16 September 2014

"These are the nuts of my Communist youth"

Yesterday, on our day off, E and I took a drive with A, our excellent guitarist, into the mountains of Transylvania.  Cluj is situated in the Transylvanian foothills, so it's not much of a drive to get out of town and into the countryside. A has been super generous with her time, and she offered to take us on a drive. We started in Cluj and headed west, towards a hillside town called Belis.

We made a few wrong turns, but soon we were on the right path, a narrow two-lane road into the mountains. We passed by a few lakes that were connected by a series of dams.  The mountains are old and smooth, like the Appalachians.  The houses were either Germanic or Communistically brutal. The weather was beautiful.

We tried to find a spot where E could go swimming, but most of the roads were high on the mountainside and the paths down to the shore were all private property. We found one public sunbathing area, and E was tempted to go in, but while debating the cold water, the tunnel on the other shore started spitting out water, creating an eddy in the cove that none of us wanted to deal with.

We drove further up into the mountains, through a mountain town called Marisel that had lots of livestock and hay bales.

When we finally got to Belis, it was a bit of a disappointment. The town was virtually nothing, and we didn't even stop.  The journey was much more interesting, so we stayed in the car. The sun hitting the mist in the woods was beautiful, and the mountains in the distance looked like the Blue Ridge Mountains back home.  But with lakes.

Once we passed through Belis we continued north, heading back to the main road.

Between Belis and Huedin, A pulled us over to show us how to pick green nuts off of a roadside tree. She said that she did this all the time when she was younger. We stopped to pick some nuts, and then in Huedin, we stopped for a coffee. While we were at the coffeeshop, A went across the street to get a knife to cut the nuts open with. She came back with other things to eat, and we had a good time munching on nuts, Romania chocolates, and a Communist-era version of Fruit Loops, which seem to be made out of barley and food dye. As we ate, A told us about her childhood in Communist Romania. 

We got back into Cluj as the sun was setting, and we settled in for the night.  Just one week until the show opens!

And, as a bonus, here's a photo of Cicicu, one of the actors in the company, wearing a terrific terrible English shirt.  It just reminded me how much I'm looking forward to getting back to S and Los Ageles.

07 September 2014

A day off and a wedding

Today was our first day off since we've been here in Cluj. The week ended on a solid note, though it definitely had its ups and downs. We were briefly replaced with the need to replace our musician, which sent ripples of discomfort throughout all of us, but we were able to get that sorted out. Then, I had to go back to the drawing board, adding some music to some of the songs I had written. Plus, we had a number of absences in the cast this week, making it a little difficult to rehearse cohesively.

Thankfully, things seem to be going well. The show is in decent shape, and we're looking towards a much needed couple of days off.

Today, E and I were invited to the wedding of two of the members of the company. Both Dragos and Romina were in 'War of the Clowns' two years ago. Dragos is in the current show, but Romina couldn't make the commitment (she's got a baby on the way). Dragos was out for much of the week getting prepared for the wedding, and E and I were both delighted to join them on their special day.

The wedding wasn't actually a wedding. The civil ceremony happened three days ago, so today was just the reception & celebration. We traveled up a hill outside of Cluj to the Grand Hotel Italia, which was built a few years ago by an Italian developer with, according to the folks I talked to, mob ties. It's a huge building, with white marble and big open spaces. There were six different weddings happening at the same time while we were there.  A fancy joint.

The reception was lovely. As people wandered in, they were escorted to their tables (our tables were assigned, but our seats were not) and given a plate of appetizers (meats, cheeses, eggplant, caviar, bread).  E and I sat in the middle of a four table section that seemed to have been given over to the theatre.  As we ate and visited with some of the company members, the room filled, and the wedding party arrived.  D & R entered, raised a glass for the first toast, and then smashed the glasses in a box of rocks.  Then, we all sat down for the first course: ham-wrapped fish with rice. Yummy!

Soon, the music started. The music was a combination of American standards ('Fly Me To The Moon'), opera arias (some of the guests are company members with the opera company in town), and a handful of Romanian folk songs. I was hoping for more national flare, but as one of the other guests explained to me, filling the playlist with Romanian folk tunes is a great way to drive all of the young people away.

