Europe 2001-2005


Collected stories of travels to Europe



TRIP TO TAIZE AND GOSPEL CHOIR TOUR OF GERMANY
May 14, 2001 – Macon, France 

Bonjour 

 Well I lost my first letter and I’m running out of time!  Hello everyone, pardon any typing errors, the keyboard isn’t the same, in about half an hour ill catch the bus from Macon to Taize, it took me forever to get here because i wasn’t exactly sure how to get to Taize, and no one else knew.  i visited the house of mary help of christians sisters in Milan,the same sisters i lived with in college, one of them Sr. Luch had been to the house in n Haledon! 

Last night i stayed in Chambrey, a cute village at the base of the alps, it was beautiful and i had a very sweet room with a balcony!  i walked around the town and then turned in and woke up early this morning for my  third straight day of traveling!  i ate a quiche today yum! 

Well thats all for now, my first letter was much more descriptive, but what can you do?  Very french attitude huh? 

Love you all madly!


 


SUMMER 2002
July 19, 2002 – Montreux, Switzerland  Orange Point Memoir 

Hi 

   Well, I'm at the Orange Point, a very cool (contrived) modern internet and cell phone place in Switzerland.  I left NY on the 9th of July after getting off 10 months on the ship just 2 weeks earlier.  Yep, so anyway I went first to Paris.  On the plane I ran into a friend from Chapel Hill, a sax player named Tim Smith.  We were both going to Montreux to meet up with some other friends from Chapel Hill.  We decided to stay in Paris for a few days.  While still in the airport, we met Dee Dee Bridgewater's band and husband.  He gave me her latest CD, a collection of Kurt Weill tunes. They told us where to go for some cool jam sessions in Paris.  A guy on the plane(an american in Paris) gave us the name of a cheap hotel.  We were set up! 

         All the tips we were given proved themselves and we had plenty to do and saved a whole lot on the room. I met lots of good musicians there and hopefully will be able to return shortly and do a little tour.  I left my glasses and camera (stupid stupid stupid) at the club on what was supposed to be our last night there, so I had to stay and extra day while Tim went on to Montreux.  I got my glasses back, but the camera is gone.  Dollar for dollar, the glasses are worth more, so I guess I'm glad...   Had a really crappy last day in Paris so I went back to the hotel and slept the rest of the day (bad busking (street playing) experience at the Sacre Coeur which is that big church on a huge hill overlooking all of Paris and was recently featured in the movie Amalie).  My day ended with a bad email experience in which I wrote a very long letter to everyone and when I went to send it, it was summarily deleted.  (this happened to me three times my last trip to Europe) 

     So Montreux...has been great.  I met up with my friends and we're staying in a very quaint hotel in the neighboring town.  Petit Dejunée is included.  We've seen Herbie Hancock with Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove and George Mraz.  Gary Burton with Makoto Ozone; Scofield, Lovano, Dave Holland and Al Foster.  And some Django group called the Gipsy project, that was awesome!  I missed Michel Camilo unfortunately, but today I'm going to a workshop with Lynne Arriale and yesterday I sat in on the workshop with Lee Konitz.
  
    We've made about 300 dollars busking, so we haven’t spent any money really, thats been great.  And we've met a lot of musicians doing it too. I'm the designated pass the hat girl which is nice because if I had to sing for four hours straight without a mic I would certainly lose my voice, so the hat work is a nice break from singing.  Swiss currency is great for busking because they have 1, 2 and 5 CHF (swiss franc) coins.  And the 1's are so small that people usually feel like it's not enough so they give a few, or a 2 or 5 more commonly. 

       But anyway, I'm off to Germany on Sunday and the to Czech Rep. after that, and then home to my new apartment in Inwood (way N. Manhattan) 

    Hope you all are well. I've been having very vivid dreams last few nights, so if you'd like to try and communicate that way it might work, otherwise you can just send an email. 

    

 

July 29, 2002 Notes Nouveau 

Hi Everyone, 

    Well its been 2 countries and about 10 days since my last email.   

I’ m in Prague and have been here for four days.  I’ve seen the cool St. Vistus Cathedral with its 20th century windows, and the South Gardens leading up to the Prague Castle.  I’ve been to a different jazz club each night and met some nice musicians.  Two days ago I went with my friend Anna from the ship, who has been letting me stay at her home, and her cousin and boyfriend to Kunta Hora, and saw the bone church, an eerie church surrounded by cemeteries where the interior of the church is decorated exclusively with bones from medieval plague victims.  Check out www.kostnice.cz for the gruesome pictures.  I’ve also been to two museums, one with a Man Ray exhibit and the other was the museum of decorative arts.  There I got to make my own stained glass panel out of lighting gels.  Before coming to Prague, I was in Munich.  I love that city!  I went to museums there too and saw a big collection of Klee and Kandinsky.  But I liked some of the artists I’ve never heard of better. I got to see Marc Copland play 2 nights with a great quartet, and the jam sessions I went to were very nice. One night we went to a fabulous Bavarian style pub and the proprietors sang and played accordion and organ and taught us drinking songs.  I sang with the proprietor when he played I Can’t Give You Anything But Love on the organ.  It was a blast and cheap and good!  I also took a day trip out to the big Bavarian castles Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau.  They were so big and amazing! 

    Well, that apartment in Inwood is history, and its just as good because while in Montreux we hooked up with a gig at a business convention in Rotterdam in September, so I decided to stay in Europe until then.  I still have no firm contract as of yet, so my plans could change at any moment. 

    What will I do with an extra month and a half in Europe?  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  I have some ideas, language study in France or Spain, hang out at Communities in Europe, go further south east and see Romania, Greece etc.  Or go north and see Estonia and russia?  Or go to Britain and explore? 

    Maybe I’ll take your suggestions and put them in a hat and draw one and do that.  So make them good! 

    Oh, the title of the letter refers to all the great art nouveau art and architecture in Prague.  I just love that style!  All that flow and nudity.  Much better than the Art Deco of Miami, all lines and plumes.  And what happened to the naked people all over the buildings?

Immediate future, going to a techno music festival in Frydlant near Liberec in North CZ.  A jazz pianist I met in Prague invited me.  Having never been to one Im pretty excited, its a week long, free and in a beautiful part of the country.  Ill write again when I get back to civilization probably between Friday and Monday, depending on how long I can stand up dancing!!! 

 

Aug 4, 2002    You can Gdansk if you want to… 

Hi Everyone, 

Well, another wonderful week abroad, or almost a week, now that I think of it, it's only been like 5 days, but it feels like it's been a month.  Just in the distance traveled and the emotional distance.  Well, I left Prague to head to the Czech Tech, the biggest Techno party in Europe this year (I later learned) .  I took a bus 3 hours North of Prague (for like 70cents) and met some  punk rockers (I guess punk's not dead after all)  on the bus. When we arrived in the town we were told to go to, there was no sign of where to head.  We wandered around for a bit and the 2 dudes talked to people and met some people who could give us a ride up there.  But when we got in the car and drove around a bit, it was revealed that they had just come from the fest and it was over.  In about half a minute I asked if I could continue traveling with them and they said yes.  (not the punk dudes, but the guys with the car)  We hung out there for a while and went swimming in the creek and had what they were calling breakfast (even though it was already like 6pm)  and then we headed off.  Where did we go?  Northeast to Krakow where we had a great chinese dinner and camped nearby.  The three guys I rode with had a great VW van that slept four.  We were very comfortable. 

    The next day we went to Auschwitz.  I didn't really want to go, but I did. I've been to the holocaust museum in Washington, and to Anne Frank's house/ museum in Amsterdam, and always felt strangely disconnected and unaffected, and therefore disturbed about my detachment.  This was a different story completely.  We walked around on our own, and at every turn some new angle showed itself.  Just being there was the most powerful part, but beyond that, learning of the people who stood in the face of it, and showed courage and faith was the thing that undid me.  There was a whole exhibit telling about the people who were underground informants, and got messages to the Western world telling of the reality of what was happening.  People who escaped, and people inside who risked their lives to help them.  Artists, writers and musicians who continued to create new work in the horrible conditions.  Also, realizing how close I was to being a part of it myself,and the fact that a mere 60 years and a little geography separates me from it is frightening and enlightening.  It seems that we've focused mainly on the massacre of Jews, but also Roma (Gypsies), intellectuals, homosexuals, antisocial people, counterculture and people involved in resistance movements were killed.  Not to mention so many Poles and Russians who died there.  I am Jewish, I am a Gypsy (in spirit), I am counterculture, I am different, weird, fringe, I am part of the motley crew that was Jesus first devoted followers.  I would have been there, if I had been there. We also went to Birkenau and we were struck just by the sheer size of it. There were a group of Israeli soldiers there on a special trip. Books and movies make it all the more real.  Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale,  It's a Beautiful Life, Schindler's List, the writings of Anne Frank; all make it more real and immediate and help us attempt to comprehend. 

So after that we needed to cool out so we took a bath in the river, and this was weird because you could see Auschwitz right at our backs.  We enjoyed the cool water anyway, or maybe more because of all we had seen.  Then we went out to this Polish restaurant and the waiter had awesome English, he had worked on Royal Caribbean and Renaissance Cruise lines as a waiter.   The food was amazing, and the power went out so we got to eat by candle light and it was all very magical.  We camped nearby, and headed north the next day.   My company included three Swedes in the van and following behind us two Dutch brothers  from Amsterdam.  We traveled all together until about 100 miles south of Warsaw where we split up.  I was going to head off with the Dutch brothers, and actually got in the car with them, but before we started up the cars, I felt an overwhelming need to go back with the Swedes!  It was true I had developed feelings for them, and since I had no itinerary I just went with my intuition and made a quick reversal to my decision.  Lucky I did, because (and I’m sure I remembered this subconsciously) I had given my bank card (my cash lifeline) to one of the guys to hold for me when we went out the first night!  If I’d left without that card it would have been a disaster!!!  We had a few more days together (culminating in what I’m sure I’ll look back on as one of the more remarkable trysts of my life)  soon after which they caught the ferry home in Gdansk.  When it was actually time to part, after just five days with them, it was hard to imagine that I could take care of myself and make my way in the world alone, not to mention sleeping in a bed, brushing my teeth at a sink, washing in a shower etc.  But once I psyched myself up to being brave, I was fine and ready for adventure!!! 

      So that brings us to today.  I'm staying in a great student dorm for $10 a night and this morning I went to the beach and then took a nap in my room, got a great vegetarian meal and now I'm doing internet in this music cafe where there's actually a polish band playing really loud and people are dancing, maybe the fox trot (the Swedish guys said they still teach fox trot in school in Sweden)  Totally out!!!   

      Where will our hero be next?  I'm heading to Budapest later this week, and then to central Italy, near Florence for the International Rainbow Gathering.  It looks like it's a month long so who knows how long I'll stay, and then to Paris in mid-September for a jazz festival.  And maybe home then, or maybe that gig will come through in Rotterdam and then fly home.   

  Thanks for reading about my adventure.  Love to hear from you. 

 

 

Aug 17, 2002   On the Rainbow 

Hi Everyone. 

