Michael, Susan, and Etienne backstage at the festival.
Flooding on the Vltava River near the famous Charles Bridge.
Drummers from many cultures!
Adam and Ewa with their father's good friend!
CZECH AND MORE
August 2002, travelling with the Red Thistle Dancers (a Scottish dance group from Palo Alto), to Cerveny Kostelec, in the Czech Republic
Our trip almost didn't happen... Various business and personal problems set us way back in the couple of days before our departure, and then the night before, Michael, up late packing, happened to turn on CNN. He woke me to say that Prague was suffering from the worst flooding in 100 years -- should we go or not? We spent Tuesday the 13th of August calling our travel agent, reading Prague's English-language newspaper online, phoning an information hotline in the Czech Republic, trying to learn all we could. Armed finally with three crucial pieces of information -- the Prague airport was open, our hotel was not in the flooded area, and, according to our travel agent, our tickets were basically non-refundable -- we decided to brave it and set out...
Which turned out to have been the right choice! After a long flight and a harrowing taxi ride from the airport, we reached our hotel, to find the greatest problem was that the desk couldn't find our reservation -- but eventually they did, and we settled into our room and then went downstairs to the "non-stop" coffee shop to have our first of many delicious Czech beers, this one Pilsner Urquell.
The very next day we left Prague by train, and travelled six hours east to visit my friend Tadek Farny and his family in Wedryne, near Cesky Tesin (Tadek is a friend from the Rzeszow festivals, he is a great violin player, an excellent singer, and a former dancer in Olza). We spent two delightful days there, enjoying more delicious beer and some regional culinary delights, as well as playing music (and various other silly games!) with Tadek and Karin's two really sweet children, Ewa and Adam. A highlight was our fog-drenched hike up a mountain near the Slovak border to see an enormous statue of Radegast, ancient Teutonic deity and "patron saint" of Radegast Pivo (http://www.radegast.cz/), one of the best beers in the Czech Republic.
On the weekend we returned to Prague, and various other members of the Red Thistle Dancers (and musicians) began arriving. We spent a few days as tourists, and were glad to find ourselves, while inconvenienced by many of the metro stations being closed due to flooding, able to see most of the major sights of the famous city: the old castle, St. Vitus's cathedral, Bertramka -- the "summer home" from which Mozart set off for the opera house, overture to Don Giovanni still wet in his hands. A memory we will not soon forget is the eerie sound of footsteps through the Old Town, echoing over the hum of generators and pumps, as many homes and restaurants struggled to clean up from the flood -- we saw many places where families were hosing off furniture in the middle of the street. As of last week electric power still had not been restored to much of the Old Town, and it is predicted that some of the metro stations will not open until the new year. It is really a terrible situation for the people who live there, but we were almost embarrassed to say, we rather enjoyed seeing Prague devoid of the normal hordes of late summer tourists.
Then it was festival time! We joined the group from Algeria for a bus ride of a little over two hours to the festival town of Cerveny Kostelec (http://www.nachodsko.cz/public/mff/default.htm), on the Polish border, about 100 kilometers south of Wroclaw. We shared dorm accommodations with the groups from Puerto Rico and Mexico, about 3/4 of a mile from the festival stage . (Not too far you say? Well, think of it this way: at least one, and sometimes two or three round trips a day, up and down hill, on foot, sometimes with costumes and/or instruments! Well, it was a way to work off the delicious Central European cooking and more of that excellent Czech beer!) The performances were on a large outdoor stage, the audience sat on benches in the park, and around the edges of the park were various booths selling beer, honey liqueurs, postcards and other souvenirs. It was a very fun, festive atmosphere.
Besides the groups I've already mentioned, there were ensembles from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Indonesia, and, of course, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I think at first the crowd didn't quite know what to make of us -- we weren't familiar, like the more local groups, nor were we "sexy," a la the Puerto Ricans! But as the week went on, we felt more and more appreciated. Jennifer Kelly, the director of the group, received several compliments from dancers and directors of some of the best groups at the festival. Michael's singing brought him some acclaim; those who knew more English appreciated that his songs were humorous tongue-twisters, in Scots dialect. I was quite tickled when an old Gypsy man who had been in the audience made fiddling gestures and then kissed his fingers after I'd played one night! But my very favorite moment was when, in the reels at the end of one of our dance medleys, I played "Father Francis Cameron," and the audience started to clap along -- hundreds of hands clapping, there in a tiny village in a remote corner of the Czech Republic.
