Friday, June 27, 2008

Next Days in Sofia

Yesterday and today I have been spending more time with Angela, and staying at her apartment in the center of the city with Martha, who is rejoining the choir from Athens. We have been walking to the National Palace of Culture (NDK) for the TV show and rehearsing for our concert tomorrow. This morning we visited the Philip Koutev choir. Then I came to Angela's apartment to sleep since I have gotten a bad cold, while the rest of the group went to Bistritsa to meet with some "Grannies" who have a vocal ensemble. When they came back, I had slipped into a mind-altering, exhausted slumber on the floor for 5 hours. We took a cab to a local restaurant with excellent live musicians and folk dancing. A few of us got up to sing one of our Pirin songs with the band, and plug our concert.
The Philip Koutev ensemble was an emotionally saturated meeting and I am still replaying the scenes in my mind. Tzvetanka introduced us to the conductor of the past 13 years, who had been her first teacher when she was just 14 tender years. He came out of an office as we entered the corridor leading to their sunny, stifling rehearsal studio. She told us "The most important person in my life was this man." He seemed quiet and approachable, of small stature and large-hearted. They had prepared a mini-concert for us, during the first half-second of which we were spellbound and devastated by their collective voice and the beauty of the music being executed with such power. We did our best to put more feeling into two tighter songs from our repertoire. They seemed to genuinely appreciate us, and made remarks about our perfect pronounciation and how much Tzvetanka's daughters have grown. To me, the power in this ensemble is really the story of all these women who have invested their lives to it, throughout so much turmoil - personal, social and economic. None of these superb musicians and performers can make ends meet without a separate career. And yet what they do together is incomparable.
When they opened their mouths, a sonic force entered the space from the center, creating a single, dimensionless portal in the fabric of reality. Words fail me now.
Maybe I'll post some images of other things later.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

First Days in Sofia

I made my sketchy connection in London. The "carry-on luggage only" was a successful plan. I ran from the arrival gate in Heathrow, through customs and on to the Central Bus Station and caught a bus leaving ten minutes before the one I scheduled. There was no traffic to Gatwick.
I arrived in Sofia about 20 hours after taking off from LA. The airport was even smaller than I remembered from 2005. After looking around for my ride and being harassed by taxi drivers, I thought there must be a mistake. The ATM was out of service and no currency bureau was open, so I asked the woman in the information booth if she spoke English. She helped me to ward off a pushy taxi driver while she called our teachers' home every few minutes. Apparently a new airport terminal was built recently and everyone else in the group had arrived there, a mile or so away. They had assumed I was coming in there. This was only one of a long string of travel complications. With 20 girls and a band, all with separate arrangments, you can imagine.

Anyway, I made it to their home dirty, tired and hungry. I hurt my neck/shoulders pretty bad lifting my luggage around and being cramped up on planes. Going on a 5 hour walking tour of Sofia didn't help me. Especially in the heat. But I didn't get to see any of the city last time I was here so I wanted to push myself. Long-time expat (Minnesota native) and former choir-founder, Angela, led us around to churches, mosques, parks, etc. Here is a natural spring in the middle of the city where people come to fill up bottles. The water is hot, and Myra said she saw a man washing his dishes there yesterday.

After our tour, we went to a rehearsal of the National Radio Folk Orchestra, in a bright room on the top floor of an old building. The rehearsal space is accessed by a stairway off the street in between some random shops, so it felt clandestine. Being in the middle of these musicians was a world of difference from the recordings I know. They are on the bill, along with other all-star Bulgarian folk groups, for our concert on Thursday.

Then we came home to cook, have dinner, and rehearse a little bit.

As I write this post, the group has gone to the TV station to do a PSA to announce the big event. It's nice to have a little time to myself, although I worry that this injury is going to keep me from doing other things and I ought to be resting right now. Later this afternoon we will be on a popular show, Slavi Trifonov. I think I'll go even if I'm stiff all over. It will only add to our groups' freakishness.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


While in Minneapolis
I rescued
these photos
and other
from the time when
my mom worked
as a translator
for Suzuki.
(She started studying Japanese in high school.)

They sent her on trips to Japan and San Francisco. From Japan she visited a friend in Taiwan. This was before she met my dad, who moved from Taipei to Minneapolis around that time.

Upon her return she suffered her first psychotic break, but not knowing what it was, she somehow was able to hold herself together enough to go to college, where she met my dad, etc...

30 years later, around the same age as she was then, I went to Japan. Pictures I took /Mom & twin wearing yukata.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then how many memories is it worth?

I went to Japan,
but I couldn't follow you into every temple.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

лято 夏天 yaz saati 2008 Itinerary

June 3-13, Minneapolis MN

23 юни - 23 Temmuz, Bulgaria/Turkey via London

7th 八月 - 2nd 九月 Taiwan