         Well, it's been another exciting two weeks with a trip to Budapest and then to Italy camping.  The rail trip to Budapest was lovely and I met many nice polish people who learned how to play the card game Bullsh*t and I learned numbers in Polish.  In Budapest I found a great comfortable and cheap hostel in a university dorm again.  The first roommate I met was Megan, a girl who plays sax and actually saw our band playing on the street at the Montreux Jazz festival last month!!!  She wants to teach jazz to underprivileged kids.  We went out that night, Megan, me and a cute couple from America.  We saw some nice ECMish jazz at a bar called Alcatraz, (where the staff were all wearing prison stripes) and then were walking home when I heard other music coming from a basement bar called The Irish Cat Bar.  It turned out to be THE coolest bar I've ever been to!  They had an 8 piece swing band playing in a tiny corner, and they were so good!!!  The place was really rockin'!  And the food was awesome and the beers were cheap and big.   

    The other awesome thing about Budapest was the Széchenyi Bath house.  It's in the park, and it's huge.  It's something I've always dreamed of actually.  You walk into this beautiful neo-baroque building and down to the lockers.  When you emerge you are in an enclosed courtyard with three huge pools of temperatures, and a complex of saunas and other rooms for treatments.  The wet sauna located down below the pools was very hot, you couldn't stand in it barefoot.  And right outside the sauna there is a fountain of ice shavings constantly being made.  Also, there is a pool of amazingly cold water.  Now, I'm not one who usually uses the word orgasmic to describe things, but when I dipped my burning hot body completely into the freezing pool...It forever changed my relationship to cold water. 

Actually Budapest was sort of a saucy place all around.  The second night there I went to a bar with some Irish guys from the hostel.  On the dance floor a guy started dancing with me and (quite uncharacteristically) we kissed.  He then asked if he could MAKE SEX with me.  I of course promptly corrected his english and sent him on his way.  Later on at the bar, he said to me...It is my gift to you from Hungary!  The rest of the night was salvaged by the charming company of six Irish blokes.  The other saucy bit from Budapest was a Helmut Newton exhibit at the modern art museum.  His photography is quite pornographic and in a film they showed of him working, he actually says 'I'm a pornographer.'  The exhibit was great, but I didn't like it as much as his more mysterious work from the 70's.  If you're looking for a place to pick people up, the lobby of a Helmut Newton show would be  great.  Hot Stuff!  The only thing that bothered me about the exhibit were the museum security staff.  They were mostly really old ladies and I felt mildly scandalized when looking at a close up picture of a vagina right next to this nice grandma.  
     
    So, not wanting to miss the Rainbow Gathering like I missed the Czech Tech and like I missed a music festival in Budapest by one day, I left on Friday for Italy.  I arrived Saturday morning in Bologna after a pleasant overnight bus ride.  I made it up to the gathering by 7pm or so.  It had been raining so the trail was treacherously muddy.  I pitched my tent right off the main trail in a field of tepees and tea shops and tents.  When I arrived, it was estimated that there were 800 people there.  When I left yesterday, people were saying it was up to 2000.  It is expected to reach about 3000 on the full moon next week.  It was cold and rainy and I caught a cold and had a fever (thankfully I had aspirin with me- the girl scout way) and a day of sleeping in the tent plus some Reiki and shamanic healing made me feel 80% better.  I never felt completely better though, so after chilly nights and two rainy and four beautifully sunny days, I left for the city for a Rainbow holiday.  Highlights of the gathering so far include two massage workshops.  One I learned some Thai massage stretching techniques,  and the second one I was the model and received a fabulous massage.   Also I attended a fun theater improv workshop, and participated in a 'game' called Angel Walking.  In this game, the group (many hundred people this time) make two lines facing each other.  People from the end of the line peel off and enter into a single line which travels through a path made by the two other lines.  While the people pass through, the people in the lines are humming and lovingly touching the people as they pass through.  The people passing through the middle keep their eyes closed and receive the touches and loving energy of hundreds of strangers.  I joined late and was at the end of the line, and peoples’ reactions were amazing.  One guy was laughing uncontrollably, three people nearly fainted, other people were crying. By the time I went through it had degraded somewhat into a   Also enjoyable has been the many hours spent at people's individual campfires and tepees keeping warm until about 3am when I seem to make it to my freezing tent.  There have also been some awesome fire twirling (like with batons and poi (balls on chains) and juggling pins)  It seems like everyone there is into cool things;  capoera, juggling, gymnastics, yoga, meditation, Byjan songs (spiritual repetitive songs), healing, chai, chillum and hanging out. 

     I'm in Florence now and spent the day resting and showering (it took me a while to get really clean)  But I'll be back on the rainbow by Tuesday. 

     Love you all 

     Alexis 




Sept 8, 2002    Buenos Dias Amores 

Bueños Dias! 

When our hero last left us, she was riding high on the rainbow.  I went back to the gathering on the 22nd for the full moon.  The hike up was fine, as the weather had been quite good.  And what had taken me 2 hours in the mud took me only 45 minutes in the clear weather.  The remainder of the gathering was pleasant with a session of angel walking and a new interest in salvaging pumpkin seeds and roasting them in the clay ovens.  I spent 2 nights overnight roasting seeds. One night some folks were up making pizzas and we had a fun time and I ate a ton of pizza in the full moon light.  I moved my tent to be near some friends so we had a little fire and our little neighborhood was very quaint.  I also went to a separate camp site for a party and played bossa nova's with some lovely Portuguese living in Vienna. Then I fell ill and spent the next 24 hours laying around. 

    The next day I felt better and decided to head out and spend a week in Barcelona instead of staying on the Rainbow.  I got a ride from the Rainbow to S. France with an Andorran Truck driver named Bruno (french R `Bwuno´)we spoke in Spanish, but my Spanish is pretty bad and he didn't speak any English.  He had a terrible time at the gathering, everyone was trying to get stuff from him (tobacco & papers, salt and sugar are in demand items), and he didn't like the food, and since he doesn't speak English there were many people he couldn't communicate with.  We arrived at his girlfriends farm around 10pm that night and they let me stay in the trailer.  It was a nice farm with ponies, goats, sheep, burros, and ostriches too!  I decided to stop in Carcassone, FR before Barcelona because some other travelers I met recommended it.  I stayed another night at the farm and headed out early morning.  Bruno brought me to the train station at 6 am!  They showed me such wonderful hospitality.Carcassone was great and although I meant to stay only one day I ended up staying for four days!  The night I arrived, the hostel was taking a van to a nearby town for the fete de Cassoulet (casserole festival).  So I took a nap and around 10pm we set out for the fete.  There were so many bands and many of them were really awesome.  I haven't danced like that in ages!  I also wandered around for a bit and found a place that sold liter's of wine and cheese sandwiches ($2 each)  So I got a great cheese sandwich (baguette and brie) and more wine than I could drink for $4.  (I love a bargain) We got back to the hostel around 5am and I took a walk around the castle.  Oh yeah, Carcassone is a medieval walled city with a castle and cathedral in it. The hostel was inside the citywalls.  At dawn, the castle was mysterious and quiet.  I was hoping to see some ghosts, but to no avail.  I slept the next day and hoped to go to the festival again, but it was raining, so we didn't go.  I did some busking there and was successful, but mainly I hung around the hostel and did a good bit of cooking and cheap wine tasting.  On Monday the hostel had another field trip, so owing to good weather we went out to the countryside and to some chateau's from the 1300's.  They were up on mountain tops completely isolated above the tree line.  It was really remarkable, the stuff of Tolkien's world.  We also stopped in thishermitage in a very dramatic valley, and had a swim in a nearby river. It was a great out and I got a good night's sleep after all that hiking.Next day I went to Barcelona.  I got a cheap hostel and slept for a while. I busked with balloon animals at the zoo, and then wandered around and found a playground.  Finally I had success with them and I made about $30 in an hour.  That night I went with some people I met at the hostel to a jazz club.  The music was nice, originals.  I got sometips about jam sessions too which was the nicest bit of the evening.  So the next night we went to 2 different sessions.  I got to play piano at both of them and it felt so good to play after so long.  I thought it might be really bad, but on the contrary, I felt really free and was looking at voicings and chords in a different way.  What a great feeling!  At the later jam session, I met some club owners who said that with notice they would definitely have a night available for me.  Some sights I've seen in Barcelona are from the architect Gaudi.  His work really delights me. Lots of mosaics and very colorful flowing stuff everywhere.  I also went to the Parc de Labyrinth.  It was the nicest park I've ever been to.  Just the right amount of sun and shade, and little path's everywhere and as the name suggests, in the parks middle, a big hedge labyrinth with a sculpture of eros in the center- if you can find it!  What a maze.  Everywhere there were fountains and ferns.  And swans and peacocks and ducks.  I also went to Tibidabo, a church and theme park up high overlooking Barcelona.  And two nights ago a group from the hostel went to a dance club in a castle.  The music was just ok, but the place was really cool and the people I was with were really nice.  We got home at 7:30am -That's Barcelona for you.  And we could have stayed out later.  There are after hours clubs that go from 6am until 3pm.  Can you imagine staying out until 3pm the next day? Well, today is weird because it's 8am and I slept today from 9pm until 5:30 am.  I couldn't get a room at the hostel last night because I waited too long to decide if I was going to stay another night, or go to Paris, and they ran out of available beds.  So while a friend went out I took a nap in his bed.  Lucky for me he didn't get home until 5:30, so I actually got a whole night's sleep.  I decided to stay and busk balloons in the park tomorrow.  I also have face paints and hopefully I will finish my balloons and make $100 or so.  I think I'll go to the beach when I'm done writing and then start work around noon. 

    Oh yeah, unchronologically, after my last letter in Florence, I visited Venice and Ferarra. Venice was everything I thought it might be, mysterious, dark, sparkling, and secret. I stayed in a fabulous hostel there and cooked 2 meals for like 10 people with the food left over from previous travelers in the common cupboard.  I didn't do any 'sightseeing', just walked around all over the streets.  One day I went to the beach on Lido.  When I was in Munich I saw a painting I really liked at a museum and put a postcard of it on the cover of my journal.  When I looked up from St. Marks across the river my jaw dropped when I realized that the painting was of this building in Venice. 

    Next day I went to Ferarra for the Ferarra Buskers Festival.  It was so amazingly cool, and I picked up some new balloon tricks from some masters there.  I saw so much cool music especailly a modern percussion ensemble and a gypsy music group. I also had a fabulous meal at Trattoria Mandolina of Cappeletti de Zucchero (pasta stuffed with Pumpkin)  The pasta was so good, I ended up ordering a full meal and really treating myself to a wonderful full meal.  The proprietors were so nice, I asked if they take credit cards and she said, anything, you are like a daughter to me.  And after my meal,I got my picture with them and the restaurant and they brought me a shot of some local after dinner type alcohol on the house.  So that brings us back round to the Rainbow. And now, well, plans are to go to Paris and then to the gig in Rotterdam and then probably home. 

So I love you all and will write again soon. 

Alexis 



 

Oct 20, 2002    Waffles and Beer in Brugge 

Hi Friends, 

    Well the journey continues.  Since I last wrote in Barcelona, I've been circling,back to Paris for a week and then to Berlin and to Rotterdam and now I'm in Brugge, Belgium and headed back to Paris tomorrow to catch up with Jim who is now living in Paris. 

