Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Women of Jazz" Celebrate the Holidays at Yoshi's San Francisco


Last night was the big show!


Tuesday December 13
and

Leading up to the show, I spent countless hours preparing the set list, arranging the traditional Christmas carols so that they'd be inventive and fresh, working on my vocal technique (I'm still a relatively new singer, so that's always on my mind) and memorizing lyrics.  I had a rehearsal with my band (Daniel Parenti on bass and Billy Johnson on drums) and guest artist, Kymberly Jackson on flute, on Monday December 12.  For this show I was only able to hold 1 rehearsal, but I made sure that the band had sheet music and mp3 demo of the tunes, and they clearly did their homework.  I tend to write music using complex chords and time changes (3/4 to 4/4, 5/4 to 8/8, etc.), so I knew the music wasn't necessarily easy, but the band pulled it off.  After rehearsal, I was a bit concerned about my lyric retention.  I was fumbling quite a bit, but maybe it was because I was thinking about so many other factors.  An unsigned artist, such as myself, has to rely on the kindness of family and friends, as there's no budget for staff to handle the other details.  C'est la vie!

Then it was Tuesday morning.  I actually slept solidly Monday, and woke up feeling refreshed.  After a long walk with the dogs, I did some yoga at home and followed that with several hours of slow, gentle, low stress vocal exercises and piano technique work.  I played through a few tunes, but didn't actually run the show.  It was either going to work or not at that point.  Too late to make any changes, and certainly too late to allow worry to take over.

Around 3pm, as I was packing my wardrobe to go, I noticed that an anti-theft device was left on my chosen dress!  Panic!  Sound check in San Francisco was to start at 4:30pm and I didn't have an alternative dress.  Thankfully, my dear sister rushed to the mall and was able to convince the clerk that someone had accidentally left the device on my dress.  With a HUGE sigh of relief, we all piled into the mini-van and headed to San Francisco.  I arrived just minutes before sound check was supposed to start.

Unfortunately, the piano bench had been broken and originally a drum throne had been placed for me to sit on.  Um, yuck!  We pianists are very particular about the height at which we sit to play, and since I'm rather tiny, the throne was not going to work.  Thanks to Yoshi's sound man Eric for finding another bench and adjusting it to the perfect height.  Another huge sigh of relief.  Sound check went well, everyone hearing each other perfectly.

After a light dinner (I can never eat too much before a show...especially if I have to sing), Destiny Muhammed and her trio took to the stage.  Unfortunately, though I could watch her performance backstage on the television, there was no sound, so I couldn't hear a thing.  During her show, I began my stage prep: make up - I've become a semi-pro thanks to my years of doing my own make up for Stevie's shows, hair, placing my hair flower (my favorite hair accessory), choosing the right jewelry, and warming up my voice.  Finally, the time arrived, and I headed to the stage.  People had been asking me all day "are you nervous", "are you scared"?  I have an usual response, which is "I don't get nervous".  I do get excited, but whenever I go onstage, a sense of calm takes me over.  It's a good thing, especially given my job, but I honestly can't explain it.

My name was announced, applause and cheering rose up, and I entered the stage.  I saw so many beautiful faces, family, friends, peers, fans, all manner of people of different ages, races, backgrounds.  It was everything I could have hoped for!  I sat at the piano and invited Destiny Muhammed to join me onstage for the first tune.

I had been a bit worried about the banter between songs. I enjoy concerts where the artist speaks to the audience, sharing their thought process, the motivation for writing a song, making a joke, telling a story, etc., so I just relaxed and let myself enjoy the conversation with the crowd.

My set list was as follows:

1 Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (with Destiny Muhammed as guest artist)
2 What Child Is This
3 Away in a Manger
4 Original composition
5 Original composition
6 Silent Night (with Kymberly Jackson as guest artist)
7 Original composition
8 Original composition
9 Deck The Halls

Everyone seemed to love my original compositions, and I'm looking forward to doing more writing so that I can release a product in 2012.  I loved having the guest artists perform with me as well.  I've been an accompanist all of my life, so I truly enjoy creating a musical environment for other musicians and working with them in creating a beautiful experience for ourselves and an audience.  Destiny and Kymberly both rocked the house!

After the last piece, I left the stage, and crossed my fingers that I'd get a response asking for an encore.  I was not disappointed.  The crowd went wild, so I quickly changed into another outfit (a really sexy lilac strapless cocktail dress) and sauntered back onto the stage to sing "Santa Baby", which went over very well!

I left the stage with a lovely feeling of accomplishment, relief, joy and gratitude.  I did my best to offer a great show, and everyone seemed to enjoy my performance.

I managed to remember to thank several people before leaving the stage, but I can never thank everyone enough for the support, tough love (when I get distracted by - I must admit - Facebook, email and busy work), encouragement, cleaning house, running errands, making meals, shopping for food, wardrobe and whatever else.  Rodney, mom, Nina, kids, Amy, Sundra, Brad, Maisha, Debra, William, Carla, dad, Brieana, DeWayne, Cecil, Jan, Siana, Jasmine, Sabrina, Clinton, Linda, Randy, Eric, Roz, Tony, Teri, my coaches Raz, Janice, Mr. Bell, Reggie, my hair guru, Joi, my entire family and all of my beautiful friends and fabulous students: what would I do without you???  I love you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart.  If I left out a name, please forgive me, and know that I love you!

Thank you to my band: Daniel Parenti and Billy Johnson!  I loved the way everything worked out!

