OK, where were we?

Flying home tonight from Chicago. Southwest. Here’s the deal:
There is at least one row of seats on these planes that I always try to avoid. On this aircraft, one of them is Row 11. Row 11 is right in front of the Exit Row, and so the seats in Row 11 don’t recline, which I hate, because it means I have to sit straight up and I can’t sleep without my head flopping around and waking me up. Some people can balance their skulls to just sit there on their neck and shoulders but I can’t. Even so, when they close the cabin doors, and they do whatever the hell it is they do to the pressure or the oxygen level or whatever they do, I don’t just fall asleep, I pass out. So if I’m sitting straight up, with the head-flopping, it’s neither this or that, because I can’t stay awake and I can’t stay asleep.
And yet, here I am, in Row 11. I chose it myself, forgetting this precious rule. How bout that.

And so now would be a good time to write to you.

The river is still torn up from the Memorial Day Flood. Going by the rings in the oldest of the shattered trees on the banks, it was the worst flood in at least 500 years. They know that because so many 500 year old trees were uprooted and snapped like matchsticks. Mangled arbor carnage for miles and miles, down along the river.
Our place was unchanged and fine, as we’re high enough to be safe. I say that, but a whole lot of the houses that were destroyed were also always thought to be safe, easily. Nobody up there had flood insurance. Why would they? We have so many friends that lost everything. Some lost their sweet lives.
The work goes on, and it’ll be a long time before things are set right, and the homeless are housed somehow. But the square, the businesses and cafes and bars are all humming along. The lakes and reservoirs are plump, the creeks and the rivers are clear and quick, everybody’s rain barrels are overflowing. That’s not nothing.

Me and Dustin are meeting John Fullbright in California in a couple of days, to play the Freight and Salvage in Berkley and the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara. Those should be good shows. If I wasn’t already playing, I’d probably pay to be there.

Woody Festival is coming up, and host of other gigs into the summer. Take a look at the tour page sometime if you’re so inclined.

The Fall Workshops this year are gonna be cool. There will be what we loosely call a Master Class, as if any of us are Masters. However, Walt Wilkens will be the guest teacher, and he’s about as close as anybody gets. Walt is one of my nearest and dearest compadres, has been for 20 years. He has a large and loyal, and growing, family of fans all over the world, and he’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. And if we get lucky, his wife Tina might put in an appearance. All of you Walt and Tina fans know how cool that would be.
waltwilkens.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Walt-Wilkins/19913642824

In November, we’re gonna revisit something we tried early this year, to great success I thought. We’re going to have another Beginners Class, and I mean beginners. You could come if you don’t play or sing yet, if you haven’t written a song yet, or if you’ve been fooling with it and want to learn some stuff. And you will definitely learn, because the guest teachers for this one are Jason Eady and Courtney Patton. I’ve been working with Jason for several years now, three records and counting, and he’s one of the most focused and clear-eyed writers and performers I’ve ever known. Courtney Patton is an extraordinary singer and writer as well, as pro as they come. You can hear them together on the CD Daylight and Dark, and you can also hear Courtney’s latest release, So This Is Life.
jasoneady.com

https://www.facebook.com/jasoneadymusic

courtneypatton.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Courtney-Patton/13622975750

I know this is getting long so I’ll wrap it up. The reason I was in Chicago was to watch a production of a play based on a bunch of short stories written by songwriters, which were part of an amazing book called A Guitar and a Pen, published a few years ago by my old friend and best-selling author Robert Hicks. The name of the play itself is Borderlands: Three Chords and the Truth, and it’s a musical. Marianne Philbin wrote the stage-play, weaving the characters from each story into one night where they all have gathered as usual down at their local bar and they start telling stories. It’s a brilliant way to merge it all together. She called it ‘jumping mediums’ I think. A songwriter writes a short story, she turns it into a play and writes music for it. I like that.
I learned a lot and got some good ideas from it. I actually got a lump in my throat during the near-recitation of my little story, because of my own vanity I suppose, but also, it was just good, and I was relieved.
Savannah came up and joined me for the show, because she’s an actress and takes a professional interest, and because it was Father’s Day weekend, and because she’s a good kid. It was a short weekend of old friends, new friends, new ideas.

