjoy the country for a few more days and do a bit of sightseeing.
What a fun trip--looking forward to being in Mexico again soon!!!!
Our hotel in Celaya was.... interesting. It was the most modern of all the hotels we stayed in, but in the evening there was a band down in the bar that played until 2am and then the floor above us was undergoing construction so starting at 7am the workmen were shouting loudly at each other and hammering and drilling directly above all of our rooms.
The town of Celaya was fantastic though! Friday morning was really the only free time we had all week since our travel time to Salvatierra was only going to be an hour and 15 minutes according to our driver (aka 30 minutes). So we took a few hours to wander around Celaya, did a bit of window shopping, picked up some cajeta (a special candy that is made locally), and got some of the famous fruit popsicles.
We left around 1pm and as we were getting out of the van in Salvatierra after our short drive, there was a car going by with huge speakers on the roof and the driver was announcing our trio concert up and down the streets of the town over the megaphone!
Our concert was in the Templo San Antonio and when we started playing in there we realized that the acoustic was so incredibly live (somewhere around a 10 second reverb) that we would never be able to pull off Cafe Music in that space. We tried a bit of it and it mostly sounded like wading through a swamp. We decided to do a solo trio version of the Tchaikovsky that we were scheduled to perform with orchestra on Saturday night. Ironically when the organizers showed up, it turned out to be the only concert of the whole week where there was a printed program! We just announced the changes, though, so it was all good. And it was nice to have a runthrough of the Tchaik before the orchestra concert.
Exactly next door to the Templo San Antonio was another church that was in the midst of a week-long festival. There was a lot of bell-ringing as well as fireworks being set off throughout the evening so we had a little background soundtrack to the concert. :-). In addition, right in the middle of the performance the sky opened up and just absolutely dumped rain in torrents. The back doors to the church were wide open so we could see it all going on as we were playing. Kind of surreal!
The audience was very receptive and loved everything--gave us a standing ovation at the end. And of course with the acoustics in the church their applause sounded deafening. (We were able to cope with that just fine!)
After the concert was over, the organizers, after much deliberating and strategizing, were able to figure out how to fit us and our things into their truck to take us back to the hotel. We were only about 2 or 3 blocks away but that was to the garage entrance of the hotel (locked) and the street at the front of the hotel was all completely torn up in construction. It was still possible to walk down the street, but we figured with the pouring rain it would turn into a giant mudfest. Our ride let Becky out as close as possible and she dashed down the muddy street and asked reception to open the garage door and the others pulled around to the back. So... In short, it took 40 minutes for us to go 2 blocks!
After dinner we decided to go ahead and leave to drive back to San Miguel de Allende rather than stay the night in Salvatierra. We loaded up and made the hour and a half trek back to Maureen's house, arriving around 12:30. We had to say goodbye to Luis Alberto and have been missing him ever since, but it was lovely to settle down and feel at home after the hotels all week.
Thursday morning we headed to Celaya. We were more subdued because Elisa didn't feel great and Becky found out that her kids were sick back at home. However, we had an easy drive and arrived in Celaya around 1pm. We didn't have a lot of time as our concert was scheduled for 5pm, so we ate quickly (Elisa got a chance to rest) and then had a bit of time to practice before the concert.
The performance was in a beautiful little hall in the Casa de Cultura. There was a 6' Bechstein for Becky (yay!!!!) and we were also inside for the first time on the tour so we were all thrilled that we wouldn't have to contend with the breeze blowing our pages around (we had some exciting adventures of that nature earlier in the week!)
The hall was packed and we played our hearts out--it was so great to be able to hear each other well and play with acoustic sound. It was also a million degrees in the hall so we were all dripping sweat. Perhaps that contributed to the intensity.
After the concert we got to meet some of the audience members and chat with the director. Then we were taken on a tour of the music conservatory which is only a few blocks from the Casa de Cultura. The students there are putting on an opera in a few weeks so we got to peek in on a rehearsal. The composer is Celayan and the story is based on the history of the city.
The conservatory also has some great performance spaces where we hope to be able to perform on a future tour. It was not possible this time due to the opera.
Wednesday: chilaquiles for breakfast in San Felipe. We stopped along our drive in Dolores Hidalgo to get a sample of what is touted as the best ice cream in Mexico. They serve really interesting flavors such as avocado and mole. They urged us to sample practically every flavor they make before we finally let them know which we wanted to actually get! We wandered around with our treat for a few minutes and also checked out the beautiful cathedral there before returning to the van.
