Friday, October 31, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

Just wanted to apologize for not updating so frequently - since Milan (post soon to follow) we've had only one day off, so it's tough to keep blogging! I promise more posts soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 22 – MILAN – Laundry Social Experiment and the Multitasking Puppeteer

We flew in this morning from Barcelona – thankfully it’ll be our last flight until Vilnius in two weeks. It was also a much better experience than the Milan airport – we had plenty of time to go through security and get to our gate.
When we got to Milan I was a little disappointed when I found out that we weren’t actually staying in Milan. My room overlooked a highway and the weather outside was dull and gray. Oh well, that just meant that I had to buy internet and compute during the day off. Eric and I also really needed to do laundry, so we made that our first priority. We walked under the bridge (which supported the highway) and about ten minutes later, we found a coin op joint. Being that we’re inept and totally idiotic, Eric and I struggled to figure out how to use the machines. The old owner tried to show us by pointing us around the white and yellow checkered room, detailing steps in mumbled Italian. It took him three times just to describe putting the clothes in. The soap was a whole other story. Finally after fifteen minutes, our clothes were cycling in suds. We decided that we trusted this guy enough to walk around a little bit. Of course we were starving, so we figured we’d grab a bite to eat. We immediately noticed a pizza place two doors down. Hm… pizza in Italy? Yes, please. We walked in pointed to the Foccaccia Primavera, a slice of thick crusted pizza topped with tomato sauce, olives, capers, mushrooms and peppers. The crust was perfectly airy and crisp – not dense like some Sicilian style pies. The sauce was perfectly balanced in terms of sweet, salty, and acidity. It was so good, we went back the next day got it again, this time with a slice of Pizza Bianca, a sauceless, mozzarella-ey slice topped with diced tomato and just the right amount of rosemary.

Resisting the urges to get Gelato (next door), we paced back to the Laundromat to put our clothes in the dryer. The man was leaving, so we made it just in time. An older woman came in with a little dog that ran over to me. Thinking about how much I missed my Monty, I petted the pup. He pulled back a little, sniffing my pizza-scented fingers. He started to bark, as if he were angry with me for not having brought him back any. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming.” I giggled. We sat in the ‘mat until the clothes were dry and trekked back to the hotel.
A couple hours later and we met up with Adrian for dinner. Since we weren't in downtown Milan, I had no good way of searching for a nice spot to eat. Again we were left to the mercy of our hotel. They quickly handed us a card for Ristorante Morganti Enoteca. Sounded good - we made a reservation at once.
The taxi dropped us off in front of the restaurant, and we stood outside observing the menu. Meeting all of our standards (veg options, cheap, etc), we decided to go for it… but where’s the door? It looked empty inside, but the man at our hotel’s reception had called ahead and made a reservation… were they playing some sort of sick joke on us?
We walked around the block… that wasn’t right either. Finally we realized that the door blocked by a table was indeed the entrance. Wow, the place was completely empty – does no one in Europe eat before 10?

Finally we were greeted by an old man who looked like Geppetto. His mustache curled upwards in the most whimsical way. He lit our candle, poured us a complimentary Apertivo and took our drink order. Adrian and Eric split a half liter of house white; I got my own of red. He returned with the two pitchers and a plate of bruschetta.

Free stuff is good. I like free stuff – especially when it’s food – especially when I’m starving. “What do you like to eat?” he asked. “Everything,” we replied in unison. “You like fish?” I nodded – but I just wanted to get the order in before I got too drunk to talk from having alcohol on an empty stomach.
Eric and Adrian started with spinach and ricotta stuffed tortellini, which was topped with a fresh tomato sauce and a couple whole basil leaves. I could tell that the garlic and diced tomato was just briefly sautéed and that the pasta was most likely made in house, as it was soft (not in an overcooked way) and egg-y.

I got a nice big salad which came undressed, which I love since I can make the dressing as tart and vinegary as I want.

