Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blog - 1, Ali - 0

So, clearly I am just about the worst blogger ever. Ask any English teacher I had from grades 6-11, and if they could remember who I am, they would tell you that I am bad at journaling.

But, we persevere. :)

Sooooooo - waaaaaaaay back when I left you, I was just coming home from Buenos Aires and my family was about to visit. So here we go -

My parents were here for about two weeks, and it was great fun. I think they're a lot less worried now that they see that I do not in fact live in the middle of a third-world jungle. I was busy working while they went to see a lot of the country, which was sad, but I'm glad they had the opportunity to check the place out a bit. My dad was rocking his traveler's Spanish, and my mom bought lots of pretty stuff. :) Yay! Photo op at the futball game:

During their visit, I had a crime-fighting adventure. So, I'm on the bus, writing a text message, when some guy (early twenties, maybe, and about 5'8" or so?) grabs the phone OUT OF MY HAND and jumps off the MOVING bus. Well, I'm sick with a cold, I'm tired, and this just plain pisses me off. So, naturally, I throw my bag over my shoulder, run to the front of the bus and jump off after him.

That's right - I jumped off of a moving bus. Brilliant, I know.

Now, since I am not accustomed to jumping off of moving buses, I ate it. Like, I full-on rolled head-over-heels into the gutter. But whatever. From my crumpled heap position, I see the dude running across the four-to-six lanes of traffic (there are no lines on the road, lanes are fuzzy here) to the other side of the street. Well, I hadn't jumped off of the bus for nothing, so I likewise run into the traffic to chase him down. Brilliant, again. I saw him getting on another bus going the opposite way, and started to get on after him. When he saw me getting on behind him, he spun around, threw the phone at me, and ran away. I should mention that this whole time I've been screaming and cussing at him and probably seemed basically insane.

So, anyway, I got it back. Yay. There were some scrapes and bruises from throwing myself off the bus (let's not kid ourselves, "jumping" is too elegant a term for what I did!), but no major damage.

Now, I know, I know, not worth it for a cheap phone. But the cheap phone was not the point. Just because I'm a girl and I'm small and I'm alone doesn't mean that you can walk up and take whatever you want from me. I swear that during the split second I was standing face-to-face with the guy, I just wanted to swat him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper and say "NO".

This whole ordeal left me standing on the sidewalk, phone in hand, shaking from adrenaline, and not knowing what to do with myself. I stopped by the house to clean myself up and vent to my roommates, and was only a little late to teach that afternoon.

So, that was exciting.

My parents finished their visit, and it was good. The day after they left, we began performances of the ballet Raymonda, which they were able to see a dress rehearsal of. It's killer hard (at least my part) and we were a little unprepared, but it came off ok. At the last minute I had needed to ask one of my students to come and play the piccolo part with us, and we worked so hard on it together - it was his first time playing in an orchestra, his first time playing piccolo, and he had less than a week to get it together. But he worked his butt off and did an AWESOME job - I was so proud of him!! The maestro, who is normally very quiet and doesn't talk to me much, even went out of his way to tell me that my student plays very well. Quite a compliment to all his hard work. Although I felt terrible putting him in such a stressful situation, sometimes that happens in music, and he really pulled through. Props to Diego. :)

The next couple of months were really busy and really blurry - we performed Norma, which was great fun (Casta Diva, yay!).

Oh, and we moved to a new apartment. Now it's me, my friend from the States, and two Paraguayans (a couple). Everybody's super-chill and we are a happy little family!

Just after the move, my boyfriend, Jake, came to visit:

It's tough having him so far away, and I was thrilled that he was able to come down for three whole weeks. He and I and my friends here all had an awesome time hanging out together, even though we weren't able to travel and see much because of my work. But we had such an awesome time, in fact, that he has decided to move down here with me for the next season! I am SO EXCITED for that adventure! I am so lucky to have such a supportive love in my life. xoxo

After Jake's visit, I had to leave the country because my visa was about to expire, so I figured I would take a quick little weekend trip to a border town in Argentina.


The police at the border said that I would be allowed to pass, but he wasn't going to stamp my passport because I wasn't going to be gone for more than five days. However, if I were to only pay a small fee, he would talk to his boss and maybe they could extend my visa . . .

Bullshit. (Oh, yeah . . . I live in South America . . . right . . .)

So I hopped on the bus back to Asuncion, told the maestro that I had to miss a couple of days of rehearsal, called my teacher, and the next weekend I went down to Buenos Aires to take another couple of lessons. And of course they were amazing! Claudio Barile, you rock my socks. I also got to see a great performance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde by the orchestra of La Plata thanks to a friend who plays viola there. All in all, things worked out for the best even though the border cops were a pain on my first attempt to travel.

