Sunday, January 21, 2018

Re-Awakening the Zombie (i.e. using the old Travel Blog again)

Hello Blogspot -

A lot has happened over the years since the last entry. I graduated with a B.M. in Piano Performance, did all-but-thesis for an M.A. in Musicology, moved across the country to Virginia/D.C., got married, and started a booming piano teaching business. I've been very busy!

The last entry detailed one of many back-to-back adventures in 2012 and I hope to one day get to those before I forget everything. Maybe this recent re-awakening of the blog will inspire me to actually do it once the project that got me here is done. Maybe.

My husband and I got married in August, but postponed our honeymoon to take place over winter. It was a pretty awesome adventure trip - we didn't just go plunk down on a tropical island somewhere for a week (not that there's anything wrong with that!). We roadtripped through Iceland and Scotland, and I definitely want to write it up so friends and family can check it out or not at their own leisure and not just be subjected to our monopolizing every conversation to talk about everything we saw and did. Which was a lot.

So at any rate, here we go! Three weeks of travel to be spread out over many many new entries. Hello 2018!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Orfeo Music Festival 2012

Last summer I participated in the Orfeo Music Festival in Vipiteno, Italy. I had to write a summary of my experience to a scholarship donor, and so was forced into finally writing a blog-type piece on it, and figured since the work was done I may as well share it here! So, with a few tweaks to make it more suitable for my own personal blog, here is my experience in Italy this summer!

My experience participating in the Orfeo Music Festival this summer was phenomenal. I had the opportunity to focus intently on music for over two weeks, fully immersed with my peers in a daily routine of attending each other’s workshops and concerts, eating meals together, and attending the nightly faculty recitals, all the while in the beautiful setting of the small village of Vipiteno in the Italian Alps. This environment of constant immersion in music nearly 24 hours a day was an essential aspect of the experience.

View of the school courtyard from the recital hall. All lessons, performances, and practice rooms were located in this school.

View of the school from the front gate (recital hall on the right)

 View of two castles visible from a practice room.

I had six performance opportunities during the course of the festival, each of which provided me with a very different learning experience. On the very first day of the festival I had my first two performances – a master class and an afternoon recital. For both of these I performed a piece from Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestuck Op. 12 titled “Aufschwung.” The master class was one of the most rewarding experiences of the festival – after getting an initial chance to play the piece in front of an audience of mostly fellow pianists (and work out a few nerves in the process), I then had a public half-hour lesson on the piece with Natsuki Fukasawa, professor of piano at California State University, Sacramento. Working with her gave me many new insights and added a new layer of depth to explore in the piece.

Immediately after the master class was the afternoon student concert, when I had my “official” performance of the piece. It went extremely well, and performing on the first day was a good way to dive headfirst into the festival.

Performing in the recital hall.

My next performance, at the end of the first week, was of the first movement of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Sonata No. 23, Hob. XVI. 

Throughout the first week, in addition to the many lessons I was able to have with my instructor Nina Scolnik, I also had many coaching sessions with a violinist and a cellist in preparation of our performance of Clara Schumann’s Trio in G Minor, 2nd movement. This performance was special because we had the opportunity to give the performance in one of the beautiful medieval churches in Vipiteno – performing in such a venue was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to give a concert in a setting that simply does not exist in America.

Recital Performance of Clara Schumann Trio – video (7:01)

Performing with my trio in the gothic Holy Spirit church.
L-R: Nina Scolnik (my private instructor and chamber coach, both at Orfeo and home at UC Irvine), Michelle Bessemer (violin), Luis Zepeda (cello), and myself (piano).

My trio with two other great friends and pianist participants at the festival, David and Quentin.

This year, the festival put together a choir with many of the festival participants, instrumentalists in addition to the vocal students. I was able to participate in this as well, and gained valuable experience learning how to be a member of a choir; because singing requires such a different skill set than playing the piano, it truly helps pianists and other instrumentalists to sharpen their musicianship skills and listen in a new way. In addition, my ultimate career goal is to work with singers as an accompanist and coach, and any experience I can gather singing will help me be successful in that field. Our performance was in another of the beautiful churches in Vipiteno.

Performing with the Orfeo Festival Choir.