Thank you to Destiny Muhammed and her lovely trio, Myron and Elliot, and to Kymberly Jackson for sharing the stage.  It was a magical night.

Thank you again to Stephanie Dalton / Urban Music Presents for booking the gig, to Yoshi's for approving the gig, to Keith, Eric and Valentine for making me sound good, and all of the Yoshi's staff for taking care of us.

Until the next time...

Happy holidays everyone!

Blessings & Music,

Victoria

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Victoria Theodore: December Performances

Winter has come too soon...

"Goodnight my angel, now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart there will always be a part of me
Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabies go on and on
They never die
That's how you and I will be...."

-  Billy Joel, "Lullaby"

My dear friends,

 It's with a sad heart that I inform you of the passing of my dear pet, Aki Shima.  Aki died on November 27, while I was out of town.  He provided me with 15 years of love, protection, dedication and fun.  I wrote a short obituary for Aki:

RIP Aki Shima

And his memorial:

Aki Memorial

Musically, everything is going well.  I just performing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show with Stevie Wonder and did a series of radio promotions in Los Angeles.  Here's a link to the Ellen Show:

Stevie Wonder on Ellen 2011

I have a few upcoming shows and, since it's nearly that time of year, I need to remind you of my Christmas CD, Victoria Theodore Christmas!


You can download the CD at any of these online purveyors:


Or, you can purchase a physical CD at my Christmas performance at Yoshi's San Francisco on December 13 (my first time at Yoshi's not being a supporting musician)!  I don't have many actual CDs left, so don't miss out!  I'm performing at Yoshi's on the second night of a series:


Tuesday December 13
and


Monday December 12
and

$12 adv / $16 door 

I'll be inviting a few special guests to join me onstage for my performance.  All of the shows are sure to get you into the holiday spirit!  Come to both nights and demonstrate your support for local music!  What a lovely way to start the holidays!

I'm also performing at Marcello's this coming Saturday night.  This will be my last show of the year at Marcello's.  Remember, there's a drum set there and a PA, so bring your instruments, sing, play or just enjoy the show!  I hope to see you there!

Sat, December 3
7pm - 10pm
Open mic! Come sing! Bring your instrument! Play a song or two with me!
515 San Ramon Valley Boulevard Danville, CA 94526 | 925.838.8144 | map


Sun, Dec 11
11am
Plymouth United Church of Christ
424 Monte Vista Ave. Oakland, CA 94611 | 510.654.5300

Tue, Dec 13
8pm
Urban Music Presents
Women of Jazz Celebrate the Holidays at Yoshi's San Francisco
Destiny Muhammed, Harp-- Victoria Theodore, Piano
1330 Fillmore Street San Francisco, CA 94115 | 415.655.5600 | map
$12 adv / $16 door

Sat, Dec 17
7:30pm
Stevie Wonder
House Full of Toys
Nokia Theatre L.A. Live
777 Chick Hearn Court Los Angeles, CA 90015 | 213.763.6000 | map

Sat, Dec 31
9:30pm
Stevie Wonder
New Year's Eve Concert
The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South Las Vegas, NV 89109 | 702.698.7000 | map

Coming soon...my journey to Brazil...Minha viagem ao Brasil!

Until next time, I wish you all a most beautiful holiday season!  This will be my first holiday season without Aki in 15 years, but I'm blessed to have my other dogs and my beloved friends and family all around me.  Good night, my angel-dog...

Remembering Aki



Aki was the most beautiful dog I'd ever seen.  But more than his physical beauty, his inner beauty stole my heart.  This page is my memorial to my beloved angel-dog, Aki Shima.

Approximately 10 years ago, I created a flash movie as a method of teaching myself to program using Flash.  Aki was my subject, and below is a link to the finished product.  When I first met Aki, in November 1996, he immediately stole my heart.  Ever since watching the Westminster Dog Championships earlier that year, I had been wanting a dog.  At first, I thought that I wanted a Basenji, but Lance, the man I was dating at the time, told me about another breed that he'd found in an online search: the Shiba Inu.

Here's Lance's recollection of acquiring Aki:

"Seems like yesterday, we were set to go to the dog show in Philadelphia, when on that Friday night we opened the mail - and you saw a photo of him - everything changed.   Just a few miles from Canada in Chateaugay, that very cold morning.....he soon warmed things up, entering that room, just weeks old, romping and roaring like a lion, quickly fixed on you - was drawn to you, and he was yours.   Bond formed.  Your guardian in so many ways.   You were his destiny...  As I am fortunate to have witnessed your two first meeting, include and share my sentiments and simple reflection that he was your guardian, truly entered your world like a lion, and not surprisingly has seemingly left like a lamb..."

As a young pup, Aki was small, but his demeanor truly was regal and confident, like I'd image a lion to be.  He was very energetic, as puppies are, and playful.  I worked hard to make sure he was well behaved and for the most part, he obeyed me.  I remember one time, however, he decided that he did not want to listen to me and nipped at me, as if he were warning me about a bite.  I was stunned!  How could this little creature that I loved so much, took care of, walked twice, sometimes three times, per day, turn on me like this?  I was outraged and expressed my anger by briefly yelling at him and then refusing him eye contact for the rest of the day.  He couldn't take it!  He followed me all over the apartment, staring at me, whining, trying to touch me.  But I was firm: no eye contact, no speaking, no touching.  After 24 hours of the cold shoulder, I finally looked at him.  He never defied me again...not in 15 years.  I think we had an understanding.  It was amazing.