    What to tell you?  Well, the most exciting things have been in the musical arena, with a tour materializing for next April including 2 gigs each in Barcelona, Paris and Berlin, one concert and one club per city.  Also, the gig in Rotterdam at the Zaken festival went very well and we got paid Mad Bread!!!  And it looks like that will be an annual gig, possibly repeating itself more than once a year in other cities. It was great to see the band from Montreux again, Kevin, Ben and Sebatian. And the man who hired us for the concert also booked us in a great holiday inn right in the city center $180 a night!  In the evening I ran into drummer Daniel Humair and his band who I had seen in Paris and loved.  They were playing in the Rotterdam Jazz festival which we went to and saw great avant garde music including a concert with Steve Swallow and Victor Lewis. It was right around the corner from our hotel!Oh yeah, the Paris Villette festival 2 weeks ago was WONDERFUL! I saw Marc Copland, Dave Liebman, Jean Michel Pilc and others.  I got to talk to all the aritists and the festival director too.  The Pilc concert was awesome, the best of the whole festival, and it was the site of a great serendipity.  After the show, I followed some guys backstage to say hello to the drummer who went to William Paterson.  Talking to the guys it turns out they were musicians too.  One played piano and invited me to his house to jam sometime in the week.  We tried to get some drinks with the drummer but it turned out the place they went was too expensive so the 3 of us hung out till late at a jam session.  Now, to appreciate the serendipity, I must tell you that at the same place as that jam session 2 months earlier, an american classical singer living in Paris gave me the name of two people , also americans in paris, who have a salon and hold concerts there.  I was interested of course because I really like the alternative venue idea, and I love concerts.  So I looked them up on the internet and got their phone number and had resolved to call them when I was back in Paris.  So anyway, Dan Tepfer (the pianist) wrote down his number for me and said to call him and we would jam.  So the next day I was at a museum and I went to call him and I saw his last name and his phone number were THE SAME AS THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE SALON CONCERTS!!!  Yes, it was their son.  Anyway, I ended up jamming with Dan a lot that week and we made a recording on DAT, and most awesomely,we totally had a blast playing together and I love his playing!  His family was so nice too, and they invited me for a fabulous dinner in honor of Dan's Mom's birthday.  At the end of the evening I brought up the idea of a concert and they basically asked "when?" So, what an absolute gift huh....  (2016 note...yeah, THAT Dan Tepfer!) 

    When I'm back in Paris I'll do some more recording with Dan and hopefully he will agree to play some other gigs with me on my April tour, but he's in school (for astro physics!) so he can't do the whole thing with me I'm sure.

So after I had one date booked, I worked on making other things happen in other cities. Anyway this is all so new, I'm so excited. 

    So what else was cool to tell you about?  Berlin...was awesome too.  The guy I was going to stay with got in a bike accident and was unreachable, but I stayed at a cool hostel and met some nice girls from Las Vegas who stayed up with me all night and then I slept all dayand went to a jam session and met a girl who wanted voice lessons but had no money, so we bartered.  I gave her a very long and hopefully helpful lesson, and she let me sleep and eat at her apartment for three nights!  Her name is Nicola and she works at a jazz radio station.  She is a good singer who really loves Diana Krall (but we won't hold that against her...) I went to jam sessions every night and saw as many jazz clubs as I could see.  I didn't do any sightseeing, but I did get in a fair amount of shopping as it was suddenly almost 32 degrees and all I had was sandals. (It snowed in S.Germany that week!)  So I got some a turtle neck sweater, black woven scarf, black knit hat, black closed boot like shoes, indonesian pants and shirt, black long sleeve shirt, black macramé shall, perfectly fitting button fly jeans, and a cool blue suede button down shirt, and a lovely white backpack/purse all for $40. 
    Yeah Berlin second hand stores and open market!  Going on with the theme of discount clothes, someone stole the blue sweater I found at the lost and found in the hostel in Venice.It was stolen at the church, which reminds me to tell you about the refugee festival at the Holy Cross Church in Berlin.  I went sunday morning to the church where the United Voices of Praise Gospel Choir played at last year. I arrived too late for service, but got to see the pastor and some of the people from last year, and I played piano for a little while and then some kids came and we played all together and then there were like 150 refugees there from Bosnia and Croatia and they were having a refugee party with free food!  I hung out the whole day there and they had beautiful music from Bosnia with a singer and accordion player. They did a dance to some of the songs which was like a broken circle dance.  I joined in by the last song, it was not hard to learn!  I met 2 girls one from Bosnia 16 yrs old and one  from Croatia 20 years old.  Neither of them were in school or working.  The Bosnian girls mom took her out of school at age 10.  I wonder why?  What do they do all day?  The Croatian girl was totally into R&B music and despite lack of classes, she spoke awesome English.  Anyway, it was a very special day and I even got to color a picture of the window in the church.   I've also taken three hot baths and eaten lots of butter cookies.  So Brugge is lovely and yesterday I just walked and walked and saw some beautiful churches who are creating very unique spaces.  One church, the church of Mary Magdalane build a reflecting pool in the middle of the sanctuary so they have services sitting on the sides of the pool which are raised like a continuous riser, I took a picture, you'll have to wait to see it, but it was really cool.  And I went to church at the Anglican church. There was no priest, and the lay reader got into a car accident on the way to service, so the warden read evensong and we sang some lovely hymns one of which is Fill My Life.  I wrote it down and my favorite verses are:

    So shall each fear, each fret each care be turn-ed into song 
    and every winding of the way the echo shall prolong. 
    So shall no part of day or night unblest or common be; 
    but all my life in every step be fellowship with thee. 

    Then I went to see a movie- the Pianist.  I had no idea what is was about, but it was at an arty theater and it was in English so I knew it would be a winner.  It turned out to be about a polish jewish pianist in WWII  and his evasion and escape of the camps.  It was very powerful, and what was the most striking was the events at the very beginning, how they went from living normal, dignified daily lives; to being harassed and then beaten and then killed indiscriminately in the streets.  The moving into the ghetto, the moving out of the ghetto, it was an unreal progression. 

    Being in Europe; Poland, Germany, Holland, especially, has really given me insights into WWII and made it so real and immediate.  Also visiting Auschwitz and reading Slaughter House 5, Kurt Vonnegut, have given me more to go on, trying to understand HOW that genocide could have possibly happened and how it STILL happens. 

    Well, today I'm going on a bike tour of the Belgian countryside including stops for beer and waffles.  It should be lovely as it is warming up today and the sky is totally clear. 

See you tomorrow Paris, and then it's off to Frankfurt and then home, to Georgia for the Koinonia reunion and then back up to NYC baby!!! 

Love you all, 
Alexis 





SUMMER 2003
July 21, 2003     Movenpick Montreux and Me

Hi Friends, 
     
    Well I've not even been away for two weeks, but I couldn't be farther from the hurried way I was feeling before I left New York.  The Montreux Jazz Festival is over, the Gypsy vendors have all packed up their wares and caravans and headed on to the next town, the only thing left on the lakeside boardwalk is a Movenpick Ice Cream stand and of course the statue of Freddy Mercury by the quai. 

    Montreux was incredible...I met so many great people, played a bunch, saw tons of great music for free, cooked up some delicious cheap meals, swam in the lake almost every day, improved my French, went sailing, went on a long hike, worshiped under the full moon swimming, drying out on the rocks.  Learned to deal with bureaucracy, hypocrisy, my emotions, got a message from a wise old Japanese man about how to prepare to be the artist I can become. 

    Well I know everyone was waiting with baited breath to see if I would win the Vocalist Competition and...I didn't win it.  But I won big time in the bigger scheme of the festival and the music.  I arrived at the festival on the 9th of July and got some good rest and recuperation, although for the first week I was a little depressed.  But I swam every day and I busked (performed in the street with a hat out) with Ben Palmer, my friend who plays bass from North Carolina, and drummer Sebastian, an American ex pat living in Switzerland.  Also some local horn players joined us from time to time.  We made good money and had fun, and it was good ear practice to play without a chordal instrument.  (although we did miss Kevin, the guitar player who was here with us last year)  We also got to play in the festival on one of the outdoor stages, the crowd was great! 

    Since I was in the vocalist competition, I got a pass to see any shows I wanted for free.  I saw so many great and inspiring concerts.  Some of my favorites were Jacky Terrasson, a great pianist and his trio of Sean Smith and Gerald Cleaver- very creative and lively!  John Abercrombie with Marc Johnson, Joey Baron and Mark Feldman on violin.  Charles Lloyd with Gerri Allen, Bob Hurst and Eric Hartland, Joao Gilberto the great bossa singer and guitarist played a solo set, Tony Bennett did his thing too, Tuck and Patti killed it.  I had seen them before, but this concert was so special.  She is an incredible singer.  When she started singing about the Earth, 'our mother is calling, our mother is calling, we only have one earth, our mother is calling' I lost it and couldn't hold back my tears, feeling remorse and repentance about my lack of vigilance in caring for her and loving her.  The Earth is the Body of God.

Two other really great concerts I saw were YES and Cassandra Wilson.  The YES concert was surprisingly good.  I got to sit up front in front of the people pens.  I had my fingers over my ears, but was dancing and smiling.  The bass player was smiling at me and when he was exiting Jon Anderson said to me, 'it is loud' and nodded in understanding.  But I was totally smiling from ear to ear, so they must have known I loved it.  It's a rock concert, it's ok for it to be loud, but I've got to protect my money maker!  The concert was so devotional and deep.  They did do some hits at the end, but the ones before included some really interesting stuff with odd meters and very inventive instrumentation. 

    Cassandra Wilson was also incredible.  She did the concert with percussion, guitar/banjo, harmonica and Lonnie Plaxico on bass.  The repertoire was varied, from Skylark to Lay Lady Lay, but it was all unmistakably jazz.  She has such a deep and rich voice, and she looks amazing on stage, I couldn't take my eyes off her.  (I don't think I've ever written about what a singer looks like but it really was incredible) She was wearing a gold linen punjabi (indian pj's just about) and she had her shoes off most of the concert.  It was such a dramatic look, she was larger than life, but like an earth goddess.  So grounded and rooted.  She and Gerri Allen have that in common.  I had so much FUN at the show and was dancing in my seat with every new groove.  But the solemnity and devotion were still present, especially when the guitarist opened up with an alap (slow indian style improvisation with a drone and melody on top) on the banjo which had I not been able to see it, I surely would have mistaken the sound for some ancient Oriental sounding string instrument, like the rudra veena.  I got backstage without a second look and got to pour praises on the guitarist and percussionist who were beautifully receptive.  I tried to get to meet Cassandra, but there was a party in her dressing room, and it seemed like a bad time to try and get in, so I hung out for a while and then gave up.  I went to the jam session in the main theater and got to sing with my friends from Australia who were leading the session, and with Ben.  Then Cassandra showed up and sat down almost right next to me!  I couldn't believe it!  So I talked with her for a few minutes and gave her my CD and then I got to go on stage and sing another one!  We did Footprints, the Wayne Shorter tune and it was cool.  I was really intimidated singing in front of her and wanted to make sure not to imitate her style.  But she really loved it and gave me some great and helpful feedback, mostly about letting loose a little more.  The first thing she said to me was literally ' let your hair down, what does it look like down?' She said I had a BEAUTIFUL tone, and that she NEVER would have expected that to come out of my body.  My 'look' is something I've been thinking a lot about this year.  And I feel like Cassandra gave me a license to really justify that search.  I guess subconsciously I've been thinking...if I dress down and look nerdy then musicians will take me more seriously, and she hit me with almost the opposite thing-  I SHOULD look great and people will be MORE into hearing me.  Then a Japanese man who was with her said in his limited Engrish...' next three year, you need to study.  study history, study anything...not jazz.  exercise more, get more energy, eat healthy, eat very healthy.  three years.'  I took it as a sign and I made a commitment to follow it.  If I want to be an artist, if I want to affect people with my performances, I need to be rich and full of understanding.  A very cool night indeed. 

