Monthly Archives: June 2010

Number 59 – Istanbul, Turkey

We went to Istanbul after we went to London during Peace Corps.  It was basically just a 36 hour layover, and it was the best layover in my life!  We got to the Stone Hotel in the snow after dark.  I couldn’t believe our view of endless minarets – some modern and some ancient – and the Sea of Marmara.

The Harem in Topkapi Palace

The next morning we woke up to a blanket of snow that was still falling.  I have to admit that whenever I pictured Istanbul or Turkey, I always saw fruit trees and sunshine.  I think we were lucky to see Istanbul in a different light.

There is so much history in Istanbul.  You can really sense the transition from West to East in the city.  It was neat to be in London (west) one day, Istanbul (transition) the next and back in rural Azerbaijan (east) the next.

Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya is really evidence of this bridge.  It was built as the largest church in Christianity, converted to a Mosque (by covering the Biblical mosaics and adding minarets) and is now a museum.  It is huge and breathtaking.

Besides the Starbucks, we also bought a hookah and some hand painted tiles.  I could have spent an eternity and a fortune in the Grand Bazaar.  The shop keepers were always surprised and delighted when we would speak Azeri (which is somewhat close to Turkish) and say things like InshAllah.

Istanbul was a wonderfully beautiful city.  I would love to spend more time there exploring the culture, history,  architecture and food.

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Number 58 – Christine Pettingill

Christine was my first mentor teacher during grad school.  She is a literature teacher at Eugene International High School (my alma mater).  I was so lucky to be able to work with Christine.  She has the best classroom management and relationship with her students.  Her philosophy is to treat everyone as the lovely human beings that they are.  I learned so much from her – so much that isn’t available in text books or articles.  Whenever I used ‘eduspeak’ to ask her what her motivations were, she would just say, ‘I’m just treating them like human beings.’ There really isn’t better advice than that – for teaching and for life.

I was able to teach two sections of her 9th grade global literature class for about 4 weeks.  The timing worked out so I got to teach the unit on the Holocaust and Night by Elie Wiesel.  Christine was always very supportive of my ideas and knew just when to suggest additions or modifications.  She was incredibly positive and motivating.  I learned to be a better teacher – and a better human being – by having the wonderful opportunity to work with Christine.

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Number 57 – West Side Story and Leonard Bernstein

When I was little Ed Ragozzino would produce a musical every summer.  I remember listening to the cast recordings on cassettes in our car all summer to get ready for the production.  They were quite amazing for a little town like Eugene to produce.  One of my favorites was West Side Story.  I remember asking my mom who the good guys were – the Sharks or the Jets. She said there were no good guys, or bad guys in West Side Story.  This blew my little brain right out of the water.  I knew that I loved Anita and her feistiness, but I think I figured Bernardo and the Sharks were bad guys since Tony (my hero) was a Jet.  This was a story where the antagonist was a situation, not a person.  That might just be what makes this story so beautiful and believable (I know that most of the credit goes to Shakespeare for this one…).

This year at the Oregon Bach Festival there was a concert of Bernstein’s musical works narrated by his daughter Jamie.  Jamie told some lovely stories about her father and about how West Side Story came to be.  The most interesting to me was that Bernstein had the idea some years before he actually wrote the musical.  At the time there were intense gang wars between Jews and Catholics on the upper East side. When he got around to writing it, the East side gangs were gone but some Italian and Puerto Rican gangs were fighting on the upper West side.  Not only did this change the title of the show, but it also gave Bernstein the fodder he needed to begin writing the music.  Now he had direction for the two gang’s musical styles – upbeat jazz for the Jets, sultry mambo for the Sharks.

When I was in high school I got to see Bernstein’s Mass.  This was a life changer for me.  I remember sitting in the audience, very aware of how beautiful and genius the music was.  I don’t recall any of the music or melodies, but I do recall the feeling I had.  People say that Leonard Bernstein was one of – if not the most – influential composer of the 20th century.  I couldn’t say whether or not that’s true, but I can say that he is one of my absolute favorites.