After the fish course, there was some dancing, mostly to American pop & rock.  E and I both had to escape the very loud room (89 dB, A-weighted) to the outside for a bit of quiet. Then, the main course: turkey and scalloped potatoes.  Then, more dancing:

As the night went on, the party kept going. Children were running around the dance floor and the lobby, a small fireworks display went off on the front steps (sponsored by one of the other wedding parties), I did a little dancing, and E spent some time talking to the son of one of the company members who wants to be a director when he grows up.

At around 9pm, we decided to call it quits.  The party, we were told, would go on another four hours or so, but we were both pooped, and I had work to do. We hopped a cab back into town.

Congratulations Romina & Dragos! Many wonderful years are ahead of you!

01 September 2014

Morning in Romania

I'm back in Cluj Romania after a long journey. On Sunday in LA, after S and I went to a baby shower (which was made terrificer because this was the first where we were thinking about our own parasite), she shuttled me to LAX. I met E, my director and traveling cohort, at LAX, where we had a drink and boarded the flight to Munich. 5.30pm liftoff, 1.30pm touchdown.  I watched movies (Kramer v. Kramer, Chariots of Fire, The Maltese Falcon), and slept about four hours.

We had about eight hours of layover in Munich, so we checked our carryons at the airport and took the train into town. We went to Marienplatz, a big public square, full of people and shopping. I dug the button accordion players (who must've been 7' tall), and we wandered into a few churches.

For lunch, we found a little beer hall and did our best to order without asking for the English menu. I saw a couple of word roots and ordered what I thought was going to be grilled sausage. Nope. What came out was a sort of German antipasto, with slices of sausages, cured meats, hard cheeses, soft cheeses, radishes, pickle cucumbers, greens, butter, and brown bread. It was terrific - a nice size to share, and we got to try a bunch of different things. Also, good German beer.

We continued to wander Marienplatz until it was time to head back to the airport for our flight. Getting all the way to Cluj was easy, and Mihai (the artistic director) and Delia (a generally awesome staffer) were at the airport to meet us. They took us to our apartment, which is above one of the nicer restaurants in town, and we started to unwind.  Eli tested each bed twice to see which he preferred. I'm using the loft space.  It's a nice place, with plenty of room.

When we finally crashed, I got about four hours of sleep again. I thought about going for a run to jumpstart my body, but decided to wait one more day to let my body clock adjust some more.  (knock on wood), I'm feeling pretty jet-lag free.  Tired, yes, but not jet-lagged.  I'm going to bed at appropriate times and waking up at appropriate times. Cross fingers for continued sleeping success.

It's 8.40am now, and C will be here soon to have a chat about the visual designs before we head to the theatre for the first rehearsal.