    So the competition...I gave a great performance which should be up on my website sometime soon on either video or audio.  Getting to play with Gerri Allen was a dream, and the arrangements I wrote for the band really brought out that Gerri and Betty Carter rhythmic thing that I wanted.  It was like getting to appear in your favorite movie to which you've learned all the lines!  I was shocked that I wasn't in the finals, the competition was not that stiff.  But I was not completely shocked because the panel of judges was not composed of real professional musician with the exception of Karrin Allyson who said some super encouraging things indicating that she thought I did great, but in retrospect, perhaps foreshadowing my ultimate fate.  I won't go into the details of the rest, but it was all pretty bogus and even the rules were hairy and people were neither rewarded or penalized for following or failing to follow them.  But anyway, I got to have a longish talk with Gerri Allen who was also very encouraging. And I can come back again next year and get the free pass again and see lots of great music and busk and hopefully stay in Sebastian's apartment again for relatively cheap and meet all my favorite jazz stars and find new ones that I didn't even know I loved!  So dollar for dollar...a great and successful trip. 
One last cosmic note...on the day they announced the finalists, I kept being in strange circumstances in which I was offered free champagne- the ultimate symbol of celebration.  Also cosmically comic was that I got to play with the band during the pre-winner announcement concert.  So, I didn't win the contest, but I got the gig!  The week has been full of cosmic affirmations.  I really am leaving here with such a feeling of levity and grace. 

Glory Be, 
Alexis 

PS  I'm heading today to Italy near Venice for a jazz camp and then to Madrid to stay with some friends. And I managed to get my pack down to just the one small backpack and I sent home my suitcase...I rock, Road Warrior!  Thanks for reading my really long letter and I'll write again in a few weeks!
 


 

Aug 2, 2003   Shaded and Warmed 

To be whole is to be a part; 
true voyage is in return. 
- Epitaph on Odo’s grave 
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin 

Strange I should be reading The Dispossessed, a story about a man who travels to a foreign world, a real voyager with a real mission.  What is my real mission?  I posed for a nature photographer a few years ago, and the photo he used in his show, he asked me to name- Opening Upward- was what I chose.  This leg of my trip has been about living in the river flow and seeing where it takes me. 

After I finished my last installment in Montreux, I went to the post office and sent my suitcase home.  I am now traveling with 2 shirts, one pair of pants, a light dress, a sleeping bag and a few essential toiletries and books in a day pack size bag.  This lightness has allowed me ultimate flexibility and freedom. 

It rained violently on and off most of that last day in Montreux, but after readying myself and having one last meal at Chez Sebastian (our apartment) I walked up the steep steps to the highway rest stop.  I caught a ride rather quickly which led to my main ride of the day with Emil a nice Swiss truck driver in the slowest truck I’ve ever seen.  As the sun was setting (which takes many hours at this time of year) we drove through the Alps, magnificent scenery, and so slowly, I had time to savor every hillside.  Emil spoke only French, and we did great communicating together, what a patient old man!  As we came upon another valley, a rainbow appeared connecting two hillsides and I laughed. 

God appeared to the wandering Israelites as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. 

Emil and I went out for dinner after crossing the Italian border and parked the truck by  Lago Maggiore, underneath a huge villa.  I live like a millionaire!  We woke up at 5am and went for a swim, and then off for mandatory coffee and on the road again. 

He dropped me near Milano and I caught a smooth ride with a nice business man from Alitalia, the airline, all the way to Venice. 

In Venice I went straight to Santa Fosco, the wonderful hostel I stayed in last year.  The reception was closed for the afternoon, and it was hot, so I took a nice nap in the shady courtyard and when they opened at three, I was able to get a room, despite the notice that the hostel was full. 

I went out and participated in my favorite Venetian pastimes: getting lost and walking in circles.  I didn’t see any tourists for hours.  And again the clear sky and setting sun gave special detail and beauty to every pole, boat, canal, building...person.  I regret that I didn’t have a camera. 

At 8pm, I came back from my sunset walk and got up the nerve to go busking.  Max, a nice German boy from the hostel who spoke some Italian and had lived in Venice for a month, accompanied me.  He asked the café owners if I could sing a song for the patrons.  Most assented, and were pleased when I began my Italian Aria.  I met many interesting tourists and locals, and ended the night with about $50  in my hat.  Max and I went out for a Spritzz, a local drink with tonic and Campari, and back to the hostel by curfew.  The next morning I finally bought a camera and headed 2 hours northwest by train to Bassano del Grappa for the EuroMeet jazz camp. 

The camp is sponsored by New School and has a great cast of characters. It was great to get to hang out with everyone and I genuinely felt like family by the time I left three days later.  We had some amazing food too.  One of our party spoke Italian, and many had experience with Italian food, so I knew what to order.  The last night of my time there, we went to a restaurant up on a hill. People park down the hill and get ferried up in a safari style jeep.  The proprietor comes around with a sprayer full of grappa which he aims at you.  You put your napkin up to your chin and open your mouth.  I did not participate, but got some great pictures of some very civilized people looking very silly! 

On my second night in Bassano, Charles Lloyd was performing.  His band is the same one I played with in the Montreux competition including Gerri Allen, Bob Hurst and Eric Hartland.  It was an awesome concert, and I felt so joyful listening to the music with my musical comrades on either side of me.  I got to hang out for a little bit with Gerri and the band who received me warmly and expressed their disappointment that I didn’t place in the competition- which really made me feel like a major winner! 

I left Bassano by local bus headed ultimately for Genova.  In a nearby town I switched modes to hitch hiking and was picked up by a nice middle aged Italian man named Claudius.  Upon arrival in Milan he took me to his friend’s restaurant.  His friend Andrea used to live in Little Italy in NYC.  They had a piano in the place and after devouring 4 types of amazing cheeses and about 3 whole tomatoes I played a few songs for them.  It was a memorable afternoon, and when Andrea found out I was going to the Cinque Terra he invited me to call on his ex-wife Francois who lives nearby there, and suggested that she could host me for a night.  Claudius dropped me on the highway and I got a ride in a cool sports car playing some awesome acid jazz and old school salsa.  As we drove through the many tunnels in that region, I felt like I was in a car commercial! He dropped me about 15 minutes outside of Genova and a car full of nuns picked me up and deposited me in downtown Genova.  They were affiliates of Mary Help of Christians, the nuns I lived with in college! 

In Genova I found a hostel and ate pasta Genovese.  I headed out early Sunday morning for the Cinque Terra, five old fishing villages connected by a lovely hiking trail.  I met some young archeologists  from Florida on the train.  We went down to the beach together and swam in the clear warm water.  They left and I went hiking on my own to the next two villages and then took a bus to Porto Venere a lovely old town with some incredible castles and churches. After a hard long day of sightseeing, I called Francois.  She only spoke French, so it took us a while, but I figured out how to find her place and headed over to Siestra Levanti by train. 

It was festival time and the whole town was out and about.  They were having a boat parade where the boats were decorated as different things, a hula party, Harry Potter’s school, an Egyptian landscape with dancers on it, etc.  I met up with Francois and all her friends in the hotel restaurant and had a great view of the boats!  Afterwards there was a fireworks display that was truly awe inspiring! 

We went out for some choice wine and cheese and I sang a few of Francois’ favorite jazz songs which she sang along with me in a sort of vicarious way.  We retired around 2 am and Francois and I talked for another hour.  I got good sleep in a nice bedroom and got up early to head on the long haul to Madrid. 

I started off on the train where I hung with some young Canadian backpackers and busked up $20! I got off in Ventemille, the Italian-French border and had my last gelato.  Then I hitched through the Cote d azur: Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, and met great French guy who invited me to travel with him next week in Morocco. He’s my age and has two babies and a lovely wife. We were pals from the start and I’m greatly looking forward to that leg of the journey!

I ended my hitch around 9pm about 40km outside of Marseille and spent the night sleeping out in nature, on a bed of pine needles and cardboard. It was lovely and uneventful- no bugs or other crawlies and not too hot or cold. 

The next day, after I had hitched well into Spain  I got a ride with a guy from Hialeah, Miami!  He’s been living in Spain for a year and a half.  We hit it off like old friends, he’s two years older than me, and knew a lot of the people I went to High School with!  He’s a drummer and his job is mostly road managing a famous Spanish rock band.  He gave me a great tour of his city and Burgos where there’s a cathedral.  I stayed at his house and took a bus to Madrid in the morning. 

Now, I’m outside Madrid at Ganas East; Jorge and Julie’s house.  There are 5 people here from my community at home and I’ve been relaxing for a few days by the pool, as you can imagine I needed to after such an amazing adventure.  I feel so guided and loved, Mother God looking down on me smiling and laughing! 

Finally on walkabout. 

Blessed be, 
Alexis




 

Aug 14, 2003   Salaam Alaykom 

Brother Sister Dearest , 

    I am blown away by the world and this life.  I am in Marrakech now and the clouds have come and cooled us all down, it has been SO HOT!  Street vendors sell the most delicious sweets and fresh orange juice is only a quarter a glass; and so cold.  Today I went to the botanical gardens and saw the bluest house I’ve ever seen, and many cacti and succulents that I haven’t encountered before, plus some very familiar ones, even the one which grows in my room at Ganas! 

    When last we spoke, I was at Jorge and Julie’s house in Madrid.  I stayed on there for another week and saw tons of European paintings from the 1400’s to the 1850’s.  I went to the festival in Manzanaras de Real, the little village where the house was and I discovered my favorite treat of Spain, Horchata. It is a drink that looks like milk and is very sweet, made from a type of cactus from Africa and spices.  They sell it almost frozen. 

    After being in Madrid I went down to Toledo, about an hour south by bus.  I stayed in a little hotel just inside the walls of the old city.  It was 10 € a night and it was clean, but hot. In Toledo I saw some amazing architecture which is a combination of the different invading groups; Roman and Moorish.  There was also a hugh Jewish population there and for many centuries Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted very peacefully.  On my second night there, I busked at all the cafes and made an unprecedented 70€.  I also met the last Jewish family in Toledo.  Their son works for the Judaica shop in the main tourist area by the synagogue.  They heard me singing and thought I was singing in an old Sfartic language. They approached me and we spoke for a while. Their Dutch relatives were visiting, so there were about ten of us eating ice cream at the Mc Donald’s cafe (not my idea!).  We had a heated yet civil discussion about Zionism, and even though we disagreed, for the first time, I think I understood the Zionist perspective.  There was a lot of Neo Nazi graffiti in Toledo, and I actually saw some kids give the zig heil to their punk looking friends as they walked away.  It left me numb. 