As we were enjoying our first course, another group of three sat down across the room. One was definitely Italian (a good sign) but the other two were English and American. Well, I thought, maybe this is a guy that knows his food and is taking his visiting friends to his favorite restaurant. I could overhear our waiter talking to them, “You like fish?” Apparently he was really trying to sell the seafood tonight – I got worried because I ordered bass. Just then our second courses arrived. Eric got a plate of grilled vegetables that were topped with cheese and broiled. How could that be bad?

Adrian got Veal Scallopini – which looked like a nice rendering of a classic, covered in arugula and tomatoes.

As aforementioned, I got the bass (luckily fillet-ed and de-boned), which was wrapped in thinly sliced potato and pan seared. It was really excellent – the potato crisped up really nicely and the delicately sweet fish stayed nice and moist. It’s a common technique that I think I’ll try out back home (“Ooh ooh! Make it for me Julie” - I know you’re salivating, Mom).

As we were enjoying a few more tables came in – I felt relieved – but it didn’t matter; I was enjoying my meal either way. Then I heard the server again “You like fish?” He gave the same spiel to every table. And every table was American. Oh man, I thought, this is just a place recommended by all of the hotels in the area. It made the whole experience less special for me. But then we were brought out a plate of complimentary cookies. Debate over – it was an excellent dining experience, despite the hokey-ness.

Then things really took a strange turn.

No not that. The table of the American, Brit, and Italian began talking politics. They rolled their eyes at us, for we were talking politics earlier and they must’ve overheard us. I don’t want to get into details, but we decided that we’d had enough and that we’d go over to the Blue Note for a drink. We called Andre, got the address, and asked our funny server for a taxi. “Ok, 10 minutes,” he said. I couldn’t wait to get out of there; my blood was boiling as a result of listening to the snobby trio. “5 minutes.” After 3, we stood up to wait outside so that we could leave as soon as possible. “Ok here is your taxi.” Geppetto pointed to a new gray station wagon parked in front of the restaurant. “Huh – this is our cab?” we asked. “Yes it is,” he retorted, as he opened up the door and took a seat behind the wheel. Now I’ve seen everything… and I’m still wondering who took all of his tables. Then my thoughts turned became clear, and I realized that it was all an evil, evil plan. This guy must a friend of the bartender from Lugano – they did both speak Italian, and Milan is only an hour away from the Swiss town. We weren’t going to escape twice – they were going to make a feast out of our newly pudgy, tipsy bodies after all. “Yes, yes - fatten them up! Recommend the pasta and if they try to order vegetables cover them with gobs of cheese! Cheese imparts a nice flavor… Give them the free bruschetta and cookies too – and make sure to get them very drunk. It tenderizes the flesh.” I shook my head in disbelief – it couldn’t be true, right? “Oh no, I can’t take you there,” Geppetto sighed, “that’s very far.” I was about ready to jump out of the car. Then Adrian suggested that we just go back to the hotel. “Good idea!” I affirmed immediately. Before we could get out, Geppetto took off… how did he know where our hotel was?
No matter, we somehow escaped the jaws of cannibals yet again, and enjoyed a nice Lemoncello at the hotel bar. I guess he got a craving for sour conservatives instead…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 21 – BARCELONA, SPAIN - Magic Mushrooms

The egg window is baffling. The restaurant gives you the option to have them scrambled, fried or whipped and folded into fluffy omelets. Since fried is one of the options, I know the cook can make whites, but he won’t give blanco as an option – he just shakes his head. There’s also a nice ripe, sliced tomato back there, but when asked if it can be put into an omelet, he points to placard “Tortilla de huevos – con: queso/bacon/jamon.” Apparently the tomato does not exist either. I order fried eggs, figuring I can just eat around the yolks. He proceeds to drop two eggs into a 2-inch-deep vat of oil. Lovely – so much for a healthy breakfast.
Like Rome, we barely had any time in Barcelona. We drove from San Sebastian to Bilbao and flew from there.

