|The plane is levelling off. We've
just departed NYC from JFK on JAL. That's
Jugoslavian Air Lines (or "was" I
should say). The first evidence that we are now
technically in our host country -- pork smothered
in gravy, pickled vegetables and a small bottle
of that staple of Jugoslavian culture, the plum
brandy called Slivovitz. More on that later. ;-)
(Just the memory makes me wince.)
long flight to Belgrade.
(pronounced BAY-o-grod by the natives) was a
trip. A gray pall of diesel and WWII ruins
dominated the cityscape. Our first gig was
downtown at the Sava Center, right on the - you
guessed it - Sava River. Over 4000 Belgraders
packed the hall with many standing, although it
looked like more given its strangely wide
and shallow dimensions. A large track ran the
length of what looked to be be a 75 meter stage.
It must have been for t.v. cameras, although I
dont recall seeing any.
audience was rippling with energy. I remember
getting a very cool vibe from these people. There
was no pretentiousness, just an air of excitement
real fun began two thirds of the way through the
concert when we were joined by Borislav Poscan,
the Youth Orchestra of Belgrade. Their conductor,
Anton Kolar, a swarthy handsome Serb, decked out
in a big baggy black silk shirt, took the podium
with a florish and a toothy grin. We would play
the interesting thing is that Bolero was not on
our program. Most of us had never played it. But
hey, when in Rome! My tour buddy, Glenn, picked
up a saxophone (he had been playing mostly
clarinet) and kicked out a smooth, sensuous solo.
The spontaneity was refreshing and made for a
memorable evening. After the gig a very
disorganized and fragmented get-together with the
Yugoslav musicians took place in the lobby. The
highlight: a young Belgrader that looked
*exactly* like Al Franken who seemed very eager
to party with the American kids. Unfortunately we
were on a pretty short leash. Gotta watch out for
our impressionable young 14 year olds.
forward to... Zagreb was a beautiful old city,
probably the most beautiful we saw in our
travels. Its graceful stone architecture and
human scale contrasted starkly with the
industrial flavor of Belgrade and Lubljana. I was
literally down to my last $5.00, having splurged
on a gift (a musical jewelry box purchased in
NYC) for my off-and-on girlfriend, Cathy (who
seven years later would become my legal mate).
Glenn, the clarinetist (god, I hope Ive got
his name right - it was thirteen years ago),
gallantly gave me $10, an act of kindness I will
never forget. I used it to purchase a fancy set
of espresso cups and a small bulbous bottle of
the Yugoslavian firewater, Slivovitz.
the nights gig, I carefully removed a
Serbo-Croation flyer promoting our concert and
diligently protected the rolled, not folded,
souvenir on our travels through Europe. We were
housed out at a somewhat attractive barracks-like
facility outside the city. I couldnt locate
which barracks housed my friends and someone was
playing some obnoxious 70s band on a boom
box. Very depressing. There was only one answer.
the way Orwell described the liquor in
1984? I think he used the words
greasy gin. This wasnt gin, but
it was harsh and kinda greasy. Slivovitz is
supposed to be a plum brandy, but I wasnt
smelling plum anywhere. It burns a bit going down
and packs a wallop. As a rookie in my drinking
career, it didnt take much to set me into a
slow, uncomfortable hazy spin.
wasnt passed out until Austria, but for
dramatic effect, lets just pretend...
dont know if it was our tour guides, or the
Austrian attitude, or just bad kharma, but
Austria just did not sit that well with me. Sure
they had these clean wide freeways and fine
scenery but wherever we went the reception seemed
a little cold. My assessment isnt based on
a lot of experience; I hope to go back under
better circumstances some day.
Linz we showed up eager for to make an impression
in Bruckner Hall, to find that the only tickets
that had been sold were to the family of the
co-concertmaster. It seems our concert producer
had forgotten to advertise. Oops!
that night, a group of us set out on foot to find
a place to dance. None of us spoke more than a
few words of German. About two hours later, it
was dark and we were lost in a city 8,000 miles
from home. Our harpist saved us by boldly
requesting directions from an unsuspecting
citizen retreiving his mail. With his assistance
we made our way back, dejected and
were staying at the Linz Novotel, which we found
endless amusement in calling the No-Tell Motel.
In an ironic (pathetic?) twist it nearly earned
its newly acquired epithet.
now, most everyone is worn out, homesick, feeling
a little wild or a combination of all three.
Glenn, my friend the clarinetist, and Meghan, a
fellow violist, had become quite an item on tour.
Meghan, in the spirit of match-making, set about
encouraging romance from a slightly flirtatious
friendship that was developing between me and the
harpist (who has a name, a very nice name, which
I won't invoke to spare any possible
embarrassment - let's call her L).
our second night in Linz, our group didnt
much feel like braving the elements and stayed
in. Meghan slyly invited me and L to join her and
Glenn in her hotel room, conveniently vacated by
her official room mate.
all sitting on the bed making small talk when
Meghan and Glenn start kissing and hugging. L and
I are a little freaked out. Weve only known
each other for a few days and although something
could have developed, it clearly needed a little
more time. It was also that time in life where
our scant two year age difference (me 19, she 17)
bridged a certain legal barrier (maybe I would
have been exempt in Austria?). I tried to play it
cool and gave her a back rub. (Im such a
nerd!) She was too freaked to relax and enjoy it.
Im sorry to say that I dont have a
really sweaty, raunchy end to this little
episode, but at the time, in that giddy little
zone that travel produces, we had been naughty,
and yes, even rebellious and that's something
I'll always have. (Geez! Its not as
if its a challenge to find to find porn on
call at the No-Tell Motel.
I mention that Hitler grew up in Linz?