Sitting in the Shakespeare cafe in Tartu after spending the morning working on the Ring Bearer in the Tartu theatre’s rehearsal rooms. This afternoon we get a tour of the theatre which includes getting to watch a rehearsal for an opera that is currently being rehearsed. Then St Petersburg competition rehearsal, a short performance at the science and technology museum to help pay for our visit there and a final evening where we get to spend some time with our hosts! Another good day in Estonia!
Latvia is beautiful! It has been a magical week here. We are living out in the country again here in Adazi. It wasn’t until I sat still on the lush green grass under the beautiful beech (?) trees and listened to the rich silence, that I realised just how much noise has been surrounding us during our trip: on the train, in the cities staying in apartments with people always nearby. Even just being surrounded by Wayfarers who are always talking or making music of some kind.
Most of us are staying at the Adazi Waldorf school which is one beautiful large building, surrounded by grass and trees, with a lake across the road and the town’s shops within walking distance. We are sleeping in the kindergarten. They have sleeping rooms here with cute child-sized beds and mattresses so on the first night a few people thought to sleep in the beds, happily curled up. I chose to put my mattress on the floor, having already learned the lesson that they were about to learn-that not being able to stretch out at night makes for a terrible night’s sleep!
We eat our meals sitting around kindergarten sized tables on child sized chairs, and are back eating delicious home made food. Much closer to what is usual for us, but with a few slight differences which keeps it interesting. This deliciousness is prepared for us at different points by the school, the nearby kindergarten, or Heather and Gen (and helpers), all of whom have cooked some stunningly delicious meals, making for a very happy group of singers!
As well as being surrounded by beautiful countryside and beautiful things, this week has been wonderful because it has also been quite restful. We have given two performances and a workshop, and that is all. We love the summer holidays! It has given us some time to begin rehearsals for the new version of The Ring Bearer that does not have Terry as Gandalf (because she will not be with us in India). But its also given us time to have evenings of sitting around on low tables and chairs chatting, or swimming in the lake, going for walks or finding a quiet nook somewhere and having some time on your own. All surrounded by the beautiful summer weather… which is actually very much like Adelaide’s beautiful spring weather, cold nights, and beautiful sunny days with rain showers that pass over at times (often during the late afternoon it seems…).
Both our concerts here have been received very warmly, the first in the Riga Waldorf school and the second here. Although these were originally going to be a repeat of the same concert, in true Wayfarers fashion they ended up being entirely different. No overlap at all. Both halls had incredibly rich acoustics. Almost too rich, sometimes I felt like we were overwhelming the audience, although they didn’t seem to mind. I think we are finally getting to the stage where we can perform some of our repertoire really well without having to practice it before each concert. Yay! The feeling of group cohesion is so strong now when we sing. It is the most interesting feeling to go from a disparate, disorganised, distracted bunch of individuals into a single whole that is focussed on a one thing, is responsive and making beautiful music!
Unfortunately things aren’t always this wonderful. Our second concert included Kakadu. Our first performance of it in its entirety for about a month. There were a few ‘interesting’ moments. My favourite being Yegge. The treble recorder came in well, the tenor followed beautifully, then the bass recorder joined, but a semitone sharp compared with the other recorders, which totally changed the chord! The men were left having to make a choice between singing their part correctly or singing in the same key as the recorder. It would have been highly amusing if it hadn’t been a performance, and if it hadn’t distracted me so badly that I missed my next entry entirely. Oops.
We were met in Moscow by the wonderful Helen, who sent us to our hostel, showed us around the city and organised-and even sang in-our concert there. After a minor mix up with the hostel (they hadn’t taken our booking seriously and had double booked the rooms so had to squeeze us into any available space) we settled in, enjoyed the balmy evenings, the Kremlin, Red Square, and St Basil’s basilica nearby. We loved the fact that we were just up the road from the Moscow Conservatoire, so could nod our heads seriously as we crossed paths with other young people carrying instruments, or we could wander out our door and hear Liszt wafting out onto the street from open second story windows.
Moscow seemed to be a city that balances grit with romance. We sang in a small church with stunning acoustics, hundreds of years old with a beautiful garden outside. Tchaikovsky used to attend services there. But we were told by the priest to be particularly careful in the church because if we damaged anything he would be held responsible and likely sent to jail. His phone is tapped and he has to work with 18 committees who control his house and the church. We watched people casually sitting around the public sculpture, enjoying the beautiful weather, then passed a policeman on a street corner holding a baton ready in his hand. (While we walked by he pulled over a woman for running a red light.)
Our concert went well. It was so nice to be singing beautiful music in a good acoustic again! Not a large audience, but the Australian ambassador was there, so she makes up for a few! We finished the concert by moving into the little garden outside the church and singing a few of our easy fun songs. A wonderful casual and fun filled thing to do. I love the long evenings that they have here. That warm dusk, where the sun feels as though it is setting but there is still a little more of the day left. To loiter in gardens, talk, laugh and have a drink. Of course it is terribly deceptive because then suddenly it is midnight and its still not dark! I do miss having darkness to sleep in.