The flight was a piece of cake, but we really had to drop our stuff off at the hotel and rush over the to the Bikini Forum for soundcheck.
Ah, a rock club – finally. I knew this would be a good show once I met the crew and checked my amp – it was a great room. By the time sound check was over we were so hungry we were tempted to start gnawing off our own hands. Finally, the crew arrived with some crostinis, tortilla chips, organic vegetable crisps, hummus (that tasted oddly of refried beans), tomatoes and cheese. We inhaled as much as we culd in a ten minute period, and went back to the hotel.
The show was awesome – the crowd of 300 danced and sang along (and might I add with the best rhythm and pitch I’ve heard from just about any audience thus far). This is why we’re meant to play rock clubs: it just works. There’s something about the energy, the standing, the lighting, the sound… or is it the alcohol…
After the show we went back to the hotel to eat (yet another) late, late dinner nearby. When we walked into the restaurant, we received applause from the only other table. As it turned out, the man sitting there with his wife (or girfriend) was a very famous music critic in Spain. He loved the show, and took some pictures with Adrian, promising some future excellent reviews.
We were excited by this, but also hungry. However, we had to wake up early the next day, so I didn’t want to fill up so much that I couldn’t sleep. I was recommended the wild mushrooms and baby roasted peppers, flecked with clusters of delicate sea salt. The funghi reminded me of baby shitakes. They were very mild, sautéed simply in olive oil, garlic and parsley – delicate with a touch of bright (from the parsley) earthiness. Apparently they have a very short season so chefs try to feature these prized ‘shrooms at this time of year. The peppers were nice and sweet, not spicy at all - despite their green color (best of that shade I’ve had for sure).

Adrian got some chicken with a sauce comprised of the same mushrooms. This was served with fried potato. I didn’t want to be rude and take a photo from the other end of the table, so there’s no pic for that. Eric got a salad (which tasted alarmingly like it had Caesar dressing on it) and gazpacho. The soup was much more refined than any kind I’ve had before – it was really quite thin, but still flavorful.

Much better than some attempts that I’ve had, which make me wonder if the chef just dumped a jar of salsa into a bowl with some water or club soda and topped it with tortilla chips and sour cream. Blech, no thanks. Andre got a nice looking salad, full of crisp raw veggies and the gazpacho, though he didn’t eat the soup because it had a bit of white bread in it. I admire his self-discipline – rarely (and I mean rarely) does he consume refined foods.

Again we drank Albariño and Tempranillo – and how could we not? It was our last day in Spain afterall. After the meal I took some shots of Adrian in front of the walls. Guess which one we thought looked like him?

October 20 – SAN SEBASTIAN – WARNING: NC-17 Post Follows

I woke up to Eric pounding on my door – “Julie… wake up! Let’s see if there’s breakfast!” I was enjoying my slumber and figured it was too early for such nonsense. I was totally surprised to find out I’d slept ‘til 10! We made it just in time – not without struggling to tell the host our room numbers in our poor, poor Spanish (six y dos… no, no – no ocho… six, dos, fourtro… siete?). After we managed this hurdle, we joined Andre, our promoter Wolfgang and his wife Julia. We went right for the coffee and sipped the smooth, chocolate-y stuff as the couple talked of their private garden near Bordeaux. Great, as if I already didn’t want to visit that region, now I have to figure out how to raise the funds to move there. Anyone want to contribute to the “Help A Young Foodie Musician Relocate to the French Countryside Fund?”

The buffet spread was incredible – fresh melon, pineapple, watermelon, grapefruit and clementines; shots (literally) of different flavors of yogurt; an entire table dedicated to donuts; a cereal station; a bread section (which featured a bowl of garlic cloves for rubbing on toast – hey mom – sounds like heaven, right?); a made-to-order omelet window; churros (Spanish tube shaped funnel cake – only my favorite form of fried confections); pitchers of freshly squeezed (for real this time) juice (papaya-kiwi, orange, guava, and apple cider); wine; and cheeses with sweet-sour quince paste. We didn’t even notice it coming in, but on the way out we broke away pieces of a model ship made entirely of CHOCOLATE. Good thing we don’t have to eat again until after the show; I’m in a food coma.
Again, it’s a show day, so the focus is on that; however, my second priority is to go to the beach. Eric and I went early to the venue, which is an awesome theater where Alfred Hitchcock used to premier his movies. After we finished setting up, we realized that we had 30 minutes to kill. We went outside and oh darn, the beach is across the street.

