So. Just less than a week ago I returned from Rome. But my last post on this site was a week before that, merely detailing my trip’s itinerary, so I’m sure that if you’ve read that, you’ve a solid idea of what I did all week. So please understand that I’m not here to rehash the itinerary, but to go over some highlights before I forget everything as if it was merely a wonderful and extensive dream.
Saturday we flew out of BWI two hours after we were scheduled to and after sitting those two hours on the tarmac with a lovely view of. well. nothing of interest. We arrived at JFK only to find that our flight was supposed to be taking off at the same time we were landing. There were thirty people in our group, so they held the plane for us, thank God. They did not, however, inform us that they would be holding the plane for us. So we sprinted to the other side of the terminal to find our plane was waiting for us at the gate, no problem. Until we sat on the runway for three hours waiting to take off. Now all this being said, keep in mind: we haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast. We weren’t able to be served any meal until we were in the air at cruising altitude (which takes some time to reach in such a large plane). Because the wait was so long, I, unfortunately, fell asleep on my mom in the plane while we waited on the tarmac. I woke up around the time we were taking off and ate my food and then proceeded to be uncomfortable, jittery, dead tired, and completely awake for the remainder of the flight. -.- I can not stress how badly this threw off the remainder of Sunday, with as tired as I was. It was my understanding that we would only be driving by the areas listed on the itinerary on the way to the hotel. Oh no. How wrong of me. We did in fact tour one of them, the Piazza Navona. Now this was nothing to complain about as the city of Rome is absolutely gorgeous. There are tall pine trees that look as if they’re straight out of Africa and buildings that seem to have crept out of old history books, fountains that would delight a thousand fishes and quaint shops, cafes, and restaurants that would satisfy any helpless romantic at heart, such as myself. We ate at a restaurant outdoors amidst an alley side street. We were the largest table there, 12 of us, and the man who served us spoke at least 5 languages including Italian, English, Spanish, and most likely Portuguese. We think he also spoke French.
Throughout the trip in Italy, I received the best service at restaurants that I have ever gotten in my life. There were only two times that the service was bad enough to render complaint, and only once where it was in a venue that it was surprising. Most waiters (and vendors of other goods alike) were not rude if they did not like me or my party. They were just as prompt and helpful with service, they were just more curt and disapprovinging of giving it. I perceived from most people who were either disagreeable or the two that were rude, that they had such issue with me or the people I was with because we are Americans. But when waiters were rude, they were quite bold in being so rude. At the hotel during the welcome banquet, six of the members of my table were from Texas, from Houston and Dallas. Two were from India, and then there was my mom and I. Our waiter was clearly disgusted that he was assigned a table of mostly Americans and it took us three times asking him and once asking another waiter if we could simply have more water. He also didn’t serve one of the members of our table for about ten to fifteen minutes after the rest of us. The excuse given was that he had a dirty plate. Another waiter had to serve him because ours was nowhere to be found. The other time service was rude was when our group went to a restaurant behind our hotel where there are many alleys and restaurants, along with many clothing shops and such. It was a small shop kind of an area. The owners of the restaurant were clearly annoyed that such American teenagers were at their restaurant, not because we were rude or disrespectful or boisterous, but because we were Americans. However with this pretense clearly felt against us early on, and clearly demonstrated early on, we had no guilt becoming a bit boisterous and over joyous. (hehehe).
Anywho, back to Sunday. Sunday we at at this Plaza and had excellent service from probably the kindest Italian man we met over the course of the trip. He was so very welcoming, helped us with our Italian phrases, and the food. Oh the food. In Italy there are three main food groups: Pasta. Bread. And water. I ordered spaghetti as my first Italian dish. It was spectacular. Everything was home made. The noodles. The sauce. The brochette. The bread. Perhaps the butter too. It was spectacular. For those of you who are reading this and are not aware, spaghetti is my favorite food. Ever. This is why my family nicknamed me “Noodle”. Because I LOVED noodles as a kid. I thought all noodles were spaghetti. So to have this as my first dish and have it be so good, in such good company, in such good atmosphere, with such wonderful and welcoming service was excellent.
