Summer of France 5

Aix Les Bains – Friday-Saturday, August 2-3, 2002

The lake

Aix Les Bains is another small town in the southeast of France. It’s situated next to a lake, which is one of the main draws. It’s a relaxing but very active recreational area where you can play bocce ball . bocce . hmmm. The computer won’t let me type b-o-c-c-i. It automatically is correcting my spelling but only when it feels like it. So I guess b-o-c-c-e must be the correct spelling.

Anyway, there were lots of people walking, rollerblading, sunning, renting boats, eating ice cream and what not. The view is amazing. Mountains across the whole of the horizon. In the distance clouds sit halfway up the mountain making layers of mist and overlapping hills, mountain ranges and sky.

We stayed about three minutes walking distance from the lake at La Platane. We also performed there on Friday and Saturday night. I had what my stepfather calls a “senior moment” on the second night. Spontaneous senility. We were playing “Like a Lover” and during Walt’s solo I had what amounts to an intellectual blackout. Like those moments where you walk into a room in your house and then forget why you did. Or when you put the milk in the cabinet and the cereal in the refrigerator. I skipped an entire line of music. Four doesn’t seem like a big number but four measures is huge when it comes to being in the same place at the same time when reading music. Things got back on track but only after confused and panicked looks from Walt and Roger. Every gig was different like that. Well, not necessarily like that, but even though we played basically the same songs for two and a half weeks each show was a different performance.

It rained on Saturday. Being from Baltimore, Maryland I still enjoy summer rains. I like thunderstorms even more. That’s one thing you don’t get much of in California. Lightning and thunder are rare in the Bay area.

The city

On Saturday morning Brandon and I took the bus into town. The city area had a lot of shops and restaurants. Very tourist friendly. We walked around unsuccessfully looking for a gift for Brandon’s girlfriend. We went to a restaurant/pizzeria where I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara. From what I understand Carbonara has a cream sauce with ham or prosciutto, maybe peas, and eggs. When the waitress bought me the dish it had all those things. But the egg was in the form of half of an eggshell with the yolk still swimming in it, placed carefully in the middle of the pile of pasta. I had no idea what to do with it. I ended up eating around it and then hid the raw egg under the spaghetti I didn’t eat.

If anyone knows what I was supposed to do with that egg, please tell me.

The Hotel La Platane fed us and it was good, rich food. One night Janna had the misfortune of sitting next to me and asking me to pour her a glass of wine. I don’t know much about pouring wine, apparently, because the red wine shot out of the bottle over the glass I was holding in my right hand and directly on her sweater. Whoops.

What else can I say about Aix Les Bains? We left on Sunday morning. Got two cabs for the group and all of our luggage (one of the cabs had to come back for the remainder of us and my bass) to the train station. We took the train almost to Crest, where some Crest Festival organizers picked us up.

Crest – Sunday, August 4, 2002

How can I describe Crest? It’s very small. You can walk from one end of the city to another. The streets of the downtown area are very narrow. Lots of scooters and mopeds. There’s a church with an area in front for gathering. Across the street from the church there are shops. That whole street was filled with shops, actually. There are lots of little stone side alleys and crevices. Imagine the exotic European settings from all the James Bond movies you’ve seen. That’s what this town was like except one of the smaller towns. In fact, when I was in France looking at the quaint, historic areas I couldn’t help but picture a BMW or a Mini careening down stone stairways and knocking over fruit carts on the sidewalks, scattering hapless pedestrians. As an aside, the movie “Bourne Identity” is partly filmed in Paris, which made me nostalgic. Makes me wish that I could get anywhere in the world in an hour or two.

Headed west out of the main city area is a bridge over a river, which is used for recreation. It’s a great spot. I did a sketch of the historic castle-like tower from a spot on the river. The only sketch I did in France even though I put a lot of energy into finding a sketchbook. Looking south is a view of mountains in the distance. Right across the bridge and around the bend was the dorms where we stayed.

The bomb shelter

The dorms reminded me of a hostel. Or more like a juvenile detention center. Or an upscale homeless shelter. They affectionately became known as The Bomb Shelter. Large rooms, partitioned with two beds per unit. About 40 units per room. Walt, Jocelyn and Moe didn’t take too kindly to the place so after checking it out they decided to stay at a hotel. The bomb shelter didn’t have blankets or towels. Luckily, I did have a towel with me. Anyone who’s read the four book trilogy of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” knows that you should always carry a towel. We were slumming but it was shelter. All those public, mass accommodation places have a very industrial almost faintly uriney kind of smell. When you’re there it’s best not to think about it. But this was home for a day or two (also a factor in why we decided to leave a day early).