The next morning I took a bus back to the Madrid and bought a ticket to Algrecias on the night bus.  I checked my backpack at the bus station and walked around Madrid all day without sitting down!  I went to all the gardens and the lake in the Casa del Campo, and I walked around the ‘cool’ old area which had lots of apartment buildings in the Art Nouveau style with enclosed glass poarches and lots of wrought iron decoration. 

    I caught the bus with plenty of time and got the back bench, so I had 2&1/2 seats to myself.  I slept a few hours during the night.  We passed some beautiful mountains which looked very mysterious and cool in the night.  We arrived in Algrecias, the bottom of Spain, around 7am just when dawn was cracking.  I went into town with the intention of getting a cheap hotel and spending the day in Algrecias, but while having breakfast, I met some Brits who said the best thing to do in Algrecias was to get out quickly.  So after breakfast I went to the terminal and bought a ticket for the 10am ferry.  On the entry to the boat I helped a girl with her heavy bag. She was Moroccan and spoke some Spanish and French and a little English.  I also met some guys from Texas on a post graduate voyage.  We all hung out together on the 2 hour ferry ride and when we got off, the Moroccan girl invited us all to come with her for lunch and a tour of Tangiers ending at the train station since we were all headed for Rabat, the capitol. 

    Her coworker picked us up in his nice Mercades and we had tea at a cafe on the beach while he finished up some business.  Then we went to eat at a very typical Moroccan dive and had great split pea soup and a wonderful salad with beets and onions and tomatoes.  (the Texan guys loved the liver shish ka bobs called ‘pinchos’)  After lunch, he gave us a tour of their ‘Ocean Drive’ and we walked around the old marketplace called the Medina.  The friend bid us all farewell and we caught the 5:45 train for Rabat.  We arrived 5 hours later and I got a hotel with the Texans right by the station.  In the morning I caught the train to Casablanca Airport and arrived just in time to argue with the police, and go to the bathroom before running smack into Mustapha who you will recall I met in France while hitching. 

    That brings us to the current chapter in my adventure; touring Morocco in a little rented car with a cool Moroccan guy and two cassette tapes of French Hip Hop. 

    We stayed the first day in El Jadid, which is where every ex pat Moroccan comes to spend August.  I had trouble finding a room, so I ended up paying way more than I should have for a room in a house.  It was opulent, but I am sure we could have bargained, but Mustapha, having been born and raised in France, truly believes he is getting a good deal when someone says ‘if you are a friend of so and so, then you are like my brother’.  But, it’s his country so I sucked it in and paid it.  The next day I went to the beach while he visited his family.  I walked down to a beautiful part that was not too crowded and swam in the deliciously warm water.  Then Mustapha and his younger cousin Mustapha picked me up and we drove to Marrakech.  We checked into a lovely hotel and then went to his other cousin’s house for dinner.  We had tea and I played with the kids while the dinner cooked on coals for many hours.  His cousin is a hematologist and his wife in a lab tech.  The wife and I spoke with passion about religion and God with Mustapha translating and the men only mildly interested.  She showed me a home video of their trip to the beach and the photos of her wedding, in which she wore five different outfits!  And I asked her if I could try on an outfit.  She put me in this black hajib (I think is the name of it) with turquoise trim.  It’s like a very elegant housecoat with a long hood.  Despite my protest, she insisted that I take it.  It is very beautiful and I wore it all day today.  Mustapha loves it but says it scares him a little because with the hood on I look like the grim reaper.  He does actually pray five times a day, and I have prayed with him.  I don’t yet know what he’s saying, but we’ve got a long drive tomorrow, I’m sure we’ll get a chance to talk about it.  It’s kind of weird that he’s religious, because he’s kind of a jock, 27, into hip hop, always wearing his cell phone around his neck... but he took a great joy in my interest to share prayer with him.  His joy gave me much joy too. 

    Tonight we will visit the marketplace with Mustapha Jr.  And tomorrow we may go to some waterfalls in the Atlas Mountains with some German and Croatian backpackers we met today. 

    On the horizon, I tentatively plan to stay in Morocco for another week and then visit a commune in Portugal called Tamera www.tamera.com and then be home by September 6, hopefully catching the Friday flight out of Madrid. 

    The world is full of chance, God guides me by the scruff of my neck! 

Much love, 
Alexis 




Aug 25, 2003    At Journey’s End 

Hey Kids! 
     
    Well, I’m chillin’ at my grandparents doing what I love to do here: eat and sleep. 

But hey…I made it home! 

    So, Morocco.  A beautiful day in the Atlas Mountains, night time in the Marrakesh marketplace with so many sounds and smells, ice cream and oj.  Another day alone at the beach in El Jadida, where I got much use from my one Arabic phrase – Ana mjojo mar Magrebi, “I am married to a Moroccan man.”  An amazing evening meal at the home of Mustapha’s friend in Rabat.  I thought the appetizer was the meal!  But we had onion pancakes, tons of traditional sweets, couscous with lamb, eggplant pate and a pepper and tomato sweet chutney.  And the fruit was so different tasting!  The grapes tasted peppery! 

    I’ve had some amazing interactions with kids this trip.  Mustapha’s cousin in Marrakech had two kids who I played with for hours, and I fell totally in love with 9 year old Olivia from Jorge’s family in Madrid, and in Rabat was perfect princess 5 year old Hanae who I taught the itsy bitsy spider.  She crossed her eyes every time as her spider crawled up its web in front of her face!  The whole family went on a walk around midnight after our dinner was thru. The mother of Hanae held my hand maternally in hers the whole walk.  We had a good long sleep and in the morning amidst child’s tears and my promises of return, Mustapha and his friend dropped me at the bus station.  “We will be sad now, because Mustapha and I have become accustomed to having you with us.”  It was true and as I stood in the bus station trying to decide where to go, I realized that I had become accustomed to company and was not looking forward to traveling on my own any more than I had to. 

    I decisively walked up to the window for Tangiers and as I bought my ticket, I began to cry much to the confusion of the sales men.  “I’m going home.”  I said with a big smile that expressed my sentiment much better than the tears.  I hadn’t realized until then, how ready I was to return, how much I missed my friends here, and my life, and also maybe the security of having a bed, work and food. 

    I was in Algrecias, Spain by 11:30pm.  I overnighted in the ferry terminal with two Czech backpackers under some stairs.  In the morning I had a fantastic breakfast, and walked around the marketplace.  I thought I would catch the bus to Portugal to go to the community Tamera, but realized that I would only have 2 days there if I went and it would mean traveling for 2 full days as well.  I also realized that I had a better chance to get a flight home from Frankfurt than from nearby Malaga. I made my sign, a circled F for France, and stood by the port where the cars come off the ferries.  Many Moroccans live in France and as I suspected, it was not difficult to get a ride.  I rode with an older Moroccan guy who spoke no English and had a horrible sense of rhythm, as he attempted to clap along with the cd in the car.  We booked it thru most of Spain driving 8 hours straight.  I marveled at the beautiful Andalusian scenery, rolling high hills covered in olive orchards with Georgia red clay at their bass. It was a unique and magical landscape.  When he let me off around 7pm, I caught a truck up to San Sebastian, right on the Spanish side of the French border and took a bus to Bilbao where they were having their "Semana Grande," which turned out to be a whole city full of 18 year old kids drinking wine out of little boxes.  It wasn’t much fun since the music wasn’t good, the food was overpriced and not tasty, and there were many fights breaking out.  But I took a lovely walk along the river down to the new ultra modern Guggenheim museum.  It was mysterious and futuristic as could be in the half-lit night.  There’s a highway jutting out from the middle of the building, making it look very “Jetsons.” The building is made of Titanium bricks, which cost around $70 each. 

    Around 2am I was tired and it had begun to rain, so I sat myself under an awning and read my new book, Clan of the Cave Bear, until two nice kids let me into their apartment building lobby where I read some more and eventually crashed on the couch until around 6am.  I hit the street again and found a succession of rides that ended me at 3am about 200km south of Strasburg in the family home of a nice left wing factory worker from Paris.  We rode together on the back roads of France, talking politics and avoiding high tolls.  His parents gave me a place to sleep and fed me breakfast in the morning before my comrade dropped me at the entrance to the highway. 

    I didn’t have as far to go, but difficulties like bad placement and a run in with the police put my day’s hitch at a very slow pace.  I arrived in Frankfurt around 8pm, did a little email and went to an awesome jazz club called Jazzskeller.  I made a reservation at a hostel, but by the time the show was over, and I was done drinking wine with the band and the genuinely charming club owners, it was past curfew, so I walked over to the famous dance club U60311 in a former U Bahn station in Goethesplatz.  The music wasn’t me, and though I tried, I couldn’t dance.  I didn’t have anything better to do, so I just hung out and watched all the incredibly cool kids, and self examined my old hippie sandal self and wondered (as I’m sure others around me did) what I was doing there…cultural sightseeing is the closest I can come to an explanation. 

    Around 3am I got dinner in the red light district, then went back to the club to collect my bags and walked around looking for a good spot for what I am now referring to as Urban Camping.  I found a café where there had earlier been a party with nice tablecloths draped over the long tables, I put the only candle still lit in my new bedroom, made my bed with clean cardboard, pulled out my sleeping bag and got some shut eye.  Much to my chagrin, the street cleaners came sweeping around 5am and I wondered if I should try to hide or reveal myself before they took off the tablecloth and discovered me.  I peeked my head out from under the cloth when one was particularly near and we all had a hearty laugh.  They offered me domicile and I declined, but it was a very sweet gesture.  They let me be and I woke up around 7am and walked to the travel agency where I exchanged my flight coupon for a ticket.  I was the first one there, and not long after a friendly French Canadian guy came.  He had had a similar trip to mine, hitching, busking, and relying on the kindness of strangers.  He felt the same flow of guidance and it was a joyful morning we spent recounting stories of the more bizarre and fortuitous parts of our trips.  Then I busked a little at some cafes and we headed for the airport. 

    The flight was long and boring and cramped but arriving in NYC was a great rush!  I went home to Ganas, and greeted my friends.  The next day I discovered that a room had opened up in the Treehouse, a smaller community geographically within Ganas, but separate otherwise.  The room is huge with a lot of light and a view of the Bridge, and the house is lovely.  It is a smaller community whose focus is on lifestyle choices based on environmental and social effect.  The room is less expensive and the people who live there are all engaged in study of some kind.  Many play music and do art or are involved in social work.  Moving there keeps very much in line with my desire to follow the advice of the wise Japanese man who told me to study history and eat better and exercise more to build up my energy.  So, it looks like it worked out that I came home when I did.  I felt like I should have stayed longer, and in a way I felt I might be woosing out and going against what God wanted for me, but I asked Him to meet me where I was.  And He has. 

One great journey comes to a close; and a new one begins. 