As we flew into Russia, the thing that became most apparent was the different environment. We each took a joy-filled breath of sweet clear air, enjoyed the warm sun, the cool breeze and the beautiful blue sky. We caught a local bus from the Irkutsk airport (which was essentially a tin shed-such a contrast to Beijing airport!) and half filled it with ourselves and our luggage, which unfortunately meant the bus was so over full that quite a number of locals were unable to get on. Sorry!
Sitting, squashed into a seat with my small pack at my feet and my large one on my lap, half a sleep because we had spent the night in the airport, I watched with an unexpected feeling of joy, the traditional timber houses and shops. Often they were old, with aged and fading paint, worn timber, and crooked windows. But what was wonderful was being able to see that these buildings were hundreds of years old. Structures that had grown to be a part of the place. They belonged there. This feeling didn’t exist in the brand new cities of China where the predominant feeling was of rapid new growth, fast-paced change and transience. It is hard to imagine any of Beijing’s streets being recognisable in any way in two hundred years time.
We piled off the bus, and with the help of Terry’s skills in speaking Russian, eventually made our way to the hostel we had booked for the day. Yes, day, because the Trans-Siberian train we were to catch, left Irkutsk at 2am that night! So it would be another night without much sleep!
Wayfarers variously slept, ate, talked or travelled their way through the afternoon. A number braved the hour and a half bus ride to lake Baikal, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them! I slept. Or attempted to anyway.
At 11pm we loaded ourselves and our possessions into two minivans and made our way to the train station. We hung around, got our tickets, sang happy birthday to Kia when it turned midnight, hung around some more, moved into the station where it was warmer, hung around some more, moved to the platform, and finally began to make our way onto the train, showing our ticket and passport to the serious looking carriage attendant. It was at this point that things began to get stressful. Dave couldn’t find his ticket anywhere, not in bags, not in pockets… So, as quickly as possible he-with Terry and Theodore to help-went back to get himself another one.
The rest of us piled onto the train, carrying massive backpacks, cellos, props bags etc up the narrow isle, trying to move quietly so as not to wake up the sleeping passengers (it was 2am after all). As the minutes ticked by and the others didn’t come back, the adrenaline levels began to increase. At our departure time, 2.30am on the dot, the train began to move, sliding gently out of the station, without our three lost Wayfarers. Although I couldn’t see it, apparently they were running across the tracks, tickets in hand, but the train wouldn’t stop. 18 of us on the train with our luggage, plus Terry and Theo’s, and Dave’s bags lying forlornly on the platform… You can imagine the feelings the rest of us inside the train: shock and disbelief that this could happen; anxiety accompanying the fact that we had lost our only Russian speaker; and consequently apprehension at not knowing what would happen next.
But life must go on. We settled in and eventually went to sleep. The train kept moving. By morning we had made contact with the three lost and by afternoon we knew that they were catching the next train and following us to Moscow, same route, twelve hours later. With nothing else we could do, we continued on our way, and proceeded to enjoy our journey.
We celebrated two birthdays on the train: Kia’s and Evan’s, which certainly provided some entertainment. We spent a lot of time walking between the dining carriage and our own. It had tables, more sitting room and the blessing of air conditioning! After the humidity of China the train wasn’t unbearable, but the heat was still less than ideal. Our beds were also spread throughout the carriage with others interspersed between us, so if we wanted to congregate we needed a different space.
It was an interesting feeling, to be constantly moving, but at the same time to be staying still. To be doing nothing at all, but to also be steadily moving towards your goal. This, along with the introduction of twenty hours of daylight with beautiful long sunsets (and probably sunrises too, but I was asleep for those!), of crossing four time zones over three days, and the constant movement of the train, led to a strange dreamlike feeling where nothing felt quite real or solid.
There was a level of uncertainty that we carried with us; of when the stops would be and for how long; of whether someone else might get left behind (we thought we had lost Judy at one point); of not being able to talk to people to ask questions; of being very sleep deprived from being up all night twice in a row, followed by the broken sleep that came on the train, where falling asleep meant not caring about the fact that there were strangers walking past 15 cm from your face, and of being on a bunk that was half a metre wide and shorter than I was.
But overall it was such an incredible experience. Watching the countryside change-and not. Watching the people around me as different ones came and went, some staying for only a few hours and others remaining for as long as us. Talking to different people, the thoughtfulness of some who were so helpful to us, particularly on that first night. The delicious food at some of the stations we stopped at along the way, sold by the locals from their small bags or boxes that were packed up and taken away the moment the train left. Listening to Russian being spoken, even if I couldn’t understand it. Having fabulous conversations with other Wayfarers. Overall, an absolutely fabulous thing to do!
I circled the block we were staying on, camera in hand, enjoying the obvious age of the buildings.