Let's see, what else . . .

Oh. The new apartment is only a few blocks away from a large and beautiful park:

(Oh, yeah, and my parents brought my camera down from the States. Aren't you glad? :))

Now, this park happens to have a 5k running trail, so Jordana have decided to get our butts in shape with the Couch-to-5k running plan coupled with some pilates videos courtesy of YouTube. So far, so good! We're kind of pathetic at the moment, but it feels really good to be working on it. We're only a little bit of the way in, but there's been some progress already. And now that EVERYBODY knows we're doing it, we really can't flake out, ha.

That's all I've got time for right now, but I PROMISE to write more often. Like, within the next week. If I don't, please do give me hell, thanks.

Chau! :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buenos Aires

As soon as the Bicentenario concerts and festivities were over, a friend and I went to spend a week in Buenos Aires.

Let me just say, I LOVE that city. Different parts of it remind me of Paris or Madrid or New York, all with a cool South American twist. It's beautiful and fun, and only a short hop away. Doesn't get much better than that!

Now, this was no vacation, but it was absolutely magic! Both my friend and I got a ton of stuff accomplished, and it was great to spend time focusing on my flute after all the hectic-ness of the previous three weeks. Here's what I did:

- Got a giant dent in my flute's headjoint repaired by an AMAZING technician! I wish that I had had the time/money to have him work on the rest of the instrument (they key work very sorely needs a tune-up) . . . hopefully next time.

- Had a great lesson with CLAUDIO BARILE! He was so great and so generous with his time, I feel very lucky to have gotten to know him a little bit. (He was also responsible for putting me in touch with the aforementioned amazing repair guy.) Flute friends, he's going to be the guest artist at the NFA convention this year - go say hello, and be sure to catch his recital! It's going to be a little while longer before I can go back for another lesson, but I got a ton of stuff to work on/think about and am really looking forward to the next time.

- Saw the Buenos Aires Opera Lirica perform Wagner's Der Freischutz (with Claudio playing principal) at the Teatro Avenida. The cast and orchestra were lovely, especially the soprano who sang Agathe (I really wish I knew her name! Alas, concert programs are not free in these parts), and it was fun grabbing coffee with Claudio before the show. The theater itself is beautiful. I bought a cheap seat waaaaaaay up at the top, which I actually like for operas because I can see down into the orchestra pit. :) Also, the old theaters tend to have beautiful, intricately-decorated ceilings which are amazing to see up close. In a surprise twist that seems like it would be unusual in anybody's life but mine, I found myself sitting next to two guys from California who had wandered in to get out of the rain. After the show the new guys, my friend, and I all grabbed a couple of drinks, and it was fun to make some new friends.

- Saw the Orquesta Filharmonica de Buenos Aires perform Mahler's First Symphony at the Teatro Colon. There was also a xylophone concerto, but as I didn't have a program at this concert, either, I have no idea what it was. It was short and xylophone-y. But the Mahler . . . the MAHLER. Now, I was sitting way up at the top again, and at the Colon that means I couldn't see much. But this piece has so many unbelievable quiet and delicate moments that the orchestra played so well - there were times when the winds were making such soft, pure sounds that you couldn't tell where they were coming from, or that the strings were playing so lightly that you weren't sure that you actually heard the sound or just imagined it. People always remember the huge pieces, the finale moments when an orchestra is roaring and the audience is on the verge of cheering the whole time. But at this performance, the sound was so quiet and ethereal that it seemed that the entire audience stopped breathing to keep from overshadowing it. It was absolutely incredible.

This is not to mention that the theater itself is exquisite. The recently-restored Colon is so beautiful - definitely one of the most amazing theaters I've been to. And it's huge!

And if you think sitting next to a couple of Americans at the opera was an unusual coincidence, check this out:

When I had gone to buy my ticket earlier in the day, there were only two seats left in my preferred section of cheap (actually, at orchestra concerts, the cheap seats often tend to be some of the best for listening, but not seeing, as the acoustics at the back of the hall are different). I bought one, and didn't think anything of it. When I was waiting for the show to start, a girl who looked vaguely familiar was lurking around my section looking for her seat, and was staring at me. I couldn't figure out why until she came up and asked if I was the flutist from Uninorte.

That's right, people. I'm famous.


Just kidding. Turns out she's a singer/musician from Asuncion who works in the Uninorte chorus, and had also come down to Buenos Aires to study for the week. It also turns out that she had bought the seat right next to mine. We spent some time hanging out that night and the next day, and it was so much fun getting to know her! She was so sweet, and I really hope we see more of each other back in Asuncion.

