Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Still more photos from Carcassonne

With organist and composer Jacque Charpentier.

The organ -- short pedal keys!

More photos from Carcassonne

Outside the dungeon.

The fortress at night.


These photos are from Carcassonne, a town located about 50 miles southeast of Toulouse. It stands in the gap between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central of France. Carcassonne is at the crossing of two major traffic routes in use since Antiquity: the route leading from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and that from the Massif Central to Spain, skirting the Pyrenees.
Carcassonne includes ancient ramparts and towers, some parts dating from the fifth century, during the time of the Visigoths, and others from the 11th to the 13th century. The fortress was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

La Verna, Italy

La Verna is a place of pilgrimage. St. Francis of Assisi received his stigmata during his stay here. It was a time for a retreat for me.

Photo: On the way to La Verna. Though this mountain looks like it has been altered, the formations are natural.

Photo: The convent of La Verna.

Photo: View from the Convent

The convent is in the mountains at more than 1,300 meters (4,200 feet) altitude. Therefore it was very cool and fresh compared to the secular world -- which is much lower in terms of altitude. I spent several hours looking around and meditating.

Photo: Cave where St. Francis recieved the stigmata.

Photo: St. Francis was wearing this habit when,
two years before his death in 1226,
he received the stigmata on Mount La Verna.

Photo: Fresco that is about the life of St. Francis of Assissi.

Photo: Statue of St. Francis.

Since there was no place to go to eat, I had every meal in the convent refectory. For the first two meals, I sat by a lady from Australia. We had nice conversations about our trips and our view on Italian people.

After she left, I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English there besides a monk-organist who is English-Italian. So at the table I tried to carry on conversation with whatever I could.

Several times, I sat with a signor who works for the museum in the convent. He spoke a bit of French, which was helpful.

As our conversation continued, he naturally turned back to Italian, but spoke very slowly for me. Strangely, I could get what he was saying. When I hear Italians speaking, I usually have no idea about what they are saying. But when he spoke very slowly on purpose, I could pick up words that are very similar to French and could get what he meant.

We even talked about on some serious things. I brought up St. Francis of Assisi, and said I think he had a great faith in God but in my opinion ‘suffering’ is not necessary to reach God even though it could make us stronger. I kept saying that when a miserable thing happens to me, if it is unavoidable, I will accept and try to find its meaning.

Whereas he thinks our life is about getting through the miserable things and that helps us attain to God -- if I got him right.

The concert went well. This time I didn’t open my mouth but only played, since there was a monk who gave an explanation on the entire program. The Basilica was packed and I was well received.

The other memorable thing is that I saw my old friend Eun-ju Kim whom I have not seen for 15 years. I knew that she settled in Italy and is very successful in her career. Dr. Kim is a specialist in Gregorian Chant and Middle age music and teach at Verdi Conservatory, Milano, and travels around the world with her husband. Her husband, Giacomo Barrofio is a living authority in the same field. While I was still living in Europe, we tried to see each other, but missed several times. This time they came over to see me from Cremona, which is six hours away from La Verna.

Photo: My friend Eun-ju Kim.
This trip was one of the most refreshing and memorable ones to me so far.

Ravenna, Italy

When I arrived in Bologna, the higher temperature struck me first -- It was around 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius).

I had to wait for a bit of time to get my luggage after my flight. By chance, I took a look outside and saw the workers that were moving luggage from the airplane into the building SO SO slowly. I couldn’t help laugh, reminding myself that I was in Italy.

I have had to recall several times that Italians are not overly punctual. For example, after playing in Ravenna, I had to take a taxi to la Verna which is 2 hours away. The city of la Verna kindly promised to send me a taxi, and said that it would arrive at my hotel by 9:30 a.m.

At 9:50 a.m., when no one had shown up, I called the person in Ravenna who was the liaison to see if there was anything wrong. She kindly reminded me that I was in Italy and asked me to be patient.
Imagine what time the taxi driver showed up! It was 10:15 a.m. when a tall Italian guy in his forties with a big smile showed up to pick me up -- calling me ‘Maestro.’ I felt like I should begin my concert in la Verna 30 minutes later than planned…

I love Italy and its people. Italians are very warm, hospitable, and friendly. In some sense, they are like Texans. They are very expressive people and their level of reaction about things is quite impressive. I love hanging around Italians. It is just fun and relaxing.

Photo: Ravenna Square

Photo: They use the word "piano" to say floor

My first concert in this tour in Italy took place in the basilica of St. Vitale, Ravenna, which is one of the oldest churches in this country.

Photo: Entrance to St. Vitale

It was built in the sixth century. It is in Byzantine style, and includes fabulous mosaics on the wall, the floor, and the ceiling. Ms. Satori, who is the director of this festival, showed me around this edifice, including the tomb of Queen who promoted the Christianity during the Roman Empire.

Photo: Tombs from around the fifth century

Photo: St. Vitale exterior

Photos: St. Vitale mosaics

Photo: St. Vitale organ

During our conversation we found out that we have some mutual friends. I still find the world in not that big, even though it often looks so.

We both agreed about the tendency of modern culture that is inclining towards extreme pop culture and materialism and wished that another Renaissance would come as it did in the past, sooner rather than later.