Saturday, 16 July 2011

My fantasy of taking the ferry from Barcelona to Rome didn't work out as rehearsals for the concert I'm here to play took place in Switzerland. I did, however, have an ultra-diva moment a month ago and buy myself a plane ticket to come down to Rome today. I got out of bed the same time as the bus left from near Zurich, and got a text when I landed that with summer Saturday tourist traffic they'd just barely made it to the Italian border. Gosh. I was feeling rather smug about this yesterday, but now, tucked into a Pizzeria near Vatican city, awaiting my pizza with anchovies and zucchini flowers and enjoying an intermittent stray wifi signal, I have to say I feel a bit guilty too. For the record though, I am completely and utterly knackered, and I'm sure I would be miserable and ill on the bus.

I moved out of my flat in Basel this week - a relatively major operation made much lighter by moving only into my practise room downstairs for the time being. Many thanks to Dorothea for showing up at my door and demanding to help once the kids were at daycare, and to Tobie and Gaby for helping me get the dust out once my stuff had been adequately scattered through other rooms of the building. All work was made lighter by the Bombay Sapphire being very reasonably priced in the Barcelona duty-free and Tonic water having become more readily available in Basel over the years.

I've got some time (though less than I think ) over the rest of the summer to sort out my stuff and some proper down time coming up to help prepare mentally for starting my Ph.D.

Barcelona was an excellent way to prepare. I don't think I'll ever get over finding academic conferences slightly depressing, but I think at least that I wasn't the only one. I think it's quite a lot more about finding the people who are interested in similar things as you and getting to know them a bit - something conference organisers seem to have parsed as social opportunities were given just as much emphasis as the papers themselves. I had a good first experience giving a paper. I didn't feel like a fraud, which is saying more than it seems to. I also didn't feel like I gave something special to the world, but I got into some good conversations afterwards, and that's something too.
Lovely Conference Venue:
The Institut d’Estudis Catalans

I played hooky on Thursday and went to the beach instead of hearing any papers - something I don't regret except that in putting on sunscreen I went light on my shoulders with the hope of getting rid of my farmer's tan. I did, but got quite burned in the process; not having witnessed strong sunshine all last summer in the UK I'd quite forgotten how extreme a midday sun can be.
On Friday the conference left some time in the afternoon, so a small posse headed to Park Guell, designed by the famous architect Antonio Gaudi. It's all on top of a hill, and the entrance from the metro gives a stunning view of the city and the sea.

The restaurant has now closed so I've relocated. I'm not in Rome anymore, but taking shade under one of the pillars at the entrance to Vatican City. When I was here when I was fifteen, Barbara Clark remarked on how it was an independant state, a city within a city. Like Vanier, she said.

Ignoring for the moment the tower of St. Peter's behind me (I get to sing with the choir in the Vespers service tomorrow and will get my fill then), the Gaudi architecture in the park was well worth the walk in the heat. The buildings, with their rounded corners, have something anthroposophic about them, but the fact that they've all been, well, iced, makes me think that Gaudi might have taken himself a bit less seriously than the folk in Arlesheim. Could be wrong though.


On Saturday I went with Julie, Peter and Lori around a little cloister and then to the market, but here pictures are far better than anything I could write.


Not quite ready to tackle moving yet, I fled to Bern on Sunday, where Tobie and Alison and I explored the Paul Klee museum. I was impressed greatly at the amount of intention in all of his works, whether light-hearted or serious. Every line and every colour seemed to have a purpose, and the amount of care that exuded from each painting gave me the feeling that I, the audience, was important somehow.

The Paul Klee museum also has areas where children can go and paint. We were jealous. But then feelings of envy melted away when I spotted a very orange wall and realized I had my very orange raincoat with me:

Having exhausted our brains, it was time to jump in the Aare. Much closer to it's glacier source, it's colder and cleaner than the Rhine, and also quite a bit faster. We could hear the ringing of pebbles being carried along the bottom as we were carried along. Alison thought it looked quite lazy, but staying above water in such a force, not to mention moving to the middle of the stream and back, made it not insignificant exercise. When the weir was approaching we got out and as Tobie was still content to sunbathe a bit, did it again.

Later, ice cream with walnuts and maple syrup accompanied this view:

Besides moving house, I've been in rehearsal this week for this tour in Italy - a programme of Mexican/South American Baroque music. I'm sorry to report that my goal to make it to 10 years of professional sackbut playing without dong a concert involving a rainstick has turned to ashes. But it's a lot of fun, both the funky 17c dance pieces and the sacred polyphony of Zipoli - some excellent fugues in there. Sometimes on days that I don't play, I wonder if I really can play the trombone, and I had the pleasant experience of realizing that I could once these quick and notey pieces were put in front of me to read at full tempo. I had a great time. I didn't feel like a fraud.

If I don't manage to come back for all their projects, then I'll miss playing with the I Fedeli crowd a lot, really a lot. Playing the sixth verse of a processional hymn, I thought it would be grand if my part, the alto line, were played up the octave as a discant. But it would have been too high for me, so I jumped the the soprano part and within a measure of having his part doubled, Josué got the message and did exactly what I'd been thinking.