The last gig

On Monday at 5pm we performed. We were opening the Crest Jazz Festival, playing at a venue constructed that morning in front of the church. It was a great last gig. There was a very large crowd and the sound and everything else was professional. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay another day because Brad Mehldau was performing on Tuesday night at the big venue.

After the gig we decompressed for a bit and then went to a restaurant. It was another four course meal affair. Surprisingly, they had an English version of the menu available. I ordered the steak, well done, the fromage maison (house cheese) and the chocolate mousse. I can’t remember what my appetizer was. It had something to do with goat cheese melted over French bread on top of a salad.

The steak was not well done. I’m not sure if I got the wrong order or if no respectable French chef would dare actually cook a piece of meat all the way through. It was okay, though. A little bland and tough. Skipping ahead two courses to dessert, the mousse was amazing. Very thick, a largish bowl full of nothing but pure, intense chocolate with a consistency slightly less textured than a warm brownie.

Rain

Occasionally, someone would come up to the table and ask for autographs. No kidding. That still makes me laugh. Things wound down towards the end of dinner. People began to say their goodbyes. The clock kept ticking and 10:30pm came around. Our train was at midnight and we still had to go back to the bomb shelter to pack and then walk to the train station. Not a short walk.

I went to the restroom, which was towards the back (or maybe the front, but the opposite side that we came in), and couldn’t help but keep walking down the steps, then past the bathroom, then down the rest of the steps and outside to see what life was like on the other side of the building. I didn’t make it outside because of a rainy kind of sound. A sound caused by heavy rain. It was pouring. I went back up to the table to report on this but it was pretty obvious since we were sitting near a balcony. Thunder and rain. I don’t mind thunder but rain isn’t good for electric upright basses in soft, cloth cases.

The singers gave Roger a framed picture of themselves and a toy microphone. He was moved and you could see how much love and respect he had for this group. It was one of his best.

After the bill was paid we just had to brave the elements. It was night and very dark but still pretty. We walked down the road and then left towards the main strip. Roger waited under a tarp since he was carrying a box and a folder full of papers as the rest of us headed back to Boystown. I ran since my bass was getting wet. Ran across the street and across the bridge all the way back to the building under a tree. I really am out of shape, by the way. Sometimes it just takes a few seconds for my body to realize that I’m out of shape and then report that there’s a deficiency of oxygen and fitness to the rest of my body. So I walked the rest of the way, breathing heavily, around the building to the gate, across the puddle-filled gravel lot into the building.

We all rushed to get packed. Somehow I ended up being the last one finished. I made a last minute sweep of the place to make sure nothing was left behind, turned off the lights, and clumsily made my way down three flights of stairs with a 50 lb. Suitcase, a 50 lb. Flight case-protected bass and a large backpack on my back. Everyone was waiting and Moe and Walt showed up, too, to help us out. It was still raining very hard.

Moe and Walt carried my bass, thank goodness. The walk to the train station was about a mile. Miraculously, the rain stopped completely just when we got to the train station. Timing is everything. And we arrived there with 40 minutes to spare.

Leaving Pia

It was windy and cold out and we were all wet but it was a little too warm inside. The very small train station was empty, of course, except for us and our luggage. This was a very poignant time because we were leaving Pia behind. And we were leaving her behind a day early. She was returning to her homeland of Denmark after spending years in the US. Roger was also staying behind to finish his Crest workshop. The remaining five singers and myself were headed back to Paris for a day. Moe was taking the train to Paris also but he was going directly to the airport to fly back. Walt and Jocelyn were on the same train but they were headed to Lyon, I think, to catch another train to round out their vacation in Spain and Portugal.

It was hard saying goodbye to Pia. She’s been a friend for years. We’ve gigged and played bad tennis together over the course of that time. It’s especially hard saying goodbye to her when she’s crying and being left behind. As the train was coming the singers sang Janna’s acapella arrangement of “Days of our Love”, a Marian McPartland composition. It was an undeniably sappy moment but undeniably heartbreaking.

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