We stood at the pier and looked toward the sapphire ocean, surfers riding along perfectly cresting waves. It took me a couple of minutes of nagging, but I finally convinced Eric to tread the sands and put our feet into the lucid water. We rolled up our jeans and navigated through tanners, lying out to bathe in the midday Spanish sun. Breathing in the balmy, salty air, I thought that it would be impossible to ever leave this place.

Then we saw the jogger. We were just getting to the shoreline, our eyes focused on our sinking feet. We looked up and saw him, running right toward us: his long brown hair bobbing about and blowing in the wind atop his perfectly bronzed, naked body. Let me tell you something I never thought I’d ever see (or ever want to see): a nude sprinter, flopping around freely in all of his glory. On the way back up to the pier, we noticed more and more bare beachgoers. Yes, yes, there were big-breasted women lying on their backs, sunning their melons. And there were men stretched out, with their legs apart as if to say “Yeah, that’s right. Here I am. My jamón is tan, what about yours?” I’ll admit it: Eric and I are prudish Americans. We giggled. And you’re welcome for putting those images in your head.

The show was acceptable – we found out that our booking agents put us in this theater because they were doing renovations on the arts center that we were supposed to play (and it had a lower capacity). This meant that the venue looked empty – but I’d try to be optimist and see the place as 1/3 full.
Afterwards we rushed back to the hotel for dinner. Without hesitation, we ordered a bottle each of Albariño and Rioja Tempranillo.

Both were a little richer than the ones we enjoyed last night – the white was little more buttery and earthy, while the red was flat out delicious, bursting with notes of blackberry and cracked pepper. I looked at the specials page – Dorado was featured – I’d had it before in Costa Rica and recalled it’s nice, mildly sweet flavor. Wolfgang and Julia ordered it with a salad starter, and I just nodded – “The same, por favor.” Eric got a bowl of vegetable soup and a salad. Adrian requested Veal, but then changed his mind after five minutes. Luckily, the kitchen let him make the switch to the fish. “In France you only order once. The chef will not give a second chance,” Julia chuckled. Just then, the first courses arrived. The salad was much like the one Eric had last night – a traditional Insalate Mixta. It was not dressed it all, which I liked because then I could add as little or as much olive oil and vinegar as I desired.

Eric's soup was pureed and topped with a bit of grated cheese. It tasted like a really good split pea (sin carne, sin jamón, of course).

The main courses were not such a success. The Dorado looked tasty as it was brought over (yay, no face tonight), but sadly, the fillet was not the texture I expected it to be.

I scooped up a nice big piece for my first bite – crunch – I pushed my tongue forth to reveal tiny pin bones, which protruded out of my lips like little fangs. It was ironic – last night I was presented a whole fish, bones removed, and tonight I had I nice tidy fillet, beset with the suckers. I barely ate it – luckily the salad filled me up enough.
I stayed down in the restaurant talking until we all decided it was time for bed. My head filled with dreams of visiting Bordeaux, I slept well.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 19 – SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN – Pintxos Paradise