The breeze coming through the pillars here is lovely, but I think it's time to head to the hotel and see if I can't crash out a bit and/or do some admin I've not been able to get to amidst running around all week. While it seems a pity to hide out inside on such a lovely day in such an amazing city, that's just how it is. I feel very lucky that music brings me around the world, but then there's always a lot of catching up to do when I get home, so that means working at my computer or recovering lost sleep in exotic places. And anyway, there aren't many Italians about, they're still having their Siesta. When in Rome....

Friday, 8 July 2011

Posting this a bit late as I've been in a relatively Internet-free zone here in Barcelona. Pictures and a bit about my time here at MedRen will follow!
July 4th, 2011

On the plane to Barcelona - it'll be my first time in Spain, and I'm quite excited. I packed ridiculously, with utter delight throwing far too many dresses and shoes into my biggest suitcase, which is normally reserved for transatlantic flights but in this case is coming with me because I've decided also to bring my printer. I'm giving a practice talk tonight and there will be comments, changes, and probably changes to my handout too, and it's much easier I think to bring my printer along and print everything I need than to stress about finding a shop that will print something out. At least, I thought it was genius but after having lugged it all over Basel airport I will admit to a few second thoughts... why can't they have a few wheely carts for hand-luggage?

I know it's been a while, but I've not got that much news. I've been chained to my computer writing this paper, confronted by the paradox that if I can conceive of the time even broken-down individual tasks take to complete, it's too daunting to start and I wind up staring at the wall. It's well-stared. So I convince myself a certain task will only take 2 hours and another 4 and by the end of the day I have to send apologetic emails to my proofreaders that not even the first task has been completed yet, sorry. Then I'm always running late, but a little bit saner. It appears to be a recognized strategy in the field of musicology at least; I can't tell you how many book acknowledgements I've read which have stated "If I'd known how long this was going to take I wouldn't have started" and then thanking/apologizing to their partners and children. I'm on a an acknowledgements page moratorium 'til I'm finished my Ph.D. dissertation. Which, by the way, I expect to only take me 18 months.

My only other news is that I've been swimming in the Rhine - yey! It's really the best view of Basel that a person can get.

Other people have news though, and I must say I'm quite bemused by the Royal Visit to Canada. I think I've basically worked out what I think about the whole thing. On the one hand, Kate and William seem like nice enough people, and I like the fact that the latter has a proper job flying rescue helicopters - that's cool. They've got a high-pressure gig, and they're doing pretty well at being cheerful and about treating the people around them as individuals - the epitome of politeness.

I also agree with some of the protests going on in Montreal and in Quebec city. I think it was kitch of them to gather right outside and disturb the peace at a cancer-ward of a hospital - it almost looked like they were protesting the royal couple bringing a bit of joy and support into a bleak place, but they could have help up a few signs outside the hotel or something to show that a few of us question whether the monarchy is the right thing for Canada. Nothing against them personally, I'm sure they're all lovely, and nothing against Great Britain either. I just don't quite think it's necessary for them to be our head of state anymore. No more vows of allegiance, 'til death do us part. No. Let's just be friends.

There are two comments on the CBC website which don't make sense, one pro- and one anti-monarchy. The first says we should embrace the Queen as our head of state because it makes us not American. But we will only ever be second class subject. Even though it clearly says on my passport "in the name of Her Majesty the Queen... allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hinderance." Except if I want to enter the UK of course. To enter last summer I had to pay them $250 let, and with the extra hinderance of going to Zurich to get myself biometrically documented. And for what? To play my trombone. The procedure would have been the same for a single concert, and now even to come as a tourist, they harass me more than any other country. Not even to enter the U.S.A. did I need to get fingerprinted - we're neighbours after all, and we haven't (and won't) swear allegiance to them.

A little note to the people of Britain though - thank you for telling the government to sod off on my behalf for giving me all this trouble to come and play a concert. The American people haven't done that. You guys are cool. Let's be friends.

(Oh dear, here comes breakfast. A madeleine. Since when was that breakfast? The young children across the aisle are going to have a suger high soon, and then a crash. How about a whole-wheat roll and a bit of butter or jam? Would that be too hard?)

I also wish to know who owns "crown land," which makes up 89% of Canada. All I could find by the website is that it's managed by the ministers of various natural resources, but I couldn't find anything that made me sure the Queen didn't actually own it. She owns the entire coastline of Britain for instance, so why not?

The anti-royal visit remarks on the comments section of the CBC astound me too - they say that the few million dollars for the royal visit shouldn't be paid by Canadian taxpayers. Of course it should. They're not having a honeymoon, they're working, it's a gig and not a very easy one - I don't think I could be excruciatingly pleasant and enthusiastic to everyone for nine days in a row, could you? No, from my perspective Canada's hired these two to bolster our tourist industry, and the 50 cents that a Canadian taxpayer is putting toward transportation, accommodation, security etc. will be repaid many, many times over by people bringing money from other countries and pouring it into Canada's businesses, restaurants, hotels, public transit systems, and of course the maple syrup industry. This money comes in and gets passed about. It's an excellent investment. Just like international a thriving cultural scene is ...oh never mind. Preaching to the converted here I'm afraid.

So, in summary: Yes to welcoming foreign guests, yes to paying their expenses in exchange for their flaunting their celebrity faces to promote our tourist industry, yes to enjoying the historical link between Britain and Canada (unless you're a French Canadian) - you can even keep Rideau Hall if you like, but no to being our head of state unless you're going to welcome us into your country the way we welcome you into ours.

And to my U.S. friends, by the way, Happy Independence Day!