August 5, 2010

Filed under:Music,News! — Aileen @ 12:59

Summer is floating along. Elina and I played at the Boyle Arts Festival last week. As you can see, we are starting to keep good company!

Next week, we’ll be in Finland (where Elina is from) for some concerts and then masterclasses at the Turku Festival. Founded in 1960, this is a renowned chamber music festival and I am very excited to be going. Also, it is not often you get to be shown around Finland by a Finn. You can expect to hear more about our adventures in the coming year! After a few months of playing together, it became very clear that this is a good partnership and, surprisingly, exactly what we both wanted. Most pianists and violinists are interested in just solo playing or, for the violinist anyway, orchestral playing. Most dip into chamber music now and then but rarely pursue it singularly – in Ireland, anyway. For us, we came to the conclusion that we are both good but far, far better together. Together, we will probably achieve much more than would be possible alone (and have a lot more fun doing it). So to Finland we go!

I have a lot of knitting to show you but I am going to try and spread it out because I don’t expect to have a lot of computer time for the rest of the month. Happy knitting, everyone! (Did you see the Autumn issue of Twist is out already? I love this time of year!)


May 10, 2010

Si, capito…

Filed under:Crochet,Music,Stash,Zakka — Aileen @ 12:53

My father gave me this great learn-Italian set of CDs and a book from the BBC a while ago. Before I came out, I covered the first section easily enough. I had hoped to do more but was so busy working and trying to squeeze in extra preparation that it ended up taking a back seat. On the plane over I realised that the extent of my Italian was how to ask for five different types of coffee, ask where the toilet is (but alas not understand the answer!) and count up to ten. My hosts’ English is limited but when they speak clearly in Italian, I understand them quite easily. I think this is because the root of many words is similar to that in French, which I know well. Now we converse in a funny sort of Italiano-inglese. By the time I went to the market on Saturday, I felt confident enough in my phony French-with-Italian accent to buy wool. In fact, when I do this generally, I fare better. If I ask if they speak English, often people get flustered and then defensive. Easier if I’m the one who speaks poor Italian rather than the reverse, if you get me!

Anyway, this is what I came away from the market with. Cotton and linen are the most popular fibres here for obvious reasons but the guy was also selling ‘winter wool’ because the weather has been so poor here (They consider 18C and cloudy to be poor for this time of year. Yeah. My sympathy doesn’t go that far either.) I have been going through a real phase of fascination with Zakka and all things for the house. I have a nice book called Lacy Crochet which calls for fine cotton for a lot of the projects. I got these three.

100% cotton, 340m per 50g, a staggering €1.60 a ball. Of course I had to try it out straight away so I whipped up this wee doily from the book. Apologies for its crinkliness, it really needs a good blocking and perhaps some starch.

He also had heavier weight cottons but those I can get fairly easily at home so I went for some linen instead. This I bought specifically with tea-towels or a mat in mind.

I bought two of each colour. 100% linen, 105m per 50g, €3 a ball. I know the temptation is to buy a ton but this stuff is going to be pretty rugh to work with. I imagine by the time I get through 420m of it, I’ll have had enough for the time being.

The market was very interesting. It’s not a good market by my family’s estimation but really, it had everything you could think of. I enjoyed looking at the cheesemongers’ stalls and also at the vegetables. Every vegetable stall sold huge nets of… snails. Initially I thought they were oysters because they were wet and drippy. But then I thought that they couldn’t be since we’re so far inland. That’s when I noticed the many, many antennae straining and wiggling. Whose fantastic job was it to bag up all those guys? I also wonder how long they last for. You’d probably need to cook them all together. But from prior experience, you can only eat so many snails in one sitting.

Anyway, there was also a guy selling pet birds and different types of eggs. Hen eggs, fine. Tiny little white eggs I found out later that are quail eggs…. and absolutely gigantic, creamy, dimpled eggs that looked like dinosaur eggs. ‘Uovo di Struzzo’. I looked it up when I got home: ostrich eggs. I’m not kidding, they were about 20-30cm long and 15-20cm wide. Apparently you make big omelettes from them. No duck eggs, curiously enough.