I discovered that there’s an opera singer staying in the room above me – either that, or that is one talented housekeeping staff member. I think she’s practicing arpeggios while taking a shower (I can hear the water rushing above my head). So far these European hotel walls have not been the thickest… I heard a knock at one of the doors upstairs. I think somebody complained, because the singing mysteriously stopped…
Our next show is in San Sebastian so we had to fly out of Milan (Lugano’s airport is small). Our non-English speaking driver was 20 minutes late, but we figured we had allotted enough time to get checked in. On the way he stopped at McDonald’s and wasted another 10 minutes (we didn’t see him get any food, so we have no idea what he was doing). We arrived in Milan with about an hour to get on our plane. There was a lot of staff checking people in, so the line fortunately moved quickly. After we negotiated with our worker (we gave her a CD, which Adrian autographed), we had to go to another line to pay our overweight bill. Our flight was already boarding as we took the escalator down to security check in. We groaned as we saw the line of about 100 people waiting to pass through the detectors. But it got worse really quickly – we realized this when we tried to find the END of it. We turned a corner and saw that it snaked around and around, like a human intestinal system. Were we going to make it? Luckily it took us 5 minutes to make pretty good ground – there were a lot of detectors. Then we couldn’t believe our eyes: the queue actually extended into yet another area, the same size as the first! Or flight was scheduled to take off at 2:30; it was 2:15. It was 2:20 when we (somehow) finally made it to the front of the line. With just under 8 minutes, we had to now find our gate. Eric and I ran ahead to explain at the gate that two more were coming. We scampered though the seemingly endless mall that was placed conveniently after security. My bass bobbed about and Eric’s cymbals dragged on the waxy floor that produced squeaks beneath our sneakers. Two floors down, we could see our gate through squinted eyes, all the way at the end of the freakin’ terminal. Success! We pointed back to the stairs, panting, “Two more coming – soon!” Hey, we’re musicians, not athletes. Best yet – the plane wasn’t even there (it was too small) – so we had to taxi over to it. We wheezed and coughed, thanking our lucky stars that we made it. So what if there was a mall, we did not want to spend all day in the airport, waiting for another plane to go to San Sebastian.
Upon boarding, I looked apologetically at the other passengers. Surely we had delayed the flight – sluggish Americans.
I have wanted to visit San Sebastian ever since I started getting into food, as I’ve heard it’s one of the culinary capitals of the world, boasting top chefs and Michelin-rated restaurants. I’ve read about pintxos (Basque-style tapas) ever since I began to receive my Bon Appetit and Gourmet subscriptions, and enjoyed them since Jose Garces opened up his famously awesome small plates restaurants. I’m nervous, though, being here on tour, that I won’t get to sample any. Being a foodie here and NOT getting pintxos (or any good meal, for that matter) is like going to Maine and not getting lobster; France without drinking wine; or Philly sans cheesesteaks while running up the Art Museum steps (ok that would probably get messy). Enough with the analogies – you get the picture. Yeah, yeah there’s a gorgeous Spanish beach and the rooms are fabulous… but I want pintxos dammit!

I discovered right off the bat that people in Spain eat late – restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8:30, 9. And many places are closed on Sundays. Great. Sure, you can drink wine and eat pintxos, but I knew the rest of the group would want to wait. Sigh. The minutes passed like hours, and we finally met downstairs at 8 to figure out dinner plans. We were at the mercy of the hotel – I couldn’t figure out where to eat, as the Internet connection was slow. We were recommended a place called Bernardo’s in the historic part of town. Armed with a map and taxi, we were off.
The Old City is inaccessible by car so we had to decipher our directions and street names to locate our dining destination. We wandered, and wandered, completely confused. We passed bars that buzzed with laughing, gorgeous Spanish people who were eating pintxos and drinking wine from over-sized glasses. I was tempted to wander away from the group and swipe a piece of cheese from an oblivious diner’s plate. A stray dog wandered in front of us and relieved himself atop the cobbled alley – great – icing on the cake. Finally we decided to ask for directions – but we had to figure out the best place to go – we didn’t want to offend the workers of another eatery. We found two police officers in the nick of time, who showed us the way. “Grazie-ass… I mean, Gracias. Where are we again?” I stuttered. No matter, we looked at the menu, found two vegetarian plates, and headed inside. The bar was topped with small plates – bocarones, manchego, flatbreads, camarones… but were they free? No price tags adorned them… maybe I should just snag one… I was salivating over a platter of gargantuan olives when I realized that we were getting seated. My stomach rumbled when I noticed the rustic rolls at each place setting, waiting to be promptly consumed. I tried to wait for olive oil – but I just couldn’t. I was so hungry I could barely fix my eyes on the menu – then I realized it was in Spanish. Our server realized that we were miserable at understanding the language, so she brought us the English version. I turned to the wine list – being that it was a couple of pages long, I couldn’t figure out if the prices were for a bottle or glass (if so, then they had a lot of open bottles!). Nervous, I ordered the cheapest red they had (because it was still 11 euros). Adrian wanted to order a bottle of white for he and Eric to share – I suggested Albariño, a crisp, and cirtusy Spanish wine – he took my word for it. I was proud – they swooned when they tasted it.