By the way, I’m no longer on the flight from Chicago. That was last night. It turns out that if I’m tired enough, or if they suck enough oxygen out of the cabin, I actually can sleep sitting straight up with my head flopping around after all. Which is what I did right after the first paragraph up there.
Ok. All is quiet on the home-front. See you soon. kw

By the way #2: That was last week. This past week was a whole other adventure out in California with Dustin and John Fullbright. Stay tuned for that whole thing.

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Tennessee Again, plus George

The following is a part of a piece I was making notes on, from the Jason Eady sessions. This is the third project for us. I wanted to bring him to Nashville for this one, partly for his sake and partly for mine. We came for one day in January, to Tone Chaparral. I had been hearing about this place for years, mostly from Fats, but not exclusively. George Bradfute is the brains, owner, engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and so on. I called Glenn Worf, Richard Bennett, John Gardner, and Fats Kaplin for the session. I called them because they are all geniuses. And that’s more than half the battle when it comes to producing, as long as your artist is packing. And Jason is.

Sure enough, we had a beautiful day, got four things cut. Jason got it, the boys got it, and also, we all got George Bradfute, his engineering, his sound, his easy countenance. We rebooked for March, and here we came back again. Glenn had to bow out and so Steve Mackey came in, another one of my hero bass players. And importantly, Courtney Patton joined us this time. We met at noon.

The following is not a story of the record that we made, sorry. Except for the paragraph about George it’s just stuff I caught myself thinking about while I was outside smoking.

March 29, 2013, Nashville
March 29 is young yet, with only eight minutes to show for itself. I’m back in town staying at Fats and Kristi’s while they are up at the farm. They have a nice old clock in the kitchen, where I’m writing this tonight, that ticks relentlessly. I guess all clocks are pretty relentless, as long as they keep running, just like anything else. This one has a certain oomph to it though. It has a double click, a heavy downbeat with a lighter backbeat, and I can’t decide if we’re friends or enemies. Either way, I’m not going anywhere and neither is the clock, so here we are. Nashville, 2013.

I left here almost exactly five years ago and have hardly come back since. A few fast visits, with a surprising lack of nostalgia. This time I noticed something both new and old. I guess I’ve been gone long enough now that it’s almost new again. I was standing outside the studio yesterday looking at the sky and the trees and listening to the birds who live here and I realized I had the same feeling I had back when I was a young man newly arrived, the sense of someplace different, Tennessee, back when I felt Tennessee, the hickory trees on the rolls of the little hills here, the pecans, the flowering dogwoods, the cottonwood and sassafras, all new to me then, and in a way, new to me again. I got that same old feeling looking though that silvery air to the undersides of those scattered giants in George’s back yard, grey in the early spring, and just pulsing.

George: George is matter of fact, calm, kind, receptive, intuitive, engaged. We had been recording for several hours, in fact we may even have been on the second day, before I remembered who I had sitting next to me. I had been facing the band, including Jason and Courtney, discussing ideas and takes and so forth, leaving George sitting quietly in the engineers chair, forgetting that I had another pair of massive ears sitting right next to me. So, after that I called on him and I’m glad I did. He’s a groove daddy and a tone commando.

So anyway, I was standing under the sliver canopy and all that, and then it all came back to me. There is a part of me, most of me actually, that cringes when things come back, when the past presents itself for more examination, and I usually try to avoid it. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. And yet, there I stood, and it was ok. Not great or exhilarating, but at least a survivable level of misty memory. The part that interested me was this: I can recall, vividly, the sense of wonder I used to have when I was doing nothing more than crossing from a plain up into the mountains, or from one small town to another, the newness of a place, the feeling that I had just entered into another world where absolutely anything was possible, stuff I hadn’t even imagined yet. After several decades of blindly walking into all sorts of wildernesses I had that edge blunted and I didn’t get that feeling anymore, and I’ve missed it so much. I’ve looked for it. As I’ve written in older things, there have even been times when I’ve felt so happy to be showing up to a new place, only to find out that I’ve been there a couple of times already and I don’t even remember it. So, the last couple of days to even feel a whisper of that old feeling, especially here in my long lost home of thirty years, that means something, and it felt like something, and I was grateful to be able to feel old Tennessee again.

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Newsletter

SUMMER 2012.

Hi everyone. I thought it was high time I wrote to you. It got a little
long, but I have a lot to tell.