Then back through San Miguel again (we've passed through there every single day--we are starting to really recognize all the landmarks!) and on to San Jose Iturbide. We went first to the cultural center--a beautiful new building on the outskirts of the city. The organizers there received us with a lot of enthusiasm and even took a short video of us inviting people to the concert so that they could post it on Facebook. They also apparently went through the whole neighborhood as well, knocking on doors and handing out the flyer advertising the event. And when we arrived to the place of the concert there was also a huge full color poster/banner with our picture on it.
They set up the stage directly in front of the small church. We originally were supposed to play in the chapel but apparently the priest changed his mind at the last minute so the stage was just outside the door in a small plaza.
We had some really technically savvy people handling our sound and that meant it was the easiest of all our outdoor venues in terms of hearing each other well and being able to create lovely musical moments.
The audience was absolutely amazing at this concert--they ran us clean out of encores and we had to stop before they were ready! Afterwards they all wanted to come up and take pictures with us and one woman confided that she was crying through a lot of the performance because it reminded her of her mother. We hung out much longer after this concert than the others so far because the people were just so warm and friendly and all wanted to come talk to us.
Tuesday morning we packed our things and made our fourth and final trek across the gravel mountain road, all the way back through San Miguel de Allende and on to San Felipe, about an hour and a half in the other direction for a total of about 5 hrs of travel (apparently each day we will have a shorter drive with our last day being a mere 30 minutes).
We arrived in San Felipe around 2pm, checked in at the Casa de Cultura, made sure everything was squared away for the evening concert and went to check in to our hotel.
We went to an amazing place for lunch and had some incredibly delicious food including beautiful soups, mole, and more. The salsa here is so yummy!
After lunch we completed a speedy shopping mission as Becky had lost her sweater on the airplane on the way here. New sweater in hand we returned to the hotel. Our rooms are very cozy but comfy and open up to a light and airy terra cotta tiled courtyard. We spent the afternoon practicing in our respective rooms and I'm sure the sounds in the courtyard were akin to any music school practice room hallway.
Our evening concert in San Felipe went very well. The cultural center blocked off a section of the street and built a stage in the town square for us, complete with "Trio Nova Mundi" plastered across the backdrop. There were some chairs set up in front of the stage but a lot of people also just gathered around in and among the formal gardens in the square, sitting where they could on the brick borders of the flower beds or wherever. Hard to guess the exact turnout, but it felt like there was a good crowd.
After the concert we went back to the same restaurant where we ate lunch--this time for enchiladas, which were of course out of this world. Then Becky cashed in and headed for bed while Maureen and Elisa stayed up awhile longer with Noemi, the concert organizer, and got a little taste of Mezcal, a liquor that is made in this region.
Our M-F concerts here are being programmed by the Instituto Estatal de Cultura y las Artes and we have a driver who will be with us all week , transporting us and helping with concert setup, etc. Monday morning we met our driver, Luis Alberto, and picked up the weighted keyboard from Maureen's friend, which we needed because at least one or two of the concerts we are slated to give are in towns without a piano. Once we were all loaded up we headed out from San Miguel de Allende towards Atarjea, the most rural of our destinations up in the Sierra Madre.
The evening concert was to be in La Tapona, a smaller pueblo that was actually along the road to Atarjea. We drove all the way to Atarjea first, about an hour past La Tapona on an extremely bumpy and windy gravel road (free massage, anyone?). After we checked in there, secured our accommodations for the night and had lunch, we returned to La Tapona for the concert.
Since it is a small pueblo there is no piano so we set up (using the keyboard) in a covered public space that also doubles as a basketball court. The backdrop for our improvised stage was a spectacular view of the mountains.
The townspeople flocked out en masse--it very well may have been the whole entire town. Certainly over 100 people. And although the setting was such that people could have come and gone without much notice, everyone really stayed and listened to the whole concert and seemed to enjoy it very much!
Our presenters try to include at least one or two community engagement concerts such as this for each tour they set up, so that rural communities have a chance to experience cultural events often only available in bigger cities. All three of us really enjoy sharing music in this way as well.
After the concert we had a bite to eat and then drove back along our favorite stretch of road to Atarjea for the night.
The pueblo of Atarjea sits in a tight valley, such that when we stepped out the door of our hotel, the mountains jutted up steeply on both sides. Really picturesque and wonderful!
