And thirteen hours of driving later, I have made it to Pensacola! I’m writing from my bedroom in my host family’s beautiful house in Gulf Breeze. When I arrived yesterday I actually plopped myself down in downtown Pensacola to reacquaint myself with things I remembered from my audition weekend back in May.
Driving south from Chicago was a marvelous experience. I did the drive toute seule, with nothing but a terrible, awful audiobook for company (The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan–seriously, don’t even bother), and I felt liberated from all of the stressors of life up north. Of course there will be different stress here, but with the sun shining and the palm trees and getting to sing full-time for four months, I think I’ll be able to grin and bear it.
For some reason I feel a pretty strong sense of nostalgia and connection to the South–which is odd, because this is my first time any farther south than Virginia on the east coast (well, other than Delray Beach and Disneyworld, but they hardly count). It occurred to me this morning that this might be a result of doing a lot of reading about the American South, things like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Cold Sassy Tree, anything by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple, and so on. In high school we were assigned books by Zora Neale Hurston, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Mark Twain. Is it any wonder that things feel familiar?
One of the most entertaining things about being on the road by myself was making chit-chat with people I met–waiters, hotel concierges, baristas. I took my Carmen score out for Indian food in Indianapolis, and the waiter, upon seeing the music, asked me, “Oh, are you a music teacher?” And I replied, “No, I’m an opera singer.” He was pretty taken aback by that, and after I paid my bill and left the restaurant, he followed me out the door to ask me if my voice was that high kind of opera sound–he couldn’t really imagine it–and then to ask if I was going to be on TV or anything. He also turned out to be a photographer, and if I had lived in Indianapolis I could have gotten a free photo shoot out of that chana masala and mango lassi! Tant pis.
And yesterday morning, I was casually schmoozing with the extremely nice barista at Starbucks in Montgomery, Alabama, whose daughter goes to University of Chicago, and I mentioned to him that I was on my way to Pensacola. A man who was sitting nearby asked me what I would be doing in Pensacola, and I told him I would be an Artist-in-Residence at Pensacola Opera. He had no idea there was an opera in Pensacola, and he asked me which roles I would be singing. The woman at the front desk of the Alabama Hotel was curious as to where I was coming from and where I was going, and we discussed how much better the weather was in Alabama than in Chicago, despite its being a little chilly.
I think these kinds of encounters can really only happen when you travel by yourself. Not that traveling with company isn’t pleasant (and my original plan was to drive south with my mom), but there’s a charm about being on your own in a new city, just passing through. You make single-serving friends–this is literally the only line I remember from Fight Club, except for not talking about Fight Club.
Before I left Montgomery, I treated myself to some major fried chicken.
I tried to balance the sides so that it wouldn’t just be carb and calorie central, but as it turns out, I don’t like turnip greens or canned green beans. I gave them the old college try, but finally decided I didn’t care, demolished the chicken and macaroni and cheese and got back on the road.
And now I’m here! With our first Artist-in-Residence orientation meeting this evening at 5:30, I have the whole day to do errands. First things first: let’s see if I can get myself a library card!