Blessed Be, 
Alexis

SUMMER 2004
July 15, 2004    Miles and Trials and 3rd place in the Finals

Hi Friends, 

    Well, I've packed up my tent and am planning on leaving Montreux tomorrow...for where, I'm still not sure.  The festival was great.  I saw so much great music and also got to participate in the Vocal Competition in which I won 3rd place.  Also Belinda and Gaby, friends of mine from NY/ Treehouse came through and stayed for a week here with me.  They stayed in my tent and I stayed at my American ex-pat artist friends Alex and Nancy's house.  It rained the whole first week and was so cold.  I was not prepared (bad girl scout!)  because last year it was so incredibly hot, all I could think about was swimming in Lake Geneva.  It has finally warmed up and everyone is happy and relaxed.  My first night here, I got to see James Taylor in a 500 seat theater.  The set was great and it was so unbelievable that James Taylor was there.  He has a great band with him now, and all the renditions of the old tunes were better for it.  I moved into the tent on Saturday and thanks to my friends' heavy duty sleeping bag and my foresight in bringing needle and thread to sew up the holes in the tent, I was both warm and (mostly) dry.  I know you guys will be jealous, and well I sort of enjoy that, so here's some of the people I saw at the festival: 

Stacey Kent 
Kurt Rosenwinkle with Larry Grenadier, Brad Mehldau, and Joshua Redman 
Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone 
Michel Camilo 
Pat Metheny 
Joao Bosco 
Shakti with John McLaughlin 
Charlie Hunter 
John Scofield with Steve Swallow and Bill Stuart 
Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade 
and tonight is electric Chick Corea! 

Two concerts were exceptional, Flamenco dancer and singer Ana Salazar and a cabaret concert from Ute Lempur and Michael von der Heide 

They appeared in the same night actually, and were both billed as homages to Edith Piaf. Ute Lempur was so exceptionally horrible and people actually seemed to enjoy it, that it made me realize how truly different people's aesthetiques are.  Which was good preperation for the Vocal Competition.  And Michael von der Heide (who was actually a judge for the finals)  did a cabaret act that was parallel to Spinal Tap in its entertainment quality.   The final exceptional concert was that of Ana Salazar.  I was really ready to leave by the time her show came up, but decided to stay anyway because another singer from the competition was staying.  Wow, I was not prepared for the quantity and quality of passion that came from that stage.  So rare is that level of performance, that I didn't even realize how mediocre everything had been until I saw her show.  Nine musicians performed flamenco versions of Piaf songs, Ana was the lead vocal and also dancer.  Her stage presence was flawless, and the moment when I fell forever in love with her was about 3/4 of the way through the concert when she did a solo dance unaccompanied except by a recording of Piaf speaking.  At the end of this very powerful and strenuous dance, as she was turning away from the audience...she cracked the most radiant rich smile- full of girlishness, knowing sophistication, self acceptance and humility all at once.  My friend Helene, an Estonian singer who has also studied Flamenco dance, was equally blown away and we kept looking at each other with disbelief.  It's been too long since a performance made me cry. 

  Well, after the show I said to slightly shy Helene, 'let's go backstage.'  We didn't have passes, but I had been backstage for Cassandra Wilson's concert last year and it hadn't been difficult at all.  This year however, the security was a little tighter.  After failed attempts in English and French, the security asked us to exit and they showed us a door where they might come out.  We waited by the door and the pianist did come out.  I complimented him in Spanish and we had a brief conversation, he was VERY sweet and young.  Then he asked if we would like to meet Ana.  We did.  He brought us backstage and when she was done taking off her makeup, looking just as gorgeous, she spent about ten minutes talking with us in our broken Spanish.  Helene and I gave her our CD's and she seemed so excited to meet other singers.  I asked how old she was and she said 26.  We couldn't believe how mature and powerful her performance had been for someone so young.  What an incredible talent.  And to think, we've never heard of her before. 
  All this brings me to a slight theme of my year which I could call...oh...powerful feminine energy or women artists with more masculine sexuality or...Women artists who are living the uncompromised life.  This year I've met a handful of women, an artist I worked for named Ofra, the singer Elizabeth Kontomanu, and now Ana Salazar.  Incredibly powerful and sexy women who most men are afraid to approach because all that power is right out front and seemingly impossible to tame.  For performing, this is for me the most alluring kind of presence possible.  I want strength and wildness and artists who are unafraid of submit to a higher power, and willing for the work it takes to become available to be such a vehicle.  Seriousness and joy, a certain sadness, something overcome.  What a rare trait, but each time I see it in someone, I become hopeful that there is still something true in the world, that for someone at least sometimes, the world is magic, and not business as usual.  Hallelujah. 

So anyway, that concert made the whole trip worthwhile, but the real reason I came was to be in the vocal competition again.  I participated last year as well and didn't win a prize, and this year it was frankly just as screwed up, but at least this year, it was screwed up in my favor.  The main problem in these contests is always the judges.  As I learned from Ute Lempur, some people actually do like crap.   The contest started a day late because we were waiting for the band to arrive.  Helene and I actually ran into the band on Sunday, when they had just come in from Milan and were getting something to eat.  They were performing with a famous funk band, but apparently they 'also played jazz'.  Now when I heard that, I was immediately suspicious because most people who play jazz at the level necessary to play at Montreux, well they usually do play jazz.  Anyway, I asked them who they played with and they changed the conversation immediately.  Turns out they play jazz like they play everything, like a club date band, like jingle makers, like that movie 'the gig'.  In the rehersal, the bass player was freaked out when I asked him to walk a bass line at a certain part of my arrangement.  He said 'this isn't my gig'.  Right afterwards, I went to the coordinator and told him it was worst case scenario.  They ended up getting the house jazz band, who are totally qualified, to do the gig and we found out about 10 minutes before the semi finals. 
  Anyway, I felt terrible about my performance in the semi finals, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, especially my solo version of Round Midnight, who one Shure microphone rep told me was his favorite version of all the so many times he's had to listen to that song at one of these types of things.  That night, I was so depressed, because I had felt so uncomfortable and awkward on stage.  And this was just after the Ana Salazar concert, and she had been so great to watch.  I don't know why but I was really feeling low about it. 
  The next day, the 2nd round of semi-finals were supposed to be at 3:30, but had been moved to 2:30 without me knowing, and I arrived just in time to find out that I had made the finals which would begin at 6pm the same day.   I wasn't prepared because I thought for sure I wouldn't have gotten it, but I quickly got my arrangements ready and rehearsed with the band.  Then I went to Alex and Nancy's and had a beer. 
  I really felt that the finals would be a total toss up, completely subjected to the judges' inclinations.  None of the jury were real jazz vocalists, so I knew they wouldn't be coming from the same place as me.  Also, the contestant from Australia, Karlie Bruce, had a really beautiful voice and looked great on stage too, and I was sure she would win, so the pressure was off.  With that, great sound and lights and a room full of an excited audience, my little set was a magical experience.  I took my time, didn't try to impress anyone, kept scatting to a minimum, and just concentrated on being in complete possession of my every move and word.  It is a performance I will forever be proud of. 
  Karlie went next and her set wasn't as good as her set in the semi finals had been.  And after her, a contestant from Romania went and was terrible in every way. Her arrangements were copies of Nancy Wilson and Diane Shore, Her taste and high pitched scatting were quite abrasive to the ear, and she looked terrible and insincere on stage.  And lastly a Polish woman went whose entire set was pretty pop and kitsch.  She did have a great voice, but again, her aesthetique was completely different from mine, and I found her performance distasteful and insincere. 
  So, the Polish woman won 1st place, the Romanian woman 2nd and I won 3rd.  And poor Karlie who really has a great talent, got 4th. 
  I was completely dumbfounded, but after the initial shock of losing (again) to the Romanian girl, it suddenly seemend hilarious.  I guess because I actually got a prize, I could be pissed off and happy at the same time.  The prize is about 1400 dollars, a 2000 dollar wireless mic system, admission to the IAJE about 250 dollars, and well prestige I guess.  And oh, a big foam board fake check from Shure which I used as a sit upon and then as a doormat for my tent.  I thought it would be ironic to then use it to hitch hike out of town, but it was too big and I had to throw it away this morning when I broke down the tent.  (What is one supposed to do with a big fake check?) 
   One nice surprise was that Inga, the winner from last year did a little set after the finals, and it was really really good.  I was in complete accord with her taste and choices and she is definately a sweet kind charming woman.  It was good to see her again and her family too, and to get to hear her and say yeah, I'm really glad she won last year. 

   On an irrelevant topic, an idea that has occurred to me as I sit each night in 100 franc concert seats is how much I live off of systemic waste.  All systems from households to corporations to governments have waste.  If one can live on the periphery of it all, there is a lot there to use.  I have survived and lived very well on free concert tickets in Montreux, my friend's spare bedroom, people's spare change when I go busking, my friends leftovers in their kitchen, peoples' extra seats in their cars as they drive across Europe etc.  In a world where everyone shared, we wouldn't have so much waste, but in this one of competition and ownership, a person who doesn't identify with those ideals can help other people share and not waste so much. 

Thanks for being with me all these miles and trials. 

   All my love, 
   Alexis 


 

July 24th 2004   Chapta two to you 

Hi Friends, 

    Well, it's another chapter in the story, ended and I'm already in the mouth of the next chapter.  But I don't want to get ahead of myself, and anyway, better to tell the chapter that's over before going into the next one.I hitched out of Montreux, headed towards Venice (Just like last year) had a beautiful and totally fun filled day with 3 cute Swiss kids and a guitar who were heading to Sardenia.  We played Mini Master Mind, ate Mentos and listened to (Not sure this is how he spells it but it sounds like) Manu Chow.  I was having so much fun chilling out that I forgot to look at a map and suddenly realized I had passed my highway about 2 hours ago.  They dropped me at the next rest stop and I changed directions.  My next ride came from a guy who used to be a dancer in a touring Italian Pop act, and the one after that from a Sicilian trucker who greatly resembled Fonzi from Happy Days.  He was about the warmest person I've ever met.  I sang my arias for him and he was so enthusiastic and eboulient.  We spoke in French (funny huh) and he arranged a series of rides for me to get to Venice through his trucker friends.  The last ride was around midnight with an off duty trucker and his friend.  They drove me into Padova and since the train station was closed and very seedy looking, we went instead to a Summer Festival just outside of town.  All the Rainbow kids and their dogs were there, bumming cigarettes and drinking beer.  It was great, music pizza, beer and I met a guy who spoke English and hadn't spoken it in 20 years.  He was super psyched to talk to me all night!  (ugh!)  Anyway, they dropped me off at the station in time to catch the 4:33 am train and I arrived into Venice at 5:11.  I stashed my backpack in a huge planter in the courtyard of the hostel I always stay at there, and went for a sunrise walk around the E. side of Venice.  Around 6:30 I was exhausted and went back to the hostel.  A guy and his wife were checking out, and the wife gave me her key so I could take a snooze before the hostel lockout at 9am.  It was great, I actually got to sleep til 10am and then I checked into the hostel for the next day. 
   I then headed to Lido and took a bus to the N. end of the island to my favorite beach.  On the bus I met some very cool surfer folks from LA.  They really talked like surfer folks and I had to remind myself that they were the real thing, and therefore allowed to talk like that!  The beach was great, and upon returning I showered and went out busking.  I made an agreement with myself to try and work an hour every day, regardless of circumstances.  It went well and I made a quick 50€.  Then I ate leftovers at the hostel and met up with the surfer couple in time to see the Fireworks celebrating the end of the Plague in Venice!  They were of course spectacular, and moreso than fireworks in the US because they are so incredibly close! 
   Next day I visted the Guggenheim and busked lunchtime and hung with a nice pianist from Boston, a girl I met in my hostel. Around 6:30 I got a train to Bassano del Grappa where the Veneto/ New School Jazz Camp is held, and arrived just as the crew was heading out for dinner.  (Excellent timing as Always!!!) 