Aki lived with me in New York City for the first few years of his life, and then came with me to California.  He adapted well to being part of a pack, and got along very well with both other animals and people (even children).

My most precious memory of Aki is the way he greeted me when I came home.  As a working musician, my hours are often insane, and despite my late night arrivals, Aki would scream at the top of his lungs, causing me to rush into the house and grab him to quiet him.  I suppose I could have (should have) trained him out of that habit, but my ego loved that kind of bolstering.  My doggy missed his mommy!


In the last 2 years of his life, I had a couple of scares.  The veterinarian believes that he might have had a brain tumor, as he experienced 2 seizures (that I know of) and suffered occasional disorientation.  He was on daily medication for a year, which seemed to control the seizures, and he suffered from severe arthritis.  I last walked him on November 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and he was walking decently well with the rest of the pack.  There were no impending signs of his demise, but I knew it was coming.

Enjoy my decade old flash movie. I hope you get a small sense of how great this little dog was.  He truly blessed my life.  Thank you, Aki.  I love you forever...

Aki's Memorial

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RIP Aki Shima

Tonight I arrived home from Los Angeles, and was surrounded by my beautiful family and given the news that I knew was coming but didn't want to hear: my beloved 15 year old "daddy dog", Aki Shima, died while I was out of town this weekend.  According to my mother, who was home at the time, he walked to the side of the house and laid down, seemingly to take a nap and never woke.

Aki was my angel-dog.  My heart.  My baby-dog.  I adopted him when he was 7 weeks old, and cared for, trained and loved him everyday since.  When I was in deep depression, he was my source of hope.  He'd monitor my actions, and when he sensed sadness mounting, he'd run to me, place his paws in my lap and lick the tears away until I smiled.  Whenever he saw my luggage, he'd lay his head on the ground and look up at me with his big brown eyes. Whenever I returned home from being out, he screamed loudly and passionately, as if to say "mommy is home"!!

He stopped playing with toys at around 12 years old, and his body started showing wear and tear over the last 15 months.  I could tell that his days were coming (slowly) to an end.  I walked him for the last time this past Friday morning.  He had a little bit of a limp, but otherwise, seemed ok.  I'm glad that I gave him a big hug before I left.

I arrived home tonight to a beautiful memorial created by my mother and nephew. I will upload the photos of the memorial in a few days.

While I was in LA, I happened to be flipping through my photos and came across a photo of the two of us together.  I felt a twinge of melancholy.  Some sort of emotional awareness?  Coincidence?  Who cares?  I'm just glad that I had a moment to reflect on the love that I shared with my canine friend, my furry defender and supporter. I will always love you, dear Aki Shima.  Rest in Peace, my precious puppy...


Collage created by Leo Fountila

Saturday, November 05, 2011

And now that it's November...


"November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows...."

-  Elizabeth Coatsworth, "November"

Unless you're in California, where we've been enjoying some beautiful sunshine!  It's not supposed to last much longer, but, oh while it lasts, I do love my warm California sun...

Hello friends!

It's been several weeks since I've updated you on my adventures.  I've once more made it south of the equator, this time to South America, and I can't wait to return!  Brazil is fantastic!  I've nearly completed documenting my amazing trip to Rio de Janeiro, and have some beautiful photos for you.  But, for now, some local business:

I have a few upcoming shows and, since it's nearly that time of year, I need to remind you of my Christmas CD, Victoria Theodore Christmas!


You can download the CD at any of these online purveyors:

CD BabyiTunesVictoria Theodore StoreEmusic

Or, you can purchase a physical CD at my Christmas performance at Yoshi's San Francisco on December 13 (my first time at Yoshi's not being a supporting musician)!  I don't have many actual CDs left, so don't miss out!  I'm performing at Yoshi's on the second night of a series:


Tuesday December 13
and


Monday December 12
and

$12 adv / $16 door 

I'll be inviting a few special guests to join me onstage for my performance.  All of the shows are sure to get you into the holiday spirit!  Come to both nights and demonstrate your support for local music!  What a lovely way to start the holidays!

I'm also performing at Marcello's this coming Saturday night.  Thanks to my fantastic summer of world travel (Greece, Curaçao, Brazil...wow!), I haven't performed at Marcello's in a while.  Make plans to enjoy dinner and a show at Marcello's!  The theme will be (of course) Thanksgiving and Gratitude - maybe I'll even write a tune on the subject.  Remember, there's a drum set there and a PA, so bring your instruments, sing, play or just enjoy the show!  I hope to see you there!

Sat, November 19
8:30pm - 11:30pm
Open mic! Come sing! Bring your instrument! Play a song or two with me!
515 San Ramon Valley Boulevard Danville, CA 94526 | 925.838.8144 | map

Coming soon...my journey to Brazil...Minha viagem ao Brasil!

Until then, I wish you all a very happy, gratitude filled Thanksgiving!  I'm grateful for your support, encouragement, kindness and love.  Keep sending it my way!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits!  Deep in the heart of Texas, or at least what I’d imagine is the heart of Texas. I’m not really sure.  In any case, I had a great time!  We arrived arrived at the hotel, and headed off in search of some food.  Judith and I walked around town, spying painted cows everywhere!

Painted cow
Apparently, they’re painted and auctioned off as fundraisers for children’s hospitals.  So cute!  Walking back to the hotel, I noticed the beautiful sunset and had to take a photo.  No matter where, or how often I have the chance to watch a sunset, it never ceases to amaze me with its beauty.

