Stuck in the middle

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I’ve called Lille, or at least northern France, my home for the past three years. Although I’ve spent time living in Douai, Hazebrouck, Lille itself, and Cassel, I have always been a student or worked in Lille. It’s my favorite city in France. Full of culture, friendly people, great beer, and just a train ride away from other great European cities like London, Paris, and Brussels.

I live 12 kilometres from the Belgian border. We’re there at least once a month, whether it’s to drink a beer, go shopping, or pick up tobacco for M’s parents. I’ve visited Belgium more times than I can remember. (Luckily I have some documentation of my trips to Bruges,  Brussels, Bruges again, and Brussels again. But that’s definitely not all of my trips there.)

I fly out of Brussels International airport more than half the time I go back home to Texas.

The people who died in the horrific attacks that took place yesterday are like any of us: traveling to work, traveling to see family or friends, traveling to new places, out and about.

The images that I saw – and had been trying to avoid – on the news last night saddened and shocked me. I don’t know how else to describe the emotions I felt. Just shocked.

Not so long ago, we heard similar stories from Paris…

For lack of my own better words, I want to share this post from Rick Steves, a man whose guidebooks were the keys to my traveling success the first time I ever traveled Europe on my own.

Learning of today’s tragic attacks in Brussels, my first thought was of that city’s unique knack for celebrating life. It’s a city of great humanity, and great joy. In recent visits, I’ve been inspired by beer pilgrims who flew all the way from New York for a three-day weekend of sipping the world’s finest monk-made brews. After taste-testing decadent chocolates in a line of five venerable shops in a row, I’ve spied yet another shop…and popped yet another praline. And standing on the Grand Place, which was lovingly blanketed with flowers, I’ve enjoyed the best open-air jazz I’ve ever heard — forever giving Europe’s finest town square a joyful soundtrack in my mind.

Half of Belgium speaks French, and the other half Flemish — but, with a battlefield called Waterloo just a few miles beyond its suburbs, Brussels understands the importance of getting along. And, as city beloved for its cartoons, beer, chocolate, and buckets of mussels, it knows the rewards of cooperation are rich.

Brussels is the capital of Europe — an experiment in pluralism more open and determined than anywhere in the world. And not surprisingly, forces against freedom and pluralism have attacked it. In a world of soft targets, easy access to explosives, and vivid media, terrorism is here to stay. And our challenge to maintain a free and open society is here to stay, as well. Europe is strong. It will pursue both safety and the bad guys. And, as a matter of principle, its people will continue to embrace freedom. As a matter of principle, I will keep on traveling. How about you?

 

Brittany Winter School

After two weeks back at work, I still have Irish melodies constantly running through my brain. Let me just take a moment to say that these two weeks have been the best weeks at work that I’ve had in a while, due to many different factors, I think!

Back to the Irish music.

Two and a half weeks ago, we arrived at a vacation rental house with several (about 10, give or take) people; some we knew, some we didn’t. All of them were musicians, and it was fun to have live Irish music happening on a regular basis. We came from all over France to spend a week at the Brittany Winter School, which is a 5-day Irish musical festival full of concerts, master classes, and more.

The first day, M went to the flute master classes while I hung out with Ma and Mu, rested, and listened to my housemates jam out. On Thursday night, M and his group played at the open stage to compete to play for the opening act of the big concert on Saturday night to close out the festival. They practiced for most of the day together, so I walked around Le Bono with Ma and Mu. The Britches were the first to play that night. Although they were rather nervous, they did a great job! One of M’s band mates ended up winning the opening spot with another group that he plays with.

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Exploring Le Bono with Ma and Mu
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The Britches live on the open stage

The violin player in M’s group used to give me lessons last summer. I joked to him about how I was disappointed that I didn’t have the level to take a master class, and he told me, oh contraire! They actually offered three levels of master classes for each instrument, so I signed myself up for the last two days of classes for beginner violin.

Little did I know, the classes were taught by absolutely amazing Irish musicians who were there for the festival. The teachers were so nice and helpful and I ended up learning a lot. I left after two days with tons of recordings – I don’t even have the names for all of the songs I learned – and great memories of working with such talented musicians.

Paul O’Shaughnessy taught the first morning and the second afternoon of master classes. He’s been playing for a long time and has a style that is very approachable. He has a fondness for tunes from Donegal, which are known for their quick tempos and fiery tones. He was witty and interesting and made the class worthwhile! He even convinced me to take the third-finger tape off of my violin. That was encouraging!

Antóin Mac Gabhann, also known as Tony Smith, gave the first afternoon of classes that I took. He was so incredibly friendly. He’s been playing for years. The stories he told us were amazing. Back in the day, he would have to pay, along with his music buddies, for a room to rent to play sessions in because the bars didn’t want any Irish music inside. He laughingly told us that now he knows musicians who refuse to play if they aren’t paid. You can really tell he loves the music. Even when we asked him about his favorite pieces or his favorite players, he said he “loves all of the tunes equally” and that his favorite players come from all over and are not necessarily well-known.

Mairead Fitzgibbon taught the second morning of classes. She was so easy to learn from. Her style was so clean and she had such a wide knowledge of so many tunes. She even explained some simple techniques to help embellish the tunes we were learning.

I didn’t even look up any information about the teachers before getting home on Sunday. I’m glad I didn’t, or else I would’ve been super intimidated!

Since then, I’ve been practicing at least four days a week. We’re already looking at festivals for this summer…!