• SU Chorale in Paris
    SU Chorale in Paris

This Spring Break, the Southwestern Chorale was given the opportunity of a lifetime to visit France. They enjoyed visiting museums, performing at local theatres and enjoying the French culture.

English major Alison MacAluso, Class of 2016, detailed her Spring Break experience. MacAluso gives us a unique look into the life of a Southwestern student as she travels through France, from the plane ride to performing in Notre Dame.

 

March 11, 2016

Plane 1 | I’m currently on the first plane to Nice. The plane is super cramped. The seats are all in rows of four and the plane itself is pretty small, but it’s not too bad. I feel bad for making the man next to me squint at his crossword, so I will continue writing in our second flight.

Plane 2 | This was SO not what I expected. This time, I mean it in the best way possible. After about 30 minutes to run through the airport and find something to eat, we are now well on our way to Amsterdam. Five hours left. How crowded is the plane, you ask? I wouldn’t know. Somehow, by (as Dame Maggie Smith would say) sheer dumb luck, all of my roommates and I ended up in the extra legroom section in the front of the coach! Seriously, there is so much space. All of the directors and other choir members are in the tight seats behind us, really close together, and my legs can stretch out so far that they barely touch the wall. It’s awesome! I must be doing something right, because I’m feeling a lot better. I really appreciate the kind person who gave me this rather nice seat next to my favorite people on the longest flight of our 15 hour trip, and they put my favorite movies on the plane list to last the entire trip.

We spent a great deal of time giggling over our good fortune as we waited for the plane to take off. The faces of those in our program who passed us were PRICELESS. The row right behind us has two of the four music professors in it, and they made fun of us for our good luck. I guess I hold bragging rights, however temporary they may be. The bathroom is right next to us, too. It’s just as good as first class, only the seats aren’t as comfortable. Still, it’s an awesome early birthday gift.

Once we get to our next stop, I’ll be saying something I never thought I would say, “Welcome to Amsterdam.” Amsterdam is not my scene, but I’ve heard it’s very much a place everyone needs to go at least once in their lifetime. Who knows, maybe it will surprise me and I’ll really enjoy it.  Like I learned the first time I heard House music, I need to give everything the benefit of the doubt. Once we land, everyone is going to explore the dreaded “Red Light District”.  Even if it is only for two hours and Amsterdam is not “my scene”, I’m still getting a t-shirt.

I think I will try to sleep for a little while, or at least try to relax.

Four hours to go!

Plane 3  I Slept the entire trip.

 

March 13, 2016

Today was my first day in Nice! We landed in the early evening and went straight to dinner. Everyone was jet lagged and completely exhausted, and we slept like babies all through the night. That was a first for me. Sleep hasn’t been easy this semester.

Nice is amazing. It almost feels surreal, like you’re walking through a painting. The buildings are all beautiful, variations of pink, red, greens and very soft yellows. It’s like being in Italy. Turns out, Italy is actually where Nice gets most of its architectural influence. Another thing you immediately notice about Nice is its citrus trees. They are EVERYWHERE. Mainly oranges and lemons. I am really, really tempted to pick one off of a tree, but as I’m five-foot-three most of the trees are too high for me to reach. 

I’m also really loving the food here. I mean, I always knew I’d love the food here; it’s what they’re known for. Breakfast is almost endless, usually consisting of three cappuccinos, plain yogurt, two mini chocolate croissants, a bit of meat and cheese and LOTS of fruit. The fruit is all fresh too, which makes it taste great. <3

Today was also our first concert, we sang in a beautiful little church with the Corazon choir, a local choral group in Nice. The group was a HUGE crowd. There are at least sixty of performers. I really like them. Because they’re freelance, they are all different ages and walks of life that have come together to sing. Their director’s name is Sarmod. He is absolutely hilarious. When he conducts he uses his ENTIRE BODY. Seriously, I was really worried he would fall flat on his face half the time. He also makes the goofiest facial expressions. There were one or two times where I swear he just made faces at me to try and make me laugh. We sang a variation of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, and I think it came out rather well. They also managed to say “Imagine” in every language on earth, which took a while but sounded really cool against the music.