Sunset in Austin
Time to go to the headliner shows on Friday night!  Judith, Lanesha and I walked out of the hotel and selected a pedi-cab to give us a ride to the festival.  We chose the best one!  Christopher (of Bike Pimps) not only is a very cool guy, but also had a boom box playing a killer setlist of funk, raggae and soul music.  We were rolling down the street, hair flying in the breeze, not worry or care in mind.  Ah!

Judith, Lanesha, Me
I’m a big fan of Coldplay, but also respect the work of Kanye West, though admittedly, I don’t know his music as well as I know Coldplay’s.  According to the schedule, Coldplay was supposed to go on first, with Kanye starting a while later.  Unfortunately, they both went on at about the same time, leaving me in the dilemma of making a choice!  Since I’d already had the chance to watch Coldplay perform when I was in Stockholm, Sweden, I decided to watch about 15 minutes of Coldplay and then head to Kanye West’s show.  They were both very good, but I wish I could have had a better view.  We were standing down by stage left, and could only see everything from an angle.  But the set, lights and dancers were amazing!

video
Cold play

video
Kayne West

video
Riding with Christopher back to the hotel

The next day, right before Stevie’s show, Cee Lo Green performed.  He has an all female band that was rocking hard!  Cee Lo was cool about having Stevie's band watch from backstage, but since we had to do hair and makeup, Judith and I went to get food first, and then came to Cee Lo's show about 30 minutes into it.  I did get to hear "Crazy" and "F You", so it was a fun show!

video
Cee Lo Green

As always, Stevie was brilliant, funky, beautiful, inspiring, heartwarming, etc.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have such a great job!

Stevie in the show

After the show

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Curaçao 2011

On Thursday, September 1, I flew to Los Angeles to meet up with the rest of the band for our travel to Curaçao. We had 2 guest musicians in the band for this show: Jesus Diaz, an amazing Cuban percussionist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and incredible rising superstar singer/pianist/songwriter, Judith Hill (famous for her turn as background singer for the ill-fated Michael Jackson “This Is It” tour). Both very cool people!

The band departed for Curaçao early Friday morning, and spent the entire day in the air. We arrived at the hotel Friday night, greeted warmly by the staff with bottles of cool water. We all settled in and broke into our groups: everyone wanting to take advantage of the variety of musical performances of the night. Judith, Jesus and I headed to the venue to watch Earth, Wind and Fire. What a show! I sang along with the hits and built up a good sweat as I danced. After their show, we headed back stage to meet the stars, all of whom were gracious and kind. The next performer was Sting. He was walking around backstage, but as I never want to disrupt artists before they perform, I didn’t bother him. We all headed out to watch his show, and again I sang along and danced my heart out. After the show, I headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Philip Bailey and me

Sting and Philip Bailey

Judith Hill, me and Ralph Johnson 

Me and Verdine White

Me and Branford Marsalis
The next morning I was awakened by Lanesha, calling to tell me that our lobby call was at noon. Generally we don't have lobby call until around 2:30 or 3pm, so I was still in bed at 11am. I rushed into the shower, threw on my workout clothes, headed down to eat some fruit at the tail end of the breakfast buffet, and then headed to the lobby to wait for the bus to the venue. As I stood waiting, I noticed that Sting was sitting in the lobby next to Lanesha. Given that I had not taken advantage of the chance to take a photo with him at the venue the night before, I walked over and asked him if I could take a photo with him. He said "yes, but only because you're pretty". Wow! Complimented by Sting!


After the photo, I sat next to him and casually moved into a conversation after having introduced myself, and reminding him that I’d played for him once before (Madison Square Garden in 2009 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert). He was very cool, and easy to talk to. I was thrilled to be having a conversation with one of my musical heroes!

Sting left and we all soon boarded the bus for the venue. After sound check, I returned to the hotel and took a nap, got dressed and then back to the venue for dinner. As I stood in line, I noticed a tall man whom I immediately recognized as Chucho Valdes.  Wow!  I asked Jesus to take a photo and then turned my attention to dinner.
Me and Chucho Valdes
The food was not good, so I ended up eating an apple and a few chips. Not enough to last all night, but it was something.  Ignoring my growling, belly, I prepared myself for the show in my usual manner: played through a few tunes from memory (I never really know what Stevie will choose to perform), apply my make up, dramatize my hair and don a sexy dress!



Photos from the show



Me, Judith, Lanesha, Aisha
We started this show with Stevie's rendition of "How Sweet It Is", and then dove right into a series of Stevie hits. We were also joined by musical legends Dionne Warwick (performing "That's What Friends are For") and Philip Bailey (performing "Love's Holiday" and "Shining Star"). It was a fun night! After the show, we all enjoyed a delicious meal (thank GOD) and the company of friends at a late night beach party. I didn't go to bed until 7am, but given that Sunday was an off day, I didn't mind brutally shifting my sleep clock.

The next day, I slept until 1:30pm! I didn't have a real plan for the day, but I never worry about such things, given my close relationship with Serendipity (check out my Greek blog for more on that!). I did some yoga, took a shower, ate an apple and an energy bar and headed downstairs with the intention of going for a walk around the hotel grounds. Upon exiting the elevator, I ran into Fausto and he invited me to come along to a birthday party where I could swim. Perfect timing! I ran back up to my room, threw on my bikini under my workout clothes and zipped into the car with a couple of band members. We drove for about 30 minutes towards a beach - which one? I have no idea! We stopped along the way for a snack. I ate a tuna empanada and a bottle of ice-cold water. Unfortunately, that was just about all of the water I had for the day. Bad decision that I paid for later.