That evening we checked in, went to dinner a bit later than we should have, and were seated apart from everyone else because everyone had sat at tables that were full. So we were by ourselves. Whenever we had dinner at our hotel, we were served our meals in courses. Pasta, then a main American-esque meal, then some rich desert. All of the food was very rich. The pasta, the cakes and puddings and gilati. Everything. I think my stomach expanded through the trip.
After check-in, Eddie, Jacob, Jenni, Alex, and I explored around the hotel a bit. We found back alley ways here and there that were just lovely. Rome is a beautiful city. There is vegetation everywhere in window gardens and art painted on the walls and boarded up doors. The architecture is well rounded as well so there is no harsh feel to the city as I feel there are in many American cities. The air is cleaner also because the cars are far less pollutant. It’s hot, but it’s not humid, so even when we were out in weather over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, it wasn’t as bad as it is here in Maryland in August.
Monday we toured the Forum and the Coliseum with our tour guide Josie (she pronounced it “Jewsey” herself, in her partial Italian accent, and I was the only one who found this amusing to my knowledge). One of the fist things she did when she got on the bus was to point out the illegal immigrants in the park on our left. They were gypsies. I knew Josie and I would get along swell. There were tons of really neat things that I saw in Rome, that I learned, and I could probably write a book on all of it, like that the pyramid on the Roman walls is a tomb because people were not permitted to be buried within the walls, or that the entire top section of the Coliseum is gone because Romans saw it as nothing but some giant structure that got in the way so they ripped off the Marble and stones to use it as a quarry. I could tell you how there are at lest two Roman Forums and that one of them is where Cesar was murdered. One has a temple that a woman built for her husband after poisoning him to death. But you can read all of this in books or come over to my house and have me bore you for hours with pictures and stories. For right now though, I’d rather follow the highlights that you won’t find in books.
That evening, we headed to St. Paul’s to tour the area on our own as we wanted and for the group photo for the event. The group photo, I felt, was not only frustrating, but also rather degrading, for our group particularly for this reason: through the photo we kept needing to move and why was our group the group to move? Why because we were young and had legs that could carry us fast enough. That’s actually what we were told. Every time we were asked to move, we were referred to as “teenagers” and I found this offensive. Yes, I am a teenager. But I do not appreciate being met with such negative connotations so readily. Let me explain: this is the International Church Music Festival. These singing groups are consistent of mainly middle aged and older participants. We were the only group of our age there. The group that was closest in age to ours was a group of Ukrainian men who were between “young” and “middle aged”, most likely in their thirties with maybe one or two members in their forties. As we were not introduced or given opportunity to prove our abilities in attending this festival, we were initially looked down upon. “Teenagers”. Pshaw.
After the picture, we left for the welcome banquet where I sat with half of Texas and two Indians, plus my mom. There was some really good white wine. The wine in Italy was excellent, but it was useless learning the names as all of the wine we were served was exclusively Italian. During the welcome banquet one of the Indian groups performed, followed by the meal, then us, then the Ukrainians (a singing ensemble called Orpheus). When each group sang, the room became quieter. When we sang, you could hear a pin drop. The mass of people there seemed stunned to see so many young people singing so well. After that, the general idea of us was greatly changed and we became the superstars of the festival all of a sudden. This was really really flattering at first and by the end of the week, the kinds of compliments we received were absolutely overwhelming.
I have never been so proud of any other accomplishment in my entire life. I’m sure there are greater accomplishments still, but being a part of this group has made it possible to spread God’s word in ways I could have never imagined before.