Adrian zoned in on the asparagus with salsa crude and battered Hake, Eric on the only veg options (besides the asparagus): Insalate Mixta and a sautéed vegetable plate. I selected grilled Turbot and prayed that it would be enough food for me (there was no description beyond the method of preparation). Oh well, I’m sure my fork would find it’s way onto my unsuspecting cohorts’ plates. It was as if the karma police were reading my thoughts, because pretty much as soon as I thought that, another server came over to our table with a menu. She pointed to the Turbot, “Dis one – fini.” Dammit, now I had to make another decision! Sole… squid… sole… squid. I played it safe (or so I thought): grilled sole. At least that one said it came with potatoes.
The appetizers arrived soon after I made my second decision. My eyes widened when I saw Adrian’s asparagus set down on the table – thick white stalks drizzled with deeply green olive oil, served with a side of mayonnaise and a light tomato vinaigrette. Now I’m not a huge asparagus fan – I find it overpowering and hate the whole smelly pee effect – but the white variety is sweet, mild, and praised by top chefs worldwide. “Julie would you like some?” Adrian asked, as if he saw me licking my lips, eyeing up his plate. I didn’t even wait to acknowledge his question with an affirmative – my tines reached across the table. Oh heavens – so simple, but so good. Quality ingredients really do matter.

Eric’s vegetarian salad was loaded with artichokes, beets, olives, eggs, tomatoes, asparagus and topped with a nice hunk of preserved tuna (so much for sin pesche). Oh well, guess I had to take that off of his hands. It was the best fully cooked tuna I’ve ever eaten – dense and rich, not fishy at all. It immediately gave me a protein-packed, Omega-3 head rush. The grumbling in my belly subsided.

The second courses arrived shortly after: Adrian’s Hake was predictably tender and crunchy, served with a lemon wedge and a sprig of parsley. How dietetic.

Eric’s veggie plate arrived – more artichokes, fava beans, cauliflower, carrots, string beans all covered in fried jamón. He shook his head as it was placed in front of him – “Sin carne. There’s carne.” “Si, señor sin carne,” the server retorted. He pointed to his plate “There’s jamón. Jamón is carne.” She looked confused as she took the dish back, “Next time, you say sin carne, sin jamón.” Luckily, it came back jamon free within minutes.

I forgot that Sole is a tender, flaky white fish – so of course they couldn’t grill a fillet. The whole whopper, head and tail still attached, with a small side of sliced potatoes was set down front of me. Oh well, if I’m going to eat fish I guess I should acknowledge that it has a face. Fortunately it was already de-boned so I didn’t have to even use my knife – the fish was moist and delightful, covered in a nice sea salt-infused clarified butter. It was gone in about 3 minutes.

“See that little tooth there?” Adrian pointed into the mouth of my meal with his knife. My stomach turned. The waitress came by just in time to clear our table. “Dessert?” she asked? Oh hell no.
We left the restaurant shocked – it was a veritable ghost town.

We ended it up at a German bar, where the waiter proceeded to pour a whole bottle of whiskey in Adrian and Eric’s Jack and (splash of) Cokes.

I had an oversized red wine, and helped them with their cocktails. We grabbed a taxi, and with that our evening came to a close.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 17 - LUGANO – Auditorium Shredfest

The breakfast here is similar to the one in Budapest, with the exception of eggs and boisterous Americans. There is also table service and half of the items at the buffet are bread or pastry related (and probably contain loads of butter). Not wanting to eat to heavily on a show day, I had my typical bowl of yogurt and cereal drizzled with a bit of raw honey. I will say that yogurt was more lush and creamy here – my guess is that it was of the full-fat variety. The coffee was robust and French pressed, served in a nice single-serving heavy sterling silver carafe with a side of steamed milk. Not a bad way to start the day!
Apparently the caffeine took a while to hit my bloodstream, because it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to work the shower. After I solved the puzzle (turn the handle left or right, idiot), I met up with Eric to check out more of the town. It would figure that it was dreary outside – I forgot to take photos of the sun-drenched scenic town the day before. No matter; we sauntered down to the river, went in a couple shops and still took some nice photos.