I also had a chance to get first-hand experience of what working with singers – particularly, student singers – will be like. I was paired with a soprano for one song, and through working with her in her lessons as well as accompanying her performance I gained valuable insight on how to handle difficult situations that may arise when working with new or inexperienced musicians. Though the performance was rough for her, it taught me how to handle myself and do my best to support the singer no matter what goes wrong on stage and help her find her place in the music. In many ways, I believe this was a better experience then merely having an easy performance.

Accompanying a very young singer in one of her first-ever public performances.

As mentioned before, the location of the festival was incredible. The town of Vipiteno, Italy is located in the far north of the Italian Alps – so far north, in fact, that the primary language spoken in the town is German, and the closest large city is not in Italy but Innsbruck in Austria. As a small town, there was little distraction from the constant immersion of the festival, and the beauty of the old city and the surrounding mountain landscapes made for a very inspirational location. Though every week day we were kept extremely busy with our lessons, master classes, performances, and faculty recitals, the weekends were left open for us to practice and explore, both of which I took full advantage of. I have included a few pictures of the town, as well as the mountains surrounding it (one of which I climbed to the summit!).

The main street of the old city of Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Car show driving through Vipiteno.

 Dancers at a street festival one evening in Vipiteno.

Double rainbow after a hard rain.

Beautiful waterfall on a nearby hike.

View across the valley while climbing Rosskopf mountain.

Climbing Rosskopf mountain.

Climbing Rosskopf mountain.

My roommate playing Mahler on top of an Alp.

Me clinging to the cross at the top of Rosskopf mountain for dear life - super windy with an impending hailstorm!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Olive Tree Initiative: An Introduction

[DISCLAIMER: This is a PERSONAL blog chronicling my travels, and does not represent the official mission, goals, aspirations, beliefs, or any other views related to OTI as an organization or its affiliates and other participants. I write this blog through my own eyes, and it is meant as a place for recording my own personal thoughts and experiences, to share with my friends and family as well as those interested in the various places I've traveled who may stumble across my blog.]

Hello! I am very excited to be starting up my travel blog yet again after a few months of silence.

As many of you know, I have actually been traveling all summer. On June 18th I flew to Prague with my parents and traveled with them through the Czech Republic and Austria, after which they returned to the United States and I continued on with my adventures. I participated in a classical music festival in the tiny German-speaking Alps town of Vipiteno/Sterzing, Italy for 2.5 weeks, after which I worked at an accordion music festival on top of a mountain in the French Rhone-Alps for a month. After making my way home via Paris and New York over the course of about a week, I made it back to California in time to really dive in to preparations for this adventure.

Unfortunately, I didn't blog while doing all of those other amazing things, and will catch up with them after I return home for the summer for good. I did however want to be sure that I kept up a blog during this leg of my summer travels, because it's a very special and important trip that I feel needs attention as it unfolds, lest I forget some important aspects of this jam-packed experience.

SO, fittingly enough, I'm returning to the same place I left you all with this blog - the middle east! We will be traveling to Washington D.C., Israel proper, the West Bank, and Jordan.

A bit about the program, from the Olive Tree Initiative website:

"In March 2007 a diverse group of UCI students from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze and non-religious backgrounds with varying perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict founded the Olive Tree Initiative. The students were inspired to create a forum where they could discuss and learn about their different perspectives on the situation in Israel/Palestine and to embark on an educational trip to the region. In the fall of 2008, 16 students and 2 faculty made an inaugural two-week trip to Israel/Palestine. While there they met with academics, politicians, religious authorities, community leaders and activists and learned about their perspectives on the conflict."

This is the 5th summer of these trips, and I am so excited to be a part of it. We have been studying the conflict through intense educational sessions over the past 34 weeks, and have received training in diplomatic conversation and ability to address speakers of all different backgrounds, beliefs, and stakes in the conflict, as well as how to most effectively and respectively engage with each other. The group is incredibly diverse and well-balanced, just as the first group described above was.

As someone very involved in Chabad and Hillel on campus (I'm the photographer for Hillel's Social Media Team and thus attend most Jewish events on campus), I suppose I represent a more Jewish perspective in this diverse group, but my own personal understandings of the issue don't really fit any stereotype connected to my roots or religious beliefs. While at times individuals may become involved with OTI because they feel strongly about a particular "side" of the issue, others get involved simply because they wish to learn more and engage with others on all sides and truly understand the core aspects of the conflict. I consider myself to fall more in with this second group; before becoming involved with OTI, I had no strong connections or opinions about the conflict, and became involved precisely for this reason... I feel that as someone regularly involved in Jewish life and thus many connections to Israel through Hillel events and other advocacy programs, it is my responsibility to truly understand what it is my community regularly talks about, visits, and feels this strong connection to. The "nitty gritty" of the politics and reality on the ground tends to get ignored in most discussions that come up in these contexts, and it's something I feel is very important to understand, particularly because of my relatively recent involvement with my heritage and thus small amount of time thus far being exposed to any part of the issues.