Of course going to France means I have to test how well I really know French. After about six years of classes, it’s kind of mandatory to at least give it a try. I actually have done really well so far! I’ve managed to do everything from ordering lunch, to translating things people say to Dr. Sheppard when complimenting us, to just general conversation when someone tries to talk to me. I’m really, really proud of myself. Unfortunately, this also means that I am EVERYONE’S translator, and they expect me to know everything. xD I guess I’m ok with that, until I’m not, because I don’t actually know everything. I do know a lot about France, but there are limits! Lol  When I don’t know something, the people here are actually really helpful about teaching me the real word or the proper way to say it. The people in Paris won’t be NEARLY as friendly about it, so I’m glad we came here first.

After the concert, we took a walking tour of Nice and ended up getting lost in a market square. I wish they had markets like this in the United States. They had all sorts of fresh fruits and veggies, just like at breakfast, but also lots of beautiful flowers, hand painted art of different sights of Nice, homemade candies and sweets, fresh bread….anything you wanted really. Oh, and soaps are a really big thing here. Especially lavender, which is apparently a big export.  I bought cute little candies that look like animals. One was a butterfly, one was a mouse, and one was a turtle. I then proceeded to lose them when I left them at the restaurant where we had lunch. That’s just how I work, I suppose. 

Lunch, by the way, took forever. Eating in courses, and eating very slowly, is a huge deal in France. You’re supposed to take an hour or two when you eat, so when we explained that we had to hurry, the waiters gave us funny looks. It’s not our fault we had a concert! Busy Americans–what can you do?

After lunch we finished our tour with the palace of Queen Victoria and a tour of the Russian side of Nice. Apparently royal families absolutely love Nice. When the Czar’s fled Russia after the rebellion, they moved here and created their own huge palaces with what was left of their wealth for their friends, staff, and family. As for Queen Victoria, Nice was apparently her favorite vacation spot. The French LOVED her, and even created a statue in her honor. There’s also a legend that people would escape to the French coast to ward of tuberculosis if they were able to afford it.

Our night ended when we met up with the Corazon choir again for a pizza party. I can’t remember much of it, however, as the jet lag had caught up with me by then. I know that there was a very lengthy discussion where they asked us our opinions of Donald Trump.  I guess even from across the ocean, you can’t escape American politics.

 

March 14, 2016

Today we had our second concert at Saint-Sauver Cathedrale in Aix-En-Provence, France. Oh. My. Gosh. I have never been in a more beautiful church in my entire life. High vaulted ceilings, large statues, bold reds, golds, greens and whites. It also had a BEAUTIFUL teal organ that played really loud and really well. They had a mock organ on the other side just to make it level, which I’ve never seen before. It was absolutely breathtaking, and they were still doing work on it! We didn’t even mind, because the construction on it sounded like a waterfall, which just made us like it even more. Not only that, but it had the BEST ACOUSTICS EVER. Our final piece, “Followers of the Lamb”, rang off the walls like crazy. We were all super full of energy and excitement from the moment we stepped in the doors. Even Dr. Sheppard was bouncing in his seat and grinning from ear to ear the whole time. Kevin’s solo in “The Travler” sounded really awesome as well. Every time he hit a high note you could practically feel the vibrations. I will never, ever forget being able to close my eyes and feel the amazing aura of that place.

Additionally, we were able to hear the bells of the church ring right before our concert started.  They rang for absolutely forever, well past the hour. We purposely started late so that we could listen and didn’t have to overpower them. I personally would’ve preferred that we start singing “Carol of the Bells” alongside them, but that’s just me…

After the concert, a few of us noticed a sweet but worn looking old woman sitting outside the chapel begging. After having such a wonderful opportunity that filled me with so much spirit,  I gave in. My friend Courtney and I each put around 4 euros into the cup she was using to beg. When we returned to our group and looked back over at her one last time, we noticed she had started crying. It filled my heart with a mixture of sadness for her poverty, joy for the fact that I could make her happy and help her afford a really nice meal. I told her “God bless you” in French, and waved goodbye to her.