    I hung at the camp for a few days, ate great and jammed at the session, then headed out en route to Spain to meet up with my friend Gordon from NY.  Somewhere just into France, I got in touch with him and realized he wouldn't be able to meet up for a few days, so I stayed with the trucker I was with all the way to Lyon and got off there in the morning.  I spent the day in Lyon and went to an excellen museum, the museum of the History of the Resistance.  It turns out that the seat of the WWII resistance was in Lyon, and if you haven't read anything about it, the rebel Mauquis and the Vichy government to which parliment secceded all it's power to, and all the underground papers and informants...it's an exciting and empowering story!  And the women!  Loads of awesome women did everything from fire rounds to collect intelligence and make connections.  I was in awe. 

That night I hitched to Annecy (I got my first ride from a prostitute on the corner whom I asked directions from, she had a great car!)  In Annecy they were having their 4 day festival, beginning with a Festival of Fire in which they put pots full of parrifin all around the city and set them ablaze.  They also had street music, dance and theater and I even sat in with some local jazz musicians.  At the hostel I met a cool guy from Indiana (Indiana in the house!  You guys know you're cool!)  who's living in Japan teaching English (sound like anyone else we know!)  Anyway, we hung out at the festival and the next day I went with him to Le Grand Bournand where the Tour de France was ending up.  (Now I know some of ya'll are jealous!)  Lance Armstrong won AGAIN! and even though I'm not into bike racing, or nationalism...I must admit that I was swelling with emotions! Everyone else however was shouting for Richard (Richar Richar Richar...). 
After is was all over, Chris and I headed our seperate ways and I tried to hitch out of town to the highway.  The traffic was incredibly slow, and soon it was 8pm and we weren't even to the highway yet.  The family I was riding with was going through Annecy, so I decided to spend the night there.  They were in day 2 of the festival and there was a super cool Frenchy circus type parade with bicycles pushing people doing acrobatic stuff on weird contraptions (now you're interested!)  It was incredible.  I was sitting down to a beer with the jazz musicians I had met the previous night when Chris came walking up!  I was grooving to see him again, especially since neither of us had planned on heading to Annecy!  We got something to eat and since it was really late, and the hostel had been full, we crashed on some found cardboard in the park.  It was pretty comfey and around 5:30am we got up and headed to the train station for his 6:15 train. 
  I got a ride towards Lyon, and through a succession of rides ended up in Gerona where I was to meet up with Gordon. 
I took a snooze in the rendevous hotel, and he arrived a few hours later.  Now we're traveling together.  But...there I am at the next chapter, and I'm not ready to tell that story until it's over.  Anyway,  we've a train to catch, so forgive the typos and misspellings of European cities, and I don't have time to spell check either, so Ya'll will finally see what a horrible speller I am, but hey, now I can ask for a burger in 5 languages! 

Love you all and see you soon, 
Alexis 

Aug 8, 2004 

Hi Friends, 
  Well, I’ve covered a lot of kilometers since I last wrote you from the train station in Gerona.  Gordon and I took the local train just over the French border to Cerbére.  We arrived around 10 at night. About a hundred backpackers were buzzing around the gare trying to figure out how to get here or there. 
  We walked from the station to the beach and looked for a hotel room. There were none available, but thankfully we did get a sandwich at the last open restaurant. 
  At the last hotel we tried, I asked the surfer looking clerk if he knew of a good place to stay on the beach.  He took us outside and showed us where he thought would be good. 
  Cerbére is exceptionally beautiful.  The main drag of the town goes along the rocky hilly coast, a la N. California, and the place he showed us to stay was a tiny cove between two jetties down quite a way from the houses above.  We walked down the steep steps and arrived at the cusp of the jetty which we walked over to arrive at the cove.  In the cove were two edifices.  One was apparently a garage, maybe for a boat,  and the other was a little shanty built into the steep hillside with a half corroded tin roof and a concrete sitting bench and higher place for a bed.  We looked at both, and opted for the shanty.  There was a foam boat cushion there and we brought some cardboard with us also. 
   Luckily the weather was mild and we had a lovely two nights in the shanty.  We had a lovely walk around town and swam and napped.  The sun was really strong so far south, so we felt quite lucky that we could be at the beach and have a shelter too.  With a diet of sun and surf, and of wine, bread, cheese and canned asparagus we delighted in every minute of the rich shanty life. 
  In trying to keep to my agreement of working one hour a day, I went to the beach and approached people with the offer of professional massage like I had seen an old chinese man do in Lido.  Surprisingly a few people took me up on it, and I made 20 Euro in about an hour.  It was hard to get the guts to do it for the first time, but once I started, I just pretended like it was the most normal thing on earth for someone to ask. 
    In the morning we hitched out of Cerbére and ended up having a fabulous tour of the coastal towns. 
  We were heading to Brittany in the N. W. of France.  After Perpingnan, we got a ride with 3 Algerian immigrants around my age also returning from a weekend at the beach.  They invited us to eat and drink with them, and dropped us to the northern cusp of Lyon past where they lived, in order for us to get an easier ride.  The girl also gave me her sleeping mat which has come in enormously handy.  It was a memorable ride in a hot crowded car, learning the history of colonialism and trying some new foods. 
  We ended up the day in Paris, quite unintentionally, but thankfully my old haunt, the Hotel Palace in the 10éme had a room when we arrived around midnight.  The next day we went to Versailles, which was completely unbelievable.  Gordon said ´There's money and power...and then there's Money and Power´  We didn’t even go in the palace, but just walked around the gardens and citrus orchard and the lake. 
  We spent the night again at the Hotel Palace and went to a jam sessions at Cafe Universal where I spoke to the owner who I had met on previous trips about playing there next summer.  He was very encouraging which was nice, but the real triumph was that I had done my first business transaction in French! 
   In the morning we took the RER suburban train out of town and caught a piece of highway far enough from Paris to work out. 
   By 1pm we were at Mount St. Michele.  It was also completely striking from a distance.  Lots of nothing all around, and this enormous rock with a village and a huge cathedral in the middle of the ocean.  We tried to walk around, but it was so crowded that we left.  We headed instead to Rennes where we got a room at the youth hostel and had the most lovely traditional dinner of Tartins, an broiled open faced sandwich with different meats, veggies and cheese on it. 
   In the bar as we were finishing our food,  there were about 5 men singing.  We stepped into the pub and Gordon and I started singing one of our Irish songs we do together in harmony.  The people went crazy and starting pouring us drinks and we stayed and swapped songs for about an hour.  It was really an emotional evening, with the lead singer almost crying as he translated some lyrics for us.   They also sang some songs that Gordon knew so they got to sing together. 
The next day we went to Dinan, a well preserved medieval city nearby.  We spent two days there and then took a 3 hour cruise up stream to St. Malo.  It was over run with tourists so we left in the morning, and hitched the day away heading to Calais so Gordon could go to England to catch his flight home. 
We got a hotel near the highway at a cheap chain where you actually check in via vending machine!  And ate in the other hotel restaurant nearby.  In the morning after an all you can eat breakfast buffet (Yum) we walked to the highway and hitched our separate ways. 
  I caught a good succession of rides including one with a British boat captain.  We had a nice picnic and stop over in Aachen and then I caught some other rides ending up in Frankfurt by nightfall.  I called a drummer I met last year and got together with him for a drink and long walk.  I stayed with his family in Darmstadt, and got a few hours sleep before catching the train to downtown Frankfurt to go to the Iceland Air ticket office to get my stand by ticket. 
   When I arrived there were already 3 people waiting who had arrived the day before.  I went out and got some pastries for us to share, and we had a fun morning griping and sharing travel stories. By the time the office opened at 9, there were 7 of us waiting, and I was the only one who had arrived that day.  One guy had been waiting for 5 days already.  It was a little distressing.  They said the next opportunity to fly would probably be on the 11th.  (This was on the 3rd!) 
  There was a cool hippie guy there dropping off his girlfriend, and his presence reminded me that I should go visit Zegg, an intentional community near Berlin.  I asked him if he knew it, and it turned out that he lives about 5 minutes from it!  I spent the day with him and his girlfriend and had a great picnic in a cherry orchard!  They were only going halfway there, so I hitched the rest and arrived just in time for a fabulous dance party! 
  I think this letter is long enough, so even though it´s been a whole nother week with cool stories, I´ll tell them when this chapter is over.  Besides the Zegg pub is open, and I was hoping to get to play and sing a little for my friends. 

  Love You All! 
  Alexis 




Aug 11, 2004 

So...I had a great time at that dance party at Zegg, the community near Berlin, and then the next day I joined the English speaking group in the summer camp they were holding.  Six of the 11 people in my group were from the community Findhorn, a spiritual eco-centric community in Scotland.  The work we did in the group was in the format of Forum;  We sit in chairs in a circle and one person takes the middle and discusses an issue that had come up for them...relationships, childhood, spiritual, sexual... there are two facilitators, and after the person talks about their issue, one facilitator makes suggestions about how to approach dealing with the issue.  Sometimes after the person sits down, they can receive feedback in the form of a ´mirror´.  A mirror speaks about the person and her issue in the 3rd person, never directing the feedback to the person directly.  Sometimes, if a person´s sharing is very emotional for him, the group, or just the men or just women, might make a physical circle around the person, or hold him, and often we end up singing one of the many mantra like songs that are popular at Zegg. 
  I really enjoyed this process because although I greatly respect the psychological  and analytical approach, I also feel that spirit and emotion are at the root of true healing, and this process fully embraces both head and heart. 
  I have participated in many things like this in theater, church, community and at retreats of various sorts, and I definitely think that this particular group was about as good as it gets for doing this kind of work.  Half of the group already knew each other from Findhorn, but the other thing that made us so close was that we didn’t speak German, so we spent most of our social time together too, and had some really deep and fun conversations at the pub and the pool.  But the courage and trust of the individual members, to share as much love and pain as they did, with people they didn’t really know, was totally inspiring. 
  One thing that came up that seems true to me is that it is sometimes easier to share in a group rather than with just one or two people.  My experience in the middle of the circle rang true to that.  Not only did I share my 'issues' with the group, but I opened myself up to receive their acceptance and love. 
   Another pearl from the week was about the idea of Free Love. Someone said Love...love is already free....Freed Love is what we need to work for. 