Tuesday was our first practice. It was…a bit disheartening, for me personally, but overall it was thrilling to be singing with so many people. It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to sing in a mass choir where all four parts are equally represented. The reason I was disheartened was this: the Madrigal Singers of AACS are a very advanced group of singers, in talent, in work ethic, and also in knowledge of theory and direction. Because of this, we have a tendency to naturally over prepare for events where we’re required to learn music. This has happened a few times before and when we show up to events such as these we will quickly realize we are the only group who comprehends and knows the music so thoroughly and so confidently. I was hoping at this festival that the tables would be turned, that we would in fact be behind. Unfortunately we were not. We were, for the most part, ahead of the game. There were two choirs that clearly knew their music inside out and backwards, which was wonderful as both of those choirs were larger than we were. It was a simply wonderful experience meeting with so many from literally around the world and fellowshiping together to praise the Lord. And for most of the choirs, that was clearly the purpose and the spirit moved freely through their song.
For lunch, that day, we had very little time. We walked towards the Spanish steps and found a sandwich shop and decided to munch quickly by the Spanish steps and snap a few pictures before heading back to the meeting spot. While getting my picture taken, a man came up to me holding roses and offered me some. I replied no, I didn’t want any roses, and he again shoved them into my hands and told me “gift! gift!”. Now. I’m not stupid, but for a moment I was. He walked away, I got my pictures taken, and as I was walking away, he comes up to me and says “money” . . . I said no. I tried to give the roses back, etc. To no avail. I’ve been told I should have dropped the roses at his feet and walked away. Do you know, my dear reader, I SHOULD HAVE. Unfortunately that thought did not cross my mind and I gave him a few euros to get him to go away. What a prick. The roses, you’ll be glad to know, went to good use. One was used in the pocket of a friend of mine to make his outfit just a lil more snazzy (it was pretty sharp to begin with). The other two were given to random Italian women by two guys in our group, saying “for you, beautiful” in Italian when they were handed out.
After such an eventful morning, we were pretty darn pooped. However that was our day to tour the Vatican and the Sistine chapel, and tour them we did. We spent two hours walking through the halls of art leading up to the chapel. Now, I was misinformed, or assumptive, or something, but I assumed that all of the art in the Sistine Chapel is actually in the Sistine Chapel. This is not true. There are endless halls leading up to the chapel and the chapel itself is actually quite small. When we reached it I think we were all surprised at it’s small size and also by the amount of people in the room at a time. The ceiling really is remarkable, though. I got dizzy staring at it. One of the main things I was looking forward to was the Creation of Adam, which, I was surprised to see, was just the same size as every other mural on the ceiling. No offense to Michelangelo, but I think I would have designed things quite differently. The art through the entire area was breathtaking through, so I can’t really complain much about layout. :o)
We also toured the tombs of the Popes. That was very interesting to see because of one tomb: the tomb of St. Peter. It’s mind blowing to think that the remains of one of Jesus companions are still preserved within this ornate tomb. There was a lot of commotion around the tomb of the recent Pope. I was surprised by the people craning to see his tomb, and those standing aside in a roped off area completely broken down in tears and praying and the like. I do not mean to insult Catholics as a whole by this comment, for I know many reasonable Catholics who are not so connected to the Pope ideal, but I can not comprehend breaking down in tears at the death of a person you have never known, nor can I comprehend praying to anyone other than the Lord God. No one else, no other being, is worth my prayers and definitely not worth my praise. We are all fallen. Granted the Pope does sacrifice a lot in his position. But to be so emotionally torn?…I mean these people that were weeping at his tomb were seriously broken down. I just can’t comprehend that. *sigh* I suppose it could just be the cultural difference, but I still just do not understand.
Moving along. Many different people went to the top of the dome at St. Peters Basilica (which we also toured. Oh my was that breathtaking). There is so much art in Rome, and specifically in the Vatican, that at some point you give up trying to photograph it all. I decided to go to the gift shop, looking for presents here and there. I was amazed at some of the statues and art that was available in the shop. Unfortunately, the only two pieces of art I looked at seriously were about five hundred dollars out of my price range, to my closest calculation in my head. After a few pictures by the Basilica we were on our way back to the hotel and to dinner as a group at that restaurant behind the hotel where our waiters were rude. Eddie, Jacob and I went for gilati after this and met up with the group that was going to Trevi Fountain. I was dead tired and decided to rest, but I sometimes wish that I had gone to see it. It’s a beautiful fountain. I hope to go back some day and visit it.
