Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Day 8 Venice

Sunday was a walking tour of Venice with the whole group.  Getting off the bus, Flavio told us not to turn on our Italian iPods.  Ours had been moved while we were deviating from the rest of group.  I didn't see mine and thought Flavio had meant that we didn't need it.  We headed to the square and met our tour guide for the morning, Lucy. As we grouped around her in the Piazza San Marco and everyone adjusted their earpieces, suddenly things became very hard for me and Kip to hear.  Instead of the tour guide speaking up to project over the sound of the pressing crowds, she dropped her voice to speak quietly, directly into her microphone.  We would have appreciated our iPod's then.

Lucy took us inside the Doge's palace and across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison.  I stuck close to her to hear as much of the discussion as possible.  The wealth of these places is amazing!  The walls and ceilings are covered with priceless paintings that are framed (at least in the Doge's Palace) with 24 carat gold.  Because of the location (muddy island), all the Venetian buildings are built on pilings buried in the mud.  A large Venetian building would require an entire forest beneath it just to hold it up.  And almost as much inside to make up the building itself.

That evening was our final concert.  We performed in Treviso, almost an hour away from Venice.  We left early enough to set up, eat, and rehearse before the 9pm concert.  Unfortunately, Italian restaurants don't start serving dinner before 7 and we had to rehearse at 7.  But they will serve drinks and little salty pork sandwiches and caprese.  I can't get enough caprese.

Our concert was in a covered area in the main square of the town.  There were a lot of people out enjoying their Sunday evening who were very curious to see a bunch of American's all dressed in black walking the streets of their little town.  Our rehearsal had a bit of an audience all it's own.

When 9:00 came, the chairs in the covered pavilion were almost all full and people were sitting on the stone half-wall around the outside.  We we ready to go.  We took off with the Rossini, Theiving Magpie, and it was a good beginning.  Everything was lining up nicely and we were enjoying playing together.

The second piece on the concert was the Cimerosa.  While Phyllis and I pulled our stands taller and maneuvered to the side of the orchestra, Cindy and Flavio introduced our orchestra to the crowd.  Kp and Guy, our stage hands, took our stands to the front and we followed a moment after.

When we played the Cimerosa at the first concert, I was really nervous.  It was at the church in Rome.  In fact, we played it twice that night.  We did the middle movement during the mass, during communion if I remember right.  And that went just fine, although it felt a little odd to be performing in the main part of the church while Mass was held in the chapel on the side.   Then, we performed the whole piece during the concert after the Mass.  The seats for the audience were so close to me and Phyllis that we could have given people in front of us high 5's. it was super hot in the church, and with our beaded shirts OVER our concert blacks, it was sweltering.  Add to the the general nerves that accompany solo performance (or duo in this case) and I was pretty hopeless.  It wasn't a terrible performance, but it was a little shaky and by the end my ability to count had disintegrated.  I made mistakes that really weren't worth making.

During the second concert at the Tettuccio Baths in Montecatini, we had to shorten the concert.  We cut the first movement and did 2 & 3. This performance was better.  I was less nervous, less hot, and farther from the audience by several feet.  There were mistakes, but it was a good performance.

This concert in Treviso was a good one.  The weather was nice.  The audience didn't overwhelm me.  Things were good.  We performed the first movement since we'd done the other two last time. And things just really seemed to line up right.  It was the kind of performance that goes just as well as it possibly could go.  It wasn't a perfect performance, but I did my part as well as I had done in my very best personal practices.  It was magical to play with the orchestra behind me and Phyllis and just enjoy how everything came together.  I heard later that there was a little girl dancing at the front of the audience through the performance.  That's a good sign!

Yvonne played the Vivaldi Winter after us.  It was also very well done.  Then, the dixieland group came up.  They had performed at the concert in the Tettuccio Baths and been unquestionably the highlight of the concert.  They are a ton of fun, and very different from anything else you hear at a classical concert.  Especially a European classical concert.  At this concert, they were again a definite favorite of the night. After their piece finished, Flavio came up and announced that someone had requested the Saints, so they just whipped it out, no music or anything.

