Our hotel and the theater we were playing at were supposedly in "a bad neighborhood". We didn't really see any evidence of this other than the above street sign.
Meanwhile, in the hotel, I was flying solo b/c J-Kim had stayed at Barbara's the night before and we'd been too pulverized by food bloat after dinner to remember to make plans for this morning. I bounced/crawled out of bed and had a quick and standard Italian breakfast in the "breakfast room":
I took the tram into the center to take a gander at the Duomo, which I've always had a soft spot for because 1) it's fucking Gothic (literally), 2) it took 600 years to build (literally), and 3) inside there's a statue of a guy who's been flayed (literally) and is now wearing his skin draped over his shoulders like a fancy mink stole.
But I didn't go in this time because it was beautiful outside and there was a pretty awesome line. So I just kind of wandered, but with purpose, my purpose being trying to find that magical/mythical street/piazza that's like 3 blocks away from all of the soulcrushing tourism, full of only lunching Italians being Italian, and there's one remaining free table in the sun for me and an icy cold something in the fridge just waiting to be ordered in my bad Italian.
That didn't happen this time. Sometimes it does, but this time I just kept running into one yuck-magnet after another: first EXPO 2015, then something else gross, then I finally ended up at this expensive touristy market next to Castello Sforzesco:
At which point I could take it no longer and decided to have a sit-down whilst dabbing some wonderfully frigid Ichnusa on my sorrows.
This happened a couple more times (the Ichnusa part), then my leisure time was up and I trammed it back to the 'hood to meet J-Kim and the Barbara, who were hanging out in a park near the hotel drinking beer and gesticulating Italianately at each other.
From the park we took a tram to the theater, or, if not directly to the venue, somewhere near the venue. As mentioned previously, on-board navigational information is not a specialty of Italian public transport. The tram we were on did not provide us with any information about what stops were coming up, or what stop we were stopping at, nor was there any real visible signage at the stops. Maybe we were in a bad neighborhood after all.
Eventually we found the place and it looked like this inside.
Above: sound check. Not pictured: the gig. It was an odd one, for many reasons including the fact that the beloved person who set up the gig for us is no longer allowed on the premises due to an ongoing semi-legal dispute. There was a also distinct absence of anything like normal bar conditions or bar patrons, etc. It was not our audience or our kind of room, and our playing never stopped reflecting/illustrating our extreme discomfort. Easily our least successful performance on the 2014 Reunion Tour.
Afterwards, we did what you do after an Italian gig and that is to fill out the SIAE form telling the national copyright enforcement agency what songs you played and who the composers were. Who knows what happens with this information.
Above: arrival at Malpensa, beer #1 in hand.
Yes OK, I'm new to tour blogging, a fact which I will make painfully obvious when it comes time to talk about the "highlights" from the trip, because I pretty much managed to have zero photos of those moments, hopefully because I was just kickin' it old-school and "enjoying myself".
So, I must say, I'd forgotten how not close to everything the Milano Malpensa airport is. Why, then, was it our entry/exit point back when we lived in Italy? No idea at all. It's one of those airports where you land (ideally), then taxi for five or ten minutes, then deplane directly onto a bus, which takes you 5km away to baggage claim, after which you take a ten-minute shuttle to the Malpensa train station, where you then take an hour train to Milan Central Station (I'm not kidding), at which point you flail around for ten minutes until a lovely woman you met on the train named Alma from Padova re-teaches you how the metro works, then you get on the metro/subway to go to the hotel's side of town.
ALL OF WHICH WE ARE NOT COMPLAINING ABOUT. We were so extremely lucky to get anywhere at all, because of lo sciopero, which is one of the first vocabulary words they teach you in Italian class, it means: strike. It's kind of an accepted thing, and happens several times a year. They're announced in advance, and generally only last anywhere from a half day to a couple of days. They can be regional or national, and can affect one or all service sectors.
For example, on Thursday the national rail service was on strike and mostly nobody in Italy went anywhere, and then on Friday the rail service was still on strike but also the Malpensa airport ground crews were on strike and all flights were cancelled from 9am-5pm. More about all this on Day 2.
Above: the view from Barbara's terrace.
Back to Night One. After Alma from Padova got us on the metro pointed in the right direction, we headed down to meet our benefactor/host Barbara and her daughter Frida for dinner.
I've always traveled with an overly-researched list of eating/drinking options in an attempt to avoid The Death Mope, which is what happens when you end up in a foreign city hungry and/or thirsty without a plan and you set off in a random direction thinking you'll find somewhere non-touristy or inviting or just generally non-shitty enough to park yourself and enjoy exotic food/drink/atmosphere, and (this is the Death Mope part)...you don't find anywhere. So you keep walking and getting hungrier/thirstier, etc.
For dinner, Barbara asked what we wanted to eat and we said "Italian", and gave us the silent supplicating Italian gesture that means "umm, right, but please elaborate". We said "good Italian", Jeroen said something like "Mark normally knows a good place to go", but in fact this time Mark didn't b/c Mark didn't have an Internet connection, a concept that Barbara waved away anyway, saying "This is Italy. If you want to eat well, you don't look on the Internet: you ask an Italian where to go." She left the room for five minutes, came back and said, "I called my friend Paolo, we have reservations in an hour." Go Barbara.