We're in Mexico! Uneventful travel day--fun to see the colorful buildings of Mexico City for the two of us who haven't been here before. So far we haven't had any issues regarding traveling with the cello, which is always a relief. We are in Queretaro waiting for our last bus to San Miguel de Allende. Looking forward to arriving!
Friday morning we visited two schools in Bulawayo. The first was an all-girls' school right in the city. The 900+ girls filed into the assembly hall filling just about every inch of the place. Although the hall had a spacious stage, the piano was down on the floor in the corner and hardly visible from anyplace on the stage. We couldn't pull it closer as the girls were crowded within a couple of feet of the stage. We didn't have music stands either so Elisa propped her music on another chair and Maureen stood and used the podium. The piano music rack was also broken so Becky had to use a camera case and various other items from her bag to prop it up. The ivories had all been removed from the keys so there were beads of dried glue all over each key and someone had written the note names on them with bright-colored markers. Good thing! Becky could finally identify all of the notes. ;-) In addition the pedal did not work. However, despite these issues, the kids were super-enthusiastic to hear us play. We did a few pieces and then talked to them about the instruments and did some Q&A--we got some really good questions! The thing that amazed them the most was when Maureen unscrewed her bow and waved around the horse hair for them. That literally made them gasp!
At the end of our presentation we were honored to have the school choir perform for us. They were great and sang with such spirit!
Next we visited a rural school just outside the city limits. At this school all the classrooms opened up onto a platform that ran the perimeter of a central concrete courtyard. All the students filed into the courtyard and were standing during our performance. We were in the shade but the students were in full sun and it was HOT that day so we did a shorter program. Because there was no piano--or music stands--Becky was employed to be a music stand for Maureen. Elisa was using a chair again, however there was a breeze and her music wouldn't stay put, so during one piece Becky had to hold Maureen's music standing on one foot, holding Elisa's page down with the other foot!
Meanwhile Helen, who had been driving us around from place to place, got some great video footage of the performance and of the kids' reactions.
Afterwards we went to get some lunch and by chance ran into some friends of Helen's. They were excited to hear about our tour and outreach projects and they proceeded to buy us all lunch! We've met so many generous people on this trip!
After lunch we headed back to the Music Academy to do masterclasses. Along the way we passed by the first school where we had played in the morning. The girls were all being dismissed right at the moment that we were stopped at the stoplight in front of the school. A bunch of them recognized us in the car and were excitedly waving and getting their friends to look and wave to us too. It was so cute! We felt like celebrities. :-)
In the afternoon Becky worked with a talented pianist named Khulakhani and Elisa coached a young cellist named Emma that Becky had in fact met the previous year when she was in Bulawayo.
Emma and her mother, Chris, were such a joy to work with and Emma is a very talented little cellist. Elisa has already received a drawing of a cellist with a thank you note!
Apparently they couldn't round up any violinists for Maureen that particular afternoon so she got to have some down time, after which we spent a bit of time rehearsing.
In the evening we were able to go see the orphanage that Helen's mom has been involved with for many years. As there is no piano there, we did not take the instruments but we did have the chance to meet the kids and talk to them briefly. We also got a special performance from the choir that Helen and most of her family sing in--they are fantastic!
After that we had arranged to have some down time at the Academy. They were simultaneously showing a filmed opera production on a big screen in the concert hall, which apparently they do on a weekly basis--the ticket price includes a catered dinner at intermission. Although we did not watch the opera with them, we did join them during their intermission and got to visit a bit more with Michael Bullivant and his wife. We had brought our own delicious food from Helen's, but there were some extra chocolate eclairs at the end that we got to take advantage of, and Elisa and Maureen also enjoyed the wine they were serving with dinner.
Next morning Michael came and fetched us very early from the Halls to take us down to our bus to Harare. We had an interesting time cramming ourselves into his tiny car. The trunk and front passenger seat were loaded to the hilt with all the luggage and then the three of us sardined in the back row with the violin and cello across our laps. If we extended our necks we could sort of see out the front window. Luckily that was about a 10 minute drive, no more.
Our bus trip to Harare was accompanied by a soundtrack of 80's hits at full blast. Let's just say that there was an occasional breakout into song. So we got to be really nostalgic...for six hours straight. Along with the provided music, we were served beverages and the equivalent of KFC.
