Monthly Archives: February 2008

Escape from Romania or Welcome to Amsterdam

Hello my friends, the tour goes on and I have to say we are a little tired. We’ve experienced so much during this tour but its the travel that kicks your behind. We’ve just performed our last show in Romania, in a rock club called Club Phoenix in Constanza. The sound system was good and we had a good time. It took the audience a minute to figure out what we were doing but once it clicked in, we are off and running. The smoke was killing us, it seemed like everybody in the room was smoking. I can totally appreciate the non-smoking laws in NY. Our hotel was right off the Black Sea…. Simply Beautiful. But we are kind of ready to leave Romania. Kind of gray but the people we met there in the small towns was deep. Many of them loved us but were kind of sad because they had this sense that they were going to be stuck there. But we tried to be positive and tell them that we don’t completely understand their situations but we’ve overcome obstacles, and if you push hard things may happen.

But we’re off to Amsterdam…..yes Amsterdam.
ok we’re here..in Amsterdam, wasn’t that fast.
I’m not…..sure how…….much I will be….able to report…….we are in Amsterdam.
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Mils here,

Finally, some time to think, a minute to process the whirlwind that the past few days have been. We are still in Romania on the road to Constanta in a white mini van, and I am ready for this 3-hour drive. Outside it is gray and foggy, snow flurries are just beginning and my mind races with Images of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been trying to make sense of it all, trying to put it in chronological order, as our beautiful memories of deliciously colorful Morocco, the blue doors of Tunisia and Istanbul’s luminous Bosporus sit at a distance and are barely visible though Romania’s thick fog. Yesterday, we visited a small town, there, the youth and children smiled and laughed in spite of the situation of their finances. There the children created beautiful art, amazing sculptures and painting, colorful painting uplifting the air around them while the fog lay low and heavy on the ground outside the door. After our Lecture Demonstration and workshop, the youth performed a short program they had prepared for us. It included beautiful Romanian folk songs and gorgeous choral Christian and even Jewish pieces angelically sung. The gift was greatly appreciated; as it was the first performance gift anyone has ever given us.

After that, we were driven to an old winery, high up on a hill but in order to get there, I had to witness (The guys fell asleep) tall oil towers pumping up oil from beneath vineyards, cause here, in Romania Oil and Wine do mix ☹. Our gracious host “ I’ll call him Mister Baker” Treated us to a tour around this “wine House”, and this is how it went. Outside, the place was mystical, if I were to sit out there and write, I’d imaging fairies and goblins. As we entered, the lights were off, no one there to greet us a ghost of a restaurant and we proceeded to walk through. As we crossed the entrance a hall and into a dark room, our host flick the switch and to my surprise, some people were sitting in a corner watching TV, but in the dark. A woman, who turned out to be our waitress, emerges fully dressed in uniform as if prepared to serve. She shows us a small room with some wine bottles and barrels and then brings us room to room, through the facility until we find the one room with any heat in it, a “Game Room”. Light switch goes on and the walls are covered with bear and deer skins o the floor a bar skin with nose in tact, taxidermy is the name of the moment as the beauty of Peacock and falcon adorn the perimeter of the room. The chairs and seats are dressed in white and red satin while the wall bleeds a mint green. The drink suggestion is the house specialty is boiled wine with cinnamon and sugar. We accept. They bring us brown mugs pregnant with the drink and we drink, but the mystery inside our mugs, inside this room and in our location makes our minds go wild. We don’t tell each other what we are thinking but our glances tell it all.

On the 40 minute drive, our hostess “ I’ll call her Rux” told us that she hates the fact that tourists associate Romania with Bram Stocker’s Dracula, and although Ninja brought up “the fact” that we knew a bit more than that, that we knew the history of Vlad the Inpaler, she spoke as if we were guilty of the stereotype and ready to run a stake through the heart of Romania, a sad assumption. However, we proceeded to try to enjoy Romania with it’s rich history, it’s fascinating fairytales and it’s beautiful children. We tired, but every moment she reminded us that she hated Romania, that she loved the US, but hated its gluttonous culture. Hated her birthplace and loving a land where she could hate the fattest people in the world.
So back to the game room, we drink our delicious boiled wine, infused with the blood of Romania, laugh at ourselves for seeing the source of Brahm Stoker’s nightmares in her eyes and proceeded to enjoy the air out here in spite of her blood thirsty smell, (Puns intended throughout).  In spite of my discomfort, I must give her credit, ’cause I can never fully understand what it means to have grown up in a communist country.  I hope she can one day love her country again.

