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CONTINUUM in Mongolia

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Finally the MIAT flight departed, and it was excellent! A clean Airbus, courteous staff, and tolerable food, restored our good spirits, as did my fascinating Mongolian seatmate, a young journalist from whom I gained an incomparable background for the sojourn. The whole trip lasted from departure for JFK at 2:30 Saturday until arrival at the hotel in Ulaan Baatar 9AM Monday.

The two nights on the plane had left us nearly braindead. Furthermore, apart from what we had managed to purchase at exorbitant prices in Berlin, the five of us who had come via Amsterdam had virtually no clothing. Monday therefore began with a quick shopping trip to the State Department Store and an open market, where at least a change of clothes and some concert attire could be purchased. Then there was lunch, and a tour to the beautiful monastery that is one of the few historic monuments in that otherwise somewhat drab (but sunny) city.

In the evening, we performed in the festival's opening concert at the Cultural Center, a modern complex of auditoriums and art galleries. For Continuum, performing was a question of matter over mind: we had had about four hours sleep spread over two nights. Like all the concerts, however, the program included participation by many of the musicians, including Mongolian traditional performers and the State Symphony Orchestra. Although no one had much energy left, at least no one had to be on stage for very long. Nevertheless, an enthusiastic audience of some 500 -- including many children -- revitalized us, heralding the experiences of the coming week. We managed to perform Roberto Sierra's Cancionero Sefard' (Sephardic Songbook) before exhaustion won out, though enough energy remained in a few of us and some of the European musicians to test the local brew ("KhanbrSu") under a beautiful central Asian night sky, at the German-style beergarden across from the hotel.

On Tuesday morning we boarded buses to the Gobi desert. We wondered why we were leaving two hours late until we learned that at midnight the previous evening, Professor Wulff received two alarming bits of news. One was that the five brand-new Korean-made buses that were to be our transportation for the next four days had become trapped in customs, and could not be released; and the other was that no other buses were available. The extremely charming and very persistent young woman who was managing the festival, however, finally turned up five buses. Departure took place at 11 AM, a fact worth mentioning only because the hotel had confused the festival group with another, and accidentally awakened us at 6 AM.

The bus ride gave us a very detailed view of the north-central Mongolia countryside, because the 120 mile journey took seven hours on a narrow potholed "highway" frequently blocked by cows and sheep. The countryside is astonishing -- not as green as it ought to be because of a drought, but nevertheless magnificent, with huge expanses of plains spreading between high hills or small mountains. Apart from a few villages and a couple of gas stations, the only evidence of human habitation was a few herders here and there, and occasional gers scattered around the countryside. We saw impressive numbers of the famous small Mongolian horses, cows, sheep, goats, yaks, and few camels. We began to wonder whether we could possibly have an audience out there. continued...

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