Summer in Piedmont 2017
A return on Easyjet to Piedmont, after a swift 4 days with my family in England, has raised some interesting questions. It seems everyone is delighted for me, and a little staggered, that I have opted out of city life, having, it seemed, the perfect set up in Dublin, city-centre house, thriving business, amazing, music filled, social life. But here I am, on the flight to Milan, pondering existential thoughts. The meaning of my life today and who I am.
I love music, with a passion, having been brought up in an eclectic, mixed music genre house, by my music mad parents, my father was a music promoter, and there was barely a moment when music was not being played on the record player, or bands were partying in the house, after a gig. I was happy hanging out backstage, organising gigs and being at stage-side of many a great concert. Yet, now I am living with no great music scene, apart from our trusty 1990's Technics CD/tape stereo that still provides a hard to beat excellent sound, and a wide mix of music, that is terrifying the woodpeckers, chickens and bumblebees, in this normally slumbering Langhe Hills, Piemonte, garden. We do have our Sardinian, elderly neighbour, Giovanni, belting out old Italian classics, after one too many home-made wines, at every dinner party, such song lyrics seem to feature sun, wine, girls and food and of course the moon, beautiful to the ears but not Rock ‘n’ Roll. We have Guido, in his mid 60’s, who makes his own music on a keyboard synthesizer, which I am struggling to fit into a genre, bless him. Though, he is a fan of the Beatles and Sergeant Peppers, probably my least favourite band by a long mile. Don't get me wrong, I live for the dinners and entertainment by my talented neighbours but...
I have gone through dormant phases of not listening to any music, which hits me after about a month, when I awaken with a jolt, after realising something is missing and I have entered ‘beige’ middle age territory. So, it was with gritted determination that, in January, I had set upon purchasing two tickets for Guns N Roses in London, for their June concert. I knew it would sell out fast and I knew I had to fend for myself and get these tickets sorted out, which meant Ticketmaster. I hate Ticketmaster. It completely sucks, I know it is egalitarian and the fastest fingers win the best tickets but I also know there are many seats held back from the sale for the corporates to waste on uninterested, posturing, clients. I went to the extent of paying extra to join the Guns N Roses fan club, to give myself a 3-day exclusive advance purchase opportunity. The moment came when the seats shone up on the screen and I had no choice but to buy them, they sat a third away from the stage. It was desperate. And, so it was, for the 4th time in our lives, myself, and my 39-year-old sister, found ourselves running around looking for cargo pants to avoid the arduous hand bag search, back combed our hair into Rock n Roll quiffs, blacked our eyes up and donned the required rock chic, red, lipstick, in preparation for viewing one of our favourite bands. Sitting in our seats at the concert, a third down the venue from the stage we realised we weren’t going to see the full-size grimacing Axl and the colour of Slashes finger nails, which we had twice before by holding on for dear life, to the front barriers at Wembley, as teens, but now, more pedestrian, we had the big screens and tiny 4-inch-high versions of the band running back and forth across the stage. An hour into the concert, two plastic bottles of Heineken down, and I was in love with music yet again, and, by the looks of it, so were most of the stadium's over 40’s. I had a yearning to return to my Rockabilly hang outs in Dublin and go to more gigs in London but I knew with a first, strange bout of homesickness, that all this was no longer on my door step. I live in the middle of nowhere, in the Langhe Hills, listening to Giovanni singing ‘Amore’ songs at me and Guido strumming his very own Italian accented ‘Eleanor Rigsby’ version after dinner. Ouch.
I am looking out of the window, on the flight over the mountains, and know my life is returning to it’s quiet, relaxing pace, and I miss Rock ‘n’ Roll. What am I going to do? I vow to myself, in this moment, that I am going to get out more and find the gigs, I know Milan is heaving with music but, at two hour’s drive away, it’s not simple, not when I have been spoilt with city living in Dublin and London. So, as much as I have rebelled, and jumped off with two feet, out of the rat race, like Slash jumping off the stage with his Gibson in the air. I must not fade into this landscape. I am not retired! I feel a bit more of a sense of who I am coming back to me, now my jaded city ‘burn out’ is fading into a distant memory. I have been told that there is a season of music in 'Bergolo' of over 20 classical/swing/jazz events this summer, I might start there, it’s not Rock ‘n’ Roll, but it’s a start.
Italian’s are mostly tribal people and one of the things that they love is the ability to drive in 'scalextric' set convoys along the windy country roads. When venturing out, as a group, it is always with the instruction to drive to the bottom of the drive, of the trip’s organiser, and we will meet there and then follow each other to the destination, even though we all know the way, either this is an insecurity about getting separated from the group at the destination, or it is a chance to show off how fast the lead driver can be, as he wings it round the hillside. I also like to think it is a chance to show off, to all and sundry, how many friends they have and how popular they are. Tonight, we, and our neighbours, are all descending on 'Bergolo' to see a French band, and we have a dear neighbour, Gianna, with us. She is, as all Italian women on a night out, dressed up, and has donned a designer denim jacket and skirt with fetching shoes, ‘Max Mara’ white rimmed sunglasses and her coiffured dark hair, with the carefully placed red streaks, is on magnificent display, she must have been stunning, as a twenty-year-old, as she is stunning now in her sixties.
We meet at Guido's driveway and with smiles and horns tooting back and forth, we join the back of the convoy to climb down and up another high hill, in a twisting, synchronised, convoy, to the ancient village of ‘Bergolo’. As we drive up the hill to the village, I look out of the window at the sunset, over the distant hillocks. Here, there is more pasture with a few munching, white, ‘Farrone’ beef cows, who are slowly swatting the eager hungry flies out of their eyes, like an Egyptian slave fanning Cleopatra, and completely ignoring the passing by noisy car convoy, as they meditatively graze. There are some obligatory hazelnut patches, but the land appears more patchworked than our hill and the sun setting, on the recently harvested wheat fields, shines with a deep amber gold, off the dry and stubbly wheat remains, as the last of the day’s heat mists through the little, transparent, clouds of nats and last minute pollen seekers. It is a beautiful drive.