I thought for a moment I should exclude these details but I want our blog to remain honest and true to what we are feeling at the moment.

So, we continued to try to love the land we are in but on the way back to town, we had a little car accident, no worries, no one was hurt, but this is the second time on this trip that we get into a fender bender, so I suggested we double check our seatbelts for safety. The odds were against us. If not for our Friends Mister Baker and Lucian, the theater director from our little Romanian town with thick fog and colorful children, it would have all been lost.

We then went to the performance space, which our Romanian friend Lucian had painstakingly decorated, before our arrival, bringing soft goods and flats from his own theater to dress up the occasion. Our sound guy was great, the promotion was abundant, the house was packed, the Mayor was present the performance was tight and the youth filled our hearts once more. As if that were not enough, our friend Mister Baker took us to “club steel” where were hosted for dinner and dance. The fish was great and so was the ambiance. Gamal was the gust DJ for the night and celebrated a successful day of great music and new friends. The perfect way to end a day and on went on a 40 minute drive back to Bucharest.

DAY TWO
We arrived too early for the workshop, and although the school seemed totally unprepared to greet us, and it seemed they had no even arranged for student to join us, they pulled together quickly and the workshop was great. “Rux” kept telling us that they would not participate that the students were not exposed to interactive events and so we got ready for that. But to our surprise, this group was more present and prepared for interaction than some of the groups we’ve had in the states. The snag, stomped, clapped and embraced the Universes aesthetic with lightning speed. They also shared a program with us as their piano teacher played and they sang Ray Charles’ “Georgia”, in Bucharest ☺. The kids were great and our hearts were filled again.

Later on we went to club green hours for a mic check, but the room was full of customers and we had to return to our rooms and come back later. When we came back for mic check, we immediately understood the challenge before us. First the room was covered in steel and metal, it was shaped like a tunnel and no acoustically suitable for an acapella group. But hey, on we went. The house drizzled in and we gave our all in spite of the fact that we were performing in a tin can with a room full of lovers on Valentines day who only wanted to look into each others eyes and talk to each other while we played the background, but sometimes that’s how it is, and on to the next. Which brings me back to this moment, we are closer to Constanta now, and I am optimistic that we will enjoy some part of it as well. I’m sure the youth will carry the weight of the town as they have done in other towns thus far and the Black Sea will be kind to us. At least I hope. Will let you know from there. We miss you New York.

Mils

Romania

good even-ing friends….I write these words to you from Romania. Yes my friends Romania…..We didn’t know we were going to Romania until a couple of days ago, but yes here we are in Romania.  So let me set the picture, we arrive and its foggy and misty, the buildings look mysterious. We go out to eat, after arriving at the hotel. And I have to say, when we arrived at the hotel we were met by a black doorman. We all looked at each other as if to say, “you didn’t expect to see us did you ?  ” The next day we went to the Art High School which is located in Ploiesti which is a town about 40 minutes from where we are staying. We walked into a room full of excited and eager faces. We did a little presentation, and then the kids performed some traditional Romanian songs for us. Good time, I have to say. After having a little lunch, we drove further out to a very secluded winery. There were dead animals skins on the walls, and stuffed peacocks and eagles. A very strange building… a little spooky…well alot spooky but hey how often do I get to Romania. Coming back we got into a car accident. We’re ok, but this is our second one, (we got into one in Turkey) I guess this is part of the long tour hazards. We all kind of laughed, and went to the show. The show was held in a Military Club, but our host Lucian Sabados, who runs a theater in Romania made sure that the space looked beautiful. The show was amazing, we had this very reserved audience stomping and clapping at the end. Tons of pictures, autographs. Good show.

At the end of the night, we went to a club called STEEL. where we relaxed, partied, Gamal even D.J.’d a little. good night from Romania….so much more to come.

ahh Turkey

Hello there people, its been a couple of days since I’ve last spoken to you. Crazy internet connection and just being a little under the weather. But we are now in Romania…yes Romania but thats the next blog, this one is a summary of how the last couple of days has spoken to me. 