Regardless of which of these reasons compelled each of us to join the group, however, I feel so far that everyone involved has done so because they truly believe in the mission of OTI, which is to provide students and the greater community with education, and the tools with which to engage each other in meaningful discourse to tackle these difficult issues in a meaningful, productive, and respectful way (paraphrased; to read the actual mission statement go here). These are all things that I believe are incredibly important in order for any of us to function in this crazy crazy world with each other.

My personal interests and focuses while on the trip are as follows:
1. To truly get a grasp on my own opinions, which as of right now are muddled in a sea of self-doubt and a lack of confidence in my own understanding despite what most would consider a relatively high level of education on the issue.
2. To understand and humanize the opinions of everyone I meet on this trip, from hardline settlers to refugees to diplomats.
3. To get some good photojournalistic practice in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
4. To make connections across many diverse parts of my UCI campus community, and bring these connections home and use them productively in creating a more integrated and welcoming environment across these diverse cultures present on our campus.

You will all learn more about the program as I blog about our experiences, but if you are just dying for more information, please check out our website:

I cannot share our itinerary with you all, as it may change from day to day and we don't want the wrong things getting out there, but we have some very exciting speakers lined up to talk with us. We will be going first to Washington, D.C. for two nights, so my next post will be after our first day there!

And, because it wouldn't be a Tasha blog without it, here are some photos of those of us able to attend "boot camp" over the course of this past week in preparation for our adventure together.

Can't wait to talk to you all from D.C.!

Most of the UCI students, as well as a few UCLA participants, at our Gala event (my mom doesn't know how to use the zoom on my camera, so sorry some people are cropped out!)

Some lovely OTI ladies at the gala :)

Frank and Meagan at the OTI gala.

The end of "boot camp," with just about half the group. We'll meet everyone at the airport in a few hours!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Post-Birthright Day 16: Tel Aviv-Yaffo and the Journey Home

At last, my last day in Israel.

I woke up too late to catch the early early bus (5:00am), so I had to cut out the first half of my day's plans (visiting the Diaspora museum)... but I was rewarded with a lovely morning view of the Kinneret as I rode the 8:00 bus from Tsfat to Tel Aviv. The plan was to check my large luggage at the central bus station, spend the day in Tel Aviv, then slowly make my way to the airport when I was done with the day and spend the night there (my flight was at 6:10am).

View of the Sea of Galilee leaving Tsfat.

After securing my luggage, I didn't feel like figuring out the Tel Aviv public transportation system if I was just going to be there for a day, so I caught a cab to Nachalat Binyamin, the market where I'd just chilled out when on Birthright. I don't like shopping in a rush, so I'd made myself wait until I got back and could take my time browsing before purchasing anything. I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch, and sat down at a sidewalk cafe and just watched the bustling market life go by - lots of Birthright groups like mine, lots of tourists, lots of artists and street performers... it was nice to get back to what I consider the "real world" I'm used to and just relax in a secular artsy urban environment.

While I was sitting there at my cafe table, I saw two familiar faces walk by: Meira and Reut! Meira was the field coordinator in charge of my and a few other Birthright trips, and she spent a lot of time with each group including us; and Reut was our security guard! They were both with a new group doing the usual Birthright one-hour lunch stop on Nachalat Binyamin. I jumped up to quickly say hi before they went off to lunch and I finished mine. It was nice to see a couple familiar faces after so much traveling and so many other experiences, on my last day in the country.

After my lunch I did some shopping for my family. I'd wanted so badly to get meaningful gifts for them that I had let it become the last day without finding anything that satisfied me, but I knew that I could find things here - I was more sure to get something unique and special at an artists' market than in the thousands of Jerusalem stalls selling cheap knicknacks made in China.  I got a beautiful handcarved mezuzah for my dad, and a handmade ceramic pomegranate sugar bowl for my mom.

Street performer outside the cafe where I had my lunch.