We arrived at the party, and immediately were met with warm smiles, music, dancing and delicious food. It was a party for local bass player, Ernesto Paz, and many of the guests were musicians. Drums and drummers were most highly represented – divine! After about an hour of listening, singing and dancing, some folks started heading into the water. Cue the scary strings and chromatic diminished chords! Let me explain: the house was on a cliff, and the only way into the water was to either jump from an elevated ledge, or to climb down a ladder. Not exactly the kind of swimming I'd envisioned!

I've never been a good swimmer, and I do realize that it's completely in my mind - some kind of mental block that I'm now determined to overcome - so I was apprehensive about getting into the very deep water. But Errol and Fausto and several other people were having such a great time...and it was painfully hot in the sunshine...and I was wearing my bikini...and it did look fun...so I went for it! Oh no! I didn't jump! I climbed down the ladder, step by careful step, and splash! I joined the party – wearing my little floaty toy around my bikini. Since I didn’t have to work as hard as everyone else, I stayed in the water a long, long time. It was heavenly.

Ernesto and the ladies!

Tamara Nivillac and me
The diving platform

Me and Taco van Dijk

Amazingly clear water

video
Music!

video
Jumping into the water!

Climbing into the water!
Here I am in the water!  I did it!

Sunset ... wow!

Good times...


Me and Maruja Bogaard
After finally coming out of the water, I danced some more and started to feel fatigue. So, I headed back to the hotel (thanks to Maruja Bogaard and her family) and went to bed. Lobby call was horribly early, so I only slept about 4 hours, skipped breakfast, didn’t drink enough water and boarded the flight to Miami. I usually fall asleep very easily on airplanes and this was no exception. However, after about an hour in the air, I woke up with a jolt. I couldn’t breathe well, I was sweating profusely, my heart was racing and I started to feel terribly dizzy. Then I noticed that my vision was narrowing, closing into a dark haze in the shape of a collapsing circle. I had no idea what was going on. It was absolutely terrifying.

Thankfully, I’m a long time practitioner of yoga and know how to focus my breathing to eliminate stress. I close my eyes and started regulating my breathing, thinking that a relaxed flow of oxygen could only help. It did. It took about 5 minutes, but my vision finally starting normalizing and I was able to get up and walk to the back of the airplane and tell the flight attendants. One of the women looked at me and immediately asked if I’d eaten anything. I said no. She swiftly sat me down and calmly served me cup after cup of orange juice, and insisted that I eat 2 boxes of raisins, a bunch of crackers and some cheese. She said that I was showing clear signs of low blood sugar. Apparently, by staying in the water, exposing my head to the intense sun (which I was blissfully unaware of since the water was cool), and not drinking enough water and skipping breakfast and lunch, I’d set myself up for both dehydration and low blood sugar. Not a fun combination. I do not recommend it! I didn’t feel totally normal again for at least 5 hours. Lesson learned. Ah, Curaçao…

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Greece 2011

Serendipity: the occurrence of events in a happy or beneficial way

My recent trip to Greece was a veritable case study of serendipity. In fact, the coincidences were so stunning and joy inducing that even I (she of the fabulous life) was left in awe. Nearly every day was filled with wonder, adventure, art, history, music, food, friends and fun. I had learned a few weeks before traveling that I would be performing with Stevie Wonder for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics. Aha! This could be my opportunity to take a break and rejuvenate myself! I’m a terrible workaholic and hadn’t taken a real vacation since 2005 when I went to Belize with a dear friend. Immediately, I requested an extension of my return flight so that I could take advantage of being on the other side of the planet in a country renowned for its beauty and culture. And thus the serendipity began...

Last year, I met a beautiful artist named Alexia Vassiliou, a singer from Greece who now lives in Los Angeles. She happened call me the day after I learned of my upcoming trip and was curious about my possibly performing with her in Greece. Unfortunately, our timing was off for performing together at that time, but Alexia was fundamental in aligning the stars so that I could have a fantastic time in her home country.

I arrived in Athens on Thursday morning, June 23 at 1:30am, after having spent 10 hours in Los Angeles on a lay over from San Francisco, flying for 11 hours to Zurich, and another 5 hour lay over before finally flying to Athens. Phew! My room did not have a view of the Acropolis, but the sight still managed to inspire pause. Naturally, having eaten my fill and made my requisite “yes, I’m here and I’m ok…no I don’t see any riots…yes, they have security in this hotel” phone calls, I drifted to sleep for a lovely nap before the 2:30pm lobby call for sound check. The weather was hot, but our outdoor performance stage was covered so that we could tolerate being outdoors for more than 10 minutes.

For this show, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., joined the band. Ronald is not just an amazingly talented drummer, but also quite hilarious. He kept everyone laughing with his quick wit and relentless humor. We never knew what he’d seize upon next!