Our lunch break was after the concert, and we basically scarfed down pizza to go shopping instead. There were so many cute little shops! It was like a strip market mixed with a narrow street market. I was able to sample some amazing sweets. Two words for you: chocolate. Spoons. I can’t wait to use them in my coffee! I also finally caved and bought some lavender bath salts, because I’m a sucker who loves a good bath. They smell incredible! I bought a few more really small bags that were one euro each to give to friends as souvenirs.

Just like in Nice, we had a tour of Aix-en-Provence. It was kind of distracting, as when we all met up at our spot, there was a man who was drunk beyond recognition. He was walking around with his dog screaming things like “GOD BLESS AMERICA”, “DONALD TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT”, “DONALD DUCK FOR PRESIDENT”, “DOGS CAN RIDE ON SKATEBOARDS”. Talk about some interesting thoughts….

We passed by Saint-Sauver again and were able to catch a glimpse of a funeral procession going in and out of the church.  Part of our “walking tour” took us back inside the church. We learned about every nook and cranny of the place, including a really old pool in the center of the back of the church that used to be used for baptism, where people had to get in completely naked and were given full immersion. As much as I approve of immersion, I’m glad you don’t have to be nude anymore. That just sounds embarrassing.

Most of our walking tour wasn’t actually walking, and most of the things we saw were not really varied. In fact, at least ninety percent of what’s important to Aix-en-Provence, at least through the eyes of our tour guide, was a series of doors. They all had historical stories and important facts behind them, but I did find it kind of underwhelming after about the sixth one. I would’ve loved to learn about other things I saw as well.

Cat finally saw her first French Kitty during our tour. I’ve never seen her light up so fast. She was practically jumping up and down, pointed, and said “Hey! It’s a French cat!” Cue the laughter.  This was followed by some really nice sweets that Aix is known for called Carrissons. They weren’t exactly a cookie, but they weren’t a cake either. Either way they were lemony and delicious. <3 They also weren’t too sweet, which was a plus for me.

Our tour ended with “Elbow avenue”, a street that even I could stick my elbows out and touch the sides of. It’s apparently France’s version of the road to Harry Potter’s platform 9 ¾, as someone had spray painted voldemort’s face and the letters for it in black on the side of the stone. I don’t think that’s right, but it also does seem like a good place to hide the entrance.

The tour also ended early, because right when we were heading to our last stop, it started pouring rain. Why is this important? Because on our first day in Nice our tour guide told us, “It only rains 29 days out of the year in Nice, I know you will all have wonderful weather!”.  Of course, this gave me the idea that I didn’t have to bring my umbrella. You think I would’ve learned my lesson in London last semester. Hopefully it won’t happen again, but if it does, wish me luck.

 

March 15, 2016

Today, I officially went to the most expensive place on earth, Monte Carlo, Monaco. I swear, I don’t know how people live here. Don’t get me wrong, Monte Carlo is gorgeous. It’s like you’ve literally stepped into a post card. The city is surrounded by bright blue water and yachts, the pavements literally sparkle like diamonds, there are expensive and pricey cars everywhere you turn, and the land is nothing but insanely tall skyscrapers that reach at least twenty stories each. There also was a pirate ship, but we have no idea how it got there. The land is really safe, or at least appears so, as there are cops everywhere you look. The prices are ridiculous though, as it costs 150 euros just for tour bus to get into the city. We also went to have coffee at Café Casino, the most posh coffee bar in Monaco, and it costed 50 euros for six cups of coffee. SIX. How insane does that sound? I gave in for once, as it was a once in a lifetime deal. C’est la vie.

I’m not a huge fan of the history of Monaco. The city was gained by a very wealthy man by sneaking in a bunch of guards dressed as monks into the monastery of the people who used to rule Monaco’s territory. The guards convinced the monks to let them in, and then attacked and killed all the monks when they were given the signal to do so. Thus, the Monacan monarchy was born.