My yummy lunch - pasta, iced cappuccino, looking out at the market.

I then went to the main street to catch a cab to Jaffa. My cab driver was really nice and friendly, and we talked a lot on the trafficy ride... just about my time in Israel, his life growing up, his desire to leave (which is still an odd concept to me, that anyone Jewish would want to LEAVE Israel, when it's such an important mitzvah to live there), whether or not I'd ever move there, my life back home in L.A., etc. It was so nice to have a driver who wanted to talk, and not just sit there awkwardly.

My time in Jaffa consisted of walking the Old City streets I'd first seen on Birthright the first night of Chanukkah, looping around to the main square, collecting shells on the beach and taking in the view of Tel Aviv, exploring the Jaffa port, and sticking my head inside a church or two. I'll let the photos and captions do the rest:

The Wishing Bridge - an ancient legend holds that anyone boarding the bridge, holds its zodiac sign and looks at the sea - their wish will come true. Each of those bands has one of the signs of the zodiac engraved on it. The church is St. Peters, attached to the Vatican Embassy.

Self-portrait next to some cool graffiti: the "coexist" decal stencil, and under it "But First Exist."

The columns are all that's left from the Turkish governor's building when it was blown up in 1948. The clock tower was built by the Ottoman Empire around 1900.

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

The Jaffa beach is made up entirely of beautiful shells.

Me picking shells on Jaffa beach.

Andromeda Rock, believed to be the location of the story in Greek mythology.

Jaffa port at sunset.

Winding through the streets of Old Jaffa, passing behind churches and monasteries.

There are always cats to be seen in Israel.

View out over Tel Aviv.

Ottoman period cannon.

The inside of St. Peter's church - too dark to tell, but it was really beautiful.

The sun had almost set, and since I wasn't desperate to experience any Tel Aviv nightlife and the outdoor sights and markets would be invisible or over, I caught a cab back to the bus station to eat some dinner, pick up my luggage, and head to the airport. I had a lot of time, and did a lot of chatting on the Internet and planning for my return to school mid-week. After catching a late bus to the airport, I tried to check in but my airline didn't have any desks open yet. I won't give all the details of my harrowing return home, but my advice: never fly Iberia if you can help it.  Apparently they were on strike, had cancelled my flight, had scheduled me for a flight the day before and never told me, and weren't going to do anything for me... but I finally managed to get them to pay for a flight on Lufthansa, which was also crazy because it took so long to get through Israeli security I almost missed my flight, then it took so long to get through the Frankfurt transfer I almost missed THAT flight... but I made it home.

I can't believe I'm finally done writing these Israel blogs... I feel there should be something profound to say at this point, but everything is so tied up in all the experiences I've already written about I don't feel there is much left to say. It was an incredible journey, and I know I will be back one day to keep exploring and learning.

As always, I do not include all (or even close to all) of my photos here in my blog.  To see all my photos from my post-Birthright travels, see my Flickr album:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Post-Birthright Day 15: The Last of Tsfat

This was my last day in Tsfat. I was really only there because I'd gotten the free nights at the hostel... unfortunately it meant I never got to Haifa or Acco, but I still had a good day with good experiences, and have no regrets with how I spent my time.

It was back to being a rainy rainy day, and it took a while for me to convince myself to wake up... I was enjoying lying in my bunk, listening to the rain fall over the valley outside. I eventually got up and went out for breakfast/lunch in the old city.

My first stop was the Livnot office/campus - Livnot is a popular Birthright extension program in Tsfat. There is a 4-week option and a 1-week option, and it's highly subsidized (aka very cheap - $100 for an entire week of room, board, and programming). I went in to talk to them about potentially coming back that summer, and seeing if I could get a flight subsidized as well. It doesn't look likely I'll make it back to Israel this summer, but it's looking very likely I'll be back next summer, and this program would be a great one to get me in and out of the country easily (they're much easier on Jews doing Jew things when going through security).

There was a food I'd been wanting to try ever since we'd first encountered his shop on the Birthright afternoon excursion, and it was right across the walkway from Livnot, so after I finished my little meeting I went there. Here is what a travel website has to say about it:

"One of the most well-known food characters in all of Safed is Mr. Lachuch, the Yemenite pancake man of the Old City. Thousands upon thousands of visitors have stumbled across the pancake man on their visits to Safed and enjoying this simple Yemenite delight is a true Safed experience not to be missed."