We closed out with the Hansen, 2nd and 3rd movements.  We have made a lot of progress on that one.  After the appropriate applause, we played our encores.  First American Salute, then, after another round of applause, a snippet of the Rossini.

The venue cleared out and we packed our things, stacked our chairs and started a hike to the bus.  The night was dark and the streets had emptied quickly.  Kip stayed at the back helping Sharon walk on the uneven cobblestones.  I tried to position myself where I could still see him, Sharon, and Susan behind and the rest of the orchestra ahead.  Eventually the main group stopped and waited for us to catch up.  The bus was still a good walk farther away and it had started to rain.  Flavio had called a taxi for Sharon.  We left him with her and hiked off.  When we reached the bus, Sharon was inside waiting for us.  Her hip has deteriorated and is it incredibly painful for her to walk.  This has been a tough trip for her.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - day 7 train to Venice

We decided to spend Saturday away from the rest of the orchestra.  Their plan for the day involved a three hour bus ride to Cremona and three hours there walking and listening to a tour guide.  The highlight was a trip to a stradivarius museum.  The string players were very excited.  The winds weren't as enthusiastic.  From there they had a three hour ride to venice.  Six hours on a bus did not sound pleasant.  Especially on our anniversary. Instead, we joined Guy Lou and Jae heading to Venice early.

The train station was a short walk from our hotel.  There was no ticket agent so we took on an automated ticket machine.  In spite of our best efforts, we took several minutes figuring out how to get tickets from the machine.  The necessity of a pin number for credit cards threw us for a loop.

The train ride from Montecatini to Florence was about 45 minutes.  We sat next to a nice German jazz pianist.  He had a good joke about drummers knocking on your door.  You know it's a drummer because the knocking slows down.

The Florence train station was crowded.  We worked our way from the train over to the ticket purchase area with live ticket salespeople.  The line was long and slow so we tried another automated machine, this time with more success.  The first two trains to Venice were full the third only had 1st class seats available.  It arrived at the time we wanted, so we opted to take the splurge.  With an hour before boarding, we left the chaos of the station to find a cafe.  Then, at the appointed time we came back and got our train.

We had bought seats on a high speed train.  Unfortunately, Kip and I were in car 1 and the others were in car two.  And Kip and I weren't officially seated together.  When we got into the train there was some sort of drama on board.  One passenger was upset because another was sitting in her seat.  The other passenger said that she had a ticket for that car but her printed seat number didn't exist.  The girl meant to be where she was sitting asked her to move out of her seat, but girl 2 refused saying that since her seat didn't exist she was taking that one.  Crazy.  A fellow passenger intervened and resolved it by finding another available seat for the cranky girl.

The train was very comfortable, with great leg room.  A Canadian family sat in front of us.  They explained that the trains were full because of a film festival in Venice and the regatta on Sunday.  That, and just because it was Saturday.

The train dropped us right on the edge of Venice. We bought a day pass for the Vaporetto and went into the city.  Lou and Jae were meeting Lou's cousin at the Piazza San Marco, so we rode the Vaporetto there. We found a nice place for lunch and got a feel for Lou's family.  Andre, the cousin, is a well-known French journalist.  He has a large personality.  His daughter Aurelie is very bright and cheerful.

Kip and I separated from them after lunch and tried to get to a less-crowded, less-touristy area.  And we tried to find a few souvenirs for the kids.  We ducked down quiet alleyways and found picturesque spots.  Then we took another turn and found ourselves back in San Marco.

At 5:30 we met Lou, Jae, and Guy and took a taxi to the hotel. We gave the front desk our names. They told us we were in the VIP room. Kip had pulled some strings and we had a solid bed, not two singles pushed together.  And there was a vase of roses on the desk.  It was a nice anniversary surprise.

