Monday, August 23, 2010
Viva el Peru!!!! Oh Franny how I have thought of you!!!! (inside joke) At this point I'm tired but kind of energized at the same time. 4 days in Lima should give me enough time to get to know the city in the midst of the busy busy busy schedule.
Soooo my group (the first group) arrived at the hotel at noon...and they were waiting for us with pisco sours!!!! Already a good sign...it was delicious...and the musicians particularly enjoyed them. They NEVER say no to alcohol (sorry guys...you know its true).
The hotel, which was in a residencial part of the Miraflores neighborhood, was nice...but the rooms were freeeezing. Reminded me of Chile...where it's not so cold outside in the winter, but you feel it more because the houses aren't heated. Aqui era lo mismo...con estufita no mas...BRRRR. The first day I almost stayed in and slept, but my friends convinced me to stop being a lame and go with them on the ¨city lights tour¨. So we got on those city tour buses with the rooftop and lady talking on the mic...so much fun!!! We went all over the city, stopped at this GORGEOUS park full of fountains, laser shows and water sculptures...never seen anything like it. Everyone was cracking jokes on the bus, in spite of the fact that we were all freeeezing on that rooftop. I took a MILLION pictures.
The only bad part about the tour was the tour guide...she kept talking crap about Chile and la Guerra del Pacifico at any moment she could! ¨this is the famous plaza where Chileans MASSACRED our people¨...¨this is the statue that commemorates the heroes that DEFEATED THE MURDEROUS CHILEANS¨ until finally someone said ¨come on lady this bus is full of Chileans, cortala!!!¨ We just laughed at her. So extra.
The next day everyone went on this tour of nearby ruins and to a horse show...except for me. I skipped it, and I'm so glad I did. I mean, no offense, but after being in Cuzco I don't think I was missing much...I just needed some alone time and wanted to sleep in. When everyone came back that night I was nice and refreshed. A group of us took a cab that took foreeever (traffic in Lima is horrible) to the city center. We walked around Plaza San Martin and surrounding areas...it is so gorgeous, you feel like you are in Prague or something. BEAUTIFUL. Then we had a bottle of wine that was Peruvian and all my friends kept saying hmmmm this PERUVIAN wine is great, isn't it Stella??? Until I finally said ¨sure its alright, for not being Chilean¨ The owners closed up shop shortly thereafter and told us it was TIME TO GO!!!! LOL...hmmm...I womder if they overheard me. Closing at 8 pm though????
Poverty in Lima was what I expected...I saw it especially closer to the school of engineering. I'm sure it is much worse than what I saw. Also, a trend that seems to be repeating itself across the continent is Black folks having the worst jobs. I didn't see that many Black people in Lima, but the ones I did see were cleaning my hotel. My dad said that when he went to Lima they were like ghosts...lived marginalized in their own neighborhoods, looked terrible. The fact that I didn't even see them much says a lot.
The following day we had a mini concert at the Lima Conservatory...it was kind of like a sit-in rehearsal for the students to learn from. It was really nice. We had lunch...which was amaaazing. Oh My God. The food in Lima was so gooood....REAL ceviche (sorry Ecuador, but your ceviche has NOTHING on the Peruvian version), lomo saltado, papas a la huancaina, suspiro limeño....YUM....True Life!!!!
That night we had a concert at the Escuela de Ingenieria (school of engineering). So random...I'm still not sure why the presenters picked that as a performance venue. Nobody came....it was practically empty. And tickets were cheap too! Stupid engineers :-( It made me especially sad because the orchestra played El Condor Pasa as an encore for the first time. It was really beautiful. There was this one guy though who was so into the concert he made it worth while. For the Mahler symphony he fake-conducted with his hands the whole time...it was clear he new the piece from a to z. And when they finished he stood up and SCREAMED bravo!!!! It was hilarious.
The last day we had the morning off, so me, Ana, Emma, Monika and Siri walked around, bought souveniers and ate Burger King. I know it sounds terrible, but it was so necessary. Then, ANOTHER concert...this time at an elementary school. This venue was packed, but TERRIBLY equipped. We had to bring space heaters from our hotel and put them on stage because it was freezing and there was a risk of having the instruments break. I ran around Lima trying to find extension chords but everything was closed! I finally found this tiny boliche that had them, thank goodness.
At this point, after the concert, my stomach was tensing up and I started getting goosebumps...because I knew the next day I would be in Brazil!!!!
On the other hand, I was a little sad too. I was so close to Chile, I could see it and feel it. Listening to cumbia-sound music in every taxi, just like in Chile. The weather...the pacific ocean, the food, the pisco...it all reminded me of Chile and made me wish I could take that 3 hour plane ride to visit my friends and family.
The presenters threw us a really nice good bye party at this fancy schmancy Chifa restaurant in San Isidro. Such good food!!! Chifa by the way is a Peruvian version of Chinese food. Picture your neighborhood takeout with out of this world seasoning and elements of Peruvian food. HEAVEN. Great pisco sours too!!! It was a great way to end our stay in Lima.