  Ok, so in other news, I´m at the airport right now, and I´ll be flying home today.  Yesterday I left Zegg with a nice German guy I met there who has done a lot of traveling too.  We spent the day in Leipzig and saw the two churches that Bach was choir master at.  His remains are laid in St. Thomas Church, and although they´re not sure it´s him, and although I don´t really believe that the body is important after death, I really felt incredibly awed being there so close to his bones. 
  We arrived in Darmstadt around 10:30 and went to the jam session at Krone, where my friend Tobias told me he always goes on Tuesday nights.  I sat in for a little bit and said goodbye to Eckhard, my friend from Zegg, and got a few hours sleep at Tobi´s folk´s house before going to try my luck at the Iceland Air office again in downtown Frankfurt.  There was a whole crew of people there, but no one left from last week thankfully.  The manager looked happy as she strode past us, and when we walked into the office, she informed us that she had enough seats for everyone today.  So, here we are, a happy crew of backpackers going home. 
   So I guess this is my last chance for reflections, so here they are: 
Things I love about Europe:  Municipal Bicycles, toilets that have stop buttons on them, streetcars and trams, really good cheap wine, sitting in cafes and not feeling like I ought to be doing something productive, cheap hostels and mom and pop hotels, street food, buskers, busking, great variety of cute boys, having to speak slowly to be understood, hitching and the many interesting and kind people who showed hospitality isn´t dead, the european love of ice cream and the many flavors we don´t have, demitasses, dogs in restaurants and on trains, and well, I don´t know how to end it... 

               Oh, ok... I love how in American cities, the train station is in the old part of town, but in Europe...the train station is in the 'new' part of town. 

Till next summer... 

Tschüß, 
Alexis 

SUMMER 2005
July 22, 2005   Meriba (hi) from Alleah 

I'm sitting at the computer in Vieux Chatel house in Chatel, Switzerland up in the mountains looking out onto Lake Geneva and the French Alps.  Earlier when the weather was clearer I could see Mont Blanc.  My fabulous French friend Isabelle just made some amazing dinner with local goat cheese on phyllo dough in little bite size pieces.  The sun is starting to set and it's reflecting orangish colors into the clouds which seem to be right above me.  I feel really good except for my right calf which still burns slightly from an encounter with stinging nettle while on a hike earlier this afternoon. 

Tomorrow I'll be in New York.  Yesterday I was in Istanbul. 

This trip, although shorter than my usual still managed to be magical. 

I arrived in Montreux on the 8th of July.  This year represented a real change of the guard, since none of the original busking crew from NC came, and I represent the end of that legacy which has lasted about 10 years.   I was joined this year by NY friend Geoff Ammons, a guitarist, and brought my new battery powered Crate Amp which I got for playing in the Music Under New York program in the subways.  We did a little busking, and got to see all the concerts.  But this year Montreux was mostly a family affair, with my Mom and Dad coming from Florida on a European Holiday to celebrate their 25th Anniversary!   It was great to have them here and we had our share of great meals and good times with them and my friends the Guidetti's who Geoff and I stayed with this year.  We rented their upstairs apt, right next to the Casino where most of the Jazz concerts are held, with an amazing view of the Lake. 

(2016 Note, I sound like a sore loser, but if you've read this far, you're getting the idea that I'm not big on censoring myself.  The Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition is a very valuable competition, which as I now send my students to audition for it it every year, I am very grateful to the organizers and all the beautiful and smart judges.  This was my experience of it as a contestant that summer.) 
The competition was it's usual bogus self with a panel full of incompetent judges, none of whom are actually professional jazz singers.  I didn't make it to the finals (out of 7 girls, 4 made it) and neither did one incredible singer from Sydney, Elana Stone.  No, actually believe it or not, the weakest of 7 contestants took the 1st prize this year, a girl who couldn't count off her tunes, didn't know what key she was in, sang the harmony part to Centerpiece, instead of the Melody, and scatted out of tune.  It was actually remarkable. 

The second and third place winners are singers I know and like, so at least that was good, but still upside down.  I'm sure it will be a repeat of last year when at the IAJE master class with Kitty Margolis, the winner of the Creekin’ Montreux JAZZ Vocal Competition was asked to sing a swing tune, and she couldn't Think of One She Knew! and I was there too, and they asked me to sing Body and Soul, and it was of course totally Fine, and everyone was like 'that girl won first, and you won 3rd...no way...and I said...Way!  I think it's gonna be worse this year, because I'm pretty sure both the 2nd and 3rd prize winners are gonna make it out there, and this poor first prize chick from Hungary is gonna be totally embarrassed, and it's not her fault...!   I just don't get it at all. I kept telling my mom not to get too invested in the outcome, or to worry too much what I sang or what I wore because it's totally random.  She told me afterwards that she was glad she came because she couldn't have imagined it, she just never would have really believed me if she hadn't been there herself. 

But on the up side, I got to see some great concerts for free including one amazing show with Dianne Reeves, an awesome singer who I had formerly been remiss in not knowing about!  Definitely check her out, her instrument is so powerful and colorful, and her phrasing is totally creative and unique.  Plus I did great fun things like swim in the lake, and go with the family to Gruyere where they make the cheese and have a really cool castle!  I also spent some time at the fabulous spa at the Montreux Palace where my parents were staying.   Not to mention that my French is kicking butt!  I've been studying a little, but I guess stuff is just sinking in finally.  I felt much better than last year. 

When I left Montreux last week my friend Nancy who I was staying with said ' send me one of those letters about your travels, they always cheer me up.'   I told her I wasn't sure It would be that exciting, since I was only going for a week, and I had it all planned out.  She said something like ' of course it will be exciting...it's you.' 

My classmate Elif from Queens College invited me to visit her over the summer at home in Istanbul. I found a cheap round trip from Geneva so I went. 

I arrived late Saturday night, and her family picked me up at the airport.  We took the scenic route home, through the Aqueduct, and then over a giant bridge...The Bridge...that connects Europe to Asia.  Her family has a fabulous apartment on the Asian side near the sea which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.   Her Dad is retired and spends most of his days on his boat smoking cigarettes and drinking Raki also referred to as lions milk.  A popular T-shirt declares 'Raki is the answer...but I forgot the question'   The drink tastes like Sambuca and is mixed with water which makes it milky looking.  You take a sip, and then a sip of water.  It's funny to think of a country of macho guys getting drunk on Sambuca, but I think this stuff is 45 proof, so although it tastes like Anise, there's no fooling around! 

On Sunday, my first day, we did what the family does every Sunday and went out to the Prince Islands on the boat.  It was a beautiful ride, and the sea and beaches were packed with people.   We found a nice spot in a bay of one of the islands.   An hour later we were joined by the neighbors, a family who lives next door to Elif's and also has their boat next to their's on the slip.  They tied up their boat to ours and came aboard with more food.  Also Elif's Dad's cousin joined us, who Elif says is a very funny guy in Turkish.  He was pretty funny in 'Universal Non-Lingual' too, and we all had a good time making fun of me mainly, and then of whatever else, secondarily.  Elif's Dad speaks a little English, but no one else did.  I really felt comfortable though, and was able to communicate quite a lot. 

We swam and sunbathed and ate and ate and ate.  Fried fish from the sea, red peppers stuffed with a slightly sweet rice mixture including pine nuts and bird grapes (a local thing, I couldn't figure out what they were) Some nice thing with beans and tomatoes, something deep fried with cheese in the center, salad of cucumber and tomato, something with beef...I tried everything. 

Something about Turkish culture, or maybe it's just Elif's family, is that they are The most leisurely people I have ever encountered.  It all focuses around smoking.  At each meal, at least a pack of cigarettes is consumed, and people sit around and pick and smoke for hours.   Even at breakfast it's the same thing.  They read the paper, smoke a pack, eat a little, drink about 4-6  cups of tea, make Turkish coffee, drink it and wait for it to cool so you can turn it upside down and read your fortune.  Elif's mom did a nice job reading mine one morning.  In the cup she saw my mom, and said that she was praying for me every day.  And something about a fish...? 

The next day Elif took me around to the European side and we walked around some nice famous shopping area.  I started to feel sick though, and so we had to go home.  I was sick with the 'Turkey Trots' for about 3 days, so we didn't actually do that much, but I did get to read Dan Brown's Demons and Angels which was really fun. 

On Wednesday we had a major family sightseeing day and went to all the important Palaces and Mosques.  Of all the things I saw, the most incredible, and I'm not sure whether I believe it or not, was the hand and skull of St. John the Baptist.  There among a litter of royal jewels and artifacts was a golden forearm and hand with a little square cut out in the hand portion so you could see the mummified hand.   Was that for real?  They also had relics from Mohammad in a special part of the Palace where they had a religious singer in a little box with a mic singing from the Koran while tourists took pictures of the No Photos sign and the relics.  Her Dad bought tickets for everyone, and told me that I was now Turkish, because the tickets were only 3 lire instead of 12 for tourists.  From then on they called me Alleah.  But at the gate, they gave us a pretty hard time, so at the following places, he got me the tourist ticket. 

We also saw St. Sophia, aka The Blue Mosque.  It was a church built around 500 which was turned into a Mosque in around 1800 (don't publish those dates, but something like that).  All the mosaics were covered with plaster and painted with designs.  Huge circle plaques declared the name of Allah in many different ways. 

The plaster however has come off or faded in some places, and you can see the mosaics coming through.  In some places they have scraped off the plaster so you can see some of the more famous mosaics.  They really were very mystical, and it all reminded me of how the early churches did the same thing to pagan temples, or of the transformations some places in Toledo, Spain have undergone, with Christian art on the back of Jewish art canvases. 

We also saw the Hippodrome and the Roman Cistern, which was really creepy looking.  It was in the news while I was there, that someone discovered a tunnel from the Cistern to one of the Prince Islands. 

We took a short ferry ride back to the Asian side and Elif pointed out the Princess tower, a smallish tower in the middle of the water.  The story is that a Sultan's fortune teller told him that someone would poison his daughter, so he built the tower to keep her safe.  One time when they were bringing her food however, a snake got into the basket and bit her.  What's the moral...you can't hide from fate?  or It's just as dangerous in the hiding places, so better live your life and do it all!  I like them both. 

On my last day in Istanbul, Elif and I went to a local market area and I found a great bead store and bought some cool jewelry from them.  Then we had a long walk by the Sea and an ice cream at a cafe as the sun was setting.   I saw someone pointing at the water, and then more people and I got up to look.  There were Dolphins, at least 12 of them swimming in little groups of  2 or 3!   We followed them for as long as we could keep up, and then turned around to go home for dinner. 

My flight was at 5:45am so at around 11pm we went out for drinks to that famous shopping and market area on the European side.  We went to a place where Elif's Dad knew the owner, and some guys came by and serenaded us.  It was especially cool though, because her whole family knew the songs...song after song, they sang along while the great violinist and Turkish guitar player moved through the repertoire with gusto.   We sang for about half an hour but I was told it usually goes on for hours (and probably 2 packs of cigarettes!)  Those songs are just traditional songs that people learn from going to this area and singing with the serenaders year after year. 

They drove me to the airport and sadly we said goodbye.  They said I always have a home in Turkey, and that they hoped I would come back next year for longer. 

And on the last night of my trip, I reflect on how happy I am to finally have a real life in New York with good gigs and other music jobs.  I remember last summer bass player Carlo DeRosa told me to enjoy my long open ended traveling because he thought I might not be able to go away like that for much longer.  Yeah! He was right! 

love love love 
Alexis 

 

     

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