Sunday, March 8, 2009

Midterms And Music

9:00AM March 6

When I arrived back at the apartment Saturday night I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ongoing construction in our lobby had made some progress, as, for the first time, the tarps had been removed to show off the gorgeous black and white tiled floor. Everyday I see--and hear before I wake up--construction going on in the lobby as I leave for school, and when I return home, they are usually still working. I never see any progress though. It seems that one of the walls has been torn down and rebuilt at least three times. I just wonder if they're making this gig last as long as possible while they still have a job. That being said, it was nice to see some evident progress made.

Sunday was a great productive day. I practiced both jazz and classical guitar, finished a composition for my ensemble, and got in some good studying for my midterms in politics and aural comprehension. By 4:30, I was feeling inspired to try out that tiramisu again. Last time, I used sandwich bread as the base, but I wanted something a little thicker, so I got some soft biscotto as well. Even though I thought about layering last time, the recipe I was following did not suggest it, and I wanted to keep with the recipe my first time. One thing I picked up from the Roman restaurant was that some of the layers should be soaked in coffee and others not. I put all of these ideas into my new concoction, and I'm pleased to say it came out even better than before. I've still got more ideas I want to try out though, as I seek to perfect my tiramisu. My roommates and I suffered through this batch though.

I also had a nice mustard in the refrigerator, and the other night I got the idea of turning that into a pasta sauce, so I gave that a try as well. I made my usual cream sauce, but after adding the flour, I threw a bit of the mustard in as well. John also had just bought some pesto paste, and I thought that basil flavor might make a nice compliment, so I put some of that in as well. As you might imagine from such a strong flavor as mustard, it was intense, but really tasty. It came out better even than I imagined it would, and it was fun to improvise with my food.

When I arrived at school on Monday, Antonio had a lot of news to share with me. He was excited to show me many of the venues we'll be playing at, on the internet, including two of the top venues in Italy, Take Five in Bologna, and now the Blue Note in Milan. You can even find us on the calendar for their websites now. He also had the first video clips from the Thursday night jam sessions at Caffe Artigiani. It looked really great, as he'd gotten a professional cameraman whom he knew to film us. The clips will likely be posted on YouTube at some point, and I'll provide the link at that time.

If this wasn't enough, he'd also just heard back from Caffe Artigiani, and they were interested in having us play our first paying gig in Italy this Friday. John Bishop, the drummer from my ensemble was the only one who wouldn't already be gone off on a spring break excursion, and I myself was supposed to take the train to Nice that morning, but the more I thought about it, I decided the gig would be a great opportunity I wouldn't want to miss. I would delay my trip for another day, leaving on the 12:37AM train after the show that night, arriving in Nice the following morning around 10:30AM. The only problem was we had no bass player to accompany John and I, so Antonio started working the phones, and before long, he found us not only a bass player, but a saxophone player as well to join us. The gig is tonight, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunset at campus

Seeing as we had all of these opportunities to play here in Florence, I thought it would be a great chance to perform some classical repertoire again, so I asked Antonio if he could scrounge up a nylon string guitar somewhere. Sure enough, last week, he bought a Fender Rhodes, for what reason I don't know, but the woman who sold it to him was looking to off-load an old classical guitar, so he took that home as well. Monday I finally got a chance to go in and try it out. It was pretty beat, and Antonio was a little leery of whether it would be suitable, but as I began to conjure some pretty sounds from the instrument, Antonio said, "with the right hands..."

Antonio gave me some money to go buy new strings, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the music store around the corner from me carried the same Segovia brand that I use at home. I had a great little conversation with the store clerk, as he noted that "Segovia's you can really beat and they still sound great." He was really on the same page with me. The tough part was putting the strings on the guitar, as it seemed the machines hadn't been jerked around in well over a decade. They were pretty well fixed into place, and the last two strings alone took probably an hour to tune up. It was a pitiful experience, with Antonio coming over on occasion to lend both of his hands to tune a peg while I held the guitar, and even then, we would only get it to budge a half-step. Eventually we resorted to using Antonio's hand stapler to grip the pegs in order to get more leverage. My thumb is still a bit sore from all the intense tuning.

Monday night, my roommates and I took a break from the studying long enough to go catch a late showing of Rachel Getting Married at the Odeon Theater, an Anglican movie house a few blocks away. They show mostly American movies there, but they only show one movie a day, and that movie changes everyday. I believe they showed it back in January before we got here, and this was only the second time they were screening this movie, which I'd been excited to see since it arrived in American theaters last October.

The theater itself is an old twenties art-deco style movie house with a balcony, which is where we sat. The theater has two main problems. One, they don't give you any leg room, so we made sure to find seats without anybody sitting in front of us, giving us a chance to spread out. In contrast to American theaters, this place was unbearably hot, which is particularly funny, as Italy is usually much more concerned about its energy consumption, leaving most buildings a few degrees cooler than ours would be during the winter and the opposite in summer. The movie itself was great though. Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt were both fabulous in the two leading roles, and Jonathan Demme again showed his knack for great film-making behind the camera. The real standout was Jenny Lumet's (Sidney's daughter) brilliant script. It was at times as intense as any movie I've seen in a while, and then alternately hilarious: the funniest movie I've seen since Superbad. It was probably the best movie I've seen this year, possibly with the exception of WALL-E.

We then went back the next night to catch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This was another great success. It was not quite as good as the night before, but any movie that can keep you entranced for three hours is really incredible. It helps that they have five minute intermissions at the Odeon, although that was a little odd for the 114 minute Rachel Getting Marrried. The script, by Eric Roth, the oscar-winning writer for Forrest Gump, was fine. I think there could have been more developments in the plot, but the real spectacle came from the direction of David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac). It was a really brilliantly constructed movie and true cinematic masterwork. I'm glad I got to see this movie full of visual stimulation on the big screen.

Last night we had our last jam session at Caffe Artigiani before break, and it went well. It has become a tradition now for Tryson, another student, to come sing a song or two with us before we close, just as he did at the first one. Last night we did John Legend's Ordinary People. That's definitely the regular highlight of my week. It's a great time to play for all of my friends and experiment with new music in performance.

Tonight I'll meet up with the other musicians to rehearse at 7:45, and then we go on by 10:00. The show goes till midnight, and then I'll race to catch the 12:37 train to Pisa. I've got an hour and a half layover there before catching a train Genova. From there, I have ten minutes to make it onto the train to Ventimiglia, and finally that will take me to Nice. It's sure to be a fun night, and I've got my roommate Adam to take my guitar back to the room, so I can head straight to the train. My goal is just to make sure I don't fall asleep and miss my stop at any point. The rest of the girls left this morning early, and I'll meet up with them when I arrive. Tryson will then join us in Barcelona for the second half of the trip. As you might imagine, I'm pretty psyched, and I'll be sure to keep everyone posted on my goings on this coming week, but if you don't see a blog update for a little while, you'll know why.

I've had so much fun the first half of this semester, and the second half may be even better!

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