On the plus side, I had ACTUAL FRENCH CREPES! My lunch consisted of two of them, spinach and goat cheese and nutella and banana. It was delicious. <3 I also browsed a small shopping stand where I found and old fashioned wind up music box that played La Vie En Rose.

 

March 16, 2016

Yesterday, we also had a concert in Cannes. We absolutely ROCKED IT. Seriously, the audience loved us, and gave us a standing ovation and asked for an encore. It felt amazing. It was also our first night doing our entire set, including the organ pieces, which I had been nervous about because we hadn’t rehearsed them in a day or two. This was made even worse when the rehearsal had to be cut short because traffic made us about ten minutes late.  I was also a little worried about Kevin, our lead tenor who had gotten really sick earlier. We think he had motion sickness though, since he felt better as soon as he got off the bus.

Poor Dr. Sheppard also had a rough day. He was, quite literally, beat by the end of it. He hit his head on the beam at the top of the stairs when we were climbing to get to the organ and tripped over his music stand. Twice. Once in rehearsal, and once in the middle of our concert. It was incredibly hard for us not to laugh, or at least check if he was ok. He must be ok though, as he’s currently zoned out on the train.

I think the best part of my night was after the concert was over. There was an incredibly sweet old French woman who really enjoyed our concert and was SERIOUSLY enthused. I think she fell in love with us. She asked for double encores, which we couldn’t do as the concert had run out of time, and absolutely praised Dr. Sheppard in French (which I translated for him when she left). She hung out with us afterward too, as if she was expecting something else awesome to happen.

As you can probably guess, I completely wiped out. Didn’t even shower, just changed into pj’s, fell on my bed, and crashed within the first ten seconds. Which is why I’m writing about Cannes the day after.

I’m currently on a train, as today will be our first day in Paris. I wonder what adventures the city of love will have in store for us.

 

March 16, 2016 | 9:00 pm

Cat and I are finally off the train and in our room. It’s nice, actually. The people of Paris are a bit quieter (and snobbier) than in Nice, but I expected as much. It is the stereotype, after all. ;) We spent the rest of today running around Paris, and visited L’arc D’triumph. It’s much bigger in person than I thought-and I already expected it to be huge.

We also visited the tomb of the unknown soldier. The French do a really interesting ritual every night, that includes lighting a fire on the tomb, placing flowers and playing the Marseilles. They used a local couple for the ritual. I’m guessing they were newlyweds or something like that.

Dinner was less than satisfactory- not the worst, but certainly not the greatest either. It was the third time in a row we had chicken and brie/toast salad. I will say, when I pictured what kind of food we would eat in France, I was hoping to show my friends all the fun things that they could try- escargot for example. I’m sure we’ll get fun treats along the way somewhere.

Our room is actually really nice. Cat and I have our own beds, the tub is deep, the view is nice, and we have free water bottles! There’s just one small detail…the windows. While large, they have suicide locks on them that come across the window and keep it from going very far out. I guess that’s a good thing, in case anyone got the bright idea to jump from it. However, it causes a few small problems…like whistling. I’m not joking, the window whistles like a train. It doesn’t shut off, either. It only stops when you open the window. Once the window is open, it creaks back and forth and opens and shuts. There’s just no way for us to win this battle. I guess we have to pick our demon and go with it.

It actually DID stop, for a small while. We came in after dinner and were examining the bathroom, and it was silent. We were talking about how it would be nice to have no water splashing on the floor, and to be able to have both of us fit in the bathroom in the morning, unlike the last hotel. Then, cue the loudest, longest whistle of the night. We died laughing and fell on our beds.  We’re exhausted, the window is whistling, it’s really late here now, and I think it’s time to try and sleep.

 

March 17, 2016

Today was the best day of the entire trip! It didn’t start out that way though. Everyone overslept. Oops. This, of course, meant that we lost a lot of warm up time before singing in Notre Dame, and everyone on the bus was singing, cooing, and yelling different exercises at the top of their voices.  One side you heard “The Traveler”, the next “Exultate Justi en Domino”, the next “Cantique”. Of course, the soloists were the loudest on the whole bus.

