Monday, May 7, 2012

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai

     The one downside to having had a busy, busy, busy week since my last post is that now I have to settle down and try and remember what the heck I did so I can write about it. To be quite honest (ehrlich gesagt), I was originally planning on writing, a couple days ago. But hey, better late than never (besser spät als nie)!

     Before I dive in, I shall pause and take this moment to wish you all a happy May Day, Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo, and whatever religious occasion caused there to be several people playing guitars in front of a large portable altar in Odeonsplatz yesterday.

   I will also warn you that this is a pretty long entry. If you couldn't care less about choir rehearsals, simply scroll down to the picture of me double-fisting baby shot glasses and carry on from there. And there are lots of kiddie pics at the bottom.

    There! Now that that's taken care of, let's back up to where I left you upon my last entry.  As I hinted (blatantly) at, last weekend promised to be one full of adventure. From this side of it, I can gladly tell you it was an almost entirely good adventure. Upon the eve of my departure, however, I was not so sure.

    You hopefully recall I was setting off for a four-day choir "retreat" (probenwochende, or rehearsal weekend, is the accepted term here) with the Palestrina Ensemble  (note the blurb in the upper-right corner of the website, searching a new alto starting in September. Oh hey, replacement!) We're currently preparing to record a CD with/for/in conjunction Naxos and the Bayrische Rundfunk of Palestrina's setting of the Song of Solomon/Hohenlied Salmons/Canticum Canticorum, along with corresponding Gregorian antiphons. It's an amazing work, with 29 separate songs in it. I promise to include more details when the recording comes out.

   So Saturday morning I stumbled blearily out of bed, showered, lugged my much-too-full suitcase up the stairs, and set off into the early morning sunshine to meet a fellow singer with whom I would be carpooling. Sadly, the meeting point was a lovely 0:53 minutes from my house, which necessitated a much-to-early start, but I made it successfully and by 8 AM was headed west on the Autobahn. Our retreat weekend was in a little (and I really do mean little) town called Aalen-Waldhausen in the state of Baden-Württemburg, located roughly halfway between Stuttgart and Augsburg. Baden-Württemburg is one of the most rural of Germany's states, and our location was reminiscent of California's Central Valley (cow scent included). Though most Central Valley towns aren't filled with BMWs and Audis. Oh, Germans and their cars. Our hotel was a friendly little family-owned place called Hotel Adler, and was a sweet little semi-resort place, offering massages, wellness, swimming pool, and the like. We were about the only people staying there (luckily for anyone else).

    We arrived by about 9:45, headed in quickly to snag some food from the breakfast buffet, then were promptly off to begin our rehearsing in the neighboring church. And rehearse we did. Of our three main rehearsal days, there was never less than six full hours of rehearsing (and that's consistent choral singing, no breaking into sectionals, masterclasses, or any other prayed-for rest periods).  It was, to say the least, exhausting. It didn't help that the church, as properly befits any old, stone building, was freezing. Like, arctic level freezing.  Outside was, for the most part, warm and lovely, but after 30 seconds in the church we were all piling on sweaters, scarves, arm warmers, and extra socks. Burrr.

    So basically, imagine what I just said times three days. Thankfully, the hotel was more than generous with their food, and every looong rehearsal was broken up by a half-hour coffee break, with coffee, tea, and some kind of pastry, and we all lounged and soaked up as much sun as possible. Breakfast buffet every morning, lunch daily at 1 (nearly every day some form of pasta), and a three-course meal for dinner, which was always followed by several bottles of wine thoughtfully ordered by our director.

    And the people ended up being a whole damn lot of fun. Aside from my friend Sarah, also an American, the choir consists entirely of native Germans, so I was somewhat nervous about so much time spent in a foreign language situation. It went amazingly. The more I relaxed, the better my German got, and I actually feel like I talked with people instead of at. There are a lot of university students in the group around the same general age as me, and we had a lot of fun singing music someone had brought along, having silly conversations, randomly switching languages, and so on. It was like being back in college choir again! Of course, if you recall my "dear friend"in the alto section, she was there too, being her typical know-it-all evil self. Thankfully, she drove just about everyone else as crazy as she did me, so we stuck it out together.

    Alas, the one shadow on my weekend was a bout of some kind of virus, which I'd originally thought was food poisoning, and that caused one rather stressful night and day (plus I didn't get to eat my chocolate mousse! That alone makes it awful!), but I recovered well and upon my return home, found that all four members of my family here had the same thing, so that solved the where-the-heck-did-this-thing-come-from mystery.