We made sure that we were in the lobby with drinks when the rest of the orchestra arrived.  They all looked a little envious.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - day 6 Montecatini and Florence

Flavio, as our tour guide, has the job of amusing the bus during travel.  He has a microphone and regales us with stories about local history, interesting facts about our surroundings, and whatever other random ramblings come to his mind.  Flavio has a very interesting mind.  He often ends up singing or telling jokes.  It can be very entertaining. Unfortunately, he also often ends up bantering with the people in the front of the bus.  He says something funny and the whole bus laughs.  Then, there is the muffled sound of someone in the front saying something unamplified and laughter from the front of the bus.  Flavio says something into the mike that causes more laughter in the front but to the back of the bus, it makes no sense.

And thus we made it through the 45 minute drive from Montecatini to Firenze.

Firenze, or Florence as we English-speakers choose to rename it, is a lovely place with narrow streets and large churches to explore.  Our area-specific tour guide for the day was Bernie.  He was short with buzzed balding hair, a canvas hat, grey polo, and a great sense of humor.  He took us to see the David first of all.  It's in a very small museum at the Academie of Art. It is pretty much the only reason people go there.   There are just 3 rooms and no one even really looks in the other two.  We definitely didn't.  But we spent long enough in the room looking at the David to make up for not having anything else to see.  Bernie had us in front of the David for half an hour. Then we went behind for another 20 minutes to admire him from the rear.  It was a lot of standing.  I hadn't guessed you could look at one sculpture for that long and still have new things to say about it.  Bernie knew a ton and had a good style of sharing his knowledge with us. We all had our 'Italian iPods', so we could hear Bernie wherever we were.  Except Kip, who gave his willingly to someone else and stood in blissful quiet while the rest of us listened.  I shared my earpiece with him from time to time, or repeated a good tidbit here and there.

The best part of the tour was when Bernie told about some of the celebrities he had taken on tour.  The best was when he took the cast of the Jersey Shore.  'Snooky' asked the type of questions that give Americans a bad name in the rest of the civilized world.  'What did David think of his portrait?'  When Bernie explained that they lived thousands of years apart, she wanted to know how Michelangelo knew what he looked like.  Oy vey.

After the museum, we walked through Florence, taking in the important sites.  Bernie told us that really you should spend three days in Florence if you want to see the best things. We had a few hours.  Oh well.  We walked all over, until our swollen feet were throbbing.   We saw churches - a big one with tower and dome and a not-so-big one with a star of David and story about religious tolerance. We saw statues - naked people, clothed people, people killing other people, people killing other animals.  And when we finally couldn't take any more, we went to a restaurant for lunch.

Flavio had told us that we must eat some Florentine steak, tagliata.  So those of us who wanted to follow his recommendation went to a little place at the end of the tour and got our steak, red and bloody on a bed of green arugula and topped with parmesan cheese.  It was very good steak.  Flavio and the staff seemed to be on excellent terms.  In fact, he seemed to know people all over the place.  During our lunch the previous day, when we skipped out on the Sienna tour, he ran into on of his 60+ x-girlfriends when he did his shopping.  In Florence, people called greetings to him from their shops as we passed.  Another orchestra member was given a hard time by his salesperson because he was traveling with Flavio.  He makes traveling fun.

After breezing through Florence we returned to charming little Montecatini.  We refreshed at the hotel and then walked up to the station for the funicular to get a visit to Montecatini Alto, the old city on the hilltop.  The 100+ year old funicular takes about 15 minutes to climb the hill, at a grade that peaks at 38%. One car descends while the other climbs and they pass in the middle where the track separates just for that.  We took Flavio Piccolo, as we are calling the little dog we got for Becca along and took pictures of him enjoying the ride and popping up in unexpected places all over Montecatini Alto.  We even introduced him to some local cats.  They weren't entirely sure what to do with him.

