Friday, March 14, 2014

Laptop Dies on Last Day

I think it is strangely serendipitous that my laptop stopped working this last night of the trip. Well, the school laptop I use would not work and would turn black immediately even when plugged in.
When I  went to post some pics of amusement park fun from today (Jonah, Will, Nicky and I went on the two biggest, tallest twistiest coasters they had while the other kids enjoyed many other park attractions.) I'm hunting and pecking to you on my phone as I didn't want to leave you with nothing this last full day. I have pictures of our farewell dinner and Callum enjoying his surprise birthday cake. We are all so thrilled with the trip and also feel grateful that we shall return to our lives and our loved ones. Happy birthday also to my beloved who is so supportive of my travels and the long separations. I'll be visiting friends on the weekend and will post promised pics at that time. It has been a privilege and an honor to chaperon and experience the dual glory of the choir and the bounty of Spanish goodness.
Helen Huber (dedicated and exhausted chaperon)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday-Paella +

We enter the Barcelona Cathedral.

The Barcelona Cathedral where the choir sang on June 25.
Paella makings and makers

Paella requires a lot of stirring.

Mr. K and Will enjoy clapping games.

Tuesday, June 25

After a wake up call and breakfast, we arrive in the lobby, water bottles filled, umbrellas ready because there is a light rain.  Experience has shown it will most likely be short-lived and the sun will soon appear.  We drive though the older section of Barcelona enjoying the architecture and each other equally.

We pass Las Ramblas, a wide boulevard, where our local tour guide Trinidad (Trina) tells us 3 million people pass each day .   On to the Pargue Jardin, a special park designed by Gaudi, architect of La Sagrada Familia.  Trina explains that Gaudi was inspired by nature with curved forms.  Gaudi was a deeply devout Catholic and designed structures to honor God and His works.  We pass columns that appear to be stacked of wet sand, colorful ceramic mosaics in benches, ceilings and a variety of fountains, stairways and sculptures and numerous fountains.   The architecture is amazing and the boys and their accompanying adults are taken with bright colors and forms. Back to the bus, we pass La Sagrada Familia.  Trina explains the significance of the facade, the east facade representing the beginning of life (as we see in the beginning of the day) and the west facade representing the end of the day and life. We drive to the Olympic stadium with view of the surrounding area, with what Trina calls cable cars— small pods that travel across the area on cables  for amazing views.   We stop at Miramar, where we see beautiful views of the skyline of the city.  Boys  (and I) buy fans, which are fun to use but not necessary as the weather is perfecto at around 70 degrees. 

We head to a shopping area with a mall and have a little time to explore before we have our paella-making lesson and lunch.  I take my group to a Target-like store to get birthday candles for Calum who turns 12 tomorrow.  There will be a cake at our farewell dinner and I want to make sure he feels special. We’ve already decided to sing to him at breakfast.  We return to the restaurant.  Breaking into groups of vegetable and chicken, and vegetable paella, groups are  invited to one of three cooking areas where everyone watches as the paella pan is set over a gas flame. After the pan heats, olive oil is poured in and flat green beans, peas and peppers are swirled about.  What appears to be Arborio rice is added with three spices mixtures. One is certainly salt, one a saffron/paprika mixture and the third is pale brown.  I’m guessing some cumin mixture.  Spices and broth are added and chunks of chicken for the paella that includes chicken. The mixture is stirred. Two sauces are added; an orange one and what appears to be some type of tomato puree.  The pan is taken away and tapas appear at the table. First potatoes (but not yellow fries) with a crema  Then cod croquettes.  There is a lovely salad with no tuna but a fresh hard boiled egg, beets, tomato and mixed lettuces.  The paella is brought to the table and everyone eats it.  Boys can’t believe we made this and they come around for seconds.  After a while, dishes are cleared and fresh fruit cut into cubes (oranges, strawberries and apples are brought out in fresh squeezed orange juice.  One boy who can’t eat melon gets chocolate ice cream.  We wait for the bus and play hand-clapping games and go off to Las Ramblas to wander about and buy souvenirs.  We pass many shops and eventually fill the gift void meeting the group for a pre-concert rehearsal. Once again I must dissuade boys from buying things that will never make it home for a variety of reasons. Live animals can't be brought back into the states. I'm not even sure those kind of turtles are legal. There is no way those cute bunnies can go back to the hotel or the U.S. Boys are actually considering buying the kind of plastic squeeze toys meant for dogs when  I make everyone move along in hopes of finding more suitable gifts...for humans.Shopping done for now, we head to the Barcelona Cathedral. There is a tiny bit of time to drop off the vestment suitcases and look around the beautiful and ornate Gothic cathedral.  Soon it is time to rehearse and while they sing, I chat it up with CSB parents which is so much fun.  I share a little about our day and they share what they have done/will do.  I leave to help the boys get into their robes in the tiny room provided.  Then I quickly go to the front of the cathedral to wait and watch and make sure every boy remains intact during the performance.  There is an opera singer who has stationed herself right outside and can be heard throughout the performance.  Laura, the person from the tour company has asked her to refrain from singing and she refuses.  Tour groups walk up the aisles as the choir performs. People take flash photos, babies cry. It is a wonder they can sing at all with all the distraction and yet they sound wonderful.  The concert must be over at 6, although there is no service afterwards but there will be gelato.  Third grade CSB teacher Rob Kerman has given me money to buy boys gelato and we find a shop on one of the alleys and everyone has gelato or sorbet.  We take a group picture, which I will get and share hopefully tomorrow as my camera battery has run out earlier in the day.  We wander along Las Ramblas again eventually passing a protest to get to our meeting spot to go back to the hotel. Once there, chaperon groups go around the block or elsewhere for a quick meal so we can have an early night.  One boy comes to my room homesick, the first so far on the trip.  I keep him busy with activities, counting change, checking baggage size on British Airways website etc.  Soon three of his friends arrive to see pictures of Mrs. Wang’s new daughter Elise, born on June 19.   I send them off to bed, download a couple of pictures from my phone and from earlier in the day when my camera functioned.  I book tickets to have a guided tour of Sagrada Familia, call my next hotel in Barcelona to make sure I have a bathtub and can drop off my bags before check in and complete tonight’s blog. Tomorrow we go to a large amusement park and the boys are very excited about the rides, especially the roller coaster which we saw as we drove into Barcelona.  We shall see  if I end up being the person who sits with the non-riders in the group.  Goodnight for now.