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Number 56 – Dr. Anton Armstrong

Dr. Armstrong is the conductor of the Oregon Bach Festival Youth Choral Academy. I was a charter member of the YCA.  In 1998 I had the opportunity and privilege to sing with the YCA and with Dr. A.  I have been in choirs my whole life, from school choirs, community choirs, church choirs… It wasn’t until I was in Dr. A’s choir that I really learned how to sing in a choir.  What he does is magic.  He gets 80 high school vocalists from around the US together and teaches them to sing.

We had all been in choirs, good ones, in fact.  But, nothing compares to the sound that we could make together under Dr. A’s direction.  I remember each summer I did the YCA coming out of the experience a much better singer and musician.

My strongest memories of Dr. A and the YCA are the times that we were either singing beautifully or terribly.  It was awful when he said we were singing “mugly” – mucho ugly.  It was heartbreaking when he was disappointed with us.  On the other hand, when we were all hitting the notes and singing with feeling Dr. A gave us the most amazing praise.  I remember one time he held his hand to his heart after a soaring tenor line.  He is one of those people you really want to please, and will work your hardest to make sure that he’s happy with your performance.

I will never forget the 3 years I was involved with the YCA.  Those were some of the bet times in my life and I learned so much from Dr. Armstrong.

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Number 55 – The Thorn Birds

This is my favorite literary guilty pleasure.  I think I’ve read it at least a half dozen times.  It’s a great summer book and a great winter mini-series.  It is the unlikely love story of Father Ralph Dd Bricassarte, a Catholic priest who is sent to a small town surrounded by sheep stations in Australia, and young Meggie Cleary.  Father Ralph quickly becomes entangled with the Cleary family who live on Drogheda.  This is an epic story that spans three generations of Cleary women – all trying to find their path and their love.  It’s very dramatic.

I think I was in middle school when I saw the mini-series for the first time.  I remember sitting in our green rocking chair watching the show during one summer break.  I was enthralled.  I have always wanted to go visit the Australian outback and all the other Australian locales that are in the book.  Oh, to walk where Meggie walked…

I know it’s silly.

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Number 54 – Pandora

I know this is kind of a silly post, but it really is one of the most amazing things that the internets have given me ever.  I love pandora.com so much.

If you live under a rock (or have been in the Peace Corps for 3 years) it is high time you learn about Pandora.  What you do is you tell it a song or an artist that you love and it comes up with other songs that it thinks you will like.  It is quite genius.  We have so many ‘stations,’ that are edited to pretty much only play the music we love, that we never have to get bored of our old CDs and mp3s ever again.  The only downside is that there’s a limit for how much you can listen to in a month, but it only costs $0.99 a month to keep the music coming.  The only other downside is Pandora’s crazy affinity to Jack Johnson.  Seriously.  He shows up on all our stations – Decemberists, Audra McDonald, Glee Cast, Deb Talan, Emiliana Torrini.  Everything.  No matter how many thumbs down we give him.  Oh well.

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Number 53 – Hub Nights

Activities at a Sumqayıt Hub Day

The Hub Night tradition in Mingəçevir (that I think is still alive and well!) came out of the random Hub Days during Pre-Service Training.  Every so often all the volunteers got together for all day training and bonding.  There were 55 Trainees in our group and for the first 3 months, we lived in small communities around Sumqayıt and only got everyone together for these Hub Days.

On our way to Mike's for a Hub Night

When we got to our site, Mingəçevir, we wanted to keep up the Hub tradition.  We had the most wonderful site mates in Azerbaijan, so it was a lot of fun to meet up once a week or so for dinner.  It was great to have the support from other volunteers, get ideas from them and most of all, eat wonderfully (almost) American food.

Nate playing with Mike's computer at a Hub Night

For the first few months, Mike was the only volunteer in Mingəçevir with his own place, so most Hub Nights happened at his apartment.  After a while, we all moved out to our own houses and apartments, so we rotated it a bit.

Another common Hub Night activity... crowding around a computer to watch a movie or YouTube

I miss getting together with Nate, Mike, Cindy, Kate, Mariko and whoever else happened to be in Ming at the time.  They were great nights with great friends!

Trying to fix laptops with head lamps and vodka... always a good idea...

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