Next stop....my adopted homeland...BRASIIIIIL, BRASIIIIIILLLLL.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
What a lovely surprise. This really is a GREAT city...no offense but I didn't expect much from Quito. I thought it would be a dingy small city, typical South American capital. Plus, Bogota didn't really impress me....but wow. Quito is Andean, warm, welcoming, clean, great food, great people.
The trip to Quito started off on a bad note. One of our musicians got sick, so we had to take her to the airport medical center and hang out there for a while. When we got to the hotel we saw that MANY of the musicians were sick...I guess this is when the tour really began to take a toll on people's bodies.
The Hilton Colon was a GORGEOUS hotel. Huge rooms, organized and helpful staff, GREAT food. We all felt a sense of relief because we were at a good hotel, and because we would be staying put in one place for a week...FINALLY!!! Access to luggage!!!! No moving around.
The days in Quito kind of blended in because they were busy....there were some highlights nonetheless...
Casa de la Musica was a place where we spent lots of time. It was the venue for both our concert, and the organization helped us with logistics throughout our entire stay in Quito. Unlike the Colombian organizations that helped us (don't get me wrong, they were great but had SERIOUS infrastructure issues), Casa de la Musica was top-notch. We went there every morning for the entire day. Here musicians engaged in hard-core rehearsal, mostly because they had to learn 2 new pieces: Mahler's 4th symphony and Phillip Glass' concerto for cello. This was invigorating for everyone because musicians were tired of playing the same thing....and frankly we were tired of hearing it! For the Mahler piece we welcomed a guest soloist, soprano Disella Larusdottoir. For the Glass piece we welcomed Phillip Glass himself (pressure much???) and guest soloist on cello, Wendy Sutter. I'll talk about them a little later.
So while the musicians rehearsed, Emma and I did administrative work on Casa de la Musica grounds. It was a bit boring but it was nice to get stuff done.
I should note that at this point lots of folks suffered from altitude sickness. I only felt it a little bit (especially going up the stairs, true life) but we had oxygen tanks because many of the musicians (esp. wind instruments) ran out of air and got dizzy. It was kind of scary. Also, I gave in to the collective sickness and was really under the weather for a while :(
One of the first nights in Quito we went to a chamber concert/cocktail reception at a GORGEOUS monastery in the colonial part of town. WOW what a beautiful place! The Ecuadorian YOA musicians played string concertos by Ecuadorian composers...then some Ecuadorian trombone players teamed with our low brass boys and played everything from Carlos Santana to Caetano Veloso...it was GREAT!
One of the random duties I was assigned in Quito was taking care of Siri Danielson, Wendy Sutter's daughter. What a sweet girl. At first I was weary of taking care of a 10 year-old...I'm not exactly great with kids. But we had a blast...plus I got a chance to see some cool places in Quito. We went to the "Center of the World" (where the equator line is) and took pictures, went to a theme park, a mall, a hand craft fair and a park. I went on a swing and a bunch of weird playground games I had never seen before. I felt like a kid again!!! So much fun. Oh yeah, and we went shoe shopping. That was fun too.
Food in Quito was really good...it was nice to have potatoes instead of rice, big corn, ceviche, etc. No more agua ardiente...thank GOODNESS!!!!
The concerts went well. The audience was a bit cold...probably because they were snobbish. The tickets at this venue were $50 dollars each, which is kind of a lot for a youth orchestra.
I should also mention that in Ecuador the currency that is used is dollars. It made things a lot easier for us. Also, the cost of living in Quito, at least from what I could see, was SUPER low...which made shopping for souvenirs and stuff really easy. But it definitely made me think about sovereignty and I can't help it wonder why the HECK U.S. currency is used in this banana republic.
Quito was diverse but mostly indigenous. The few Black people I saw were picking up trash, cleaning hotel rooms, etc. Not surprising, unfortunately.
Another highlight in Quito was one of the best full-orchestra parties I have been to. One of our Board members is infamous for being old, and throwing crazy parties with bottomless booze for everyone. Of course, everyone got pretty wasted...me included. I mean, when the cocktail that is being served is called "Esperame en el Suelo" what can you expect?! I danced my life away and got home at 3am. Unfortunately I got in trouble the next day because I woke up late. What can I say though...IT WAS WORTH IT!
Quito felt kind of like a mini-residency....musicians got to practice, staff got to do work, and we all got to know the city we were in. There was a decent amount of R and R and we all felt ready to take on the next city....LIMA. More on that next!
Love and miss you all!!!!
Friday, August 6, 2010
Hola!!!!! OK, I know this whole tour chronicle has been a slow process...there was just so much to see that I feel like I need to do it this way. I am in Brazil now and I'm still talking about Colombia. I just wanted to give you guys an exhaustive report.
For the sake of speeding this up, I am going to skip the last portion of my Colombia tour in Bogota because I already talked about Bogota in the beginning. Nothing very interesting happened during the last few days in Colombia. Also, I am going to skip Cali because I was there for like 1.5 days and couldn't take any pictures. All I can say about Cali is the hotel was nice, the concert venue was awful, and the city actually felt dangerous to me, a person who never feels in danger.