- The next morning, I went to a rehearsal of Argentina's National Symphony, where my Maestro from Asuncion was conducting his new piece from the Bicentenario, and some other musicians from Asuncion had come to sing and play some more traditional Paraguayan music with the orchestra. I had to head back to Paraguay before the concert, but it was cool to see the rehearsal and also to hang out as part of what felt like a sort of Paraguayan artistic contingency in Buenos Aires for the week.

- Oh, and did I mention that Argentina's Independence Day just so happened to be that week, too? After our evening study session at the hostel, my friend and I headed to the Casa Rosada just in time to catch the end of a huge concert and a gigantic fireworks display. The plaza in front of the Casa Rosada had a giant stage in front of it, and the whole square was packed with people. For the grand finale, huge fireworks were set off from the roofs of the buildings around all four sides of the square - it was so loud you could feel the explosions in your chest, and everybody was cheering and excited . . .

Sometimes I swear I really am the luckiest person in the world. Despite having no real concrete plan when I showed up to Buenos Aires, everything went so perfectly. The hostels I stayed in were great, I met amazing people, my flute repair guy was magic, my teacher was generous and warm, I made great changes in my lesson, I heard fantastic concerts, I got to see the Independence Day celebration. The traffic practically stopped every time I wanted to cross the street (seriously), the whole week was so unreal. All this plus getting to spend a bunch of time with one of my best friends from Asuncion made for a pretty incredible trip.

This week, it also felt so good to connect to a bigger musical community again. After grad school, I really gave up a lot to make sure that I was in a position to hear great orchestras and chamber music almost every week of the concert year. And it was worth it - listening to the Cleveland Orchestra or the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or National Symphonies or the Metropolitan Opera or the Takacs Quartet or the Pennsylvania Ballet or the Tokyo Quartet or any of the other world-class groups or soloists that I've been fortunate enough to see LIVE almost EVERY SINGLE WEEK for the last two and a half years has functioned both as my inspiration to practice, my motivation to continue in what can be a dishearteningly difficult field, and as an invaluable education. I learned so, so much from listening to these musicians live and often. While I do love my life in Asuncion, it is sometimes difficult to be so far removed from the more international community, hard to stay inspired to continue raising my standards for myself when the best musicians in the country are considered to be my peers. Recordings aren't the same - there's something really magical about listening to the world's best musicians live in some of the world's greatest halls that is impossible to replicate. And while it's fun to be really respected for my playing here, I know that I have a long way to go to be my best, and going to truly great concerts has so far been the best way I've found to keep my attention where it needs to be. One of the biggest challenges about living in Asuncion is how isolated it is, and this week was a much-needed break from the bubble, even though I didn't realize beforehand how much I needed it.

I came back to Asuncion all inspired and motivated, flying back on a Friday night, just in time for my parents' arrival on Saturday morning. That's right, the Gioscias hit the PGY . . . stories and pictures coming soon!

Thursday, June 16, 2011



So after a long month without internet, it's time to catch you all up!

May was pretty special and awesome, due to it being Paraguay's bicentenary. Technically the independence day was May 14th and 15th, but this year it was definitely a celebration all month long. (In fact, there are still lots of decorations up all over town.) All of the buildings are draped in red, white, and blue banners, there are stickers and buttons and signs all over everything. It was like a whole month of the Fourth of July, except that people were genuinely excited about their country and not just about the beer and fireworks. ;)

As musicians, we were kept busy with a ton of extra concerts. It was really fun to get to play Paraguayan folk music so much. I hadn't really been exposed to much of it before this month - for my musician friends, the melodies are generally happy, syncopated, and in 6/8, with walking-like bass lines in 3/4. We also did an extra concert of famous opera arias, and a concert that featured Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (complete with cannons borrowed from one of the military branches) and the premiere of a new work by our conductor that celebrates an important figure in Paraguay's history. It was a crazy busy month, but so much fun!

On the actual independence days (there are always two here), all the roads downtown were closed and the streets flooded with people. There were all kinds of shows and concerts and lights and fireworks and the whole nine yards - it was quite a sight in a downtown that's generally pretty sleepy at night!

As a member of the orchestra, playing for a lot of these events, it was really cool to experience all of the bicentenary celebrations from the inside. Not just watching the speakers, but sitting behind them on stage while they spoke to the crowds. Not just attending the celebration, but contributing to it. Not just watching the Paraguayans celebrate their country, but celebrating it myself at the same time and falling in love with it right along with everyone else. It was so easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all - everyone seemed so genuinely proud of their country, and it was so special to be a part of that.

Two days after our last bicentenario concert, I headed to Buenos Aires with a friend . . . and that is what I'll tell you about next time.

To conclude, here are some bicentenario pictures that I have stolen from other people on the internet:

Monday, May 2, 2011

April highlights

Well, it's long-past time for an update! As usual, a lot has happened in the last few weeks.

