A dash of sfiga here, a sprinkle of fortune there!

Unbelievably, the tour della sfiga e anche della fortuna has finally come to a close. Or nearly, anyway. I’m writing this from the autostrada A13, somewhere between Venice and Bologna. Just 3 or 4 more hours and I’ll be at my second home…for two days, anyhow. :) Then it’s off to Denmark!

When I last left you all, dear readers, we were struggling through the ups and downs of life on the road while driving super-old vehicles. Those adventures continue with a human twist – not all of our sfiga was directly related to a leaky exhaust pipe or non-existent brake fluid. Sometimes it was just our fault.

Last weekend we had shows in Bolzano and Brescia. We took the bug again and had a relatively adventure-less trip. It was a hell of a long drive to make at 55 mph, but at least the air we were breathing was clean. We made some great friends in Brescia – the indie band Comaneci (check them out on MySpace) and the mitico Aldino, who runs Morya, the club where we played in Brescia. Both of them do it on their own – Comaneci does all their own recording, booking, etc. like we do, and Aldino busts his butt at a factory job all week and runs an indie music club on Friday nights. Bravi, bravi. Aldino also wins extra points because on Saturday, as we were driving through the cold rain up to Bolzano, a chill passed over me. I reached for my jacket and found only cold, empty air….oops. Jacket was hanging up in Aldino’s apartment where we had crashed the night before. Luckily he’s a super-kind guy and managed to get it back to me via Jean-Luc, the radio DJ in Brescia who had us on air during Friday afternoon’s show. Sfiga averted!

The good luck seemed to be rolling. Manuel found that damn missing envelope – the one mentioned in the previous blog – and it was in a place I had already looked at least seventy-nine times. That was good, because my guitar, my beloved Mabel the maple, was cracking again. If you have been reading this blog since June 2004 (whoa), you’ll remember how I arrived in Italy to find my Mabel’s head snapped off (violent postal workers?) and you’ll remember how Carlos, the luthaio in Gubbio, saved the day with his masterful repair job. Well, the crack was starting to open up again, and so Manuel took Mabel to see Carlos for a check-up. Not sure yet what the cost will be but it will almost certainly be more than the 50 euro that were in that envelope, so I’m glad he found them.

So we took off on Friday for Lido di Jesolo, a small beach town outside of Venice. There was a total transportation strike in Italy that day – planes, trains, buses, etc. So we expected the motorways to be pretty crowded – but surprisingly, the road was pretty clear until we got to the end of the autostrada at Venice. There was a pretty long line at the tollbooth, and it was moving pretty slowly, though we couldn’t figure out why.

When we finally got to the tollbooth window, after about ten minutes (to go 200 meters), we understood. A delightful little sign reading Sciopero (strike) was posted over the window, meaning that the tollbooth workers were part of the general transportation strike. Hooray!! We had saved at least 35 euro, which was lovely – we spend as much on the autostrada as we do in gas (and neither is a small amount). On this tour we’ve averaged 80 euro a day between the tolls, the gas, and a crappy panino every now and then at the Autogrill. It’s hard to break even that way.

In any case, the sciopero was a double-edged sword. Lovely, because there was no toll to pay. But it also created a disaster of the magnitude that I’ve only seen in Napoli, because prior to the toll booths, there are three lanes that split into about ten lanes with booths. When everyone has to stop and pay, it obviously slows the passage and regulates everyone’s re-entry on the other side. When instead there is no toll to pay, these ten lanes all pass at the same time and have to merge into three on the other side, and Italians are NOT known for their merging skills, nor for their patience, nor for their generosity when it comes to “no, no, after you.” So all of the delay was because this mass of vehicles (half of them 18-wheelers) were all trying to merge and had created basically a standstill. It was kind of hilarious, except that we were stopped for about 45 minutes – completely stopped. In fact, I never did figure out exactly how all of a sudden the tangle just magically unraveled, but Italy is like that – often you find yourself confronted with something completely ridiculous or incomprehensible that just as suddenly straightens itself out with no obvious push from a greater hand or even an authority figure. The chaos seems to rule itself.

As a side note, while stopped in the jam, we counted license plates from over twenty countries – Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, and I can’t even remember where else. That area near Venice is a central port for all of those countries and even if there hadn’t been a sciopero, I am told there would have been major traffic at that tollbooth.

Anyhow, we made to our show and all went well. The next morning we woke and headed towards Trieste, lovely Trieste. We like Trieste a lot. For one, it’s just plain pretty – perched right on the Adriatic Sea, it’s kind of gray and crumbly when the weather is bad, but when the sun shines, it has a kind of grave majesty, a kind of queenly bearing. It’s quite nice, but apart from its physical beauty, we’ve never found anyone in Trieste who wasn’t super kind. The saying generally goes that the people in the north of Italy are less-friendly (or a bit more reserved) than the people in the south, but at least in Trieste, this does not seem to apply. It’s funny, by the way, but in every country I’ve ever visited, that same idea exists – that the south of the country is friendlier than the north, and on a grander scale, the idea seems to exist about Europe as a whole. But I digress.