   I will also briefly comment that I am sick unto death of white asparagus. Germans take this stuff way too far. The vegetarian menu for dinner was, I kid you not, asparagus as the main dish EVERY NIGHT. One night it was preceded by asparagus soup. The lunch on the last day was asparagus and potato with ham sprinkled on it. Germans, that is not a meal. I personally find it rather mushy and far less flavorful than green asparagus, but PLEASE don't tell the Germans I said that. I also finally figured out what a Spezi is: coca-cola fixed with fanta! It kind of tastes like a "suicide" drink kids make at soda fountains, but the Germans love it, so good for them.

    Our weekend concluded on Tuesday afternoon (Tuesday was the Tag der Arbeit, or International Workers' Day  , which fulfills the same function as our Labor Day (takes place on May 1, the anniversary of the Chicago Haymarket Riots). It's celebrated officially in over 80 countries. Not good enough for America, though, who picked its own Labor Day because this one, well, reeked of socialism. Oh, America.) with a concert in the church (which went surprisingly well, and yours truly got to sing all the alto antiphons!), after which we had a last lunch and headed out. I'd switched rides with someone else who had to get back to the city sooner, so I ended up driving back with the director. He insisted on driving out to a little church so he could show me around, as well as see the view of the cathedral in Ulm, telling everyone as we walked around that he had to give the American a tour. It was quite funny, and also quite kind of him (though I'm told he makes this stop regardless). Here, see a picture of the place:

See that tiny spire poking up between the two buildings? That's the Ulm Minster cathedral, the tallest church in the world. IN THE WORLD. WHAT UP. 530 feet, to be exact. It was intentionally stretched to outdo the then-tallest church, the cathedral in Cologne, which is a wimpy 516 feet tall. 
View of the valley from up on the hilltop, looking south

     Anyway, tourist mission achieved, we set off for Munich. The drive home was beautiful (when I was awake, anyway). Fields of rapeseed (canola) grow in the area around Munich, and though from up close it's a rather unremarkable flower, from far off it makes the fields unbelievably yellow. It's like driving through sunshine. Check it out in this photo I stole from Google:

Though I obviously didn't take that, it claims to be Bavaria in the spring. Good enough for me.

    And then I was home. The rest of the day was spent relaxing outside with my family and eating some homemade pesto and pasta for dinner, then off to an early bedtime.

  Okay, I was debating whether or not to end here, but the rest can be achieved mostly with pictures so I'll forge on ahead.

   Three-day week went on fairly typically. Choir Wednesday night (yes, really, even after spending four days together) was followed by a visit to the next-door Mexican bar for margaritas (it's fun to actually get to know these people!). Thursday night was more Mexican food with Leigh (I didn't realize what a Mexican week it's been!). Here's me with the cute little shot glasses: 

Foreign food restaurants in Munich have the delightful habit of giving out complimentary shots that come with your check. Way cooler than a mint, right? This restaurant gives out cinnamon tequila.

    Friday night was babysitting, then Saturday, despite the threat of rain, I took the train down to Bad Tölz, where Leigh and her boyfriend Daniel picked me up at the train station and we drove out to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the mountain resort town south of Munich, famous for being the location of the 1936 Winter Olympics (presided over by then-president Adolf Hitler), as well as the home of the Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain. (Interestingly, the towns were separate until Hitler forced them to merge in preparation for the Olympics. I guess a hyphenated name just looked fancier on the sign.) We were headed for Partnachklamm, a deep gorge running along the Partnach river for about a mile. It was totally gorgeous, and we spent some time hiking around the area, pausing to refuel with sandwiches and beer halfway through. 

Leigh at the bottom of the Olympic ski jump 

Trees growing on the top of the cliffs 

I'm pretty sure they used Google Translate for most of these signs

We were thereeeeee! 

   Tired and accomplished, we headed back to Bad Tölz for a lovely dinner cooked by Daniel's parents, then hopped the train back to Munich in time to grab some margaritas in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

   My kiddies continue to be precious and cute and occasionally major pains, but I adore them. I took Cliona to her friend's house today in the kiddie seat on the back of the bike for the first time (the bike's too big for me so it seemed a little intense to add a child to the mix, as well). Cliona was a little dubious when I mentioned it ("Lauri, du bist ein bißchen kleiner als die Mami und der Papi..." (Laura, you're a little smaller than Mami and Papi)), but we managed quite successfully, and Cliona was very supportive, patting my back the whole way and saying "You can do it! You are good!" It was very cute. They are really just the sweetest stinkin' kids. 

Ice cream moustache 

   Cliona is the best little bike rider ever, basically. She only got her training wheels taken off officially a week ago, and today she went to and from her English playgroup, a two kilometer ride, like a total champ. I took Kilian's razor scooter so I could keep up. I'm getting my exercise chasing after them!

   Aaaaand...that's about it. Four more days to this week, then my family takes off for a week in France, so I am free as a bird! Plans are several days of laziness then heading off to Vienna for a long weekend. Hopefully the weather is kinder this time than the last!