Monday, August 31, 2009

Neck pillows, claustrophobic tunnels and other tour essentials

Neck pillows
In the San Francisco airport, several of us bought neck pillows (I bought this one; because it was inflatable, it took up virtually no space in my bookbag). This may have been the best purchase I made on the entire tour. Rather than straining my neck and falling out into aisles, I slept calmly and quietly on our many, many flights.

On tour, I discovered that I suffer from a mild case of claustrophobia. In New Zealand, we took a glowworm tour in underground caves out in the middle of nowhere. About halfway through the tour, our guide led us through a narrow and long passageway that we had to crawl and squeeze through. With a person crawling in front of me and behind me, I was overcome by the fact that I could be stuck in a rock formation. I made it out, but the experience terrified me.

In Israel, I had a milder fright when several of us visited Hezekiah's Tunnel. While the above-mentioned passageway took about a minute to go through, this tunnel took about forty-five minutes to walk through. After about ten minutes, I realized how long the walk would be. Rather than freaking out, I just kept telling myself out-loud that it wasn't that bad. Plus, I started singing my part to "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (I'm still not sure why that was my go-to song). Again, I made it out alive. Now I know that I should avoid those situations altogether.

Upon further review
Exclusivity aside, I think Bohemian Grove is just a summer camp for grown men.

I definitely used my iPod as an escape during tour. It's incredible how closing your eyes and listening to one or two songs can mentally transport you. For me, I listened to southern hip-hop (e.g., Jeezy) to bring me back to the Atlanta area. I also used music to help me sleep on flights, in hotels, etc.

Casey, Jesse and I ran in almost every country we visited. After a few years of going to the gym on my own, I had forgotten how wonderful it can be to exercise with others.

I also had some magical times running by myself. In Tokyo, I ran several times in a park a few blocks from my host family's home. There, I watched as eighty year olds slowly made their way around the path and as tiny Japanese children waddled along with their teachers leading the way and bringing up the rear.

In addition to the obvious benefits, running also served as a mental and physical escape.

Though I did enjoy reading, I mostly enjoyed watching almost half the group read my copy of The Color Purple. I bought it in a San Francisco bookstore a day or two before we left for New Zealand. By the time we reached Europe, I think Brian, Casey, Jay, Jesse, Julian and I had all read it. You should read it, too. ( :

Thanks for reading my blog this summer. As always, if you want to reach me, shoot me an email at elliotjwatts[at]gmail[dot]com.

Final days of tour

Tuesday, August 11th
Casey, Jesse, Rex and I visited the City of David. We walked through Hezekiah's Tunnel and watched a 3-D movie on the city's history (David and his army took it from the Jebusites! Poor Jebus)

Wednesday, August 12th
We drove about twenty minutes outside of Tel Aviv to sing at a acoustically-masterful concert hall. Afterwards, our host took us to a relatively exclusive night club on the beach in Tel Aviv.

Thursday, August 13th
We rode in a van from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Twenty minutes or so after we arrived, we took a guided walking tour led by two certified tour guides from the local Rotary Club. We visited the Western Wall, the path Jesus took as he carried the cross, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and other famous sites.

That night, we sang to a sold-out crowd of over five hundred at what must be the finest YMCA in the world.

Friday, August 14th
In the morning, we drove outside the city to tour Masada. Later, we swam in the Dead Sea.

When we returned to Tel Aviv that night, we celebrated our last day of tour at a classy restaurant.

Saturday, August 15th
After a couple hours of sleep, we flew from Tel Aviv to Kiev to New York City. Most of us drove to New Haven to spend the night. Missing Middle Eastern food already, I ate at Mamoun's.

Sunday, August 16th
Continuing at a breakneck pace, we drove to Blue Hill, Maine, that afternoon. There, we performed at the First Congregational Church. Henry Becton, the oldest living Whiffenpoof, hosted us.

Some of us were fortunate to stay at the Becton's compound, which sat right on a lake and included both a pool and a pool house. After the show, Casey, Drew, Jay, Jesse and I sat poolside and stared at the perfectly clear midnight sky.

Monday, August 17th
After a delicious brunch provided by Becton's family, we drove from Blue Hill to Hyannis. There, we took a ferry to Nantucket Island. When we arrived, we sang a few songs for a Whiffenpoof centennial celebration which featured about fifty Whiff alums and their families.

Tuesday, August 18th
We spent the day relaxing at the house we rented. In the early evening, we sang at a Unitarian church.

Wednesday, August 19th
We said farewell to one vacation haven and hello to another. We made our way to a small summer getaway town in Rhode Island. Felicia R., Yale grad and native Rhode Islander, hung out with us at our own cookout and at a clam bake on the beach.

Thursday, August 20th
The Wheeler family, who also hosted us in Cambridge during The Game, took us to the local beach. They also helped arrange our concert at their country club that evening.

Friday, August 21st
In the morning, we drove to New London, Connecticut, to take a ferry to Southampton, New York. We sang at Trevor K.'s family's country club. At night, we partied on the beach.

