I try to be very grateful for what I've got right here in beautiful Nevada County. People travel from half the world away to having mind-altering, consciousness-expanding experiences here my own big beautiful backyard, and I am lucky enough to actually live here with the trees, the river, and the stars. If I am ever weary of this particular kind of bucolic paradise, I can drive to the mountains, the desert, or the ocean; if I need to escape the rural town for a city, San Francisco, Reno or even Los Angeles are less than a day away.
Ah, but the rub is that all these folks who flock to California and the American West.... they are all coming from somewhere else. This is all a novelty to them, and their eyes and spirits are wide open in that way that only the eyes and spirit of the Traveler can be. You just can't quite replicate that feeling on your home turf.
I had been aware for quite some time that visiting some place Brand New might feed my mind and my soul deeply, and be well worth all the time and effort and money spent to get there. For years, whenever me and the Sugatroll would have a romantic dinner with a few drinks, we'd always end up vowing to each other, "that's it- we'll go to Europe next Spring/Summer/Fall-- we'll really do it this time! We only live once, we'll seize the day... see a different sky, see different people, feel the vibes of a different culture... we'll eat real French pastry!".
The reality of the cost of traveling as a tourist always stopped that dream train right in its Swarovski crystal-encrusted tracks. We choose to live in a rural place, where jobs are scarce but everything still costs crazy California prices. I am grateful to be able to pay my bills working for myself, but that's all I do-- pay my bills.
That was my story, anyway, and I was sticking to it.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
-William Hutchison Murray
We started planning for the trip four months in advance. It was a ton of work, even with the help, and it consumed my brain. I didn't see my friends for months in a row. I didn't ever seem to have a day off. It was a lot of e-mailing and logisticating and filling out forms and budgeting. It took so much planning that at many points I was eager for the trip to begin just so that the massive To Do lists could stop.
Then, with a final burst of willpower and a giant leap of faith, we pulled it together and found ourselves boarding a plane to Amsterdam. Then it suddenly was like when The Wizard of Oz turns to Technicolor... and the beautiful dream begins.
I wasn't expecting to be so excited. From the moment we arrived, my senses were in heaven (and, sometimes, in total confusion-- like when we were trying to find the right booth to buy our train ticket). Everything was new. Every sign, every snatch of conversation, every tree. It was like my brain finally had what it wanted- a neverending puzzle. (But brain, I didn't even know you wanted that- I thought you liked things calm, peaceful, stress-free!) (Take the time to get to know me- you might be surprised.)
Group Selfie upon arrival
It helped that Amsterdam, our entry point, looks like Disneyland, or Lego Land. It is one of the most adorable cities on earth.
There are so many people on bikes in Amsterdam that it is actually a little overwhelming at first. It is like Critical Mass is happening all the time, on every street:
Dam Square- those are unicorns with golden horns on the building in back of us:
The beer selection at a normal (!) grocery store:
We rented our musical gear from a really cool place in Amsterdam called Artist on the Road. We also rented a van from them- nicknamed White Willa, it was the largest van I'd ever seen. And the roads in European cities are the narrowest I'd ever seen. What a combination! The Sugatroll and Antonette proved their prowess behind the wheel, managing to keep us and the van safe and sound:
So off we set, on our three day road trip to Madrid where our first show was booked... passing through Belgium (which had the biggest cows we'd ever seen!) and France and the North of Spain...
The French gas stations are the best- a "normal" sandwich to them means a fresh baguette with gourmet ingredients like we would only see in a specialty shop. Antonette introduced me to all kinds of pates and terrines that which looked strange to my American eyes, but were amazingly delicious, and I discovered the glory of Nicoise Salad in a Can.
Passing through Spain, near Pamplona, where they run the bulls:
"I will show you... Irun, overshadowed by the Pyreness, with its lovely cruel girls; Pamplona, flanked by eroded mountains; Burgos, sad and archaic. Follow me everywhere! I will show you eyes of dark velvet, the fandango, undulating bodies, the throbbing castanets, the magpies strutting between the olives, the sad plains, a fluttering mantilla..."
- Violet Trefusis, in a letter to Vita Sackville-West
Loco Spanish candy
Come to find out that Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union, with over 3 million people in the city proper... and mostly roundabouts (see the image above, which I consider a GPS Nightmare). We drove into the center of the equivalent of Times Square to play our show!
We had the most wonderful, welcoming place to land, in the large apartment of two ex-pats who were friends with Antonette. Everything was so calm and beautiful there after the chaos of the road:
Madrid was our first show of nine in a row, and I might have been holding my breath a little, wondering, how is this tour going to be? Will people really like us and our music?