The village at the top if the hill was charming, just what an ancient hilltop village should be.  The streets were narrow and steep and dotted with delightful nooks and crannies.  I wanted to spend twice as long wandering its streets than we did, but after walking Florence all day my feet hurt too much to comply.  Plus, with the descent of evening darkness the temperature dropped dramatically. I was very cold as I shared my banana split with Kip.  We caught the funicular and went back down to the new town.  Guy, Lou, and their Dixieland Band set up on the hotel balcony and regaled the guests with Jazz and Jokes.  An excellent way to end the day.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - day 5 Montecatini

Today we left Rome.  We ate breakfast in the Hotel Leonardo Di Vinci.  Our usual eggs and ham and cheese and pastries and thick hot chocolate or coffee options.  And fruit and yogurt.  Lots of good choices.  Then there was a rush on the elevators.  Only two of the three were working and with 45 people spread through 8 floors, plus an assortment of other tourists and airport personnel all seeming to need to leave at once, the elevator was tough to come by.  We were a little late getting everyone down and loaded on the bus.

We spent about three hours driving north from Rome to Sienna.  We stopped for what Flavio, our enthusiastic tour facilitator, called a 'pling-pling stop' about half way through.  I had forgotten about those European seatless toilets. Kip and I stocked up on chocolate and checked things out for the kids in the gift section of the station.  We found a wonderful new stuffed animal puppy for Becca.  He was immediately adored by the whole bus and we christened him Flavio in honor of our dear Italian tour guide.  He was not incredibly pleased for some reason.

Sienna is a lovely little Tuscan town. The streets are narrow and the buildings tall. There are wonderful nooks and alleyways to admire and little shops encouraging you to spend money.  We stopped at a restaurant in the Piazza del Campo for lunch and ordered the special, bruschetta, pasta and a drink.  It was my gluten splurge.  I've had a few more of those lately than I should.  Several of us chose to skip the organized tour of the day. Instead of heading to the Duomo of Seinna, we stayed at the restaurant taking.  The allotted 90 minutes passed extremely quickly.  Flavio (the human) joined us at the end, having skipped the tour also and luckily told us when it was time to head out to meet the rest of the group.

Our next destination was Montecatini.  It is another smaller Tuscan town. We're staying in a hotel in what they call the newer part of the city, though certainly not new by American standards.  

Our concert tonight was in a gorgeous location - the Tettuccio Baths.  We spent the afternoon rehearsing there.  We were at the back of the courtyard of the baths, with seats set up to fill the courtyard in front of us.  There were fountains all around and the public bathrooms were a bit of a walk, but there were enough for a hundred people at once.  There was also a set of mineral-water-dispensing ornate stone sinks in the main courtyard to the side of where we played.  The sound was not as reverberating as at the Basilica last night, but it was still nice.  And better suited for the Hansen than the church had been.

After rehearsal we had an hour to eat and change and be ready to perform.  The hotel restaurant provided dinner.  And Italian dinner at a proper restaurant is not a quick affair.  There was pasta or soup for starter.  Then meat or caprese, potatoes and ice cream.  I ate my pork as fast as I could then charged up to the room to change.  I made it back with 2 minutes to eat my ice cream.

Cindy changed the concert order slightly from last night.  We started with the Rossini as usual.  Then, Phyllis and I ran off stage, sent Kip and Guy up with the stands, and put on our sparkly shirts while Cindy announced our solo.  We only played movements 2 and 3 of the cimerosa.  I had a few finger mess-ups, but felt like we ended strong.  We were followed by Yvonne on the Vivaldi (winter). Then we were treated to a piece by the dixieland group.  And finally we did the Hanson, Mvts 2-3,  and the American Salute.  It was a lot of fun and we did a lot better than we had the previous night.  People really seemed to enjoy it.  Walking home after the concert we passed many audience members at cafes or on benches.  They congratulated us and we thanked them.  It was  lot of fun.