Zagreb to Ljubljana – from here to there

After singing what is probably the hottest concert (temperature wise) that i have ever sung the night before, we spent the morning in Zagreb, a fabulous modern city in the heart of Croatia. Most of us took some time to wander around to see what we could see before the short amount of time that we had to be on the bus for Slovenia. I spent a fair bit of time just sitting in the middle of the promenade outside of our hotel, writing in my journal and soaking in the energy of the people who passed by. Although I love the fantastic group of lions that i have the privilege of touring with, i have discovered over the last few years that i am more of an introvert, collecting energy from being alone and listening to and reflecting on what is going on around me. After countless hours of bus travel, rehearsal and concerts since we arrived in Europe, some time to myself was a welcome oasis before jumping on to our next adventure and next concert in the next city. There was a busking musician close to me who was singing and playing guitar, creating an almost surreal atmosphere and covering a variety of songs including many for the classic American blues songbook. Some observations:

1. Zagreb is a much more modern city than Sarajevo, with more developed infrastructure such as trams, newer buildings, and electronic message boards.

2. Once you get out of the downtown core, there is a plethora of graffiti all over the place, and I wonder if it has a political origin

When I travel to a new place, I try venture out of the affluent tourist zones in an effort to connect with what may be closer to the daily experience of a local person. I suspect that our hotels in Sarajevo and Zagreb were in or right beside the “yaletown”s of the respective cities and with unemployment rates of about 30% in Bosnia and 15% in Croatia, I feel that we are missing a large part of the story of those places as we move through them. When we travel as a group, we are easily identified as having both the cultural capital of being Canadian and the economic privilege of being able to travel, and I feel that the deeper tale of this place is in the subtle, less obvious things left unsaid to tourists and in the wider other parts of the city that foreigners don’t often venture, especially given the little I know about the recent and complicated history of this region.

We left for Ljubljana, Slovenia around lunch time. When picture of the infamous Rob McAllister braving the weather we arrived in the city four hours later, we were greeted by a freak rain storm, which at one point turned into hail (please see a picture of the infamous Rob McAllister braving the weather in front of our hotel). It was such a contrast to the 35 degree plus weather we had experienced every day the week before. The water was like buckets, at times more like an Ottawa water storm than a Vancouver one. It did remind me of home though and of how much I actually appreciated the rain.

Originally the intention was to do a gorilla choral concert in the town square, but the rain foiled our best laid plans. After a short break for a lunch-dinner (over the last few days because of bus travel and crossing borders we have gotten into the habit of being in transit and not being able to eat or have meals for eight hours at a time), Diane scheduled an impromptu rehearsal that lasted about two to three hours, which included new choreography for two pieces, sectionals, and memorization pods in preparation for the competition in Gorizia. I joke semitones that if we needed to we could come out on top at any dance offs with other choirs that might happen at the festival, or in a pub afterwards.

After rehearsal, while some other people in the choir elected for a local karaoke club (where I hear that they killed it with amazing covers of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and a spirited version of “My Girl” courtesy of material from our last two Bard on the Beach shows) or a local bar / dance club, I split off to go train at a local Aikido dojo not too far from the hotel. I have been studying the art for about ten years and after getting a little turned around, I managed to find the club in a university rec space that I would have totally missed if I had not asked local people for directions. Labeling on the buildings in Ljubljana is subtle and easy to miss. The instructor was about my age (in his 20s), and everyone there was friendly. He and I were the only blackbelts in the room, and I could tell that some of the junior members were looking at me with some curiousity, partly I suspect because I was a stranger, but also because I was the only Asian person in the mat.

The instructor taught the class mainly in English, which I could tell he did for my benefit, though I wish he had not, as I would have preferred to try to be just another student and blend in with the crowd best I could. I suppose the Heisenberg uncertainty principle applies to social interactions as well.

As we started, it was clear that their style was influenced by Christian Tissier Sensei, the French Aikido “superstar” who has been a major catalyst for spread of the art throughout Europe. I could see the shared principles between the styles though. The main difference was that every standing arm or wrist lock was taken with a flying break fall, which was just kind of fun.

After the class, the Sensei invited me out for a drink with some other members of the club, and we walked over to what by day was a museum, and what by night was a bar with a dance club and patio. We sat outside and talked about our homes and lives, our respective cultures, as well as our shared experiences in training, Japanese philosophy, and technical aspects of the martial arts. I have traveled a lot of places, and have always appreciated Aikido’s ability to connect me with local people wherever I go. For me, the appeal of traveling to Paris or Venice is not to see the Eiffel tower or the canals and gondolas, but to deepen my understanding and connect to the people there. We’ve been in a different city almost everyday on the tour thus far, the demands of the concert, rehearsal, and travel schedule have kept us fairly contained in our Canadian pod. Even though I am fairly confident that I am sharing a bus with some of the best Canadians in the entire country, I am looking forward to the idea that our art of choral singing can act more as a connection point to foster a deeper sense of those relationships with people outside of the choir. We are scheduled to spend a more extended period of time with the groups “Tita Copetti” and “Coro Leone di Bologna” while in Italy, and it is my hope that it is through those exchanges and and an extended period of time at the festival in Gorizia that we will be able to have opportunities to have those conversations and foster those new relationships.

Tomorrow is Venice. We will see what fate has in store…

Ryan Cho

Baritone section

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