We were picked up from the bus by Roger Williams, our host during our Harare stay. At the house we met his wife Nona and they fed us a beautiful lunch and helped us get settled into the guest cottage.
In the evening Roger and Nona had tickets to a concert so Stan, one of the board members of the Celebs Series we are playing for, collected us and took us to a theatre production in town (The Woman in Black) and then to dinner. We had a fun evening except for the fact that so many people smoke everywhere here--even inside. So we were choking a bit and trying to catch breaths of fresh air whenever possible. Aside from that we really did have a splendid evening. The show was fun--afterwards we got to meet one of the two actors--and we had a great time at dinner.
On Sunday Nona put out breakfast and then took Becky over to the hall so she could settle in on the piano. Elisa and Maureen practiced at the house (where "practice" is loosely interpreted as "reading" and "napping") and then came for rehearsal/sound check at noon.
On the way over to the hall Elisa pulled a muscle in her back so after a painful hour of rehearsing, Mike Peto arranged for her to go and see someone to sort it out, hopefully before show time. With a lot of shuttling back and forth between the physiotherapist, Roger and Nona's house, and the hall, we managed to all get fed and dressed and ready for the concert. We arrived at the hall about an hour early and on exiting the car, the front strap on Becky's concert shoe fell apart. We considered various options such as duct tape (Elisa carries a roll in her backpack -- a very pretty pink and black camo pattern...). Then Maureen remembered that she brought an extra pair of concert shoes on the trip. Nona was still at the house so Roger called her and she was able to go into the cottage and root around in Maureen's suitcase to find the shoes and bring them over. Thankfully they ended up fitting Becky like a charm.
The hall is an amphitheater design and apparently the acoustics from the stage are not great so they have a raised wooden platform for the piano that is on the floor in front of the stage. There is a large open area there and the whole effect of it is quite striking with the mini-stage and the seats rising up from it. Because the mini stage is further out into the amphitheater, it feels more "in the round," in the sense that the seats on the far edges on either side are in fact behind the stage. We didn't have a big enough crowd to worry about that, but we did have a very enthusiastic audience.
The concert was well received--I think people were especially appreciative because, due to problems with immigration and work permits, they've been unable to bring in any artists for their series for an entire year. They went from having 10-11 concerts per year to having zero since last October! At any rate, everyone seemed keen on having us back, so that is promising.
We were completely shocked to discover after the concert that Amy Macy now lives in Harare!! She is a cellist that used to live near Pittsburgh, and played in multiple ensembles with Elisa! Now her husband works for the US Embassy and that's what brought them to Harare. She invited us to breakfast the following day and we took her up on it since it would be Monday and our hosts head to work early.
Sunday night we went back to Roger and Nona's and hung out and talked at their place until late into the night. Their son, Matthew, was recounting stories about close encounters he had with elephants, lions, and rhinos during the time he was a field guide. That guy can really spin a good tale--however with material like that, being a good storyteller wouldn't even be necessary to keep someone on the edge of their seat. It definitely put musician's stage fright into some decent prospective--if you miss a note, you won't suddenly get trampled to death, or, you know, get eaten by a lion.
At any rate, Matthew has decided to make a career change and will be heading to chef's school soon--perhaps so he can ensure who's eating who. :-)
Monday morning Becky took an early morning walk with Nona and then she and Elisa went to Amy's house to have breakfast. Maureen opted to get some extra sleep, as well as take care with her stomach, which has been a bit off for a couple of days.
Amy and her daughter made us French toast and smoothies with some of the fruit coming from their own garden. For Elisa's toast they used the gluten free bread that we've been toting around with us since Helen made it for us in Bulawayo (Helen's amazing food pyrotechnics will not soon be forgotten!)
We learned at Amy's that the US embassy really takes care of their people over there. They live in a not extravagant, but beautiful home with an expansive garden. But more importantly they have a generator that kicks on automatically when the power goes off (which, it turns out, is nearly a daily occurrence--and for lengthy periods of time). They also have a large water tank hooked up to a well--or a "bore hole" as they call it here. Roger and Nona have a similar setup; they were telling us that while they are apparently plumbed for city water, they haven't gotten a drop of water from the city for seven years. Which leaves you to wonder about the folks who aren't fortunate enough to have a bore hole. In addition to that concern, Amy told us that recently the water tables have shifted and dropped considerably so there are many people who have been relying on a bore hole and suddenly it dries up and they can't necessarily find water by simply digging deeper. For people in the city with postage-stamp-sized property and no real options for a different location to drill, it creates a real crisis. Those are some of the issues that US Aid is addressing in this and other parts of Africa (we mentioned Gary in an earlier blog post, a man we met who had worked drilling bore holes in northern Mozambique.)