Day 9 Pics to Come

From Harrison Wilkes

Day 9 of our tour was a national holiday in Spain: El Dia de San Juan. Evidently, tradition calls for the  detonation of as many fireworks as one’s eardrums can handle in the wee hours of the night leading up to St. John’s feast day. As such, we were all incidental spectators and participants of this holiday, wherever we went.

After a groggy morning, we made our way to the Basilica Santa Maria de Castello d’Empuries, where the choir sang to a full house! This wonderful concert included a joint performance, in the native Castillian language, with a local choir of men and women. In the moments leading up to the concert, I was pressed for details about our travels by a lovely, elderly British couple who had spent their last few days in town. They, along with the rest of the crowd, gave our men and boys a standing ovation.

Lunch in town included, of course, potatoes, along with a nice selection of meats and cheeses. Afterwards, we made our way to the  Dali Theater-Museum, Salvador Dali’s surreal, dream-like monument to his own artistic genius. As a serendipitous complement to Dali’s near-obsession with the beauty of the female form, our gorgeous Castillian tour guide Sonya captivated me  nearly as much as Dali’s bizarre collection of paintings, sculptures, and other installations. The icing on the cake was a painting of our own Jonah Fleishhacker’s great-grandfather, who at one time was Salvador Dali’s agent.

Our day came to a close at a park nearby our hotel, where we took the boys to eat pizza and play, in the hopes that they’d expend whatever energy they had left, to awake well-rested for their final concert performance. So far, Barcelona and its rich history and eclectic architecture have treated us well; I am optimistic that this unique corner of Spain will provide us with a hospitable and memorable send-off  before our stateside return.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Quick Note

In case it was not abundantly clear, this  has been an outstanding trip.  And although I am not a musician, and simply a librarian/teacher along for the nurturing and supporting of boys in appropriate behaviors we all have grown in remarkable ways.  Adapting and recognizing the way new venues shape the voice, new foods, time frames and perceptions of time, and the subtle (and not so subtle) differences that make each culture unique all help us grow and be better individuals and citizens of the world.  I am so grateful for  these small moments of expansion both personal and professional.  Today I ate a spinach tortilla (omelet) and because my Spanish is not quite up to snuff I misunderstood the waiter's clarification and ended up eating a spinach omelet on bread, coated with a tomato puree, not what I expected but still lovely because it was new and there was goodness in finally eating a vegetable of course.  I sat and chatted about how fifth grade works and assuaged concerns about doing well and learning new ways. It was remarkable for many reasons, the least of which is that is really the path we walk each day if we are lucky.  The best days are the ones where we experience some level of  challenge and overcome. Challenges don't have to define us but help us be more compassionate and more grateful for the goodness we find along the way.  And here in Barcelona, there is so much goodness to be had.  I love this town and I love being here with the boys and the men. There have been times when I have been frustrated by not knowing the phrase or word  and or knowing the convention. People are the same yet the differences are interesting. People say hello and goodbye when we meet in the elevator.  I had my cardigan on backwards and didn't button the top button and the fellow sharing the elevator really wanted to help me do the button at my neck.  I can't imagine this happening in San Francisco. Waitpersons count my change when I can't get it right and give me back what I'm supposed to get.  People are tolerant of my not-so-very-good spanish and compliment me for trying.  It warms my heart and makes me want to spend even more time here.  Which  I will be doing before I take off for London and Berlin and Ireland.  I spent a decent amount of time today chatting with musical men about music posting and download rates. Please know that we are doing the best we can with the time and download speeds available to us.  When we return to  the states, we will upload a glorious abundance of video and soundtracks for you.  In the meantime here are a couple of pictures:
The poster advertising the choir in Acala.

