Monday, November 28, 2011

102 Below

It's pitch black over the North Pole. Peeking out the portal over the shoulder of a dozing Chinese businessman (he’s in textiles) we’re moments from what is literally the top of the world. Due south Prudhoe Bay and Alaska lead to Honolulu. Other than that its blue water or white ice till the Antarctic ice shelves – more ice, just ice covering a landmass. Really, you could come up on Africa without ever seeing land before the coastline came into view. An entire globe covered in salt wet water and solid fresh water; the domain of great blue whales and marine life capable of circumnavigating the planet.

The dateline is about 20 minutes away and, over the equator, its high noon. But winter is in force below – out the cabin window its 102 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) – a temperature I’ve never seen before.

At the Bearing Sea, for a 30 mile stretch, its just water to Antarctica. No a spit of land for 10,000 miles; for an entire half the earth.

Nightfall is over the East Coast. Its 5:44 and dark in DC on Thanksgiving weekend Sunday. At 3,400 miles traveled we’re less than halfway to Shanghai. The 8-inch view screen shows you a globe made so very, very small, tickling you with the Chuckchi and North Bearing Seas. Morning has come to Tokyo and all of Australia is in broad daylight in mid-summer. Nightfall will be close by the time we land.

Somehow all of that is visible real-time on this tiny monitor pulling its signal from a GPS satellite 17,000 miles above us (GPS satellites are in geo-synchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the surface, so were about a quarter of the way there) in this metal and plastic machine burning a form of kerosene (a uniquely gifted substance with a stunning greenhouse gas signature) hurtling 36,000 feet over the ice sheets on a black, black night. Yet if you could look up the stars would probably blow you away. And what the Hell is Agana and what’s it doing on this map?

What we do routinely now was impossible until 50 years ago, when jumbo jets capable of flying over the North Pole came online. Of course in those days we didn’t fly to China. We’d fought a real war with them in Korea in the 50s and something of a proxy war with them in Vietnam is the 60s and 70s. And it wasn’t till Nixon in 72 that we even started down the path we walk (or fly) now. Yet today (or yesterday since we crossed the dateline about 5 minutes ago and so now its Monday morning not Sunday night) Francisco and I left for Shanghai on one flight out of Newark, Kathryn, Rob and Amanda on another out of O’Hare and Christian left LAX on still another all bound non-stop for Shanghai and all landing within 60 minutes of one another – every seat sold on all three.

There’s nothing like 13 hour time-difference jet lag where you leave your house at 5 in the morning on one day and get to your destination at 3 in the afternoon the next day. You can’t quantify it. And I’d say you just have to experience it but……

Beth SMS’s me just before we left Newark asking when we could trade lives.

The trip to Shanghai is a dream come true for an endless array of reasons. For me, in this moment, the biggest is Friday afternoon at 3pm. In China there’s an instrument, a one-stringed thing that bears a minimal resemblance to a violin (essentially because it has a string and a bow) and which makes the most exquisite sounds I think I’ve ever heard. In 15 years of choreography I’ve never stopped wanting to collaborate with someone playing one. Friday I get my wish. At a program of senior Shanghai officials and some of the team from the US Consulate General in Shanghai we dance “Falling” as a part of the Opening Ceremony of the Festival. With an erhu placer as our soundscape.


On stage.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Outbound - Shanghai/Tel Aviv 11.27.11

Washington National Airport
Sunday, December 27, 2011

And, of course, its never easy.

When you deal with last minute trips and people from any assortment of different countries the reality is you can never do too much checking, because the thing you don't fully investigate will be the thing which trips you up.

Take, for example, Francisco Campos-Lopez. Francisco was added last-minute to the Shanghai itinerary to film the two-week program and create the video blogs, concert tapes, documentaries and creative films that bring the work back home to the States. One of the key lessons of all these years of international travel is that, just like the old adage about a tree falling in the woods, if you don't find a way to bring the experience back to the people at home whose support you need then from the eyes of those in the community you need support from (read funders), you really never went. And then those extraordinary, exotic, powerful programs mean nothing to the people who didn't make the journey.

In the end, from the standpoint of your Board, your staff and your funders that can be fatal.

So Francisco got added.

Almost. Sort of.

Among the various challenges of the Shanghai trip the fact that the team going is coming from different places and leaving China at different times meant that we bought many different tickets -- in fact, for the seven people going we ended up with four completely separate itineraries. Christian starts in LA, meets us in Shanghai, leaves five days ahead of the rest of the Company and ends up in North Carolina. Jason, from the Philippines, left Thanksgiving Day to go over early to jump out to Manila to have time with his family. He arrives in Shanghai a day later than the rest of us from a third country. My flight, by the time I booked it, had to be completely different than Kathryn/Rob/Amanda's because their flight was full. So the three of them and me arrive to Shanghai at EXACTLY the same time -- 1455 Shanghai local time -- on two completely different flights originating in different cities -- despite the fact that we all left National within an hour of each other. And I leave on the same flight as Christian on the 5th, leaving everyone else in Shanghai to teach.