After breakfast at Amy's we went back to our cottage, collected our things, and Matthew took us to the airport so we could catch our flight back to Joburg.
We haven't really had any issues from flight crew or other passengers related to taking the cello on the plane....until this flight. Elisa's exchange with the friendly gentleman who was seated in front of the cello's seat went something like this.
E (very politely): Sir, it looks like if you put your seat back during the flight, it's going to crush the cello case and damage my instrument. Will it be a problem to keep your seat upright?
[interjection: this flight is barely over one hour, so between take off and landing, the period of time when one could potentially put their seat back is perhaps 20-30 minutes....]
Man: yes, that is going to be a big problem--I intend to put my seat back.
E: I understand, sir--I'd be happy to switch seats with you so that you can be more comfortable.
Man: Absolutely not!! Why don't you put it underneath with the checked luggage? I can't believe they allow you to buy a ticket for that thing!
E: Well, sir, I don't check it because this instrument is valuable and it's like my child.
Man: That is ridiculous! This is unbelievable! How much can it be worth?! It needs to be checked.
E: This is worth as much as my house.
Man: As much as your house? You must live in a shack!
We thought we had seen and heard it all by now, but no--the guy then turns around in his seat, leans over the back and starts to manhandle the cello into some other position--at this point Elisa finally raises her voice and tells the guy to get his hands off the cello. (Maureen later admitted she was worried that Elisa would hit the man because she would have at that point.)
The flight attendant was not present during this whole thing so when she came back she suggested that we wait to see if the flight was full because maybe we could put it in an empty seat elsewhere on the plane. In the meantime the people in the row behind us said they'd be happy to switch if necessary, and that's what happened when we saw that there wouldn't be any empty seats. Thankfully there are often nice people around to offset the jerks.
Our flight was delayed and then we had to wait forever at immigration, so that when we finally came out and met our driver, it was perfect timing to hit Joburg rush hour. We believed our performance at the Oprah Leadership Academy for Girls to be at 6pm and we arrived at the gate of the school at 5:30! Thankfully we then discovered that the performance was at 6:30, which bought us some precious time. We quickly unloaded our luggage into our guest rooms, got dressed for the concert, and went over to the hall to warm up for a few minutes.
Maureen hadn't been feeling great all day and by the time she got over to the hall she was really light-headed and thought she might pass out. We tried to do a sound check but she needed to lie down so we all went back in the green room. Maureen laid down on the the table in there, just absolutely miserable. It was already time for the concert to start so we were just about to call it off and go announce to the girls that it was cancelled. Then Maureen sits up and says, "let's just do it" and walks out and proceeds to play the full concert!
It was great to see Charmaine (our host north of Joburg from when we arrived three weeks ago), as well as her friend Sandy. They made the trek all the way down from Sunninghill, which was over an hour through the worst of Joburg traffic, just to hear us play again. It would have been nice to have more time to spend with them!
Afterwards the head of school, Anne van Zyl, invited us to dinner at her residence, along with Rudi Olivier, the head of the music program. We learned a lot about how they are incorporating music into the curriculum here--it's a very vibrant program with a large percentage of students taking part.
The next morning we were able to spend some time working with the girls--Elisa and Maureen coached the string ensemble and Becky worked individually with a piano student.
After a quick excursion into Joburg for lunch with Rudi, we packed up and headed to the airport.
We're in Atlanta now--just one more short flight and we are home! Once again, a huge thank you to all the many people who helped to bring this project to fruition. We couldn't have done it without you!
Tuesday morning we woke up to the scents of beautiful food wafting up through our hut. Helen really outdid herself and we came down to a veritable feast.
Seeing Victoria Falls was on the morning agenda and because it was a scorching hot day, the mist felt wonderful raining down on us along the path. There is less water this time of year than, say, December through April, but it was spectacular and we took lots of pictures.