Wednesday was Pope day! As not into Catholic culture as I am, it was still exciting to see such an influential religious figure. I don’t really understand why he’s such an influential figure, but when he appeared Wednesday morning you could have been at a rock concert and the crowd would not have been louder. We, the members of the ICMF, sang our short little condensed Gloria for the Pope, got a wave from him, and sat. All of the attendants are announced in their own native languages and they cheer to represent themselves and the Pope waves in their general direction. We arrived two hours early for the mass and it was two hours long so we spent a total of four hours in the sun, which was very hot. It’s not so bad though because in Rome you do not burn. I didn’t get sunburned at all the entire time we were there and many of my friends can tell you, I’m usually one of the first to pink-up. That afternoon we strolled around Rome. We went back to the Spanish steps, I got my sweater ^.^, hopped the metro back to the hotel, and after dinner and a quick change, we were off to the International Concert. We heard singers from Dallas, Coventry England, Uganda, Ukraine, and India. It was spectacular. The Coventry choir was excellent and very well trained. The Ugandans and Indians had such spirit and the Holy Spirit flowed almost as visible fluid through the Ugandans. The Ukrainians were the first singing ensemble to make me cry for a very long time, longer than I can remember. They sang no songs in English, but there was a song they sung that came straight from the heart, a prayer, a creed, a plea, that was so beautiful. Words can not express.
Thursday we had practice and then we sang two concerts. Before we left for the concerts I had a mini break down. You see on trips such as this there are not many times of rest. Even the rest overnight isn’t usually fulfilling because you are usually uncomfortable, stressing about waking up on time, stressing about the events of the next day and what you need to dwell on and remember, or some combination of these things. Now on more recent tours I haven’t had this problem, but most tours are only around four or five days, tops. So to be six days into a tour that is exhausting in every possible way, my poor body had worn out my emotional retention and I broke down for no good reason other than being tired. So I had myself a good cry and then off to the concerts! After some water and a yummy banana I was good to go again and trekked along with the others on the way to Santa Maria Maggiore. It was a decently sized basilica down the street from our hotel. We were first and when we arrived we were told that our initial time length for the performance was actually double what we were required to limit to. So we only sang three of our six or more songs. We then hopped aboard our bus and went to sing at the Pantheon. That was quite the experience. We were initially schedules last but then when we arrived we were told we’d be second to last, and then we were bumped back to last again. Now you must understand: the Pantheon is a building that’s a public monument. It’s similar to how singing at the Lincoln Memorial would be. There’s a constant hum of chatter, birds flying around the dome trying to find a way out, lots of distractions. Well we knocked ’em silent. During our performance more and more people began to pay attention to us and when we sang “This Little Light”, the room was silent. You could have heard a pin drop. It was…spectacular. And I’m not saying all of this because I’m promoting how accomplished our choir is. That’s not at all my point. My point is that the songs we sang preached the gospel, each in it’s own unique way. And the fact that by honing our talents through that group for the purpose of praising and worshiping and spreading the Lord’s name made possible to silence a room and make them listen to what we had to say. . . It’s simply mind-blowing. I mean to know that we dumbfounded some of the main organizers of the event with our talents is flattering, but to know the spiritual impact on so many in the room, festival attendees and native Italians alike, was just overwhelming, the work that the Spirit was doing through us.
That evening we went to dinner at a very Italian restaurant. There was live music with four singing guitarists who entertained us, so we sang for them to thank them, as we normally do when we eat a meal at a restaurant that treats us so well. There was also a minor theater piece and excellent food. It was the relaxation and rejuvenation that everyone needed for the evening. It was wonderful to rest and just enjoy Rome and all of it’s culture. While the guitarists were singing an Italian song, John, a very gifted tenor of ours, joined in singing with the guitarist because he knew the song. They finished out the song together and it was absolutely wonderful. Just such fun to be able to interact with people of a completely different culture so well.