Mr. Wilkes happened to capture these two nuns helping each other in Cuenca.

A beautiful boys and bougainvillea shot in Valenica.

 Leaving Cuenca. Around 9:30 pm.

Cured meat over the bar in the restaurant where we had dinner one night.  Why not?  (Notice the little conical cups to catch the drippings. I guess it protects those patrons who don't want to be tainted by pork.)  Is this unique to Spain?

Victoris Mass

Here is the Kyrie of Victoria's Missa Ascendens Christus. When the wifi is faster, we will upload the rest of the mass. We were so very lucky to be invited to sing it in the Cathedral in Avila, Victoria's birthplace. It is a wonderful old cathedral, and we sang directly in front of the choir stalls. It was a reverent and touching moment for choristers, choirmen, Mr. Bachmann, Mr. Thain, and all the visitors around us. We hope Victoria was listening and proud.

Barcelona and Montserrat

I love Barcelona.  And the boys and men do as well. Breakfast at the hotel has a variety of fresh fruit, a machine that makes a variety of hot beverages, platters of meat, cheese and pastries and fresh juices.  Very lovely.  And off we go towards Montserrat about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona. Up, up, a steep and windy road we go, ginger chew candies, a motion sickness band for the wrist and motion sickness bags I gathered from the plane distributed throughout the bus to chaperons just in case. It seems the only person who is feeling motion sickness is me, just a tad, so I pop on the bracelet and practice opening and closing my eyes, looking at one point. At 4055 feet, Montserrat is a beautiful monastery with a choir school of 53 boys.  Founded in 888, it still functions and has beautiful services.  This morning we attended mass and sang at the end of the service.  Their choir has habits that date back hundreds of years consisting of a ankle-length black cassock and a white robe that fits over the cassock.  The enchanting thing for me about the vestment is that there are armholes that extend from shoulder to mid waist and arms are kept inside unless needed to hold music or other things necessary for hands.  The boys range in age from 8-14.  We head back to change and see a number of parents from CSB, some of whom do not have boys in the choir.   I say hi to Colin and his mother Nancy, Jordy and his mother Nancy. We see many families of choir boys which is just wonderful.
 The  landscape around Montserrat.

For me they are a breath of fresh air in this town that is full of fresh air. I'm so happy to share this goodness with people who care so much about the music and the choir. After the service the brother who is the headmaster gave us a tour of the school including the classrooms, the spartan sleeping rooms, the game room, eating area, music rooms etc. Tall mountains are against  the sides of the buildings and tower above and around as you can see in the pictures.  Finally it is time for the meal that will be pasta, chicken and fries and a yellow slab of what turns out to be ice cream.  I eat little.  The wind picks up, we wander around the outside looking for the stands set up as we came into town.  Is it siesta time?  It is 2:30 and we have one hour.  We go into the gift shop.  How many breakable things must boys touch and want to buy? More than you would think.  One boy says,"My parents like coffee.  Maybe I should buy them a mug."  I suggest that the mugs look fragile so he finds a sparkling, equally fragile bull that "doesn't have a hole" so perhaps it will be less fragile.  It will not and we all leave without buying anything.  The boys are hoping I will buy some Montserrat bellows for the library. If they can suggest a way they can be used there is a small chance but nothing realistic is suggested (but it was interesting to hear their ideas, mostly silly involving feeding flames) so we take some documentary photos and head back to the bus where the boys play and I close my eyes. Soon everyone returns to the bus and we head toward the Sagrada Familia.  We are incorrectly told that it is 15 euros for boys to enter and we give them the option of going back to the hotel and playing, resting etc or going with some chaperons and choir men and Mr. Bachmann.  Most go to the unfinished cathedral (due to be finished in 2025) and some return to the hotel with me where I write and download photos and videos.  We all gather, and walk about 15 minutes to find dinner.  I take 5 culinarily adventurous children and Mr. K, Ben, Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Jones go their own way. My group finds an outdoor cafe where we order warm sandwiches, gazpacho, stuffed olives and I have a fab salad with no tuna or carrots or corn.  We laugh and chat and it is just delightful.  The sky turns dark.  They order lemon tarts with raspberry sauce  and mounds of whipped cream (Nathan and Amrit) and  chocolate gelato (Max) and lemon sorbet (Alex D.)  The waiter is enchanted with the boys who are speaking excellent Spanish.  We pay and head back to the hotel.  Tomorrow is St. John's Day and the firecrackers and fireworks are exploding all around the hotel. I hope and expect that everyone is as tired as I am. Another fine day on tour.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Recreational Moments in Pictures

 A journal entry from a young chorister.
Mr. Thain hangs out.

 At the beach in Valencia.
 Did you know Mr. Jones used to be a cheerleader?
Calum enjoys the beach.
 Amrit loves to sing. He also loves to swing. Today he told me that this trip might be the best time he has ever had in his life.
 Beach fun in Valencia.
 Building Cuenca in sand.

A way to pass the time on the bus.