When returned to the hut we found that there had been some uninvited guests--they had raided the kitchen and stolen both the gluten free oats and the regular oats (apparently there is a problem with gluten intolerance in the animal community) leaving a trail of them dumped along the counter, across the sink and out the window. With a bit of detective work we sorted out that when the maids had come to do the room service they had left the window open to Maureen's room. The baboons came in through the window, apparently jumped all over her bed, tossing the pillows all over the place (ok, everybody now...."No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!!!!"), then they had gone down and done their damage in the kitchen. Thankfully, the instruments had been locked safely in the closet during the festivities. Maureen and Elisa- 1, baboons- 0!
After lunch at the hut and arranging for new bedding for Maureen's room, we wandered over to the nearby Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in search of wifi. All the decks of the lodge overlook a large watering hole and just in the short time that we were there checking our email and such, a whole monstrous herd of Cape buffalo strolled down for a drink!
Helen had been able to get us a huge discount on the Zambezi River dinner cruise, so in the late afternoon we were picked up by a shuttle bus and taken to the boat.
We saw little wildlife on the cruise besides some very funny and animated hippos. However the sunset was gorgeous, as African sunsets typically are, and we enjoyed our dinner a lot.
Wednesday morning we packed up and headed to Bulawayo. We dropped by the fancy Victoria Falls hotel in town as they have a piano there and we wanted to make contact for a possible performance there on a future trip. The views from their extensive gardens were unparalleled. The bridge across the Zambezi--framed by the walls of the canyon--was dead center, with the mist of the Falls rising ominously behind it and to the left as far as you could see.
Helen insisted that we do breakfast at Gorge's Lodge, about 30 minutes out of town along our route to Bulawayo. We were amazed that anyone would know this place existed, as we had to drive about 12km off the main road on a washboard dirt road past a multitude of traditional rural residences--tiny round huts with thatched roofs. When we arrived, we discovered a real gem. It's a lush little oasis in the bush and is perched along the rim of the Zambezi gorge. And when I say perched on the edge, I mean that quite a few of the decks are built out over the ledge of the gorge. The guest rooms are beautiful little cottages, each with their own private deck overlooking the gorge. We had a wonderful breakfast there and then hit the road again. Later on we stopped for a bathroom break at the Hwange Safari Lodge and checked out their onsite watering hole, but it was early afternoon and a very hot day so there were no animals.
We arrived in Bulawayo around 5pm and went straight to the Zim Academy of Music so we could see the venue and sort out our schedule for the next few days. The Robert Sibson Concert Hall is a great performance space with a Steinway D on the stage, a spacious green room, and friendly acoustics.
We hadn't eaten since our breakfast on the gorge, so we decided to go to Helen's house for dinner and just stay and practice there in the evening. Helen has put us up in her three guest rooms which open up directly onto the central courtyard and each have a private bath. We are getting spoiled here--at mealtime we walk up to the dining room and there's a whole feast laid out of beautiful food. Helen has gotten the gluten free thing totally figured out and we are concerned that Elisa may bail on the tour and just stay here forever.
Thursday we practiced at the hall, did some souvenir shopping, and then Helen had someone come to give us free Indian head massages (which involved shoulders, neck and head)-the gal is apparently doing training for this and needs to have a certain number of hours in order to get her certificate. It felt great and was nice and relaxing before our concert.
We went to the hall early because there was an agency from the city that asked to do some filming of us. They are creating a promotional film to promote Bulawayo as a cultural center; in other words, highlighting the different types of cultural offerings throughout the city.
When we arrived at the hall we found out that the promised work permits (unrelated to the filming, but relevant to our concert itself) had never arrived from the government. Technically this meant that if the government officials were to show up we would be abruptly shut down. We talked for some time about the various options and eventually they decided to shut the main gates to the parking lot after the concert started and have a guard there. This way if the officials did come, it would give us a few minutes--while they were unlocking the gate--to clear the stage, etc. (Seeing the three of us are big fans of The Sound of Music, we had visions of escaping the officials through the gated hallway off the green room.) We were not that concerned about this actually happening but had a good time imagining the story, and indeed the concert went off without a hitch. The hall was not that full (I believe it seats 375, and we had a crowd of maybe 100) but you wouldn't have guessed it from the thunderous applause they were able to generate--they loved the program!
After the concert we were invited to dinner at the home of our host at the academy, Michael Bullivant, and his wife Lindsay. Our concert ended at nearly 10pm and with talking to people afterwards, etc, we didn't arrive to dinner until 11:15! Michael and Lindsay had a wonderful spread and we met some really interesting people, as well as perused Michael's 7000+ CD collection. We had lively and animated conversations about music, politics, food and life!