tour diary: italy, day 1.

Above: Amsterdam the day before leaving, not a black and white photo.

First of all let it be acknowledged by me 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 was initially really supposed to be one of those things, starting out in Milano (Lombardia) and gradually winding our way south to Lecce (Puglia) over the course of two weeks or so with a gig every other day or so. A little more than a month ago, Jeroen ended up getting a 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-tuned 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 previously never 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, 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 either case, veni vidi vici and all that shit: we went, we played, we had fun. Here's what happened.


Jeroen and I have both spent a lot of time in Italy: I lived there for half a year 15 years ago, 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 to 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".

I mean, some things have totally been diluted in a negative, 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 shit that you can't avoid seeing everywhere here in Amsterdam, and I imagine most of Europe. You used to be able to recognize Italians at an international airport, it's much tougher now.

Also it's tragically much much easier to find crappy mass-produced tasteless 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 an octopus salad at the Pisa train station, no really); and yes, now instead of reading newspapers or Vogue and ignoring strangers 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 Vogue (they were kind of ahead of the curve mobile-phone-wise) but the 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 because they persist. For example, Italians still refuse to stand in a straight, single-file line when waiting for something. This 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. This 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. 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 thinks about food a lot, 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.


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