Ok--this was my favorite part of Colombia, El Caribe!!!!! Que bello! It reminded me a lot of DR and it felt like I was home...the humid air, palm trees, mucha salsa, the food, el desorden. Everything reminded me of DR.
Cartagena, as I told my parents, to me is a combination of San Pedro de Macoris, DR's feeling, Isla Verde Beach in San Juan, PR and the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo (only nicer). It is poor. When you land at the airport, to the left you see high rises and the colonial neighborhood. To the right you see shanty towns. The airport very literally stands between the two. It is a very polarized city.
The first thing I saw when riding in the taxi was Black people. Lots of Black people. In other Colombian cities you see them but they are a majority. In Cartagena son mayoria, by FAR. They live poorly, lots of dirt roads, etc. But it's, again, that Caribbean poverty that is a little different...miserable and precarious but colorful and somewhat optimistic. The women look well put-together, especially in the hair department....good prospects for El Mundo del Cabello/Antillean Beauty!
Hotel Caribe was GORGEOUS!!!! Very Old-School Caribe (Trujillo and Batista days, unfortunately). The hotel staff was much friendlier than in other cities (no more Natalies to torment me). Emma and I ran some errands and got a chance to see the colonial shell, very old world and chic at the same time. We had food and went to sleep because we were EXHAUSTED. The next day was another story...
Day 2 was concert day. Rehearsal was at the hotel, so staff had the morning off. Emma and I went for a walk on the beach....it was kind of disappointing actually. We were happy to see sun after the Macondo rain, but the sand was dirty-looking, which made the water grayish-blue...not Caribbean looking at all. Also, DR style salespeople on the beach were ANNOYING. The same BS: "trenzita, masaje!!!" NO THANKS! No GRACIAS. SUELTAME!!!! I had a talk with one of the ladies and told them how annoying they were, in a good way. I said "if you want tourists to buy from you they have to like you, and they will despise you if you get in their face like that. Let them come to you". She agreed and we talked for a little while, and before I left she asked me if I wanted braids....back to square one. Que estupida.
The afternoon sound check in the Plaza de la Aduana was nice, seeing el famoso Joshua Bell en persona was ok...nothing glamorous, really. But the musicians were really excited to play. Emma and I walked around the barrio colonial and had a beer.
The concert was great, artistically speaking. What was sad was the small audience. It was in an open plaza...free to the public. It was the night before Colombia's 200 year Independence Anniversary. The orchestra played the Colombian national anthem at midnight. And still, the plaza wasn't as packed as it could have been. It was very unfortunate, because this was our most important Colombian concert. Oh well. It still sounded great.
Then the Board threw us a party at this GORGEOUS, outdoor bar/club thing on a hill that overlooked Cartagena. By the end of the night we were swimming in the ocean, drinking agua ardiente, jumping in the hotel pool and having breakfast, soaked, at 7 AM. It was a great time. The next day we were EXHAUSTED and hung over...ate some AMAZING pescado con coco and other goodies, bought souvenirs, and headed for Barranquilla in the evening.
Barranquilla was another story. I told in advance not to get too excited because it was an ugly city. So much so, that our Board members decided not to even come...they flew straight to Bogota and waited for us to get through the "chusma" that was, according to them, Barranquilla (and Cali). It was chusma...but what I appreciated about it was that it wasn't pretentious. Barranquilla is also a Black city (although not as much as Cartagena). Barranquilla is probably 60% and Cartagena 80%....something along those lines. It is dirty and poor.
All about small businesses. Gritty looking. Super tacky. For example, it was pouring rain, and of course the city infrastructure SUCKED. So the streets were overflowing with water, and there were ppl with wooden boards they used as bridges to help cross the street. I thought "oh they are such good samaritans" until I saw them charging people a tip to cross the street.
But I liked the sincerity of that town and it wasn't touristy at all. Very Caribe also. I was sad to leave. We drove back to Cartagena to catch the flight to Cali. As I mentioned, Cali and Bogota were pretty uneventful. Saying good-bye to the FJC (Filarmonica Joven de Colombia) was kind of sad, especially for our YOA musicians. Many of them became friends with the Colombians. For the FJC musicians it was the end of a very successful first-time tour. I have to say I am very proud of them. They sounded a lot better for the last few concerts and I am confident that they will become a great orchestra with some funding and TLC. On the other hand, I'm very much looking forward to traveling with a smaller group and am happy the YOA will get all of the attention now.
Colombia was a great home for a month. Very nice people in some places, uptight and narrow-minded in other places. Infrastructure problems, poverty galore. Lots of social injustice. But instead of taking care of these issues the government chooses to spend money eliminating FARC and indigenous populations and paying off the paramilitaries. You wouldn't think there is a war going on here, but I had a conversation with a Colombian photographer who documents the going ons in affected communities such as Pasto and Chocó. It is really inhumane and outrageous. But it seems that people in Colombia are aware, but indifferent. Maybe all of the violence over the years left them numb.
On the other hand, the diversity of Colombia in terms of its people and culture impressed me. I really hope to visit someday with my family on vacation. I'll be back again for sure.
Now it's time to replace the rice for potatoes, and the accordion for the charango. Quito, here I come!