To start off with, one of my roommates had a party a few weeks ago with a bunch of mostly-law school people. A senator showed up to hang out, which was exciting for me but didn't seem unusual to anyone else . . . I tried to explain that senators in the US don't hang out with regular people, especially students, even regular student people active in politics, but I guess it's different here. In any case, after we were introduced, he asked me to play, so I gave a short little concert to a senator in my backyard. Which was kind of cool. :)

We had a whole bunch of time off for Holy Week (Semana Santa), which was pretty sweet. I mostly relaxed around the house during the break, but for Easter weekend I took a little trip to Argentina. (I love being able to say that!) One of my friends here is from Corrientes, Argentina, so she, I, and another friend of ours went to visit her family for the weekend. They were so sweet and welcoming, and the city was so pretty. There is a little beach there that we visited one night, and as I stood with my new friends, ankle-deep in the sand along the bath-warm river, with palm trees behind me, and watching the lights along the bridge fade into the distance as it stretched out to the other side . . . well, it was one of those moments when I just can't believe how lucky I really am to be here.

But the trip wasn't quite perfect - my friend's family has a few cats, and one of them likes to sleep on the bed I used. Well, the cat has fleas, and they bit the crap out of me. For the record, flea bites are SO MUCH WORSE than mosquito bites. Aside from a little itching on my back now, they're mostly gone . . . but that was not fun.

In other news, my friend Jordana got here from the States last night - yay!! She's an amazing bassoonist, and is going to be teaching and playing with the National Symphony here until October. Part of me is a little sad that the experience here isn't just mine anymore, but I'm mostly super-excited to see her, as is everyone else! She's a great musician and they're lucky to have her over there. Plus we haven't gotten to work together for way too long, which means we haven't seen each other for way too long, so I'm lucky too to get to spend more time with my friend. :) A friend in the National Symphony and I have been working for months to get her down here, and I'm glad it all worked out.

I also recently got in touch with a teacher in Buenos Aires who I'm very excited to study with, so I will be going down there in a few weeks for a lesson. Yay!

But more sad news, I put a giant dent in my headjoint the other day. We only have wire stands here, and the music we're currently playing in orchestra is on legal-sized loose-leaf sheets of paper. So we're playing along, and the air conditioning started to blow my music off the stand. Naturally, I put the flute in my lap and grabbed the falling papers. Except that then the flute rolled off my lap! So I dropped the papers and grabbed the flute - I got both hands around the keywork and caught it before it hit the floor, thank goodness - but the headjoint got clipped on the leg of the stand. Since the keywork and the lip plate were spared, I can still play. I feel a little bit of funny resistance on a few notes and the pitch feels a bit weird, but it's nothing I can't compensate for for a few weeks. There are no repair people here, so I will have to get it taken care of when I head to BA for my lesson. Until then, I will just try not to look at it, 'cause it's depressing.

That should pretty much catch you all up . . . hasta luego!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Time flies.

Hello, friends (and whoever has been reading this from Canada?)! Obviously I'm not so hot at giving regular updates, but I will try to be better!

Time is a funny thing here. When I think about being here, it feels so short, like I just got here. But when I think about the US, it feels like I've been gone for a long time. I feel like I wrote my last post a couple of days ago, but it's been weeks. I feel like our last performance of Lohengrin was weeks ago, but it's only been three days. I don't know what it is about life here that makes it so hard to keep track of the time - I wonder if it's just me?

Anyway, here are the highlights from the last few weeks:

Fiestita at the house!
A few weeks ago we had a handful of people over - wine, grill, backyard, all good stuff. Towards the end of the evening, my roommate pulled out a guitar and one of my friends from the orchestra started singing. It was amazing, sitting out on the patio (which is one of my favorite places here!) with a bunch of new friends, listening to pretty Brazilian songs. I'm pretty sure it was just a normal Saturday evening for my friends, but I'm going to remember it. I pulled out my mic and recorded a little of the music - maybe sometime I can figure out a way to share it with you.

Regina's Bachelorette Party/Wedding
It was so sweet of all the girls to include me in all the goings-ons about this. This is the kind of stuff you do with your friends, and I'm grateful that they thought to invite the new girl. Here's a pic from when we went out dancing at the end of the night:
I know I look drunk, but it's just because thanks to the heat here I am perpetually bright red and messy. ;) Thank God it has finally started to cool off a little in the last few days!

The wedding itself was beautiful - people here really dress up for this stuff! It was amazing how many aspects of the bachelorette party and the wedding were just the same as at home. At the bachelorette party, there were all the silly games and dancing and tequila that you would expect. And the wedding was fancier than what I'm used to, but had all of the same music and the rice-throwing and the fancy car to take the couple to the reception and most of the other conventions. Some musicians played the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" while the photographer took some pictures of the couple towards the end of the ceremony, which was a cute touch.