Definitely click that link, there is a lot of cool stuff to know about Ronan and his little shop. This isn't a food blog so I'll stop writing so much about it, but it was one of my missions for the day to wrap up my Tsfat experience so I felt it was important enough to elaborate.

 Ronan frying up some delicious Yemenite lachuch!

This "pancake" is a naan-like outer pancake fried on a skillet, filled with veggies, Yemenite spices, and cheese. Yum!

It was then time for my third mission of the day: find the infamous Tsfat cheese I'd seen signs for and been thinking about ever since my first visit to Tsfat on Birthright (for those who don't know me well, I am a cheese junkie). I'd gotten some in my lachuch, so I'd had a taste, but I still wanted to find this cheese shop. My Birthright group leader Yonit had said it was an adventure trying to find the place, with signs pointing in opposite directions and such, so I was excited to go explore and get a little lost, with the reward of some local cheese at the end.

Pretty Tsfat street in the rain.

One of the sneaky signs that may or may not have been pointing in the right direction, and some blue paint - when it's barely still on the stone, it's the old paint from the 1700's. Most of the buildings in the Old City are from the 1500s. Super cool place to be wandering around.

I actually found it without too much trouble. I kind of stood around awkwardly outside until the owner happened to come around the front from somewhere else and I followed him inside. Before I even bought any cheese, he invited me to sit at the table with his wife and drink some coffee in the loveliest little tea pot. He didn't speak much English, and his wife spoke none at all, but it was a pleasant time sitting there drinking coffee and trying to communicate about our families and lives. The cheese shop had been in the family for seven generations - these people were Tsfat born and bred (unlike a lot of the population of Israel who have come in the last hundred years from the Diaspora).

The outside of the cheese shop!

Delicious array of cheeses and grape leaves - I was very happy with my choices.

After selecting my cheeses, I thanked them for their hospitality and continued on to my last quest of the day: to wander the Tsfat cemetery. It's a very old, ancient cemetery, with graves 2,000 years old or possibly older, and many famous rabbis are buried there. It's considered an incredibly holy place. It was also insanely beautiful, especially with all the bright blue paint (the holy color in Judaism, and the color that sprinkles so much of Tsfat) on the holy kevers and the mist hanging over the valley. We didn't get to go to it while on Birthright, which would have been so much better because our rabbi could have told us about the different graves and stories associated with those great sages, but just feeling the spirituality of the place was a powerful experience in and of itself. I had it almost entirely to myself because of the weather.

Entering the cemetery.

Panorama video of an early vantage point looking out over the cemetery.

Pretty flowers.

I don't know why, I just thought this one was particularly beautiful.

I can't read Hebrew, so I wasn't sure whose tomb was whose, but I liked this one a lot.

Looking down at the Tsfat ancient cemetery, with bright blue paint scattered throughout.

Another big-deal famous kever... but again, I can't read Hebrew so I don't know whose.

Looking up at the mikve and at Tsfat, becoming hidden by mist.

Looking up at Kever Ari (the entire platform) - a very, very important figure, this tomb has an elaborate system of walkways and prayer spaces set up so that more organized prayer can take place.

At that point I was tired of being wet and just tired in general, so I went back to my now-empty room and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, watching videos on YouTube and starting to pack and planning my last day in Israel. At some point I was asked if I wished to attend another class, but I had had enough religion and spirituality packed in me the previous four days to last a century and needed a break so I declined.

I did get hungry though, so I ventured back out into the city at night to get some more shakshuka... it was so cold, shakshuka was the perfect warm dish to make me warm again.

Tsfat at night.

Messiach alley - here's what a nearby sign said: "A steep alley with stairs, the narrowest of all Safed's alleys, that has become famous in the city thanks to Yocheved Rosenthal, whose house stood at the bottom of the stairs. "Grandma Yocheved," as she was known to all, used to sit at the entrance to the alley in anticipation of the Messiah's arrival. The old lady, who outlived her entire family, believed that the Messiah would pass through Safed on his way to Jerusalem, and would surely enter the city via her alley."

Hoping to catch an early bus, I went to bed early - my last night sleeping in Israel! Next is my very last entry about my very last day in the holy land!

My deserted room at Ascent.

As always, I do not include all (or even close to all) of my photos here in my blog.  To see all my photos from my post-Birthright travels, see my Flickr album: