As I head out of Milan, the sun is coming up. It’s about 4 hours South to Perugia, and in the first hour the weather is lovely. I stop at an auto grille rest stop full of commuters and truck drivers for espresso and a sandwich. This is one of the more surreal moments on any tour: when the late nightlife of a musician collides, unassuming, with the purposeful, unflinching morning routine of the workaday world. This is exponentially more strange because I’m in Italy, trying to imagine myself on the way to work in a place I only know by its bar and restaurant culture.
People drive faster on the motorways of Italy than I’ve ever seen anyone drive. Two hundred kilometres an hour, at 7 in the morning. My mind cannot get a handle on this, and I stay in the slow lane. When I begin the drive upward into the mountains, the fog gets thick, then the rain, and, eventually, the snow. After a few hours of navigating winding mountain roads and tunnels in wet snow, I pull off at a rest stop and fall asleep in the car for two hours.
I get my bearings and roll on to Perugia. The venue is a fantastic bar/cafe/record store called T-trane. Within half an hour I’ve had an espresso, a local beer and bought a Bevis Frond album and the Kinks’ Lola vs power man on vinyl. While making the espresso, the bartender asks me, “who do you think is beautiful?” And before I can answer, tells me she thinks Charlize Theron is the most beautiful person in the world.
I check in to a room at a great little hotel up the street from the venue. At 8pm, I set up in the record store, and play to a nice crowd. Afterwards, people are very enthusiastic about the set. There’s also a great lost in translation thing in italy where people say “congratulations” to performers after a show. Makes me feel good.
I meet an artist and harmonica player named Jason Johnson from Atlanta, Georgia who now lives in Perugia with his family. After the show, I’m offered another incredible meal at the restaurant next door. Jason and I sit an talk for a good long while about Perugia, Atlanta, and Guelph, Ontario. He speaks of contemporary American politics as an ex-pat artist who is still very invested in the subject. He’s currently working on a vinyl-themed art show which will launch at T-trane in the coming weeks.
Jason explains to me that Perugia was the site of the Salt War of 1540, wherein Perugians resisted Pope Paul III’s salt tax and defied papal control. As protest, Perugians stopped putting salt in their bread. This has become the customary way of preparing bread in Perugia, and the result tastes distinctly bitter and a bit sweet at the same time.
I bid farewell to Jason and Damiano, the excellent promoter, and hike through the old arch to my hotel.
Up and out for a walk around Modena in the morning. Espresso, brioche and an apple at a beautiful corner cafe, reading Romanian Fantastic Tales - another gift from Vladmir - a translated collection of strange, folk-tale inspired stories by some of the best Romanian writers of the twentieth century.
A smooth drive to Milano, the sun shining on me again.
The show in Milan is at a beautiful restaurant/cafe/small show space called Gatto Bistro. I meet the promoter Claudio. he offers me a coffee and invites me to set my guitar case down beside the two year old son of a sister of the owner, who sleeps under a blanket in a makeshift cubby beneath shelves of pasta. The place is operated by two twin sisters, who live above the restaurant and allow me to do laundry, which I desperately need to do. Most of my clothes still smell of cigarette smoke from the Romanian venues.
We do laundry and go for a long walk through the city. It’s a lovely night. I buy a scarf.
The show is partly a birthday celebration for the twin sisters’ other set of twin sisters. I open for the ironically-named Sad Side Project from Rome, a duo who are great. After the show, we sit down for a beautiful multi-course meal in the restaurant behind the venue, including the most spectacular risotto (a regional speciality) I’ve ever tasted.
The birthday party goes late. I’m invited to crash on the couch of the restauranteur, and I thank her. as I pass out, she I heading back out to party more. Unexpectedly, the party comes back to her small apartment. It becomes clear that sleep is not in the cards for me tonight. Eventually, at around 6am, I pack up and head out. In my rental car, parked on a busy street, I try to rest for a few hours, but the temperature has dropped and I’m unable to let myself get comfortable. At 7am, I start the car, and head out on the motorway for Perugia.