Kallimarmaron Panathenaikon Stadium

Sound check was for the most part uneventful (except for my keyboard not being connected correctly at first, and the overhead sun-blocking fabric falling onto Ronald’s drum set – while he was sitting there), despite the sweltering heat. Afterwards, the band went to dinner together and enjoyed some delicious Greek fare. I discovered that a traditional Greek salad (a standard item for each of my meals while in Greece) has no lettuce! Who knew? After dinner, we headed back to the venue for a full rehearsal. Several thousand people were present for the rehearsal (mostly the volunteers and their families). No one had warned us that we'd be performing for a crowd, so it was a bit surprising. We played through a few songs and headed back to the hotel again. One of the volunteers for the Special Olympics told me that I should visit the roof of the hotel to see the view of the Acropolis, so I joined my band mates for a trip to the rooftop.

The view is stunning and fatigue or not, I didn't want to miss it! I took a few photos, had a drink with the guys (yeah, plain water for me – the geek) and breathed in the night air while enjoying the sight of the Acropolis. Just before I was going to head to my room, the fabulous
Vanessa Williams and me
Vanessa Williams stepped out onto the roof top. At first, we were all a bit nervous about inviting her over to our sectional, but a couple of us finally spoke up and greeted her. She smiled, joined us and chatted with the band for over an hour. She is definitely one of the friendliest, most down-to-earth celebrities I've met. She's brilliant, fascinating, funny, cool and ridiculously beautiful. I've always been a fan, but now she's an inspiration!

On Friday morning, the entire group went sightseeing to the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis. Amazing!









After sight-seeing, I joined Fausto and Errol on a trip into the Monstiraki neighborhood. Errol had learned of a sandal store, featuring custom shoes made by the “Poet Sandal Maker of Athens”. An easy trip, we hopped on the subway, rode 2 stops and then walked a couple of blocks to the store. I bought my first pair of custom made sandals, cut and glued together on my very own feet! They’re simple, but extremely comfortable.

The Poet Sandal Maker and me
After rehearsal, Fenia, who had been the guide assigned to work with the band, went with me to find a local restaurant for dinner. The guys in the band wanted burgers and other American food. Being the foodie that I am, I wanted to eat something delicious and authentically Greek. We ended up dining at a restaurant near the hotel and I had a delicious meal of grilled chicken on a skewer with roasted vegetables. Yummy!

As we walked back to the hotel, Fenia and I ran into a woman who introduced herself as Christina. Christina had been on her way to a fashion party on the rooftop and insisted that I join her. Granted, I’d been walking around all day in my shorts, tee shirt and sneakers (not exactly fashion presentable), but I think both Christina and I knew that if I went to my hotel room, I’d be going to sleep. So, casual gear and all, we went into the party. Christina is a journalist and has many friends in the fashion business. She introduced me to several of her friends and we all had a good time dancing and chatting. After about 90 minutes, I was burned out and bid everyone a good night. My pillow was calling…



I woke up too late for the free breakfast on Saturday (darn!), but had made arrangements to meet with Alexia’s friend, Nicos. Do you hear the sound of angels singing? Well, you should, because Nicos is a saint! I could not have asked for a better friend, guide, porter, dining companion, language instructor and translator!


Nicos met me in the hotel lobby and transported me to an authentic, traditional Greek restaurant called Thio Portes (two doors). We rode in a taxi into a neighborhood that was a bit rough (despite the heat, the taxi driver promptly rolled up the windows as we approached our destination). We exited the taxi and walked towards what looked like an abandoned building, and ducked down a steep flight of stairs into a dark, cool basement. There were 5 or so tables, each filled with patrons, and the fragrance of Greek spices in the air. We sat at a small table in a corner and waited for one of the larger tables to become available (about a 20 minute wait) before the chef would consider bringing us any food. At the table to our right, was a pair of Chinese tourists, cameras in tow. They finished their meal and promptly began snapping photos of the chef before continuing their journey. Finally, Nicos and I were seated at what had been their table.


Within minutes, the table was set and bread and water swiftly appeared before us. However, no menu was to be found. Nicos explained that we were to walk into the kitchen and tell the chef which of the prepared dishes we wanted to be served. We walked up to the stove and peeked into the pots, all of which were filled with food that smelled terrifically delicious. We decided upon Greek salad (of course!), potato and eggplant stew, grilled mackerel and thick sliced of grilled bread. After about 45 minutes, Nicos’ friends Jiula, Maria and Lita joined us. Our meal lasted for 2.5 delicious hours. As we enjoyed our extended meal, 2 tables crowded with mostly Greek men, who were drinking copious amounts of ouzo, entertained us with their enthusiastic renditions of traditional Greek songs. I wish I’d have had the thought to record them, but I was under such a blissful spell from my meal, I didn’t think of it. Opa! I did manage to ask the somewhat grumpy chef for a photo.


After a meal like that, all I could do was go back to the hotel and take a nap before getting dressed for the show. The performance was broadcast live with a terrific audience cheering us on! We performed 5 songs, including “That’s What Friends Are For” with Vanessa Williams. We didn’t stay to watch the remaining festivities, instead heading to dinner and dancing at a posh venue in Athens near the beach.