The town square was definitely bustling despite the dull and clammy Saturday. Entertainent was even included – there was a clown on a stilts and a quintet happily singing and strumming what seemed to be traditional Italian folk songs.

Soon enough we realized our bellies were rumbling, so we stopped at a vendor who was selling pastries and sandwiches on artesian breads. Eric got a Caprese (he couldn’t resist after yesterdays yummy salad). I got a grilled vegetable panino on ciabatta. The sandwich was handed to me wrapped in wax paper, still warm from the grill. He burnt the bottom a bit – which I loved – but the medley of eggplant, zucchini, baby carrot, onion, and sweet bell pepper was still slightly cool enough to offset the heat of the bread. Amazing.

Money shot:

By the time we made it back up the hill it was time for Eric to leave for the venue to set up his drums with Andre. I stayed back and left with Adrian an hour later. We sound-checked, playing a little quieter than usual for fear that we might blow out the eardrums of our audience. See, we’re playing in an auditorium at the radio station, where an orchestra performed last night.

Some cool jazz guys are playing there soon as well… not exactly a place where we can really be a POWER trio. It reminded of the time we played at the Villa Montalvo, a theater situated in a very ritzy section in Saratoga, California. We were part of a concert series there, which usually features tamer acts (think classical or new age). Older, wealthy residents subscribed to the series and enjoyed this soft, pleasant music weekly. So basically we weren’t really performing for Adrian Belew fans, but rather a retirement community. It was simultaneously disappointing and hilarious to watch the majority of the crowd squeal with horror as we started our first song. They ran for the doors, pressing against their ears so hard I thought they’d surely pop some blood vessels. I find it really comical that our most viewed clip on Youtube is from this show … we probably had 20 people left in the audience by the time that was filmed. Anyway, we didn’t want a repeat performance of this, so we turned down as much as possible…
After we got our sounds dialed in, we raced down to the hotel to drop off our stuff and get something to eat. We knew where we’d be eating tonight – Argentino. We sat down inside (there was too much cigar smoke in the heated outdoor patio) and Adrian requested that I take a picture of him Italy. “Sure,” I snickered, “but you’ll hafta remind me – we’ll be there on Wednesday.” I’ll confess it was confusing – I had to keep reminding myself that we were, in fact, in Switzerland.

Soon after the photo was taken, dinner arrived. Adrian got a plate of (you guessed it) tagliatelle, but this time, it was al pommodoro. He deemed it the best of the pastas he’d had so far in Lugano.

We were amused (and tempted) by the Pizza Yankee, which was topped with french fries and ketchup.

Eric got a vegetarian pizza, which was topped with spinach, green beans, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms. Of course I had a bite. Of course it was delicious – the crust was crackly, the sauce sweet, and the cheese mild and gooey. The vegetables definitely seemed like an afterthought, merely there for nutritional value – over-boiled, but still good, whatever.

Seeing as how there was nothing interesting beyond pizza for vegetarians on the menu, I got an Insalata Vegetariana (aren’t most salads vegetarian?) Again it was without description, but I just went with it, asking for some rucola in case it didn’t normally accompany the dish.