And then there's Francisco.

He's from Chile.

By the time it became clear we needed to bring him (I have to serve as technical director for the program) airfares had changed dramatically and so we had to get creative. We found a great price on Air Canada with all the needed components to get him over at a price we could afford.

BUT, when you book a flight on the day after Thanksgiving you leave yourself exactly no room for error. And it turns out that the Canadian government requires a transit visa for Chileans even to transit through an international airport. Even though he never leaves the international terminal, going straight from one flight to the next, they denied him a boarding pass at National Airport at 0515 in the morning.

At which point my phone rang.

Now, when you buy your tickets online from web services -- in this case web jet -- you can't count on 24/7 service. And there isn't any. By the time their offices open to either cancel a ticket or change a route we have to be wheels up to China or lose days of work - with no guarantee we'll fix the problem anyway.

So, cancel or buy a new ticket and raise the standard of protest with Air Canada and web jet when they open -- meaning pass it off to one of the people on my team staying in the States. Because to the best of my knowledge there's no cell phone service just yet over the North Pole.

If a tree falls in the woods.....

I bought a new ticket. For a flight to China. Which leaves in 51 minutes.

Can never, ever, ever be too careful and dot too many "t's" and cross too many "i's."

No matter how many details you think you have covered, there's no substitute for obsessing.....

But Shanghai calls and that's amazing.

(And Delph lands in Tel Aviv to start her work with Yossi and Oded in about 90 minutes)....

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Basel Journal: Like money in the bank....

Basel Journal
Sunday, November 16, 2011

As always the rails and wheels argue when leaving the station, pulling past the crossovers and the ties, wrapping the air in friction. Metal on metal. The air is cold. Wet. At 0940 precisely the glide begins, discernable only because the light glistening on the window changes. Basel slips into view. You’re always almost somewhere else in Switzerland. Arrive to Geneva airport (I had a few days earlier) and you’re presented with two choices: exit to Switzerland or exit to France. At Gard du North, the other train station in Basel (there are two as I found out by going to the wrong one for a 1430 meeting Friday) it turns out that at some moment in time INSIDE the station you’re somehow in Germany, not Switzerland. Not really sure how that happens, but, hey, its fun to say you were in Germany for about 60 seconds – especially when you had no earthly idea that, you know, you had been.

I had wanted to see mountains. It’s Switzerland after all. The day before, Saturday, at the conclusion of a long walk along Lake Geneva after a conversation about art, environment and collaboration inside one of Lausanne’s most intriguing theaters I said, somewhat randomly to the consultant with whom I was working on our planned Company E tour to Switzerland in April, that I wanted to find those legendary mountain passes through which the trains roar, darting into and out of tunnels, over trestles, spanning ravines of glacial melt-water.

“No problem,” was Philippe’s reply. A five minute metro ride straight uphill (everything in Lausanne is uphill or downhill because it all leads to the lake) and we were standing at the ticket window at Lausanne station and Philippe and the ticket agent were merrily engaged in an impromptu “lets go through the mountains” discourse.

It wasn’t so much that it was possible; that you sort of figure. It was that every few seconds the guy behind the glass was printing out these itineraries on what looked distinctly like old computer flat cards and that, on these papers, were itineraries that involved not just trains, but trams, buses, and funiculars, and that the schedules involved the WALKING distance from the train to the tram, the tram to the bus and the bus to the lift, and the times were separated by minutes – as in “the train arrives at 1420. You walk two minutes to the tram. The number 6 leaves at 1425 so its easy to get to. Then the tram arrives to the transit bus at 1431. You change – there’s a bus at 1434. Then the funicular leaves at 1445, which is easy because the bus takes 5 minutes.” Ummm. I’m from America. You know, where there might be a bus and if you’re really, really lucky you might catch your train which every third Thursday arrives on or reasonably close to on time. Oh, yeah – and what’s a tram?

Now, in the end I ended up by-passing the mountains in favor of searching out places to perform in Basel. But the whole experience told me why no one is ever in a hurry in Switzerland. The streets are almost empty of cars. The trams and buses run constantly and as a result everything happens when its supposed to happen. I tend to be pretty casual about leaving early for things, but in Basel? It seemed like I was constantly worrying about missing some form of transport when really the only variable was how fast I was walking. Other than that, it just got done. It just drives home how much of our stress is induced by automobiles. We think we’re free, but the reality is that the choice to drive, as opposed to be driven, to mangle public transportation systems instead of expanding them, turns the whole daily stress level upside down. When you know you’re going to get somewhere on time, and that you’re not responsible for getting there on your own wheels, it all just gets – simple. And it calms everyone, and everything, down.

The 0940 pulls into Zurich Airport. The schedule says it arrives at 1058.

Count on it.