26 June 2014

Peru: Some Closing Thoughts

Now that our trip to Peru is winding down, here are some thoughts about our two weeks here, in the order in which they come to my head.
  • Traveling on a trip like this, in a country without an easy-to-navigate tourism infrastructure, S and I both felt that we needed a travel agent to handle the details of our trip. We found Roberto at Peru Inside Out, and he and his support was exceptional! When we landed in Lima, the driver handed us a cellphone that we used on occasion to check in with him, but usually, things ran smoothly. Drivers met us at the hotels, airports, and train stations. We had knowledgeable guides on our trips (Nancy in Lima, Roberto himself in Arequipa, Omar in Colca/Chivay, Janet in Cusco/Sacred Valley, Augustine in Machu Picchu, Dino in the jungle), and the details of the trips (hotel reservations, train and plane tickets, etc.) were all taken care of. We definitely splurged on this trip, but if you want to go to Peru, check out Peru Inside Out (and I hear they're expanding into Ecuador too!).
  • I'm very glad that most of our tours were private. The one time we spent stuck on a large bus (for Inti Raymi) was awful.
  • Speaking of Inti Raymi, don't buy the ticket to the big show. It's not worth it. Just wander the town and go to the two free events in Cusco proper.
  • Cities we liked: Lima, Arequipa, Cusco.
  • Cities we didn't like: Puno
  • Hotels we loved: Casa Andina in Arequipa, Colca Lodge, Tambo de Inka in Urubamba, Inkaterra in Machu Picchu Pueblo, Hacienda Concepcion near Puerto Maldonado.
  • Hotels we didn't like: Tierra Viva in Puno (but the staff was great)
  • The star-rating of hotels seem to be relative to what the city has to offer. Tierra Viva was a four-star, but it was by far the worst property we stayed at.  Colca Lodge was a four-star, but it was on par with the five-stars in the Sacred Valley. Do your research!
  • In general, all of the staff at the hotels, airlines, etc., were all excellent. Most spoke English, and if not, they indulged my pigeon Spanish.
  • We spent way too many days traveling. There was one time we spent three nights in one place. The rest of the time, we were in the same hotel for one or two nights. That was a mistake.
  • Also, we planned too many things. We actually had very little time where we were able to laze about. The few times we did, it was often because we were on a train for 10 hours, or something like that.
  • Do not discount the altitude issues when traveling in Peru. It's there, and it's real.
  • S found some clothing made by Ex Officio that was specifically treated to ward off bugs. We both bought some, and I treated some of my other clothing with a spray to do the same thing. It worked fantastically. We both came back from the Amazon jungle with nary a bug bite.
If we were going to come to Peru again, I think this might be a smarter itinerary:
  • Three nights in Lima
  • Three or four nights in Cusco
  • Four or five nights in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu
  • Three nights in the jungle

24 June 2014

Peru: Day 15: Inti Raymi

When S and I started organizing this trip, we discovered that 24 June was when Cusco celebrated Inti Raymi, or the festival of the sun. Why it wasn't on the solstice, we didn't know, but we bought tickets to see the ancient Incan celebration.

What a mistake.

The day started off with an 8am meeting at the hotel lobby to walk to the first of three sites for the festival. The first site was just a few blocks from our hotel. It was a packed sidewalk overlooking a sunken garden. We crowded in with thousands of our closest friends, each one clambering for a better view. Finally, at 9, the event started. Some music played, and about 200 Peruvians, clad in different Peruvian costumes, paraded in. Then, there was some prayer, and the 200 Peruvians danced out. The whole thing took about 45 minutes, most of which was watching the costumed dancers file in and out. All while being crushed. Lame.

S left after this first event. The crowds and altitude were too much. I should've joined her.

We then filed to the Plaza de Armas, where again we crammed together to watch a 45-minute ceremony, most of which was the filing in and out. It was almost exactly the same, but at least this time I was able to take some photos:

Then, we followed our tour guide (this was one of the few times this trip where we joined a larger group) to the travel agency, where we waited for 45 minutes before boarding a bus for the trip up the hill to the last location. On the bus trip up, the guide explained that the entire ceremony used to take place in the Plaza de Armas, but that the main event was moved up to the hillside so that the city could make money selling tickets to tourists. This made me uncomfortable, but if me buying an expensive ticket made for a good show and a boon to the local economy, I guess I could live with that.

Famous last words.

The hillside ceremony was only slightly better than the previous sections. For one, I had an actual seat. For two, there was an agenda that was more than just filing in and out. But that was where the improvements ended. There was still a long period of time filing in and out. There were still the same two songs I had been hearing all day (both in an AABB pattern, with influences from American Indian and Chinese music), there were still the same dances, only now they were interspersed with long monologuing in Quechua, the ancient Incan language. I took a bunch of photos:

And then, about 70 minutes in, I packed up my stuff and left.

I couldn't find the tour group leader to say goodbye, but I assume he didn't miss me too much. I walked down the hill into town, found my way back to the hotel, and spent the afternoon wandering around town. S and I met up for dinner, and now we're back in the hotel, relaxing before heading to bed for an early morning. We need to be packed and ready to go by 6am for our ride to the airport. Looking forward to a long flight and sleeing in our own bed tomorrow night!

Bon voyage, Peru! It's been (mostly) great!