Thursday, March 24, 2011

From Brooklyn to Russia With Love, Part II

We are deep into our Russian travels.  As I write this, I am travelling on a train from St. Petersburg to Nizhny Novgorod.  The cold has broken slightly - 30 degrees feels warm to me at this point and I can easily walk around without a jacket in this kind of weather with little affect.  I feel that I have settled in to the lifestyle of the country slightly.  Hearing Russian, although still almost completely incomprehensible, has become natural and my ears respond to it differently than when I first arrived.  I have been able (for the most part) to learn the cyrillic alphabet and words are starting to slowly sound out in my head.

Wednesday will be the 3 week mark of our 9 1/2 week trip.  So far we have played approximately half a dozen shows, to a wide array of audiences.  I think so far the most rewarding show that we have played to date was at an orphanage in St. Petersburg.  Before we had a chance to play, the kids gave us a variety of performances of their own - from musical performances to dances to a slide show of some other productions that they had participated in.  We followed with our segment, which was received by uninterrupted attentiveness.  It's obvious that the 150 kids in attendance don't have many opportunities to see live music.  We opened the floor to the kids to ask questions and discuss music as well as ask about our impressions of Russia so far.  We each gave miniature demonstrations of our own instruments and spoke about the learning process that we all went through to get where are in our musical journeys.  Following the show we had opportunities to talk to them individually, as well as sign autographs and pose for photographs.

I was able to wander around the city of St. Petersburg for an afternoon by myself.  I find it one of life's most energizing experiences when I have the opportunity to lose myself in a foreign environment.  I had no goal in mind, except to get lost in the streets.  I walked through main boulevards, alleyways, parks and along the Neva River.  Two sights stuck out which I had the opportunity and I have attached below.  One of them is a statue by the Neva River, which I didn't know the meaning of, but I found it as one of the most disturbing pieces of art that I have seen in a long while.  The other was a scene that I came across in a city park of a woman leading a reindeer dragging a sleigh behind it.  Again, I had no real idea as to what the reason for this was, but it struck me as something that I simply wouldn't have had the opportunity to witness anywhere else in the world so I captured it with my camera.  I also have attached a few photos of the cathedrals that litter the city streets, which were by far the most glorious pieces of architecture that I came across.  After truly losing myself in the depths of the city, I managed to find one landmark that I knew (an obelisk near the train station that we arrived at 4 days earlier) and I walked my numb hands and feet home to our hotel.

At the present moment, the group and I are traveling to Nizhny Novgorod on one of Russia's high speed train lines.  Night has fallen.  There is still so much left to see in our trip, yet it feels as if we've been here for months.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

From Brooklyn to Russia With Love, Part I

As promised, here is the first entry in my tour blog.

To begin to understand Russian culture you must first experience the winters.  It's the first thing you feel coming off of the plane.  It seeps through cracks and permeates walls.  You may be indoors where the warmth is abundant, but one look outside a window and you see a beckoning menace.  It tests you, challenging you to a duel.  It asks, "can you feel me?"  Between the slaps of wind you can only open your chapped lips long enough to say, "da."

That being said, you can now begin to understand the Russian people:  warm, resilient, ever-persistant in proving that yes, you can flourish in an environment that many foreigners misconstrue as practically uninhabitable.  This is the root of their beauty - the ability to see the power of the human spirit and cultivate it under extraordinary circumstances.  It is apparent not only in their history, but in their architecture, writing, visual art and music.  All of it dances around and points at this wintery clime, almost in glamorous mockery.  If you have ever gazed at a painting by Vrubel or listened to the music of Rachmaninov you have received a glipse through the eyes and ears of the Russian soul of what it means to endure and luxuriate.

I write this as I gaze out the window of my apartment in Moscow, looking across rooftops that scratch a late afternoon blue sky.  I have been here for a week, know only a handful of words, and seen only a small portion of the largest city in a country which spans 9 time zones, is inhabited by 140 million people, and who's history begins roughly 200 years after the birth of Jesus.  The mammoth amount of cultural wealth that has already been bestowed upon me in that short period of time cannot be measured in numbers.  It is an opulence that can only be understood in feeling - I am wide-eyed, drenched in the beauty of the city and the people that surround me.

John Forte and the band have performed twice thus far - once at the venue Soho Rooms and most recently at the performance space B2.  The small experiences that we have already had were streaming from our performances - a visit to the Tretiakov Gallery, a tour of Red Square, walking through crooked narrow streets and dinners with new friends and new foods.  I anticipate the remainder of the reservoir that is behind the outpouring we have encountered.  Such new environments always seem to have this affect, but I sense a special connection with this place.  In fleeting moments it almost feels like a home.

There is one last performance in Moscow tomorrow night at Spaso House before we venture beyond the city walls to the Golden Ring (Vladimir, Suzdal, Yaroslavl), St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Yekaterinburg.  Thankfully, we will be traveling by land for the most part, allowing us to see not only the places that we arrive, but the multitude of landscapes in between.  If the next leg is only a fraction as colorful as the previous it will provide excellent fodder for more writing.

Dosvidaniya until then.