Parla Svedese?

Three tanks of expensive gasoline, many kilometers in a clapped-out rental Panda and thousands of steps later, we may actually we able to do normal things like sit on chairs, cook in a kitchen, and take showers in a country house we closed on last November.

Version 2

“You know, I’ve been thinking….”

My first weekend here, I pretty much hid out from the heat in the city, did some work, took some naps, and in general did nothing much at all in glorious solitude. I did drive up here a couple of times because I wanted to get acquainted with the house, but because of Perugia’s compact size, and the fairly strict land-use rules, it’s a quick run from city to country. You’re in the country almost as soon as you leave the city limits. And I took walks to take in some free music and cheap, good “artigianale” beer.

Besides, I needed to conserve some energy for the arrival of The Spartan Woman.

I did miss her. But I knew that once she arrived, it would be nonstop activity. She always claims that she’s a low-energy person, but I have yet to see much evidence of that. And I’ve known her for decades. Sure, she will sit and do crossword puzzles on her Mac for hours, but I suspect it’s so that she 1—can conserve some energy  for her next move (see above) or 2—she’s plotting her next move.

It began with me racing to Rome’s airport to pick her up. She was carrying household items in one big bag, and a few clothes in another. I chivalrously gave her the chance to avoid buses and trains, and she took me up on on it.

But then…What does one do on the first full day in Italy? You might think some time to get acclimated, to have a good meal, to stroll, have an aperitivo, to wind down from the pre-trip craziness of getting the pets settled and the bills paid, etc.

You would thinIMG_1072k wrong. We raced across the center of the country to Ancona, on the Adriatic. Not to go to the beach. No, IKEA, that most fiendish of Swedish inventions. We had a deadline: Young people are coming next month, and they might want a bed to sleep in and some furniture to perch upon.

But it’s in Italy. Exotic, no? No. It’s exactly the same, bar some Italian items in the restaurant. The same goofy names, the same maze that drives you crazy. What is different is the kindness and helpfulness of customer service. We found someone who, knowing we needed some stuff fast, worked really hard to get good

IMG_1070delivery and assembly dates. (I’m too old for performing the dark assembly arts of IKEA.)

When Tina, the customer service person, saw that I was getting antsy, she told me to go and play, and gave me a voucher for the restaurant’s bar. An espresso and pastry later, I was a happy guy.


It’s Not Always About That Guy

A little distance ain’t a bad thing. The man with the nasty combover and the orange skin and I left the U.S. about the same time, and for all of last week, my Facebook feed was full of the creep’s innumerable faux pas and how the United States now stands alone. The news articles were calling the meeting in Hamburg “The G-19” meeting, and for good reason. But I’ve been more than 4,000 miles away seems blissfully removed from my consciousness most of the time. Except for when my friends bring it up and ask, “but how come?”

Good question. What always fascinated me, and a lot of people, is how America is two countries, maybe more. You can divide it in a lot of different ways—politically, geographically, culturally. But really, how does a country that’s produced Patti Smith, Kerouac, Jay-Z, Merryl Streep, Louis Armstrong, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Prince, George Clinton, Dylan, etc., also give rise to the racists that won the last presidential election?

Liberals especially seem to think of last year’s election as an aberration. I’d say it was more an exaggeration. Sorry folks, while the Grateful Dead was playing for their blissed-out fans, and James Brown and Sly Stone were in their prime, Nixon was helping Chilean fascists kill Allende and put in place a repressive regime that tortured and killed thousands of people. And that’s just one example of an infinite number of contradictions between the vibrant culture and governments that haven’t exactly been on the side of angels.

And so, Umbria Jazz here in Perugia this week. It’s all about an American born and bred art form, with some other stuff thrown in. You can pay to see the headlines (this year, Kraftwerk, Wayne Shorter, and Brian Wilson) but there’s tons of free music, and much of it shows the greatness of American music. Blues, gospel, funk, hey even jazz, it’s all there. The festival organizers have a pretty inclusive idea of what constitutes jazz; I’ve seen REM on their last tour, Brazilian megastar Gilberto Gil, and George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars, as well as Tito Puente doing an Oy Como Va that brought tears to this New York boy.

Let’s forget for a moment about El Cheeto Loco, the man who must not be named. Check out a couple of videos I made. I kept them short because I wanted to feel the music, not just think to myself, wow, this’ll be great on Facebook Live (though I did some of that). Hope you like them. More adventures are upcoming. We go shopping in a couple of days, so that we can sleep in the house we bought last year. But that’s another story or two…

First off, a wild blues duet, from a the Delta Wires Blues Band out of Oakland.

Next up, a sweet Italian group that does a lot of oldies, mainly swing jazz, Sugarpie & the Candymen. They take liberties with modern stuff, turning it into a mix of gypsy and swing styles. The Beatles’ “Come Together” didn’t survive too well, but Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” sounded just fine.


And now, for something different. A sexy concert with Gangbé Brass Band, which got the audience dancing and chanting. I love the old guy who was really going at it, and coaxed a bunch of youngsters to join in. It was contagious; soon everyone got into it one way or another.