When we finally got there, it was right on time. Notre Dame was gorgeous, and huge, but the acoustics were not all that great for such a big space. This is especially true when compared to yesterday’s chapel. It’s also decorated much simpler, although it certainly is grand in height and material. It also didn’t take away the glorious feeling of singing in one of the most popular and celebrated churches on the planet. Seriously, this was an experience most singers don’t even put on their bucket list!

Most of the time, we were excellent. However, we might have royally messed up one piece. It was called “Lord God, Help Me Now”. Ironic, right? It wasn’t so much that we messed up as we started off tempo and it just stuck that way. Everyone was on a different section. It was just….not good. Embarrassing to say the least. However we did not let one piece tarnish how awesome that feeling was. We owned it and went with it. Then we proceeded to complain about it for the rest of the day.

After the concert was over, we visited my favorite tourist trap: Shakespeare and Company. It’s one of the most famous book shops in the entire world, and it’s the shop where some of the most famous writers in the entire world used to hang out and talk about everything from literature to philosophy to life.

Who were these authors you ask? The most famous would be Earnest Hemmingway, but the one I appreciate the most is actually James Joyce! It made me really happy to be in the same place as him. I bought four for myself: One for my capstone, one of poetry, and the two that were James Joyce’s Ulysses and Dubliners. They have stamps on the inside, so I always can remember where I bought them.

Oh goodness, it was glorious. The inside was just levels and levels and levels of books! All kinds, authors and all the way to the ceiling. You could so easily get lost in how many rooms there were, and it was THREE STORIES HIGH! I don’t know how my friends ever managed to drag me out of that place. Needless to say, I was broke when I left.

 We were hungry after that, so I tried the classic dish that Dr. Kilfoyle recommended - moules frites. It was actually really good, but that might be because I’m not nearly as picky with food as most could be. We were not done after that, either. We finally had time to go souvenir shopping, and I found my beautiful music boxes. I bought one that played “Imagine” (for obvious reasons) and one that played “La Vie en Rose”. I love collecting these, they’re so old fashioned and really fun! I guess I do have an old soul.

Our wonderful lunch was followed by a trip to the most famous landmark in Paris - La Tour Eiffel. It’s so beautiful up there. It feels like you can see the whole world. It’s also the closest to the sky, and to heaven, I will ever get. Cat and I were both really freighted, as neither of us are the biggest fan of heights. That didn’t stop us from going all the way up to the top. It was totally worth it. Not only was the view the best one in Paris, but we found handmade macaroons! I had everyone try one, and I think my friends are now addicted. I also managed to find a capstone sized (huge) coffee mug in the gift shop that I will be using for the rest of the semester and beyond! I will never sleep again, I guess.

The day ended at the Sacre Coeur Cathedrale in Paris. The inside was GORGEOUS, much better than Notre Dame, in my opinion. They also were in the middle of mass, and the nuns were chanting and singing so beautifully. It rang off the walls. The are where the Sacre Coeur Cathedrale is found has to be one of my favorite areas that we’ve seen this whole trip. It’s essentially the art district. The entire square was full of people selling jewelry, artwork, little cafes and shop and there was a band in the back of the stairs. You could hear them throughout the whole square. My favorite painting was one an artist was currently doing. It had a bunch of very thin trees, covered in pink buds in a long stretch of grass. They reminded me of the flowers of Mulan. I couldn’t afford any of the nice pieces of artwork, but I did find a small, lovely smelling vile of perfume before we headed to dinner.

Dinner was okay. The only bad part was a poor excuse for pate that tasted like someone mixed Salami and Spam together. Watching people try it was so, so funny. Many of them threw up in their napkins. The conversation was amazing. We spiraled off of a story all night long where everyone decided that Cat was an alien from another planet. She lives off caffeine for sustenance, looks like a cat, and is here on a “study abroad” intergalactic program. She has also been to Gallifrey.

On that note, I think I will curl under the covers and fall asleep….at 9pm. Because I’m exhausted.

Good night.