Last weekend we had three performances of Wagner's opera Lohengrin. It's a very interesting and beautiful work, but I'm glad to be done playing it. My part isn't very interesting, and my back has been killing me from spending that much time in the pit. Also, I am very excited about our music for the next few months, so I'm happy to be getting on with it already! Tchaik 1812, a premier of a work by our conductor, and a Paraguayan piece next month, then Raymonda (ballet) in June and Norma (opera) in July. Then Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet (ballet) in August. Yay! I am a happy flutist. :)

That should pretty much catch you all up. One final note - a few non-musician friends have asked about the title of this blog. It's a play on the title of a very famous orchestra piece by George Gershwin, "An American in Paris." Not only is the title fitting, but it was on the program of the first concert I ever played in an orchestra. Cool, huh?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Busy . . . you know, like a bee.

I don't know how so much time has flown by since my last post! It does fly here, though - seems like all of a sudden I got crazy-busy every day. But, unlike home, it's crazy-busy actually being a musician, so I am in fact loving it. :)

Last post, we were in the middle of Giselle performances (which feels like a million years ago!) . . .

After the second performance of Giselle, I went with two friends (violinists from the orchestra) to a party - my first here! It was such a blast! It was a birthday party, and the guy with said birthday was a fireman, so the party was on the roof of the fire house. It was beautiful, with lots of people, food, drinks, and dancing. And at some point (remember the drinks part?), my friends and I ended up playing some improvised trios. To be sitting with a bunch of new friends on a warm night and look up at the upside-down constellations . . . well, I am a lucky girl.

Some interesting things regarding eating/drinking at the party: I tried some cow tongue (on a piece of bread), which actually wasn't bad. When hanging out with close friends, the custom here is to share a cup. So you take a few sips of beer and pass it on. When empty, it gets refilled and resumes rotation. There are pros and cons to this.

- After a few beers, I normally tend to start just holding the cup and forgetting to drink. The people waiting helped me remember it was in my hand.
- At the end of the party, there were like 11 plastic cups to clean up instead of 200. This is good from both the cleaning up angle and an environmental angle.

- It is not at all possible to keep track of how much you drink, or even to have a reasonable estimate.
- I'm pretty sure this is where I got sick. We'll get back to this in a bit.

Because we had another concert the next afternoon, we had only planned to stay for a few hours. However, when we discovered our ride home passed out drunk face-down on the concrete floor, we resigned ourselves to dancing all night. Rough life, right?

Morning came, and eventually got home just fine in the end. Here's a pic watching the sun come up from the roof of the fire station:

Fortunately, the final performance of Giselle went well despite the lack of sleep. This is after the final performance, with my friend Aldo.

See? When you're good and patient, you get pictures. :)

Well, with the combination lack of sleep and sharing a beer cup with at least five other people, I woke up on Monday with a cold. I suppose if I must wake up feeling like my head is going to implode, my day off is a good day to do it. Still, lame-sauce. And it's weird to have a head cold when it's in the 90s every day. Just seems wrong. Anyway, staying in bed all day and drinking lots of water got me better enough to make the rest of the week bearable, so moving on . . .

Tuesday, we began rehearsing Lohengrin. Aaaaaaand we will continue this in a new post.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What a week!

Sorry for the long silence, but it's been a crazy week! Time to fill you in. :)

Last Tuesday was my first time teaching at the university, and what a long day it was. Left the house at 7, walked an hour to rehearsal (we were at the concert venue this week, which is about half as far as our normal rehearsal space). 2-hr practice, 2.5-hr rehearsal, then I booked it out to San Lorenzo via two buses, where I ran in just in time for my first student.

I have six students at the university. The first one walked in and started playing Doppler's Hungarian Pastoral Fantasie (a piece I played in college, for the non-flute-playing peeps who read this) from memory - then told me this was his very first flute lesson. ?!?!?! Ok - this is going to be fun. His sound is great, he's very musical, he has a real love for the flute and works very hard. If he got this far listening to recordings on his own, I imagine we're going to be able to do some great stuff this semester. Also, surprise, he's one of the students who attended my masterclass when I was here last summer(US)/winter (PY) in another town, so that was kind of fun.

After that, it became apparent that they have scheduled my students for me in descending order of ability, and by the time I got to the last one, she had never even opened the flute case before. We spent the lesson trying to get consistent at making a sound on the headjoint and talked about how to put the instrument together.

So, my six students are at six clearly different levels of playing. It's fun, but kind of exhausting! Plus, of course I forgot my dictionary that day, and only one of my students speaks any English - argh! I'm sure it will be a little easier to explain things when I have some more words to pick from. Still, I feel like I got a good start with everybody, and they're all really eager and open. This is only the second year that they've had flute students at the school, so everything's really new - only one of my students has ever had another teacher.