On Sunday morning, I woke up late and again missed breakfast. I needed the sleep more than I needed food. At noon, I met Nicos in the lobby and checked out of the hotel. Nicos insisted on carrying my luggage to the subway station, onto the train and into my hotel. Told you! A saint…his kindness nearly brought tears to my eyes. Nicos had found me another hotel, A for Athens, right in the heart of the Monastiraki district, literally around the corner from a convenient subway entrance. My original hotel charged €350 per night…um…I don’t think so! Restaurants and shopping were in abundance, the room was clean and quiet; and, best of all, the hotel was entirely smoke free! Just about everyone in Greece smokes, so this hotel was a welcome respite from tobacco, especially given how allergic I am. We planted my luggage in my new digs, and headed to lunch on a street along the train route. As we finished our meals, Nicos’ sister and cousin, both of whom share the name Eleni, joined us and we all headed on a walking tour of the ruins near Monastiraki. Ruins are everywhere in Greece!
The view from the 6th floor terrace



Me at the Acropolis





Modern buildings are erected in direct abutment to the ruins and the juxtaposition is mind-boggling. It must be amazing to have that level of direct access to one’s history. We ended up at the Acropolis (my 2nd visit), and again I felt an incredible surge of energy as I stood before the temples, scanned the landscape below and imagined who might have stood in the same spot 1,000 years ago. Exhausted after extensive walking in intense heat, I went to bed at 8pm and slept soundly.

I woke up early on Monday morning, repacked my suitcase and headed to the airport on the subway. Simple. Once in the airport waiting area, I checked my email for more details about where exactly I was going. Home? Not yet! A few days before I left for Greece, I had received an email message from my dear friend and college roommate, Persephone (not Greek, despite the name). She informed me that she would be on a Greek island during the week after Stevie’s performance. She was going to be participating in a Music / Alexander Technique seminar, and suggested that I join her there. As a matter of fact, I had been inquiring about Alexander Technique just a few days before she contacted me. Did I mention the word serendipity? On Sunday evening, I did an online search for a flight to Skiathos and a ferry to Skopelos. There were 2 flights available, 1 leaving town on Monday, and 1 returning on Thursday. There was 1 seat available on each of these flights, and I got them. Also, there was a massive general strike planned in Athens on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I’d be missing since I’d be on a Greek island. Awesome timing, non?

The only hitch: I had no idea where I was actually going in Skopelos. Persephone told me how to get there (flight and ferry), but never did send an actual address. Hm… So, there I sat in the airport waiting area. I boarded the plane, flew for about 20 minutes, and landed on Skiathos. I found my way to the ticket booth so that I could buy my ferry ticket. Apparently, there was no ferry leaving for another 5 hours because the airlines and ferry operators apparently don’t coordinate schedules (a ploy to get travelers to stay and shop in Skiathos, no doubt). I would get to Skopelos after dark, but how could I complain? I was on a Greek island! But what to do with this suitcase? Looking around, I noticed a couple from Hong Kong handing their luggage to a restaurant owner and sitting down to lunch. I followed suit. I lunched on a salad (not Greek this time) and then took a walk around the beautiful island.







I walked past a group of high school kids, sitting and holding music binders. A concert! Excited, I sat down and accepted a program from the young girl handing them out (fully in Greek, but the start time was clearly listed as 7:30pm). 7:30pm came and went. 7:45pm came and went. 8pm came and went. 8:15. Finally, at about 8:20pm, the director started speaking. My ferry was scheduled to depart at 9:45pm, so I wanted to be in place no later than 9pm to be sure I didn’t miss it. After all, who knew when the next would be? 8:40pm, the director was still talking…in Greek. No singing yet. Frustrated, I gave them until 8:50pm, and though they started to perform, the music was really slow and quiet. I had no patience left for gentle soft music, so I headed back to the restaurant and picked up my suitcase. I sat at the ferry dock, watching the sun descend behind the hills. Beautiful.

The ferry arrived on time, at 9:45pm. I boarded along with a mass of other people who appeared at the last minute (there were only 3 other people who sat and waited the 45 minutes with me). The ride was brief, maybe 15 minutes, which makes it all the more confusing as to why they didn’t run the ferry more often. I exited the ferry, still utterly unaware of where to go, hoping that Persephone would meet me at the dock in Skopelos. Car after car pulled up and took off with their expected guests. Finally, it was just me and the resident coast guard officer. He headed back to his office and I walked in the same direction. I almost walked into the office to ask him if he knew anything about a music seminar centered around Alexander Technique. Random question, I was aware, but worth a shot. However, my intuition told me to stay put, standing outside the office in the sliver of light from the nearby lamppost. I stood, happily enjoying the night air, not allowing myself to worry about being in a strange place after 10pm, unable to communicate with anyone, without a functioning phone. I was confident that everything would work out, as it always does. And suddenly I hear “Vicki?”; a group of women were walking past the lamppost, and one of them spotted me. Voila! Apparently, no one had any idea of when I would be arriving, and I hadn’t been on any of the earlier ferries. So Persephone and the group had all gone to dinner. They were leaving the restaurant on the way back to the hotel when they saw me. Awesome timing, again! After taking me to my “hotel” – a lovely building with no indication of address or title beyond the generic sign stating “Rooms”, Persephone walked me to a restaurant so I could get something to eat. Sleep was a pleasant and welcome treat.

I passed my days on Skopelos practicing yoga, playing piano, accompanying Persephone and Mary, a violist from the New York City Opera, had an Alexander Technique lesson with Criss, one of the multi-talented organizers of the seminar, sleeping, eating and enjoying the beach.















I woke up at 5:30am on Thursday morning in order to catch the ferry back to Skiathos. Criss and Persephone accompanied me to the dock, where I again encountered the couple from Hong Kong. We exited the ferry together in Skiathos, and after a short conversation agreed to catch a cab together back to the airport. We had to wait 4 hours for the flight, so we ate breakfast and passed the time by showing each other our photographs of the trip. They were on their honeymoon, and Greece was just one of their stops. At the airport, Martin (the new husband) wanted to venture out to the end of the runway, where the planes are close enough for people to stand and watch the take off from the roadside. I’d never seen a hazard sign with an airplane on it…and it was there for good reason! It’s completely insane to stand in the path of a jet blast. Martin’s wife and I took a photo and promptly returned to the airport, with Martin not far behind.