Well, we ended up with the most enthusiastic welcome imaginable... a big crowd! dancing! hugs! shots! joy joy! This was going to be beyond our wildest dreams. I thought I'd explode from happiness! It had all been worth it!
Afterwards our hosts took us to possibly the coolest club on planet earth, the Milky Way, where we danced the Twist all night long... the Twist is really, really popular in Spain right now. Of course there are no pictures, because we were having too good of a time.
As I said, that was show 1 of 9 in a row, so the idea was to wake up and get on the road the next day.... as would be the idea for the next solid week and a half. Often easier said than done after going to bed at 5am.
This is us celebrating the miracle of finding a parking space (in a very surprising RV park!) for the van in San Sebastian:
Parking payment instructions:
Everyone had told me that San Sebastian was lovely, but I was blown away:
But the most important thing to know about San Sebastian.... yes, there are beautiful people. Yes, the light is amazing and the sweeping Bay is magnificent. But the FOOD:
Their version of tapas are called pintxos and they are tiny perfect concoctions that you could eat forever and forever. Once I got over the suckers on the octopus, that was my favorite. I know, octopus! Trust me...
Our tour guide, Javi, with Antonette:
I am not making a complaint when I say that Heaven and Hell were separated by a very thin veil on this trip... I just remember that in the photo above I was so exhausted from many days of travel and no sleep that I was about to fall over. Later I got a half hour to lie down on the bed in the hotel, so exhausted that I could not actually sleep, but rather hallucinate as the noises of the street and the pipes in the hotel whirled floated around me and twilight fell. Then I rose to my feet, strangely feeling like I'd slept an entire night, and proceeded to have one of the most fun evenings of my life.
People ask me, naturally, if I did any good shopping. No, we were always in a hurry and driving all day, but we did get to do some excellent window shopping while walking around after soundcheck or after the shows. I have seen all the window displays of Europe! Things are expensive there in general, so window shopping was enough for me. Here we are, on a typical nocturnal walk to a hotel:
The Costa Brava... ohhhhhhh the Costa Brava. During the summer, this is the playground of the very wealthy, and you can see why- every vista is a postcard. I don't think I ever would have had a chance to come here without the band. We had a full morning and afternoon off, which we spent rambling around seeing the sights with a local friend whose family had lived in the area for four hundred years- he knew where to go, obviously. We had the most amazing weather, and we even got to go swimming.
Our show in Palafrugell, in an outdoor courtyard:
Walking on an amazing trail by the Mediterranean:
The good people of Bar Goleta in San Feliu fed us by far the biggest feast I'd ever seen. The Sugatroll described it accurately as "The Superbowl Meets Thanksgiving". We ate as much as we possibly could (and it was all delicious), but still they laughed at us and said, "you eat like birds!"
I love that someone found it necessary to put this sign by the bathrooms.
I love this photo below... it reminds me of how, every time we used to set off on a road trip with my dad, he would start singing "On The Road Again" by Willie Nelson, full of gusto. "Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway..." with laundry drying in the back of the van and everything. Perfect.
In Italy, we played a place that was described as an Anti Fascist Squat... I was picturing a tiny hole in the wall, which I was fine with, but in fact, it was a large Community Center.
We took this troll on the whole adventure with us.
We learned that there are Italian rastas... and we learned that Italians, true to the cliche, will FEED you:
It was so surreal to see us written up in the Genoa paper! An adorable girl told us afterwards that she's read about us and driven for an hour (in the dark! in the rain! on her scooter!) to see us:
photo by Michele Ferrero
The Italians really do coffee right. Even at the little roadside gas stations, there are men in white shirts and ties making cappuccinos from banks of super professional machines. It's all so... sophisticated. Chris and Antonette having morning beverages (the juice is fresh-squeezed, of course):
"A real adventure is one that halfway through, you wish you were home" -Mark Twain
I was familiar with this quote before we set off, and I figured there may be a moment when I wanted to chuck it all and be safe at home again. The day pictured above, which started with snow in the Swiss Alps (as you can see) and proceeded onwards with detours on winding mountain roads (due to power outages in the tunnels), one of the worst traffic jams I've ever been in (outside of Munich), and then hours of monsooning rain on the Autobahn as cars sped past us at over a hundred miles an hour-- 14 hours total driving with what ought to have been a 9 hour drive-- well, that's when I reached that point. I was also just on the verge of getting my period, of course- it came just before we went onstage. (We drove 14 hours and then had to run onstage because we were so late to the gig.) I thought briefly that everything I'd ever done in my life was one big mistake and this trip was surely the crowning achievement. Then Cynthia ordered several shots of Jagermeister to be brought to the stage and I managed to forget my self-doubt and get down to Business.
