September: Looking back, looking ahead

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La Serenissima…

We have veered so sharply into misty, cool autumn over the past couple of days, it scarcely seems possible that, a scant two weeks ago, I was picking sun-warmed tomatoes from Domenico’s garden for an al fresco lunch in Italy. And yet…

Last month, my mother and I spent over two weeks traveling in Italy. We began with six days in Venice, then spent a week in Tuscany (Lucca, followed by Siena), before heading back up north to Merate, where I spent my foreign exchange, to visit my host families and friends.

Since I was seventeen, my mother and I have lived thousands of miles apart, so we relished the chance to walk through Italian days together, enjoying unencumbered hours in the most beautiful of places. We ate gelato and pasta, laughed ourselves silly on multiple occasions, and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the piazze, churches, and people we encountered every day.

Italy is infinite and immediate. Sleek modernity exists casually, effortlessly, beside (and often, within) centuries-old art, architecture, and traditions. By the end of our stay, I was speaking and thinking and dreaming in Italian again. When it was time to bid Italy and my beloved host families farewell, I wept, as I always do.

One afternoon, in Venice’s sun-dappled Campo Santa Margherita, I sipped an Aperol spritz and wrote the following passage in my journal:

When one is partnered–and, perhaps, especially when one is happily so—traveling to a beloved, familiar (and yet mysterious) place is the closest we ever come to falling in love again. Heady infatuation, “getting-to-know-you” growing pains, the frustrations of familiarity and rediscovery of forgotten joys…travel is not only about one’s relationship to a place, it’s about one’s relationship to oneself.

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Piazza del Campo under moody Siena skies.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about several new projects: the new Duchess CD is slated for an early 2017 release, and a recording I made with drummer Charles Ruggiero is entering post-production in the coming weeks. My dear friend and musical partner Ehud Asherie and I are also making plans to head into the studio later this fall.

And, in the meantime, autumn in New York is here! Autumnal cooking, the donning of thick sweaters, and crisp October air all make me very happy.

In September, I…
Blogged about: July & August. Loving NYC. How We Spent Our Summer Vacation (DUCHESS blog).

Read: Fodor’s travel guides, mostly. And a lot of maps. And my 21-year-old Italian/English dictionary.

Watched: The first presidential debate. Listen, I know that Hillary Clinton may not be everyone’s ideal candidate (although I am, and have long been, a Hillary supporter). But if you watched that debate and were anything less than horrified by Trump’s staggering lack of knowledge and preparation (to say nothing of his visible contempt for Hillary Clinton, moderator Lester Holt, and the American public), I can only say this to you: Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist, and narcissist. He is wildly unfit for the presidency, and his value system runs counter to every principle upon which the United States of America were founded. You can support Hillary Clinton’s campaign HERE.

Listened to: The musical lilts and cadences of the Italian language. Even in my sleep, words and phrases I thought I’d forgotten filled my dreams and found their way into my speech the next day.

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Lucca’s medieval walls at sunset.

 

Words & Music #8

The seven days I waited to die were strung like glass beads catching light in a window about to be flung up.  I watched the free, endless air, and phrases and scenes from the book reopened.  Like Prince Andrei flat on his back dying in battle when, for the first time, he sees with his entire self the blue and white of the sky, the open dome over this scrap of earth.

Two characters speak of preexistence and eternity.  If they are immortal spirits, they also existed before they were born.  All is one, past, present, future, and good.

That I was young didn’t matter.  I’d had what I wanted, dancing and George.  My dreams healed.  Each night I danced beautifully again, I was the leader of the Bacchantes, killing Orpheus with my powerful legs once more.

–Varley O’Connor, The Master’s Muse

Words & Music #7

They sat for a while listening to the sounds of the evening.  The whitecaps, gray with night, were hushed and nearly forgotten but the rumble of a distant train, the honk and squeal of automobiles and, underneath it all, the music of the cafés, each melody distinct–an accordion riff as ripe as Paris, an abandoned singer with the rain of Pissarro darkening every phrase, a battered hound of a piano–and each whisper, each shout, was a story that did not need words, just beauty and gravity.

-N.M. Kelby, White Truffles in Winter

Don’t knock the hustle.

It’s happening.  October is drawing to a close, and we’re entering that time of year when everything seems to accelerate mercilessly.  My schedule through the end of the year is, happily, packed with lots of great gigs, like this one, this one, this one, and this one.  I’ve also been hired by a composer to record his (very challenging) original music in December, and I’m happy to have locked down a New Year’s Eve gig, as well.  Throw in a smattering of swing and country music gigs around town, and, well, my palms are sweating just thinking about it all.  Oh, and did I mention that I’m also doing postproduction on my first solo album?  As soon as that’s finished, a whole new phase of busy-ness will begin.

Lest I sound ungrateful, please let me be clear: I am so thankful for my full-to-overflowing calendar!  Not too long ago, I was waiting tables full time, attending school full time, and doing gigs whenever and wherever I could squeeze them in.  My calendar was full then, too, but not with things I really wanted to be doing.  In between attending classes and feeding the proverbial thronging masses at the restaurant, I dreamed of being able to focus exclusively on music and leave the constant hustle behind.  Ha!

Now, faced with a schedule of symphonies, swing bands, studio sessions, and completing my own record, I find that everything–and nothing–has changed.  Gone are the endless subway commutes to Brooklyn College, and these days, the only dinners I serve are at my own table.  But that old hustle has been replaced by a new one: spending countless hours at the computer doing networking and correspondence, hauling my cumbersome PA system up and down subway stairs, and many other mundane tasks.

Here’s what I wish I’d known back when I was a waitress/student/aspiring singer: the hustle never goes away, it just transforms.  And if you keep hustling, you’ll be transformed, too.

Words & Music #6

My days had passed in silences with flurries of thought in a landscape that changed slowly.  Note by note the music brought a sense of time back to me.  Each pause was charged with anticipation of the next note and the slow revelation of a tune…I did not understand the words and did not need to.  The sadness was clear in the tune and the singer’s tone and in the expression of the listeners, as was the beauty shared between us.

–Rory Stewart, The Places in Between 

Words & Music #4

If, as the flaneurs claimed, walking around Paris is an art, then the city itself is the surface on which they create.  And since Paris is ancient, that surface is not blank.  Artists paint over their old work or that of others, just as medieval scholars scraped back the surface of vellum or parchment to use it again.  Such a sheet, called a palimpsest, bears faintly, however often it’s reused, the words of earlier hands.  And we who walk in Paris write a new history with each step.  The city we leave behind will never be quite the same again.

–John Baxter, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World