In a country as beautiful as Turkey
With a new friend who we have grown to love
as a loved one deserves to be loved
yes this has been special
Her name is “Sevil” she walks with a quiet grace,
A gentleness that is stronger than words.
And we are humbled by it
Feel safe around it.
She personifies her country, and we are better people
For we have shared time and danced with her
And Turkey.
until next time

back and in full effect

Hellooooooo there…..I am back/ I was a little under the weather for a couple of days/ had a cold I just couldn’t shake/ But I’m back/ Honestly. I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired./ I promise never to leave you again for so long./ OK so what have we done. / Well we performed on a T.V. show here in Turkey./ 

This show is the Martha Stewart of Turkey so it was supposedly seen by a million people across Europe../ I don’t know about that…I didn’t see them….On this show they usually do some cooking and some knitting, since they had a cook, we were given an assignment of rolling up balls of yawn…..And even though this may sound like it would be boring…we actually had fun…..I think after doing that for an hour we could do push-ups with our fingers…Damn….After the show, we took a ferry to the Asia side of Turkey to have lunch/dinner…. A visually stunning ride down the Bosphorus….great food…there has been alot of eating on this tour…..ok I’m going to stop here….don’t want to overload you all at once….plus we’re getting ready to do some sightseeing today, and its chilly and raining…so we’ll see.
steve/sapp/universes/2008

Merhaba, Istanbul greets us

Oh my goodness… early morning flight from Tunisia broke us into pieces, but Istanbul quickly put us back together promising that our stay in Turkey was gonna be nothing less than Chokyusar (phonetically speaking).  We arrived and entered without a glitch.  We were greeted by our gracious hostess Sevil at the airport and she immediately took us to visit a TV station we will be playing in tomorrow.  It looks a little wild, the set is bright and so is the hostess dawning unforgetable royal blue glitter eyelashes, and probably feeling as uncertain about us as we were feeling about her, but we are open.  They’ve already informed us that we will be doing some kind of arts and crafts and maybe some cooking, but that’s alright cause I brought the Goya Sazon and Adobe and I’m ready.  Don’t leave home without it.

After that, we were kindly whisked away to our Hotel rooms, acknowledging that we were so tired.  We could not have imagined the view…the view…the view.  Our hotel overlooks the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus Bridge (this was the first bridge built across the straits that divide Istanbul and seprate Europe from Asia.  It is the world’s 9th longest suspension bridge.  You have got to see this to believe it.  Anywho, the accommodations are exceptional, the view is a dream and all is well while we rest.  
Tonight, Sevil has arranged for us to dine at a small restaurant with live music and authentic Turkish cuisine.  We meet at the lobby but Steve and Gamal are nowhere to be found, that is, until we found them in their rooms, sick ad tucked away for the night.  They did not get sick from Turkey, it seems they got sick in transit (perhaps the airplane food).  They will not join us for dinner and that’s a shame, because the nig
ht turns out to be a blast.  
Before this trip, we had the great pleasure of meeting Sevil and her husband in NYC during a pre-tour dinner.  There they ate mexican food and taught us a little turkish.  Today they have it planned for us, but can’t stay.  We trust and we go.  We arrive at the Taxim area, a long pedestrian street with great shops, lights and life.  We look into windows spilling over with Turkish delights 
and Sevils husband delights us with asinful box of all sorts of candies, as the trolly quickly rushes by parting the street like a ship on the Bosphorus.  We take a turn, walk though the fish market and we are at the spot.  We walk down a dimly lit alleyway and enter into a cozy and charming little place.  Immediately I ask where the musicians will be playing as I see no stage.  We are told they will be playing among the diners, at the tables.  How great is that?  Seville gives us the lay of the land, helping us select from a tray of appetizers, 

as her husband writes down the name of a song we should request from the musicians, it is customary to make requests written on napkins.  They leave us to our lonesome, and as we see them walk away, Ninja, Alexis and myself look at each other with a look of —What now?…Here we go! The waiter gives us our menus and we order chicken shishcabobs with lord knows what else, they bring us the traditional drink, Raki (1 part Raki, 1 part water, and 2 parts crazy).  
It tastes like black licorice jelly beans…Alright! , it’s on.  The musician spill in, playing traditional instruments, singing tradional songs, an experience untraditional to us.  Be we were in for the ride.  Only 3 tables had customers.  A light night, but one of the tables next to us was getting toasted on Raki and singing every song the musicians played.  Turns out a gentleman at that table was celebrating a birthday.  The women got up and started dancing (belly like) as did the men.  They invited us, we accepted and the party was on.  We partied and partied and ate birthday cake and Ninja drank my Raki and all was happy in the land of Istanbul.  I could go on and on about this night but I would feel so guilty talking about it 😦 as Steve and Gamal were back in their rooms, recovering.  A little warm soup and hopefully they’ll join us tomorrow.

goodbye to Tunisia


ahhh yes…time to say goodbye to Tunisia…beautiful country…but we’ve got to go….to cancelled programs…and late minute replacements….to more laughing..and good times. To visits to Lingua Land…a school in Tunisia…a building that has leans like the Leaning Tower of Pisa…kind of a trippy experience…and its larger than life leader…who office seemed like a presidental office with curtains and everything…..I expected to hear trumpets when we walked in…..To one last meal…listening to a band play jazz….pretty decent…even if most of the songs sounded like Route 66…ahhh Tunisia..we did not know you long…and I don’t think we got to know you well….maybe we’ll find each other again…and we can catch up on the things we didn’t catch…and finally say….hello

steve/sapp/universes/2008

Students/Haggling/Football





Since the e-mail in this hotel is driving everybody crazy…and you don’t know how long you will stay connected…I will try to get in as many quick shots as possible…lets just call it Universes on Tour….the Cliff Notes version…without that ugly yellow and black cover.