One more note about the lessons - since I didn't have my dictionary, sometimes I would get a little frustrated with not being able to remember a word. They were all very patient, but in particular one of them would always just laugh a little bit and say, "Tranquila, Profe!," which always just make me laugh. They all call me Profe, short for Profesora, and "tranquila" is a word they use to describe lots of aspects of life here - basically "chill" or "calm".

Anyway. Lessons are over, I leave the schools - mind you, at this point I've been running non-stop for nine hours, I haven't had time to eat anything, and my brain is fried from four hours of teaching very disparate students in a language I'm not good at. What happens next?

I get on the wrong bus.

There are a lot of different varieties of colors of buses here. In the last month, I've only ever seen one green one - 56. Well, it turns out that there are actually at least two green buses. To get home from San Lorenzo, I need to take the 26 or the 56. Now, the first time I went to the school, I took the 26 home, so when the bus that I thought was the 56 started to take a different route, I didn't worry at first. After an hour, I realized that we were in quite a different place than we should be - then I caught the reflection of the bus in a store window as we sat in some traffic and realized what was up. I hopped on the bus, and fortunately we were in an area where I recognized some street names. So I started off in the general direction of my house, and after another 2.5 hours of walking finally made it back home! So, Tuesday: 4 hours of teaching, 3.5 hours of walking, 2.5 hours of rehearsal, 2 hours of practice, 2 hours of bus time, 0 time for relaxing or eating. Ack! At least it didn't rain on me. Still, it was a good day, and I had a great time meeting my students. Next week, when rehearsal gets out at a normal time from the normal place, I remember my dictionary, and I take the right bus home, things should go much more smoothly.

As I was leaving rehearsal on Wednesday, one of the violinists came up and said that she had a job interview coming up and that she would like to practice her English. Of course I was happy to help, and since I didn't have any plans that afternoon, I headed off to lunch with her and one of her friends, another violinist. Well, we actually had a blast and the three of us ended up sitting around talking for seven hours! It was so much fun, and I was so happy to really get to know some people here outside of my house and my job. We talked about all sorts of things, and sort of switched back and forth between English practice for them and Spanish tutoring for me (although we did speak more English, since my Spanish is much worse than their English). We were always in the dictionary teaching each other words and telling stories - it was awesome. They're such sweet girls and we were all just laughing and laughing. It was a great unexpected day.

Then Thursday flew by in the blink of an eye, and Friday was our first concert! Well, our first "real" concert - in the theater, in Asuncion, with serious music, etc. The little run-out tour from a few weeks ago doesn't count. :) It went really well - definitely not perfect, but one of the orchestra's best run-throughs by a long shot. With everybody concentrating, a lot of the problems magically disappeared. (Ok, guys - just do that all the time and imagine how good we could be!!!) But anyway, I was happy with our performance and enjoyed playing. And I couldn't see the dancers, obviously, but the audience seemed to enjoy it.

After the concert, I left with one of my friends from the other day - her aunt had come to the concert and lives pretty close to me, so they offered me a ride home since the buses don't run late. As we were leaving, the Maestro's assistant came running out of the theater to catch up with us. I didn't understand everything he said, but he gave me a rose from the Maestro - the only rose from the mixed bunch of flowers that he had received after the performance. The Maestro is sort of shy and we haven't talked much except when I had some musical questions, so I was really surprised. It was such a sweet gesture! Lovely end to a great night.

We play the ballet again tonight and Sunday afternoon, then start rehearsing Wagner's opera Lohengrin on Monday! The music is a lot more complicated and the show is a lot longer, but my part is much less exposed - Giselle, the ballet, seems like it has a big flute solo every other page, whereas in Lohengrin I mostly get to just blend into the texture and enjoy the ride.

What a long and crazy and awesome week it's been!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Heroes' Day

Yesterday, March 1, was a major holiday here: Heroes' Day. This celebrates the end of the Triple Alliance War, which was Paraguay v. Argentina/Brazil/Uruguay. Anybody want to guess how that one went? Well, the short version is that it was the deadliest war in modern South American history. Paraguay lost 60-70 percent of its population, most of them men. In the most devastated parts of the country, women outnumbered men 20 to 1 by the end of the conflict.

You can basically chalk this mess up to one crazy expansionist/isolationist dictator Francisco Solano Lopez, a fact that is confusingly (to me) overlooked in that the holiday primarily celebrates Solano Lopez, who is considered a national hero, as well as those who died in the war. (Ah - revisionist history, for the win.) Think of it as Veteran's Day with a Latin-American-dictatorial twist.