Saturday, August 22nd
Before driving out to a Long Island country club for our final concert of the year, the five Whiffendoox visited the current Duke's Men group in Sag Harbor as they prepared for freshman rush. Full circle ( :

Second and fifth pictures -- from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Third and fourth: Masada
Sixth: The sixth place Jesus stopped on his way to Calvary
Final: In front of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back in the US!

Hi all,

Yesterday, we flew from Tel Aviv to Kiev to New York City. After nearly eighty days of international travel, we have finally returned to the United States.

In two hours or so, we will continue our tour by driving to Maine and singing a concert there. For the next seven days, we will be performing around the northeast US.

To close out this blog, I plan to post a few more pictures and to write more extensively about various world tour issues and answer some frequently-asked-questions. If you have any suggestions, please email me at elliotjwatts[at]gmail[dot]com.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Israel and Palestine

Sunday, August 9th
I adapted this entry from an email I sent to my family

Casey, Jesse, Andrew S. and I went into Bethlehem today. To do so, we had to cross into Palestine, which considers itself to be like the former apartheid parts of South Africa. Between the two lands is a giant, prison-like wall; graffiti (both peace-loving and unapologetically violent messages) were splatteredd across the Palestinian side. We had to pass through a checkpoint to get through the wall. The structure made it seem like Israel has prepared itself for an invasion. It was a harrowing but rewarding experience-- I got to see the place of Jesus's birth at the Church of the Nativity.

I also visited the Holocaust museum. It's tremendous, terrifying, and just breathtaking. It just hits home that the Nazis sought to (and almost did) exterminate an entire group of people largely because of baseless stereotypes.

On the way back to the bus station from the museum in Jerusalem, we were stopped in a huge traffic jam. Rather than paying the taxi driver to sit in traffic, the four of us decided to walk the final two or three blocks. When we walked about 100 meters, we saw the problem: police had barricaded the bridge. We quizzically watched from a distance for about five minutes. And then we heard an explosion. Apparently, the police found an unmarked object on a bus and, rather than checking it, blew it up, fearing that it was a bomb. About two minutes later, we were allowed to cross the bridge. The Israelis walking and driving did not miss a beat. One said that this kind of thing happens all the time.

All in all, this has been an emotionally charged day.

Monday, August 10th
In a few hours, we will sing at the Tel Aviv Museum.

Picture #1: Andrew walking into Palestine through the checkpoint
#2: The wall
#3: At the twelve-pointed star representing the spot of Jesus's birth
#4: Jesse and Casey at the Holocaust Museum

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Last few hours in Istanbul

Saturday, August 8th
Before flying to Israel this afternoon, Casey and I visited the Istanbul's archaeological museum. As we walked through town, we ran into a traveling Yale alumni group, which included Harvey Goldblatt, Master of Pierson College (my residential college!).

Picture #3: "Step on a kid..." -- a lyric from "Either Way" by Guster (and covered by the Duke's Men)

Friday, August 7, 2009


Wednesday, August 5th

In the same way that my friend Elizabeth had the right plan for Paris, Lonely Planet had the right plan for Istanbul. Jesse used his guide to take us to the Blue Mosque, an ancient cistern, the Aya Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, a restaurant overlooking the Bosphorous, and a whirling dervish performance at a hookah bar.

Istanbul, an important city to any Duke's Man, surpassed all my expectations. It's beautiful, developed and has thousands of years of history.

Thursday, August 6th
Several of us visited the city's ancient palace. In the evening, we sang a concert at Bogazici University. After the show, we hit the town as a group. While we walked the streets, the Whiffendoox (i.e., Whiffs who sang with the Duke's Men) sang our group's traditional closing song and alumni song, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)."

Friday, August 7th
Casey, Jesse and I took an hour-long ferry down the Bosphorus River. At around 7pm, we sang a concert in a cistern constructed in the sixth century. After the show, we had a reception on the top floor of a building overlooking the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia.


Saturday, August 1st
Before the sun rose, we flew to Athens. We were met there by our old pal Dionysius Bouzos, a Yale grad. He showed us around the Acropolis and imparted his vast knowledge of ancient Greek history.

Sunday, August 2nd
In less than twenty-four hours after our arrival in Athens, we jetted off again. This time, we flew to Kefalonia, a small island off Greece's coast. After a long nap, we headed to the beach for some rest and relaxation.

When we left the beach, Dionysius's mother treated us to a gigantic and unbelievably delicious Greek feast. I think the meal made us forget our exhausting travel experience.

Monday, August 3rd
We spent most of this day on a larger beach in Kefalonia. After we ate dinner and went out for ice cream, we tapped Dionysius as an honorary member of the Whiffs. He has been helping the Whiffs plan tours for years-- this was just a small way of thanking him.

Tuesday, August 4th
We said so-long to Kefalonia and flew into Athens for a day long layover. First, we had to say goodbye to Julian, who starts his job in Boston in a few days. Afterwards, many of us checked out the New Acropolis Museum for a couple of hours. Before nightfall, we flew into Istanbul, Turkey.