And Back Again…

Posted on 15th June 2016

A year and six months later I decided I had too many stories to stop there. Given the wealth of experiences I’ve missed, my aim is to attempt to slowly fill in the missing days in no particular order.

May 18th 2016, I and the glee club departed for what would be my third tour with the group. This was to be my last with the group of people with whom I had joined the glee club and it was thus bittersweet. Additionally, I was coming to realize that tour placed a lot of pressure on me PhD wise and thus I was planning on re-evaluating my ability to go the next year.

Following a very late meeting with Nadia that morning, I arrived home just past midnight, packed my bags and was able to gain around two hours of sleep before awaking for a trip to Philadelphia International Airport. All suited up, this was the glee club’s first year in formal travel wear. While there were some grumbles, I quite enjoyed looking good for my flight. The first leg was to Atlanta, where we would transit on our way to Nashville, and subsequently on our way to every other destination. Needless to say, I don’t feel the need to visit that airport ever again.

Arriving in Nashville marked my first experience of the American South. While the hostel felt no different from a hostel anywhere else, the street outside betrayed a unique culture. While I can’t generalize beyond the touristy areas I visited, my feeling was that I was in a completely different country to the one I had spent the last few years in. Stores selling boots, southern BBQ joints, and life country music filled the footpaths.

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The start of the afternoon was spent recovering on our sleep debt from that day, however soon enough we were on our way for some sightseeing. First up: the Tennessee State House.

Tennessee Statehouse

The interior was quite beautifully designed with large marble columns framing wide open corridors that echoed with our footsteps. We performed briefly for our tour guide and while our music selection was questionable (a South African Folk Song, Bawo Tixo Somandla), the tone was sonorous.

The next day, I and a few others went to explore Vanderbilt University and the surroundings. One very notable structure there was a full sized replica of the Parthenon of Athens. While the exterior was impressive, elements of the interior were as amusing as they were impressive. A reconstruction of a statue of Athena stood prominently inside, and while the scale was large, the colors were somewhat garish. Furthermore during construction, funding had run out and thus the columns were not marble but concrete.

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Walking along the path, going into second hand bookshops, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We came upon an artisan coffee shop and spent a good half hour inside as the owner explained to us many of life’s mysteries and how coffee was a universal force that contained the essence of all nature, captured in the water, condensed from the seas and made from atoms from inside stars.

Evenings in Nashville were spent on Broadway, a street with many bars and live music out of every corner. The greatest appeal for me however, lay in Harmony Hall, the headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Society (formerly SPEBSQUSA, the Society for the Promotion and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America). There I and the Penn Pipers were treated to both a tour, an a brief lesson singing barbershop ‘tags’. While we were disappointed that a lack of funding had caused the organization to condense its plans for a museum, both Dan Carsello and I enjoyed thoroughly being in the home of the art that we so love.

My last day in Nashville was a Shabbat and thus spent in bed with The Wheel of Time, a book series that I was and am thoroughly enjoying. A 14-book, 12-thousand page high fantasy epic of Rand Al’Thor’s fight against the Shadow Reborn.

New Orleans was hot and humid. A city of jazz and blues, a city of death and rebirth. I keeping with themes of death and rebirth, the glee club went on a ghost tour of New Orleans. Not quite my style but a gentle introduction to the city nonetheless. Our time in New Orleans was punctuated by burst of singing, a beautiful hostel with a questionable library, “tacos and beer”, and for me, plenty of time with my good friend Evan Weinstein.

One sight I visited with Evan that I thoroughly enjoyed was the National WWII Museum, formerly the D-Day Museum. The exhibits were spectacularly put together and gave me insight into the progression of the war in both the European and Pacific fronts. I came away both enriched in knowledge and with a sense for what makes the USA worth fighting for. In the photos below, one I’d draw attention to is the swastika, captured by the Americans on the capture of Italy and defaced with the names of the capturing troops.

The highlight of New Orleans (and of the entire trip) was for me, an encounter with a travelling performer in a caravan. While I can’t recall her name, I can recall the stunning ambience created by her performance from a piano in the corner of her small abode. She sang wistfully songs that connected to emotions the bystanders asked her to portray and served drinks from her diminutive bar mounted on the side.

Following New Orleans, and as an interlude to our regular tour activities came a weekend retreat in Key West, Miami. A beach side town featuring the southernmost point, the southernmost restaurant, the southernmost house, the southernmost artist… well you get the idea…. of the continental United States. Key West was heavily populated by chickens almost as much as people and many clustered around the start of Route 1 USA where a few of us took photos.

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Much of our time was spent exploring the town, but the highlight for most glee clubbers, was the ocean cruise. A few hours on a boat with an open bar and a chance to sing for bridesmaids on a hen’s night more than excited a few of our members.

Shabbat was again spent on the adventures of Rand Al’Thor, before leaving subsequently for Miami Beach. Our final concert, in Miami, took place outside on a beautiful day, in a park along the ocean, and gave the seniors and I a chance to reminisce over our years together. It wasn’t long until the sombre mood wore off and we exploring again the boulevards of the city. I again spent much of my time with Evan, sneaking into fancy hotels, eating ice-cream and getting up to general mischief on foot.


All of a sudden tour was over, and I was back at Penn, moving all my items from my old room on the first floor of McIlhenny, Riepe (more on that later), to the third floor of Warwick in preparation for spending a year on ISP. ISP is the Integrated Studies Program, an interdisciplinary residential and curricular program for undergraduate students at Penn, and for 2016 I was to be one of the incoming students many mentors. After moving my stuff, I spent a few days more in the lab, before once again jetsetting. This time for Croatia.

 


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