It ended up being one of our best shows ever.
photo by Anthony Georgis
photo by Anthony Georgis
photo by Anthony Georgis
If you are any kind of artist, Berlin is a charmer. There is something very "1970s New York" about it- graffiti everywhere, wild scenes being enacted in the bars, a sense of lax law and anarchy- but much more polite and safe. Irresistable.
Since it was bombed to hell in World War II, and the GDR wasn't exactly into flounces and gilded turrets, it isn't all perfect and beautiful like some European cities, but, as one of the residents told me, "the graffiti is the life of the city- the ugly grey walls have become our canvas".
If a hotel was called the Rock n Roll Hotel in America, it would be some sleazy corporate scheme to lure in suburban tourists for the weekend. This Rock and Roll Hotel, however, was one that you would NEVER recommend to anyone respectable- it was refreshingly As Advertised... and it was perfect. (And they cook a killer breakfast in the bar.)
We had Sunday off and we went to check out the flea markets- do you love these German teddy bears?!?!
We stood listening to the slightly dissonant bells ring in this cathedral while the misty night fell around us...
Oh so sleepy on the U-Bahn...
Our last show of our tour was on a Sunday night in Berlin. It was so bittersweet... endings always are. Everyone who was involved with the venue, The Kulture Container (three giant GDR era vintage metal containers that could fit into each other like nesting dolls, or be pulled apart to make a functional space) was so sweet, so generous, so fun to talk to.... all we could think of was When Are We Coming Back?
photo by Anthony Georgis
photo by Anthony Georgis
photo by Anthony Georgis
photo by Anthony Georgis
No, I didn't want to go home. I was so happy in every way. I was curiously feeling more hale and hearty, in many ways, then I ever felt at home-- no digestive issues, no allergies, no asthma, no back pain, even my popping joints were mysteriously not popping!-- and no homesickness, no irritation with my fellow travelers, nothing by desire to see more more more and learn and walk for miles around new cities every single day. However, driving that beast of a van was getting old, and I was missing out on nights and nights of sleep, as evidenced by the fact that I had started to drop directly into REM sleep from waking. More persuasively, we'd all run completely out of money.
At the airport, illusions of glamor cast aside.
It was time to go. Not before drinking several cappuccinos and coming up with a strategy to Come Back, of course.
p.s. we ate a ton of real French pastry.
It's been an amazing year so far... and it's just whooshing right by! It's almost April, and New Year's Eve feels like just yesterday.
I like to put some of my favorite pictures on this blog, as a record for myself more than anyone else, probably. One day everything is going to be one big blur, I just know it.
Here are some images from the trip the Sugatroll and I took to Santa Cruz last month. This was at the beach in Soquel, just south of Santa Cruz:
This boat was a nightlife hotspot in the earlier part of last century, hard as it is to imagine now. There was drinking and dancing and loose women... but the boat was made of concrete, and eventually it cracked in two. Now it's a private estate for the birds.
It was an especially beautiful day on the coast... one of those dream days that makes a gal never want to go home. I am such a beach girl at heart.
The coast always draws in some characters, and their vehicles:
And carrying on with the coastal theme... a few weeks later, Mount Whateverest did a mini-tour of Southern California. We happened to go during a rare February heatwave, which meant that it felt like mid-summer. Here in the beach city of Ventura, a warm breeze was blowing through the palm trees:
A visit to the beach before we doll up for the evening:
The gang, getting ready to head out to the show:
All together now!
It was still t-shirt weather at 3am after we'd played the show and come back to the hotel. We were just a few blocks from the beach, so we decided to do some night wading:
In the city of Los Angeles, we played a Dada Art Opening at a dollhouse-sized, adorable art gallery called Museé 16 that was located in an old fish canning factory. They did vintage film projections on the stage:
Our hotel in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Hills Best Western, was so awesome- the whole place was covered in Hollywood memorabilia. Even the kitchenette had a touch of glam:
The best was that they had an amazing restaurant downstairs that was open until 3am. Everyone in there looked like a movie star to me. Eating breakfast:
Here we are about to head North again, posing in the lobby mirror:
The band has been super busy since then- we recorded a 12 song album! We also had several more shows, including one at a "Burnal Equinox" festival- the midway point between Burning Man events. We were joined by my bestie Linda on the far left.
Dirt + tarps = country glamor: me and the Sugatroll.