 

March 18, 2016

So, Cat and I almost missed breakfast. As did everyone else. Again. Oops. Then again this new hotel does not send us wake up calls, which we usually get every day, so it’s not entirely our fault as it was supposed to be set in the schedule.  Today started really early, around 8 a.m., and we headed straight for the Louvre. Our concert was at Noon, but we spent the three hours prior to that wandering around getting lost in the various art pieces, like Michaelangelo’s dying slaves, Victore, and a room filled from ceiling to floor with Egyptian hieroglyphs. Now THAT was incredible.

I spent the day wandering around with Cat and Courtney, and we made a mission out of finding the medieval unit in the Louvre. I know it’s impossible to walk the whole building in a day, but if you could, we certainly did. It wasn’t until we had searched the entire first floor (where it was supposed to be) that we asked a guard and he informed us that the Medieval unit apparently no longer exists. I am not joking. We had passed what we thought was the end of the exhibit once or twice, as it was a closed door and looked like a storage room, but it was the actual exhibit, blocked so no one could get in. Well, there’s a way to kill half an hour. Also a side note for when you come to the Louvre in person, the Mona Lisa is much, much smaller than almost every other painting in the building. Not just that, but she’s behind several thick layers of glass, chained off, and guarded. You’d think it was the President or something! Apparently she has been stolen that many times.

After a brief lunch break, we headed to our last concert in the last beautiful church. This church was my favorite because not only was it GORGEOUS, but it had wonderful acoustics and, to my nerdish delight, French pamphlets. Seriously, it had the Catechism Catholic’s read during the season of lent for free for people to take and it was ENTIRELY IN FRENCH. Needless to say, I took a few mementos for myself.

The last concert was a little bit hard in one way though: the other choir was not that great musically. I know they’re not musically trained like we are, and are amateurs who do this for fun rather than scholars who study music, but still. I will say, I love that all of them seemed to really love music, and that they were such sweet people. I could also practice my French with them afterward. I really appreciated that they were able to teach me a lot of new dialogue.

*Side note: I am SO PROUD of myself on this trip! Seriously, I retained so much more of my French than I thought I would! It was awesome to be a translator and\or speaker, as stressful as it is to blurt without knowing whether or not you were completely right on something.

As awesome as the entire day was, I think dinner was my favorite part of everything. Seriously, everyone, including Dr. Sheppard, was relaxed and laughing and just enjoying our time together as friends. I sat at a table with everyone I loved getting to know on this trip, from Cat to Courtney to Erin and her sister. We ordered the most amazing bottle of wine too - where I discovered I actually DO like red wine! I know it’s a small victory, but it’s a victory. Once we all had a bit of it in our systems, the embarrassing stories began. I heard childhood stories about Erin falling asleep in her soup and the devious brother who convinced Cat’s ex boyfriend that it was their first date so they would do a whole big charade for them.

It’s 1 a.m, and I have to be up at 5:30. I would love to fill you in more, but that will have to be tomorrow.

 

March 19, 2016

I am officially on the plane home.  I woke up around 6:30, because Cat and I skipped breakfast again due to the fact that neither of us has the willpower to be up so early. We got to the airport three hours early, and I had just enough time to do my bucket list before I completely ran out of time. I found a Costa and had one last cup of my favorite European coffee, ate some breakfast and then…I bought two bottles of wine. One white and one red.

The flight radio cracked me up. I turned it on and it was r&b, techno, and poppy versions of little kid tunes and Disney songs. Techno Disney Jason, does that sound strange or what?! It was, is the answer. I usually cringe at the mention of those two things together. Our seats were not first class this time, but it was still all four of us together and we still had a lot more space than I thought. It was an ok ride. However, I am ready to be home so I can fall on my bed and fall asleep.

…  

Going to France was something I never thought I would get to experience. In fact, I’m pretty sure singing in Notre Dame was one of those memories that don’t even go on the bucket lists of most professional singers. I was able to create new bonds with people I may not have gotten to know otherwise, and was able to grow so much closer to friends I already loved. Some people call experiences like this “unique;” however, I think I prefer “once in a lifetime.”