Performance/at school/ for 500 kids/ ages 5-16/had a ball/ kids can make you feel special/ all many nationalities were there/ from Japan all the way to Atlanta/ Don’t remember the name of the school/ our schedule keeps getting flipped and reflipped/ Took some great pictures of the kids/ but e-mail is too damn slow/ after show/ went down to the medina/ and had a ball haggling/ there is an art to it/ and I think we have begun to get it/ Or at least we think we do/ probably still getting ripped off/ but it was fun/ after that/ we returned to deal with more hotel foolishness/ they had us checked out early/ e-mail was still spotty/ coffee pots don’t work/ door handles coming off/ light bulbs not working/ but ahh yes/ at least we’re in Tunisia/ later at night we ventured out on our own/ a diner near the medina/ good CHEAP food/ and the real football on T.V./ Tunisia was playing Cameroon/ great energy/ real people/ and when Tunisia scored/ you felt like you were in the Stadium/ loud cheering/ we cheered too/ like Giant fans were doing/I have to say the programming has been spotty/but damn it/ we’re in Tunisia baby.

steve/sapp/universes/2008

A Day in Tunisia

Hello my friends….the rhythm road warriors are back for another exciting adventure abroad. Today is an off day..(an uncreated song “A Day in Tunisia” by Universes plays in the background) The internet service out here is a little crazy, first its free….and then literally you get disconnected after about an hour or so and then you have to pay and use a code….and that went on for a day…and now look…free internet again….I don’t know…it all seems to depend on who you talk to in the hotel…onwhat type of free or non free service you get…hmmm….
Anyway back to the day….we took and nice car ride out to Carthage…

Now for those of you who don’t know Carthage was founded in 814 B.C. by Phoenician colonizers. By the 4th century B.C. it had become the major force in this part of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars led to the destruction of the city although it rose again under Roman rule. It was subsequently conquered by the Vandals who were replaced by the Byzantines in the 6th century. Following its capture by the Arabs in AD 695, Carthage gradually fell into ruins….Wow look what a public school education can do…with a little help a from Eyewitness Travel Guide…..we got a chance to walk through the ruins…

through the museum 

and to see the Amphitheatre. Amazing…truly amazing….we even performed a little because the acoustics were incredible….and we’ve got footage…..it should pop up sooner or later…I hope the heavens were smiling

We then drove down to an area they call the Bay, went to a Shesha place and drank tea…had some sheesha and watched the sun go down….Oh yes this is what I call a tour. 
We took so many pictures, our camera batteries were dying by the end of the day…Sky Tunisian blue doors….. And food…lots of food today….Tunisian food…pizza…Lebanese food. And bread….we have eaten sooooo much bread. You gotta love it….(“A Day in Tunisia” song slowly fades out)
steve/sapp/universes/2008

The show in Tunisia

Ok its showtime…

everybody is feeling good, and we are ready to do the show…..
But wait…
there seems to be very little advertisement for the show….

The only reason we know this because we can hear little whispering going on….fear crossing their faces….and they want a great show…they always do……. and we always try hard…This was a hard one…small house…language barrier…..but this is the life we choose…the profession that partly defines us…There is so much more to say….but that’s a later blog (if you catch my drift). 
We’ve had a great time hanging out with Ellen Bienstock who is the cultural affairs officer in Tunisia.  She took us out to eat…and I can’t tell you what we ate, but it was very Tunisian. Mildred and Alexis had Bricks (?), a kind of over easy egg with shrimp wrapped in a thin pastry kind of thing, Mildred Loved it, so did Alexis (we think).  

On the way there, we happen to bump into a very strange camel (maybe an Alpaca or something) who was chewing on his foot….putting his foot behind his neck….I guess trying to get the rope off his neck…..Trying to be free….I could say more…but thats another blog…(if you catch my drift)
You’ve got to see this video, click it
UNIVERSES in Tunisia, Baby.