In other news, I've been practicing piano at at least a few times a week, for the first time in years (thank to my friend who is letting me use her grand piano!), which is making me very, very happy. I also started doing Zumba, a latin-inspired exercise dance class, at a local studio. My cardiovascular systerm is very happy about this, and I am loving the dance steps.
I hope all is well with you and yours... happy Spring!
I just returned from the amazing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco- three days of amazing free (!) music in Golden Gate Park. The weather this year was incredible... sunshine all three days! T-shirts and shorts, bare legs, mom and dad and grandma and babies and dogs and hippies and magic brownies... the park was about to lift off the ground from the good vibes.
One of my favorite acts was Dr. John and the Lower 911. It was my first time seeing him live- and what a venue to see him in! Dr. John is from New Orleans, and he brings all the fun and magic and musical tradition of that city to his work. He had the (very willing and able) crowd in Golden Gate Park partying their booties off on Sunday!
This is the song that first hooked me on Dr. John:
This video for the Scott McKenzie song "San Francisco" has some footage that could have just as well been shot this weekend- dancing girls! headbands! bare feet! and a parade of kooky characters on Haight Street, where we went on Saturday night. Remember, if you're going to San Francisco... be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
People don't always get why Chris and I love Reno so much.
To most Californians, Reno is a trashy little city that you pass through on your way to all points East (it is on the Highway 80), maybe stopping to eat bad food at a casino buffet and watch people gamble away their social security checks.
I used to feel that way, too, but things changed after I lived in Grass Valley for a few years. Suddenly I saw Reno in a whole new light, and now I am an ambassador for The Biggest Little City On Earth.
So here is my official rundown on Why I Love Reno. Let me make a convert of you!
1. It really IS the biggest little city, if not on earth, certainly within driving distance of my house. The other closest major city, San Francisco, is also one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and you will never, ever get a hotel there for under $100 a night. In Reno, you can have the grit and glamor of a big city (live music, shows, people on benders, people on vacations, conventions and bachelor parties and cowboys and showgirls) and stay right in the middle of it all for as low as $20 a night. We have even gotten free hotel rooms during the off season.
2. Reno is not pretentious. As a Reno resident put it, "this is the only place where you will see a cowboy, a hipster, a gangster, and a homeless person standing side by side on the street- and they are talking to each other." If Reno was ever cool, that era is long past, and these days it pretends to be nothing that it isn't. Once we played a show in Reno and afterwards we walked to a sports bar with a friend to get a drink at 3am, and I was wearing a red dress and I had a huge beehive (for the record, Amy Winehouse, RIP, totally ripped off my stage 'do), and Sports Bars have never been welcoming to me in the best of circumstances. Chris and our other friend looked like total Indie Rockers.... in any other place, this would have been a Very Bad Idea. Instead we walked in and no one in the entire place batted an eye. Reno has seen it all. Reno is not moved by your exterior.
3. Reno has no Last Call. The party can go for 24 hours. Even if you are not up for it, there is a certain air of excitement just being in a city where the fun doesn't have to stop. This also means that the annual Santa Pub Crawl is the largest and the craziest in the West. People actually fly in to witness the spectacle.
4. Reno actually has a lovely River Walk (see photo below), and the river has been set up so that people can learn kayaking and rafting on it. Right in the middle of town!
5. Reno has the biggest Whole Foods I have ever seen. We have a great Co-op in Grass Valley, but come on- vegan donuts. Enough said.
6. Reno has the best vintage clothing store in the world, Junkees on South Virginia.
7. Reno has the best guitar store on the West Coast, Bizarre Guitar on Odie Boulevard (right next to Bizarre Gun). The key is to talk your way into the basement, where they have every rare and amazing guitar that you have only heard about or seen in a guitar magazine centerfold.
8. Reno has almost no ambient humidity at all, so if you have curly hair (like Chris) you will look like you have just ironed it straight and it's grown four inches. I think this is considered a fashion advantage.
9. Things are legal in Nevada that are illegal almost everywhere else in the U.S., namely, gambling and prostitution. This gives it an edgy, lawless feeling that is unmatched by any other city on the West Coast. That's why we call it the New Orleans of the West!
10. New discovery: Reno has these amazing murals along the River Walk.
I hope I have won the heart of at least one of you out there... Reno is just waiting for you to fall for it. It won't let you down, brave voyagers!
On our most recent Reno weekend getaway, we made a Horoscopes video for the demo of our song "Triphopscotch" (we are working on our EP right now in a real studio! Hooray!.) This is filmed in the window of The Sands hotel in the heart of downtown (our favorite place to stay).