Besides stage performances, we had a small show in the town square and a longer parade on Sunday. One of the high points of the week was a really beautiful Mass on Saturday morning. Most of the non-changing readings were in Latin, with the sung responses in Gregorian Chant. The readings specific for that day were in Czech, but the priest also addressed the crowd in English, French, Spanish, and Italian. The Mass began with a procession lead by the Mexican group, in full pre-Cortesian regalia: definitely pagan, but not seeming out of place at all! The Puerto Rican and Slovak groups sang hymns in their languages and the Italians brought up the offerings. We were a little disappointed not to have been asked to contribute music to the ceremony, but I guess the festival organizers assumed all Californians to be secularists!
After returning to Prague for another couple of days of sightseeing, we took the train to Vienna for an all-too-brief stay of two days. We were hosted by two delightful young ladies, Beatrix and Bettina. We managed to eat and drink well (again!), have a cursory tour of some of Vienna's landmarks, and even have an in-depth tour of the ethnographic museum where Bettina works. We saw items not yet on display, musical instruments from Africa and Asia, sculpture, tools, weapons, and yes, shrunken heads, long long dark hair still attached. Bettina's boss even gave us a tour of the under-underground of the museum, the tunnels and air shafts and ventilation system -- we thought perhaps we had stumbled onto the set of "The Third Man."
In the morning we spent a couple of hours with Robert Jelinek, an electronic music colleague of Michael's. His outfit "Sabotage" sponsors various events that somewhat blur the line between performance art and civil disobedience: covering art gallery stairs with mousetraps, broadcasting insect-attracting sounds on Austrian radio, printing "She Loves Me/She Loves Me Not" on toilet paper in public restrooms, etc. Very interesting and very unusual! That night Michael and I and Etienne Ozorak, who had also been our third musician for the festival, played for a Scottish dance party in a pub, to bring our European tour to a close.
We had been hoping also to go to Germany with Coletta and Armin, two dancers from Red Thistle, who were leading a dance weekend in Muenster. We didn't think of this until after we had already bought our tickets, though, and even with our being willing to pay a penalty to change our return date, we were still not able to get seats on any flight home other than the reservations we already had. We were disappointed by that, it would have been fun to see Armin's home, fun to play for a dance workshop, and I had hoped to visit Veronica, an old friend from Boston who now lives near Munich. But nonetheless it was a great trip, seeing two of the greatest European cities, participating in a wonderful festival in a charming small town, spending time with our friends from Red Thistle, and meeting interesting people from the Czech Republic and other guest groups. And it was extra special for us in a sentimental way: in August of 1998 we had travelled with the same dance group for a tour in Norway, and it was on that trip that Michael and I met each other!
With Charles at a Ukrainian restaurant near NYU.
EAST FOR EASTER
March/April 2002, to visit East Coast friends and family
Syracuse was cold and still fairly wintry, gave us a chance to experience snow -- not much stuck while we were there, but we could still see drifts along the highway. Easter featured a visit to the local Unitarian Church, a rather unique experience for us! Other highlights included a brief road trip to Buffalo to have dinner with Jonathan, one of Michael's long-distance musical collaborators, and a dinner at the Bentley home for three families from India, visiting researchers in the forestry department. We ate way too much of Ann's delicious cooking, but we also went for many delightful long walks -- along the Erie Canal and Lake Onondaga, in particular.
We spent a hectic but exciting three days in New York City, more walking (including one whole glorious spring morning in Central Park), more eating, and visiting Charles (best man and cake baker from our wedding), who is now a graduate student in art at NYU. We toured his studio, ate at some of his favorite local haunts, and went uptown to the Met to see two interesting exhibits, Irving Penn's nudes and a big show on the surrealists. Even more interesting than that, though, was our visit to an sonic installation calling itself the largest indoor sculpture ever created, the "Uberorgan" (http://www.gardendome.com/uberorgan/Uberorgan.html) -- eerie to stand in the hall and hear the loud bellowing coming from one room after another, sometimes more than one at a time!
We finished our trip with a long weekend in Boston. Between my playing for the Elegant Evening on Saturday night and for Scottish dancing on Monday, we managed to see a lot of old friends, but were sorry not to have seen more.
Coming from cold and light snow, it was a bit of a surprise to return to the full bloom of California spring!