It was pretty good – acceptable show-day food. It featured tomatoes, corn, and carrots, cucumber, cabbage and radicchio. I asked the waiter for some cracked pepper (none on the table – gasp!) and he quickly brought over the mill and a mysterious tin pot. Curious, I poured a little on my plate and realized that it was pepper infused oil. Fantastic, I thought – something o spruce up a pretty boring plate. I’ll admit I went a little overboard with the stuff – I rendered my meal almost too spicy to eat. Recalling what the experts say about fiery foods being good for metabolism, I ate another piece of bread from the basket. It was probably burned off on the walk back up to the hotel anyway.
The show was fun, albeit different from our usual experience. We didn’t blow anybody’s ears out, and we actually got some response (it’s difficult to get a seated crowd excited).
After the show we set out to find an open bar (at 11). I wouldn’t have even started to drink but there was local wine backstage. How could I refuse? Eric and I each had a glass – er –plastic cup of Merlot (only red there). I’m normally not a Merlot fan, but this was entirely enjoyable. It reminded me of grape juice, but not in a cloyingly sweet kind of way – more like an “I could drink this bottle with breakfast” kind of way… not that I would do that or anything… Anyway, with the taste of wine on our lips, we set out to find a place that would serve our little posse of hooligan musicians. Around the corner, we stumbled upon a quaint little tavern called the Triangle Bar. Two of our fans happened to be sitting outside at the patio, and they clapped as we walked by them and into the entrance. A drunk was leaning on the bar, his face pushed into his hands. He slowly raised his head to acknowledge us, but as if it weighed 100 lbs, it fell right back into its place. The bartender scowled at us as he wiped down the counter; he was closing up. We explained to him that we had just played across the street and his face immediately lit up. He apologized profusely for not having any food prepared. “You see I close soon, but you can have a drink if you like.” He poured our drinks and told us (with a thick Italian accent) about his own musical career. “You see I am a drum player. I played in England a long time ago. I own this bar now, and I’m old – 60. But we played classic songs. You like the Beatles?” Eric started slapping the drum solo to “The End” on the lop-sided formica table. He raised an eyebrow, “You know this one?” The owner wrinkled his forehead. Adrian began to sing the guitar solo, strumming along with his air guitar. The old drummer grinned, “ooh!” and started tapping along, using his chubby forefingers as drumsticks. “You know Italian music?” he asked over our banging. We looked at each other and shrugged. He began to sing and tap to a traditional song and Adrian claimed he’d heard it before. The drunkard bobbed his head, singing softly and out of rhythm, practically drooling on the counter. The barkeep waddled over and said to us, sotto voce, “I pretend to close,” he glanced back at the drooping, slobbering sot, and slowly brought his eyes back to us. “But you stay here. I make you some food.” He arched his back, winking at us. “It’s too bad you didn’t tell me you were coming! I have to close! Yup, it’s just too bad. Ok, time to leave.” The bar darkened, a sole buzzing fluorescent light providing the only radiance in the room. The alcoholic slowly pushed himself away from the bar, head lowered, body swaying. He looked like a zombie from a bad horror movie, a dark silhouette bending amidst the eerie blue glow. The owner nudged him along out the door. His feet barely moved, as if they were cemented to the floor. We brushed past him and turned back to our new friend, “Ok, nice to meet you! Thanks for the drinks!” He winked at us again, “Ciao! Bye-bye!” We waved and stepped outside. We hung a quick left into the shadows, and then another, so we were standing in the dark, behind the building – of a strange pub – in Switzerland. We looked at each other anxiously. “Hey guys, I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Adrian advised. “This could get really weird.” “Well we can’t just leave,” I said. “The owner will surely see us running away.” Just then we looked up to see the drunk stumble into the street. He raised an arm to his head, to shield his eyes from the brightness of the streetlamps. He dug around his pocket with his free hand and came up with a mobile phone. He dialed a number, probably his ride. No answer. Clenching his cell, he looked both ways, trying to discern the right way home. I guess he figured it out, because he started to walk away from the bar, down the road. We slowly crept out of the darkness, making sure to keep a nice distance between our fellow patron and us. He was halfway down the street when he stopped. We feared he’d recognize us through his swirling haze, so we halted our motion and sat down at the bus stop located conveniently to our left. We whispered to each other again, trying to figure out what to do. Somehow we convinced each other that it was, in fact, a good idea to go back into the potential serial killer’s bar. After all, we didn’t want to be revealed as deceivers. We stood up, but paused again as we noticed the drunk stop, turn around, and saunter back our way. He angrily tried to dial along the way. He marched passed us, the stench of booze trailing behind him. He stopped at the bar, and we concluded that he was asking the owner if he could use his phone. We decided to give up, and that we should probably say goodbye so that we wouldn’t offend our new friend. He understood, and I could tell he was angry the drunk for ruining a potentially fun evening.
At least we weren’t getting hacked up tonight. Who knew what “food” he was going to serve anyway… Special tonight: Tender American Rock Group Ragout over Fresh Tagliatelle topped with Shaved Aged Guitarist – 30 Francs.