I also finished up a square doily I started a few days before I came over. It’s quite large so here’s just a corner to give you an idea.

Tivoli Cruise cotton, 4ply, and the pattern is from the Lacy Crochet book I mentioned above. I used a 2mm hook. It’s to protect one side of the desk of my piano (the desk is the music stand on a grand piano, it has a shelf on either side of the stand and the whole thing can slide in or out). II’m going to make a matching one in blue for the other side.

I played this morning so now I am taking it easy. I find out tomorrow evening if I pass into the next round. I don’t expect to – I’m not being pessimistic, rather, realistic. I was happy enough with how I played, considering the overall situation. It takes courage! Especially if you follow a German lass who quite literally slashed her way through a Beethoven concerto with a sledgehammer. Oh Madonna… I did the best I could do for now. It could have been better, but also much worse. The next one I do will be better because I’ll have done this; and the one after, a bit better again. For now, espresso and a doily await!


May 9, 2010


Filed under:Music,News!,Travel — Aileen @ 17:33

I managed to fly out to Milan on Thursday in between all the ash chaos. I’m not staying in Milan, though. The competition I’m participting in is in a small town about the size of Sligo or Athlone, about half an hour’s drive from the Swiss border. Needless to say, getting here on public transport was… an experience. Most people here don’t speak very good English and some get downright irate at the notion of speaking anything other than solo Italiano. I got a bus from the airport, a metro to the north and then a regional bus further north again. The bus stop for the last bus was a pole, nothing more, lying against a wall. I walked past it four times until some people gathered and I figured that it must be the stop. Sigh!

I have no good pictures of the nice little square of the town because – and I’m not exaggering (oh, I wish!) – it has been cloudy with intermittent torrential rain ever since I got here. Yesterday was the best day yet so, when I was finished with my appointment in the morning to try out the competition piano for a few minutes, we went to the nearby city of Como. It is about the size of Cork and very famous for its lake. With all the rain recently, there’s been a lot of flooding along the prom.

We walked through the city and all through the market. It has a very large market for everything from wellies to wallets and it attracts a lot of people from Switzerland when the exchange is good. So it was funny to hear a lot of Swiss German all of a sudden. The market takes place on the border of the old town. The old part of the city is very well preserved and also a very upmarket place to shop. We just went to look. In the middle is a spectacular cathedral.

This is only a tiny part of it. At the front beside the door in, there is a statue of the man who documented the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii. I can’t remember his name but he was born in Como. Inside, there are many tapestries that were woven by local women during the last millennium depicting scenes from the Bible. They were really faded so I didn’t want to take a photo but they were huge and very detailed.

Erminia, my “host mother”, showed me a shop that sold Como silk. Apparently the place is very famous for its quality of woven silk fabric. They don’t grow it here, they just weave it. They sell it to the big Italian design houses and there were many spectacular Valentino ties for sale. I explained to Erminia how most Irish men simply cannot wear ties like that. She looked sad at the very idea. She brought me up the wee train that goes up the mountain so we could see across the lake into Switzerland.

Close by is a lighthouse in memory of Alexandre Volta, also born in Como, who figured out the Volt. The lighthouse shines green, white and red at night…

The host family I am staying with are great. It’s a quiet house with a piano and I can practice as much as I want, so long as it’s not in the middle of the night. I was concerned about the cooking arrangement because I have allergies and really didn’t want to be annoying, but Erminia insisted that she cook and we all eat together. Lunch and dinner consist of many small courses, especially dinner. Typically you have pasta or rice first, then the meat (by itself), then cheese, then fruit, then dessert, then coffee. Friday night, we had company and a local licquer emerged, called grappa. The skins of of grapes that were used for wine are fired in a kiln and left to ferment. Often it is fermented with blueberries and lemon or orange.