The following morning, Friday morning, we slept in. THANK GOD. We had a morning of leisure so we finish what souvenir shopping we needed to do and then headed to St. Pauls Outside the Walls for a dress rehearsal for that evening. The last two practices, the one Thursday and Friday, Sheila, Paul Leddington Wright’s wife, sat with our group and she was just the sweetest thing. She was absolutely adorable because she was British and automatically more interesting for her accent alone. We also found her in similar mindsets to many of our altos, that she was enthralled with all of the music so thoroughly that she figured why not learn a few other parts here and there? So when we sang certain parts of the Mass and when we sang through the Hallelujah Chorus, we found her joining in on our favorite Soprano, Tenor, and Bass parts with us. This sounds trivial, but it’s rather rare to find in older generations as they find part hopping “improper” as a majority. So that evening was the huge Gala concert. Our two conductors were Paul Leddington Wright and Sir David Willcocks. They were both British and they were both just strict enough to be thrilling to work under. Sir David was particularly impressive because he has been in the ICMF for 25 years. (Those of you who do not remember, this year is the 25th anniversary). Sir David will be turning 90 this Fall. He’s got to be the liveliest man of his age I have ever met. He had such spunk and was quite demanding, which was wonderful. Stand up. Look at him. Stop burying your face in your music. All great things to hear from a conductor, and things that are even better to be said to a mixed experience crowd. 🙂 During the gala concert, we also were entertained by an orchestra piece by the piano duo Nielson and Young. They were among those who came to see us at the Pantheon. Also of note was the Canon Adrian Daffern, the most realistic man I have ever met that holds a Catholic office. He’s definitely someone I look forward to visiting a few years from now at ICMF Coventry. It was sad parting with such wonderful people that we’d barely gotten to know, but it is encouraging knowing that we’ll most likely be seeing them again in a few years.
The flights home were rather uneventful compared with the flights there. No sprinting through terminals and then back up broken escalators as we had on the way there. US Customs weren’t so bad as they’re made out to be. Just a long line that moves relatively quickly and a random inspection now and again. We made our second flight no problem. Not as if they’d have left without us out of JFK. The planes we flew on to and from JFK both leaving and returning from/to BWI seated around 50 people total. We had around 30 people. Those planes weren’t goin anywhere without us. So there was nothing to worry about there.
As wonderful as my travels were and as diverse and eye-opening the culture was, it was good to return home. In a country where nothing is broadcast in English, it’s easy to get lost in world events and while in Italy, I heard nothing of the revolution in Iran, not until I’d returned. It was also difficult to be away from personal matters. I think my favorite part of the trip was when I’d returned home and the man I’m courting came to see me and I was wrapped back into his arms again. You appreciate the love you have for people and the love they have for you so much more when you’re separated from it for any length of time at such a great distance.
Yes, that would be my other big news from about a week before I left for this trip. I’m courting a man named Joel who in a few short months has become my closest and dearest friend. I’m convinced he’s absolutely perfect for me and we’re pretty convinced that we’ve got a good shot at a marriage so after a brief conversation with my parents and then with me, we’re courting, officially. I can’t stress how encouraging it is to be in a relationship with someone who is so very understanding, and one who understands my past struggles, motivations, goals, and who I can be myself around and still be loved. I have never been more myself with anyone. I don’t always have to dress up or try to look beautiful, he usually thinks I’m most beautiful on days when I think myself least beautiful. I don’t have to act like someone I’m not because he loves the person I am, not the role I’m capable of acting. Our core values match up so exactly. Our motivations and goals are so very similar. Within our own fortes, but so very similar. I’m enthralled by his existence at all, and absolutely overwhelmed that I’ve found him and that he loves me as I love him. My darling, I am so very blessed to have you in my life.
And on that note (a d major chord for those of you who were wondering what note it was, exactly), I leave you, dear reader. Until my next exciting or infuriating adventure.