On arrival, the car park is mostly empty and for the first time ever we seem to be among the first to arrive. Normally, we are one of the last and have to squeeze the car into a tight spot, usually with a precipice to one side and one wheel on a tree stump that no one else has risked. So, this time, we smoothly drive into a real parking space, feeling very pleased with ourselves, next to the neighbour's cars. And, en-mass, we saunter slowly down the crunching stone path to the outdoor venue, taking in the view of the far valley, now cloaked in lilac dusk, with the last of the songbirds saying goodnight, blissfully unaware, in their nightly ritual, that the ampitheatre will soon be blowing out loud musical sounds and rudely awakening them.
O Fortuna! The front row is still empty, another first for us. But there are corridors to segregate the rows and all our Italian friends take up the middle front row and we have to sit further round to the front side section. I suddenly feel, in a very Italian way, a little left out, how can we show other people here that we are in with the ‘in’ crowd, now we are sat on our own, obviously ‘stranieri’ and looking like tourists. I look around the room, as it grows busier, with more arriving music lovers, taking their seats in the half moon ampitheatre, and I soon spot a couple in the back row that we know, from one of the local shops we frequent, she spots me and smiles and I give a wave and she waves back; see everyone, we are not tourists, we do live here! Andrew ‘harrrumphs’ at me and asks me to quit the neediness, as it is ruining his, purposefully, styled Italian 'coolness' of appearing like the ‘Fonz’ in ‘Happy Days’, i.e. happy to be here but, please, don’t touch the hair!
Eventually, the concert begins, on strolls a man in his 50’s, wearing a very average outfit of a suit jacket, white shirt, regular beige trousers and trainers, he doesn’t look like a musician, more like someone’s uncle, possibly an accountant, who has stumbled accidentally on to the set en-route to finding a hidden bar, but no, he takes his seat and picks up a guitar. Next, walks on a stooped man with longer brown tousled hair and a moody face and crumpled t-shirt, ah yes, a second, real, guitarist, with the stoop from shoulders, frozen into position, after decades spent looking down over his guitar. They start to play a French tune, like one of those cliched songs from a French café in the 1930’s, with twinkly jazzy notes and comedic French lyrics, which we, and not many of the audience, understand, so the song falls flat, though there is polite clapping at the end. I look round the room and people are respectful, they are all listening attentively but I can see the strain in their eyes of trying to interpret the fast speaking French singer and, sadly, I recognise my own reflection, this must be how I appear to our local friends in conversation, at our regular dinner parties! The audience are nodding their heads along to the music but not getting it at all, and of course neither are we. The night goes on like this, until a lady joins in with a violin and a man on a big double bass, which transforms the music into a more jaunty and uplifting session. Toes are being tapped now and little smiles are appearing on the audience lips. Then, I take a peek at my neighbours, they, in contrast, are all looking rather sullen and bored. Poor Guido, he of the electronic keyboard and Beatles collection, looks like he is about to sleep, he has a hand to his face and fingers creep over an eye, like he is covering it, hoping the band will miraculously disappear and be replaced, with Paul, John, George and Ringo, singing, ‘We all live in a Yellow Submarine’, thankfully, this is not going to happen.
Eventually, after ninety minutes, the band announces the end has come and a lovely warm burst of applause opens with people cheering, I am not sure if it is a moment of delight, as now everyone can escape back to the peace of their homes and put on their own personal definition of ‘real’ music, or if they truly enjoyed it. But before the applause has ended, and to my astonishment, all my neighbours, bar Gianna, have upped and walked out, fast as you like, to the car park, they are practically jogging! No-one else has left, just them! The musicians have now tottered off backstage, for a glass of, ‘Thank God It’s Over’ Wine, I am sure, but people are still clapping and cheering, they must have liked it! After a minute the band is encouraged out for an encore and I feel a sense of embarrassment at the fact that half of the front row, our ‘companions’ have legged it, can there be anything worse for a band to be dragged back on stage, away from their much needed wine, to give one last song to a missing front row? Still, they bravely deliver one more song and, at the last note, the lights come on, signifying, that at last, it is truly over. We scuttle across the floor to Gianna, who is now on her own, and looking rather lost without the gang. We think she must have wanted to leave too but got stuck here for one more unbearable song, as her driver, us, didn’t leave with the others. But no, she wants food, this poor woman has not eaten since lunch and, in Italy, this means she is in mortal danger from starvation!
Normally, at the Bergolo concerts, there is an intermission and home-made delicacies get passed round, focaccia, flan, tarts, wine, all free and lovely, but not tonight, there has been no intermission. We spot a bustling corner group of people who have discovered a ‘life saving’ area of free drink and food. At last, the food trays have, though late, arrived! We hustle over and into the fast gathering, hungry, throng, Gianna gobbles the focaccia, faster than our chickens with corn, and we knock back a flat fizzy orange in a plastic cup, but there is no wine! Maybe, as it is French band night, this is an Italian interpretation of France, they think that the French do not give out free wine and nibbles at concerts in France, so this is a real French concert i.e. no free food or drink! But I might be overthinking this one, particularly as, I have now discovered from talking to them, the band are not French but Italian, from up the road, a French cover band of all things, and we are only ninety minutes from the French border! I hope the next events are going to be better, otherwise I fear for my musical sanity.
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