From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The PacNW Honeymoon

Before sunset I traipsed down my new street in raggedy work-out clothes toward Peninsula Park. As I jogged past a wall of ivy, a ray of sunshine hit my path, exposing a swarm of gnats that my face had just begun to pass through. I gagged a bit as a couple went up my nose, but was soon pounding on my way, following the sun ray. I turned a corner and almost gasped as the ray hit the fountain in the center of the park. The light had that soft-goodbye-in-the-evening quality, and it caught the fountain’s spewing arms to scatter rainbows over the roses surrounding it. A woman in a hijab chased her barefoot daughter across the cobblestones. A bearded smoker wearing aviators chuckled, his whole body convulsing, and took another puff, which mixed with the pollen, water, and herbal aromas that made my nostrils smile.

That has been my typical moment in Portland. I’ll explain this further after I say…

Three cheers for SoCal.

It’s a vivacious anomaly. 10 million people (and that’s an outdated stat) call it home, despite its total lack of water or organization (downtown is an hour drive from the ocean, which is an hour drive from Hollywood…give or take traffic on the worst freeway in the world, the 405). Nowhere else can you find Korean tacos, thriving dude/bro culture, a greater population of movie stars and fancy cars, or better year-round weather.

That said, three HUNDRED cheers for Portland.

There are certainly things I can do without in this city. Like the fact that it’s 80% white (versus LA’s 30%). Or the swarms of gnats. I have a newfound appreciation—adoration, even—for spiders. I’ve even named the two in my basement room and bathroom (Sarah and Jack…don’t ask). Bugs are a reality because the city and living situation are much more earthy than in LA, where industry and chemicals have driven bugs (and green) away.

Portland’s rough and wriggling dirtiness, its cracked sidewalks through which beech roots burst, its lounging hippies and organic brews, all take their place in my current honeymoon life. I’m sure I’ll grow disenchanted with this place someday (anyone who’s read my San Sebastian blogs knows that even the paradises of the world grow tiresome), but right now, I’m feeling just how perfect Portland and I are for each other.

My best friend Molly was here during my first week. There wasn’t a moment where we weren’t doing something, and where we didn’t have a million opportunities to do something else which was just as cool. One Thursday night we went to Alberta Street’s Last Thursday, which gathers the artists and bohemian youth of Portland in an open-gallery, musician-strewn block party. We saw firedancers and a man balancing his pitbull on his tattooed head. We went to an organic brewers festival, where all the beer was so environmentally friendly that even the energy used to produce it was solar. We spent three or four hours wandering through Powell’s City of Books, the largest bookstore in the world, and then settled down to read (she, A Wrinkle in Time, I, Nicaragua for Beginners) in the famous café next door where’s its said sexy singles hang out (uh, other than the two of us, there was a 50-year-old fella with a long gray ponytail, and a Christian couple talking the Book of Elijah over espresso). We took the MAX (the oh-so-convenient metro system) to the Portland Saturday Market, where our favorite tent sported vintage, hand-made journals. We split bread pudding at an Irish pub. We walked twenty-five blocks to a grocery co-op. We watched Date Night at a pub-theatre called McMenamin’s while lounging on sofas.

Molly’s gone, and other than my 9-5 work days with CRS, I’m continuing to live it up. I go for jogs in Forest Park, the largest (urban park in the country, where ancient trees protect me from skin cancer (try finding shade under a palm tree). I walked a couple blocks down the street to get a library card and check out Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Tomorrow my Aunt’s family and I are headed downtown for the World Cup third place match, a human trafficking protest, and a swim in a city fountain (it’s 90 degrees up here during the day).

I’m sorry if this is a long post, but I think I’m getting my point across—I think this city and I are going to be great friends, at least for a while. It’s an excellent place to spend a few months preparing for the 2-year journey of a lifetime. Adios SoCal, and LongLive the PacNW Honeymoon.

Yep, Multnomah Falls and I are going to be tight.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Last European Musical Hurrah

“Sorry, haven’t had time to write…” Boy, if I had a penny for every time…

I giggle that I think I don’t have time now, and five months from now I’ll be in Nicaragua. The JVs (Jesuit Volunteers) down there now are lucky to blog every month. So I’d better make this good.

To be fair, I have been busy, in a way I’m not used to. I work full time for Catholic Relief Services now, and spent three and a half weeks training for them in San Diego (see last post). Then I sorta went to Italy.


Yeah so…Loyola Marymount’s three choruses, plus friends and family, toured Rome, Venice, Florence and a couple cute villages for nine days, performing concerts and singing masses. Highlight (of the trip, and of my life): singing in the Sistine Chapel.

“But Heather, you can’t even talk in there.”

Oh, if you’ve got money, you can scream your lungs off. With some generous donations from the Dean of the music dept and the Pres of LMU, the choruses paid for a private night tour of the Vatican, complete with a solo visit into the Chapel, where we sang for 15 minutes.

You enter the room and you leave reality and enter a dream. Michelangelo’s dream, where the colors and figures overwhelm you, and the air smells like the weight

of the ages. I glanced away from the walls and ceiling for a minute and saw all my peers gawking. Dr. Breden, our director, told us to line up to sing. We thought she was nuts. We get a half hour in here and you want us to spend it singing?

What I didn’t know was, the Sistine Chapel has perfect acoustics.

It’s relatively short and narrow with an arched ceiling, and the room is entirely empty. I.e. the sound doesn’t bounce or get trapped; it floats up and out. We sang Tu Es Petrus, O Tebe Raduyetsia, and my choir, the Women’s Chorus, got a solo with the most beautiful rendition of Tota Pulchra Es that I’ve ever heard (as soon as videos of our own performances are available, I'll post them...this is just to give an idea of what each piece sounds like).

When we fell silent, our sound hung in the room for a full minute. It was as if invisible angels were singing the echo back to us.

I was overwhelmed with life and emotion and bawled as we left the Vatican. Think I’m silly? Everyone else was bawling too.

Not to downplay the rest of the trip. I loved hanging out with choir friends, meeting new people, seeing the masterpieces of the art world, and singing a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a phenomenal curtain call for my classical music career. What I’ve got left, I venture, are prayer services and masses in Nicaragua J.

Stay tuned for a report from the coolest summer city in the US…Portland, OR.

Oh, and if you love me, I’m still fundraising. Please donate a buck or two that you’d otherwise toss out a window (?). Follow the directions at the following link: Send Me to Serve!!