Needless to say, they are very proud of their local produce and have made it their mission for me to taste the local cheeses they like best. Yesterday, I was presented with a whole ball of mozzarella from their local mountain, made from buffalo milk. You put oil and salt all over it and cut it up into tiny pieces. Delicious – but a bit strange! Another favourite so far is gorgonzola. Very like Cashel Blue only creamier, almost like a cream cheese. Because I couldn’t eat it with bread, I was given walnuts as the only sensible alternative. Again, strange, but delicious.

I play tomorrow morning and have spent most of today practising and listening to the others play. I find out Tuesday evening if I get into the next round. If I get in, I play again on Thursday or Friday with orchestra. Then the final is on Sunday. If I don’t get through, I will probably come home on Thursday. This gives me time to listen to most of the others in the first round. I have much more news and funny things to tell but they’ll wait until tomorrow when I’m finished. Ciao!


May 3, 2010

Bank Holiday Snoozeday

Filed under:Cardigans,Music,Socks,Works In Progress — Aileen @ 18:14

April was a pretty horrendous month, work-wise. I was travelling a lot for rehearsals and concerts. I was teaching in NUI Maynooth – which, although convenient for me to get to by train, is still a fair distance away. Then I had my own lunchtime recital with my duo partners last Thursday and a concerto run through on Friday night. Last Christmas, I decided that it would be a *really good idea* to do a concerto competition in Italy this May. The problem about deciding to do things in the future is that eventually, the future turns into a flight on Thursday morning!

Anyway, this weekend was my first weekend in well over a month where I wasn’t working so we vamoosed to Galway. Despite my best intentions, I spent much of Saturday and Sunday asleep. Today has been better and practice is going well. This weekend has been the first chance I’ve had to concentrate solely on the piece I’m bringing so it’s a bit strange, having so much brain space! The way these competitions work, you play one movement for the first round, and then another for the next; then there are semi-finals and the finals. I don’t expect to get through the first round at all. I’m not being pessimistic: solo playing hasn’t been my concentration at all this year. The reason I’m doing the competition is to keep my solo technique up (which it has, oh boy, it’s hard work) and for the experience. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m really curious to see how it all works. Also, because I don’t really care about the outcome, I’m not wasting so much energy worrying about it!

Needless to say, my knitting has been pretty brainless lately. I have been concentrating on my Featherweight cardigan. I’m using Malabrigo Lace in Hummingbird from This is Knit. It pooled really horribly when I started it so I ripped it out and reknit it, alternating skeins every two rows. I’ve already completed the body and a sleeve. Right now, it is all bunched up on a small circular for the bands on the front.

You can at least see here how alternating the skeins breaks up a lot of the pooling. Hopefully I will get this finished up soon and you’ll be able to see it in all its glory!

I got new shoes lately and with the weather slowly getting warmer, I had a hankering for some cotton socks. Cotton doesn’t really work very well for socks so I’m keeping them to anklets.

The yarn is Debbie Bliss’s Eco Cotton Baby, which is a sort of heavy 4ply, a lot like the Baby Cashmerino. I quite like it. It is a bit splitty but otherwise very soft and not hard on the hands. I’m wondering if I’ll get a pair out of one ball!

Hope everyone saw a bit of sun this weekend and got at least half of what I slept…!


September 11, 2009

Not much to show…

Filed under:Crochet,Music,Works In Progress — Aileen @ 13:03

…but something to tell. I’ve been pretty busy this week getting ready for my audition and putting off getting ready for my audition. This is what I was doing whilst putting things off.

Yup, another hand towel. I told you I had a lot of that cotton! It is so nice to work with and the pattern, like I said, is easy without being too mindless.

That’s all I have to show for now but I can tell you that as of next Thursday, I am a college student again! I am very excited. The course is a masters in piano accompaniment so there will be lots of playing as well as research…and knitting, of course.