You can thank Wikipedia for most of this info, because I sure didn't understand much of the speeches that were happening! The big plaza area downtown was filled with flags and people and all the military branches in dress uniforms, really pretty fun. I shook hands with some bigwigs, and a few of us from the orchestra played with a singer in front of the Pantheon of the Heroes, which is a gorgeous building:

Also - Americans who can't learn the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, shame on you. Get a load of the Paraguayan anthem:

Paraguayans: Republic or Death!
Our spirit gave us liberty
Neither oppressors nor slaves exist
Where union and equality reign.

The peoples of the Americas, unfortunately,
Were oppressed for three centuries by a scepter
But one magnificent day surging forth,
"Enough!", it said, and broke the scepter.
Our fathers, grandiose in battle,
Showed their martial glory;
And after smashing the august diadem,
Raised the triumphal cap.

A new Rome, the Fatherland shall proudly display
Two leaders of name and valor
Who, rivals, like Romulus and Remus
Divided government and power.
Long years, during which Phoebus in the clouds
Saw darken the pearl of the South,
Today a grand hero appears
Raising up again her glory and virtue...

Europe and the world salute her with applause
And also acclaim
Invincible bastion of heroism,
Magnificent Eden of riches.
(But) when discord rumbled all around
Which fatally devoured other Peoples,
Paraguayans, the sacred ground
Was covered by an angel with its wings.

Oh, how pure, of laurel girded
Sweet Fatherland, in this manner you show yourself.
In your ensign one sees the colors
Of sapphire, diamond, and ruby.
In your coat of arms, which the Sun illuminates,
Under the cap, one sees the lion.
Double image of the strong and the free,
And of glories, the memory and crest.

From the tomb of vile feudalism
The national Deity rises free;
Oppressors, bend your knees!
Compatriots, entone the hymn!
Sound the cry, "Republic or death"!
Our breasts exhale it with faith,
And the mountains repeat its echoes
Like giants arising.

Our Fatherland defends liberty and justice;
Tyrants: listen!
The laws in its sacred charter
Will sustain its heroism in the fight.
Against the world, if the world opposes it,
If the world dares to insult her security,
Battling to avenge we shall know her
Or die embracing her.

Arise, oh People, your splendid sword
That strikes with sparkles of God,
There is no middle ground between free or slave
And an abyss divides the two.
In the gentle breezes the Hymn resounds,
Repeating with triumphal echo:
For the free, renowned glory!
For the Fatherland, immortal laurel!

And, yes, they do sing the WHOLE thing, with choruses. It's not quick. So next time you can't remember the words to the first of the four verses of the Star Spangled Banner (Did you know there even were three more verses? I didn't.), go ahead and feel a little inferior. Paraguayans: they're more patriotic than you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Well, the little tour we did last weekend went well and was a lot of fun! First stop was a town called Pedro Juan Caballero, over on the Brazilian border. The ride over on the bus was amazing - the country here is gorgeous! It was looking a little bit like something out of Lost, and then these huge mountains came up out of nowhere -

(These are not my pictures, by the way. My camera will be coming with my parents in May. Turns out, I was an idiot and it will work after all. Meanwhile, thank you, Internet.)

But I digress. So, amazing scenery on the bus. My friends assure me there are monkeys on top of the mountain in that first picture.

The next day we played in San Bernardino (San Ber, if you want to sound local). It's a resort town by a big lake, and it's beautiful. Apparently it's THE vacation spot around here. We had a few hours to kill while we waited for some rain to stop, and so we ended up hanging around the Hotel del Lago. It was built in 1888, and is right on the lake.

If you walk behind the building, there's a huge balcony overlooking a little lagoon-pool area overlooking the lake. Completely gorgeous. A friend from the orchestra was walking around with me, and he showed me how you can just pick coconuts up off the ground, smash them with a rock, and eat them. Very paradisical.While we were waiting to play, some of the orchestra members rented a room so that we would all have a place to change and get ready (the one room we were supposed to share with the singers was just ridiculously crowded). I went and put on my black clothes and started to leave the room, but the other orchestra girls weren't having it. Before I knew it, they sat me down on a bed, one started doing a fancy braid in my hair and another doing my makeup while a bunch of them asked me about my boyfriend. It was like a scene from some silly chick flick, really, ha! But it really was so sweet. They've made me feel so welcome here!