So yes, then the normal driving, honking, swearing, death-defying moving violations, sidewalk parking, etc until we ended up at Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro (below). Which was perfect in terms of authentic food and relaxed left-wing attitude and tour-friendly prices. The food and atmosphere was indeed very Bolognese, as was the compulsion to eat beyond rational/physical limits. Two or three hours later we waddled and moaned our way back to the car and headed back to sleeping quarters for something like sleep.
Posted by MEM at 2.6.14
Above: Amsterdam the day before leaving, this is unfortunately not a black and white photo.
First of all, let it be acknowledged by me (Mark) that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of the word "tour" reads something like "a journey made by performers or a sports team, in which they perform or play in several different places."
This Italy trip was initially really supposed to be one of those tour things, starting out in Milano (Lombardia) and gradually winding our way all the way south to Lecce (Puglia) over the course of two weeks or so, with a gig every other day or so. But a little more than a month ago, Jeroen ended up getting a fantastic new job offer with a professional ensemble that, how you say, he could not refuse, so we ended up looking for a convenient place to snip/crop/trim the tour down a little shorter, and due to either intractable physical logistics or our coarsely-grained cutting skills, we ended up turning a "tour" into more of a "visit": two gigs, four days.
Which ended up working out totally fine: SG has never previously been a predictably robust live performance outfit, and this was going to be our first real international experiment playing together: why push our luck, is what we maybe should have been asking ourselves (or, what we're thinking now is, maybe we should've been acknowledging that this whole "touring" thing is maybe the best way to become a predictably robust live performance outfit if you're ever going to be one at all etc. Hard to say).
In any case, veni vidi vici and all that shit: we went, we played, we sucked, we did good, we had fun. Here's what happened.
Mr. Kimman and I have both spent a considerable amount of time in Italy: I lived there for half a year 15 years ago or whatever and have traveled around the country quite a bit, and Jeroen essentially lived there on and off for several years. So, very little about Italian culture surprises us at this point, except maybe the degree that some of it either succumbs or remains so resistant to the homogenization that seems to be an inescapable side effect of technology and "the global village", etc.
I mean, some things Italian have been pretty obviously diluted in a nefarious, Body Snatchers kind of direction, beginning at the most superficial level: Italians no longer look as externally "Italian" as they did 15 years ago, now they're wearing the same idiotic Sissy-Boy and Abercrombie & Fitch shit that you can't avoid seeing everywhere here in Amsterdam, and I imagine most of Europe by now. What I'm saying is that you used to be able to recognize Italians at an international airport, it's much tougher now.
What else. It's now tragically much much easier to accidentally consume crappy mass-produced tasteless secretly-corporate food in, say, train stations than it used to be (one of the most unexpected, kick-ass informal meals I had while traveling around Tuscany back in 2001 was based around an octopus salad at the Pisa train station, no kidding); and yes, now instead of reading newspapers or L'Uomo Vogue while on the train, Italians have their faces buried in their smartphones thumbing away at who the fuck knows what like everyone else on Earth. Ultimately I guess this is not so so weird, since 15 years ago a train full of Italians would've also been gesturing and/or yelling into their non-smart cellphones constantly while reading the paper or L'Uomo Vogue (they were kind of ahead of the curve mobile-phone-wise) but the complete silence of the smartphoned Italian train is a bit unnerving.
But it was a welcome surprise that so many of the most distinctive and endearing clichés persist, or maybe they're even more endearing simply because they persist. For example, Italians still refuse to stand in a straight, single-file line when waiting for something. The below photo is from Milano Centrale during our Day 3 travel in the middle of a national railway strike, the sign says "reserve your turn", basically "take a number", but what you can't really see is that the "line" is about four people wide, and every thirty seconds or so someone cuts in from the side, ignoring the fact that 40 people are "already standing there". It can be pretty exasperating until you try experimenting with it yourself, as we did on our EasyJet flight home when attempting to guarantee that we could carry on our guitars as hand luggage. And I must say, a) it works, and b) as long as you're cutting in front of Italians and not, say, English or American people, it feels pretty primally satisfying.
What other massive cultural generalizations can I make. Right: Italians still spend 95% of their energy behind the wheel of a car paying attention to something other than driving and will park anywhere that their vehicle will fit, and sometimes even where it won't. Below is our lovely host Barbara's first and totally serious parking job when we went to dinner the first night in Milan (she's the red car on the sidewalk). The car is turned off, she's done parking, in fact I think she's behind me heading into the restaurant. We talked her into maybe trying again since, you know, no one else was parked on the sidewalk and a parking ticket or towing event would've ruined her mood.
One more charming one, unless you're late and are trying to get somewhere via public transportation: they've really adopted a lot of new technology (touch screens, automated ticket machines, in-train monitors that show you what stations are coming up, etc) without, mmm, reaaalllly making it very helpful. The train from Milan's Malpensa airport to Milan Central Station was 50 minutes or something, and for the entirety of the trip, the in-train monitor unchangingly displayed the following, a line and two points representing our departure and arrival stations, no progress indicator, no detectable change at all.
More true and charming stereotypes: Italians still talk with their hands in a way that I'd imagine would require a completely different set of emoticons than the one I use, may it please never be created if it hasn't already. The men hug a lot. Everyone is preoccupied with eating, but in a healthy-seeming, social way. And they still maintain a more relaxed sense of "schedule" than the cultures I live among. All of which, in the brief, concentrated, non-lethal dose we were given, was just about perfect.
Posted by MEM at 1.6.14