We arrived in Trieste a few hours before our show and decided to park and have a walk through town. The parking lot that we knew from the previous trip was closed for a parade so we drove around town a bit and finally found a decent spot not too far from the center. We went through the ritual of covering up the guitars (so they weren’t visible to outsiders) and found change for the parking meter. Since we were going to be walking through town, I took a few things out of my purse so that it wouldn’t weigh me down – my book, and my notebook. Manuel looked at the mess that was still in my purse and suggested that I take almost all of it out. “What do you need all that stuff for?” he asked. “Just leave it here – your keys, your makeup, that brush – just leave it all in the car.” I shrugged and said okay, leaving said objects in the backseat. Then I closed and locked my door and went to pay the parking meter. When I arrived back at the car Manuel had finished covering all of the guitars and was getting out. He locked the door and held the handle while he closed it, ensuring it would stay locked (I am sure you can see where this is headed), and as the door clicked shut, a look of pure panic passed across his face.

“No. No. No. Did you already lock your door? No. No. Your keys? Cazzo. Porca puttana. I just told you to take them out of your purse. No. No. Maiala puttana. Accidenti alla mamma del maiale.. Che sfiga.”

I stood there, dumbfounded. Frantic jiggling of door handles ensued, as did a quick check of all the windows – rolled up all the way, and the doors weren’t budging. We both began to push as hard as we could on the little side ventilation windows (for those of you that have ridden in the bug, those are the “air-conditioning” units in the summer) but the latches were holding tight. Good to know no one could break into the bug – but neither could we.

This was a problem. It was 4 pm on Saturday, and on Saturday afternoon in Italy the mechanics are closed. I suggested that we go find a policeman but we really didn’t even know where to head. Manuel just keep muttering cazzo under his breath – he said that in the 15 years he has had the bug (which is amazing, by the way), he has never once closed the keys inside of it – in fact, he always closes the door with the key (instead of pushing down on the lock and holding the handle) to avoid that possibility. Who knows what possessed him in that instant but there we were, locked outside of our car and all our equipment two hours before sound-check. This, my friends, is the meaning of sfiga.

But this, my dears, is the mearning of fortuna. We struck off in a random direction and found almost immediately an auto parts store. He didn’t have anything to help us but he did give us a directions to a key guy (what do we call them in English? Locksmith?) that was only about 100 m away. The locksmith wasn’t in but he was returning in an hour, so we went and had a coffee and walked around a bit, trying to laugh it off. When the locksmith met us at our car an hour later, we had resigned ourselves to the loss of whatever amount of money it was going to cost. It took all of about 2, maybe 3, minutes for Gianni to break into the car and open it for us – and then rob us of 50 euro. :) No, not really – it’s probably a fair price. Manuel says that if you do something that stupid, you deserve to have to pay for it. :) This is a very Italian thing to say.

Okay. Whew. Key in hand, we climbed in and drove to the venue, a tiny club called Tetris. We also played there in February, and we loved it. The guys and gals who run it – Andrea, Gianpaolo, Marco, Ilaria, Corinna, Lorenzo, and who knows who else – are all amazingly friendly, huge music supporters, and just all-around nice people. We did the show with a guy named Alessandro, aka Abba Zabba (check him out on MySpace as well), and we had a fantastic close to our Italian tour. The audience was wonderful – very quiet and appreciative, and we sold a ton of cds and t-shirts (that will go towards paying off the locksmith, so thanks!). This morning we hit the road and found just one more small thing – the day before, with our frantic pushing against the ventilation windows, we seemed to have pushed the driver side window a bit out of whack, and there was a terrible, high-pitched whine of the wind (and cold) disturbing our early morning sojourn. So we pulled over at a gas station and Manuel, armed with a roll of black duct tape, did a darn fine job sealing up the window that no longer closes properly. We started Carolina up, and off we went, thus far we’ve made it all the way to Bologna with nary a hitch in our giddy-up. Let’s hope the remaining 200km to home go this smoothly. I just realized this tour was much like my May tour in Holland – full of the famous Dutch ups and Dutch downs. This one was full (I mean full) of good old fashioned Italian sfiga but tempered nicely with dashes and sprinkles of fortuna here and there. Grazie tanto tanto tanto to Leonardo of SoleBlu for the work he did in organizing the tour with us, and to all of the amazing people who run the few venues that actually support the type of music we do. Thanks to all the other musicians we played with, and all of the people who came to see us at the shows. We’ll be back in February for another tour in Italy – until then, arrivederci! :)

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