The flight back to Athens was uneventful, as was the trip on the subway back to the hotel. I had reserved the same room in the hotel, but when I arrived, they offered me an even better room at the same rate. Awesome! I decided to go to dinner alone and to spend the rest of the evening writing a song. After about an hour, I slipped into deep sleep.

A jackhammer woke me up on Friday morning just before 9am. I had the impulse to find a yoga class, so I did a quick search on my computer and found an Anusara class near the hotel. I threw on my workout clothes and jogged over to Bhavana Yoga Center, where I had a class with the founder, Konstantinos Charantiniotis. Konstantinos was kind enough to teach the class in English and is an excellent teacher (and quite easy on the eyes). I had a solid work out and then walked back to the hotel for breakfast. My dear friend René Decker, a brilliant musician and composer, was going to be arriving in Athens later in the day, and my next task was to find a recording studio. I posted a message online asking for help in finding a studio in Athens, and I garnered a heap of responses. Nicos managed to come up with a winner: One Way Recording in the neighborhood of Marusi. I contacted the owner, Patroklos, who gave me directions via train from Monastiraki to Marusi. Patroklos had lived in Los Angeles for many years, so his English is perfect.

I waited for René to arrive from the airport, and then once he was settled, we headed to the train station. Unfortunately, I decided to speak to a station attendant to confirm the directions to Marusi, and ended up on a train going the exact opposite direction. However, I didn’t realize my mistake until I’d already traveled 30 minutes the wrong way (thanks to there being stadiums on each end of the train line – I focused on the wrong one!). This was particularly disconcerting for me because I pride myself on my excellent sense of direction. I guess I was having an off day!

A very cool photo that René took of me on the way to Marusi

After a 90-minute travel fiasco, René and I made it to Marusi, where Pat met us at the station. We walked to his brand new studio and got right to work. I composed 2 tunes, one up-tempo and one ballad, both of which I really like. Fenia met us at the studio and the 4 of us went to dinner in town. The Greeks have a much more reasonable sense of restaurant patronage than restaurants here in California. On more than one occasion, I was able to have a delicious, healthy meal after midnight. When I’m home, slim are the quality dining options after 10pm. However, given that we didn’t finish dinner until nearly 1am, there were no trains available to take us back to the hotel. So, René and I hired a cab to get back to Monastiraki. For some reason, I didn’t sleep well Friday night. Maybe because I knew that my time in Greece was coming to an end.

On Saturday morning, I went back to the Bhavana Yoga Center and took a class with Georgia, who spoke only a moderate amount of English and therefore conducted the class in Greek. I didn’t have any problems though, since I can follow body movement very well. After class, I went back to the hotel, but found that the cleaning staff was making my room. So, I headed up to the terrace to bide my time by staring at the Acropolis. While there, I struck up a conversation with a Frenchman named Philippe, who was taking a few days off in Athens, and who happened to have also attended Stanford. René joined us and discovered that he and Philippe know a musician in common. What a small world! Once Nicos joined us, I headed to my room to get dressed while the gents chatted. Since it was my last day in Athens, I set the agenda: sightseeing, shopping, dinner and dancing.

I felt like a superstar with a fabulous entourage! René, Philippe, Nicos and I visited the Acropolis museum and the Acropolis (again!), but didn’t make it all the way to the top this time. Nonetheless, I once more felt that amazing surge of energy. Next, it was time for souvenir gathering. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m frugal (not cheap) but don’t like to buy a bunch of junk. I like to buy souvenirs for my loved ones that will be useful. Thanks again to Nicos, I found everything that I wanted at great prices! Back at the hotel, we all dressed for an evening out, met for drinks on the rooftop and then headed to dinner.


Nikos took me to where they serve the best Tabuleh salad in Athens!

A passing turtle!

Me and my entourage

Getting ready to hit the town!



Party the night away!
Sunrise and goodbye's
By the time our meal arrived, there was a large group of people: me, René, Nicos, Philippe, Patroklos, Evi, Eleni, Christina and a friend of hers whose name I’ve forgotten. Once we finished dinner, everyone gathered their belongings and headed toward the neighborhood labeled “gassy” (named for being a district in which a former gas plant still stood). We danced; we talked, and tried to push through the flagging energy to watch the sunrise. At 7am, I hugged and kissed my entourage and jetted into the hotel to shower and pack. Once I sat in my cozy, business class seat, I was ready to doze off, and would have, except for the announcement by the pilot that another airplane had just broken down directly behind our airplane. Uh-oh. I had a connecting flight to catch in the USA. That announcement meant I had even less time to deal with customs and make it to my new gate. We sat…and sat…and sat. Finally, after over 90 minutes had passed, the other airplane was pulled out of the way and we took off. Well aware that I had a connecting flight, the flight attendants didn’t think I had any chance of making my flight. After landing, I exited the airplane and ran to customs. A massive line of travelers stood before me. Once in line, I pleaded with people in front of me, asking for permission to pass them, and all but one man happily pushed me along so that I could make my flight (boooooo to him!). I made it through customs easily and took off running again. I made it! And so did my luggage, because…my connecting flight had been delayed. Ah, serendipity.