We played our concert of happy, catchy Paraguayan folk-type stuff, and all went well. One of the coolest things came next, though. As an encore, a dancer did a traditional "Bottle Dance." Apparently it's popular at celebrations and festivals and stuff. Here's how it works:

Girl in festive traditional dress puts a wine bottle on her head and dances around. She bows (with bottle still on head), everybody claps. Then she walks over to a guy on a ladder, who adds another bottle. Dips, spins, dances, bows, claps. Back to the dude for a third bottle. Etc. Apparently they go up to twenty bottles, but because we had ended up playing inside due to the aforementioned rain, this girl only did five or so to avoid hitting the ceiling. Yawn, right? Here's what it looks like:

(Above, you can see the guy in the background loading up another girl while this one bows. And below, someone farther along.)

So, yeah. Danza de los botellas. Very cool. They do it to a sort of polka-y music and everybody claps. I didn't catch much of what the emcee said at the concert so I'm not sure what we were celebrating, but there were fireworks after the show and it was a really fun end to a long and exhausting trip!

I'm really glad that this mini-tour happened right at the beginning of my time here. Trips like these are always a great way to get to know people, and I got to make friends with a lot of the other musicians and singers while we were on the road. However, I was very happy to get back to Giselle at rehearsal today! Love, love, love the music we're playing. :)

Oh, and most of you have heard my good news on Facebook, but for anyone who hasn't, I got another job! In addition to my orchestra gig, I'm going to be the flute teacher at the Universidad Evangelica del Paraguay. I'll have six undergrad music majors there - two flute majors, and four beginning flute as a secondary instrument. Playing opera/ballet and teaching a small college studio? Perfect. Completely perfect.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One-Week Par-aversary

Ok, so it's actually been a week and a day, but I didn't get around to this yesterday, so -

I really can't believe it's only been a week - Colorado feels so distant, like it was forever ago! I honestly can't get over how nice everyone's been here. Various people at home and at work, without my having to ask, have been drawing me maps to help with taking the buses, walking me to places I haven't been, helping me buy a phone, checking to make sure I understand when there's a change in rehearsal time, etc. It's been so amazing to be surrounded by people who are so willing to help me out, and also very humbling to be in a position to need so much help. As most of you reading this know, I am not usually a person who needs somebody to show me how to do things or take care of things for me, so that's been a whole other kind of adjusting that needs to be done beyond the obvious stuff to get used to.

Progress in week 1: I'm getting pretty proficient at taking the bus to and from work - soon I may even get brave and try to take it somewhere else. :) My trips to the grocery store are getting quicker and involving less dictionary time. And even though I have a long, LONG way to go, I can tell that my Spanish is improving a little already.

Well, kids, it's way past my bedtime. The orchestra and opera chorus are going on a little tour for a couple of days and we're leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow! We're going to be doing excerpts from an opera they did last year. It was written by a local composer and is based on traditional Guarani songs. It's really easy music, but I'm excited to play my first concerts with the orchestra and see some other towns.

Hasta luego, friends!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Here I am . . .

Well, here I am!!! After six months of waiting, four plane rides, and thirty hours of transit - here I am. It's only been a few days, but so far, so good! I'm living in a huge, beautiful house with three Paraguayans and another American, and they've all been so sweet and helpful as I get my bearings. It's been an overwhelming couple of days - I'm meeting tons of people and everything is so different!

My first day with the orchestra went well last week. Everybody's just learning their music and the maestro is out of town for a few months, but my colleagues couldn't have been more welcoming. (One of them even accompanied me home from rehearsal as I'm just learning to use the buses here.)

So far I've had tons of free time and I'm doing a lot of practicing and studying (Spanish mostly, and a little music history). I just can't get over how beautiful this place is and how friendly the people are. Hopefully I'll be able to buy a camera soon and get you all some pictures. I'll check in with some more coherent thoughts once I figure things out a little better, but for now I'll leave you with this:

The Paraguayans might be the most hospitable people in the world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's almost time to go!

Well, after months of waiting, it's finally time to make the big move! The last two months in Colorado have flown by unbelievably fast, but I'm so glad I was able to spend so much time with my family and friends before I go. I'm going to miss you all so much!

I leave in two days, and the amount of little tiny things that still need to get done before I go seems never-ending. It feels like every time I cross something off, I remember two more things that need to happen. Hopefully everything will come together - wish me luck!

I'm so excited to start my job, nervous about the language, sad to leave my friends and family here, happy to see all my friends in Paraguay again, and generally overwhelmed by it all! I've moved around a lot in the last few years, but this one is just SO much bigger. It's snowing outside, and I'm trying to prepare to jump into the middle of a tropical summer. And no doubt that in a few days I'm going to really wish I had spent more time studying Spanish in the last few months!

The first few pieces we're doing in orchestra are Giselle (a ballet) in March and Lohengrin (an opera) in April. I'm so excited for this music, but nervous, too! Giselle especially has a lot of exposed solos, and I really want to make a good first impression.

Anyway, I hope this blog makes it easier to stay in touch with everybody back in the US. I'm going to miss you guys!!