It’s getting hot in Texas, but the creeks and the rivers are up, and
we’re swimming in them too, so it’s not so bad. In fact, it’s
really nice. I’m happy to be home after some intense travel. I was
strictly stateside until April Fools Day, (which was my fourth
anniversary to live in Wimberley) and then I started a tour that took
six weeks and covered seven countries. A lot of my usual haunts,
Amsterdam, Belfast, Copenhagen, but also Moscow, a first, and a couple
towns in Germany that were new to me. If you ever feel like it you can
read a number of pages at http://kevinwelch.com/blog/ [1]. I met and
played with some amazing people, and played FOR some amazing people, and
I saw some of my best friends too, those who through the tyranny of
distance I rarely get to hang with. The tour ended with four shows in
Denmark with Matt the Electrician, who just kills.

I made it back just in time to sleep a couple of days and then to drive
way out to Marfa, where Jimmy Dale Gilmore and I hosted a songwriter
workshop at El Cosmico, the legendary Liz Lambert invention, a
scattering of vintage trailers, campaign tents and tipis. I could go on
and on about it, but I’m determined to keep moving across the top of
all this stuff, or I’ll have to write a book, and this is a newsletter
Kevin, try to remember that.

Heading out to Florida in a few days to convene with the Trishas, dates
are posted on the tour page. Those girls are out there traveling with
two babies in a hot van, and tearing up the stage every night. It’s
humbling. I can’t wait to see my daughters and my grandson, and to
travel home with them when it’s over.

That takes us to the June workshop here at my place. We’re sold out
for this one, and one of the best parts of the deal is that we’ll have
3 people under the age of 20.

I’m bringing in Dustin to help out. His teaching skills are very
sharp, after all the time he’s been spending teaching our wounded
warriors in his continuing programs in Texas and outward all the way to
Idaho. I can not say enough about this. The results are sometimes
stunning, far out-healing the traditional psychotherapy approaches the
VA offers. In fact, let me encourage you to find out more about it by
going to Voicesofagratefulnation.org [2]and soldiersongs.org [3], and if
you want to consider helping his personal cause you can check out his
Patronism site. This is a kickstarter-type thing where you agree to give
a dollar a month for a year, or 10 dollars or a hundred, whatever.
We’re back to the old ways now, back to the way it was before the
music business became organized, (and I use that word loosely) when we
had to rely on Patrons of the Arts. He’s been volunteering twice a
week for a year or two now, plus working on the board of directors to
spread the method to other towns, and he’s been doing it for free. I
don’t know how to measure my pride in him.

Additionally, we’re rounding investors to get ready for the release of
his new CD, Tijuana Bible, later this year. More on that soon.

And that reminds me, Jason Eady has released his new one, which I
produced last year. It’s called AM Country Heaven, and get this;
it’s a total indy, hard core country record, self released all the
way, and the damn thing actually entered the Billboard Top 100 country
chart at 40. This is not possible. It happened while I was overseas, and
I still have no idea how it happened. Let’s be clear here, it’s
generally assumed that any chart activity relies on payola. Legalized
payola, yes, but still, pay-for-play straight up payola. So, obviously
I’m missing something. I think it’s just great.

One of the biggest reasons I’m writing to you now is to shamelessly
self-promote the Red River Songwriter Retreat with Dustin and also my
personal hero Eliza Gilkyson.
http://www.facebook.com/KevinWelchRedRiverSongwriterRetreat [4]. Red
River New Mexico has been one of my main hideouts for many years now,
but let’s keep that between us. The Lodge is one of the best hangs
I’ve ever come across, and that’s where this thing is happening. The
Retreat, July 26-28, seems to be a well-kept secret at this point, so I
really want to get the word out. Red River is about 45 minutes north of
Taos and flat-out beautiful. So, if you want to get out of the heat and
breath some clear clean dry mountain air, and see Taos and Santa Fe
while you’re at it, plus learn some stuff about songs and come to the
saturday night gig, and eat great steaks downstairs and and
and…..well, it’s gonna be good.

After that me and Dustin will be banging around the mountains playing a
bunch of shows in Colorado, working our way north to Big Sky Montana for
the first annual Big Sky Songwriters Festival in mid August.
http://www.facebook.com/events/273022516125956/ [5]. Gonna be a bunch of
us up there, truly an awesome place, and we can’t wait. More on this
as we get closer.

And lastly, for now, if you ever thought you might like to sail for 3 or
4 days and nights on a 100 year old 90 foot schooner off the coast of
Maine, have I got a deal for you. For the last few years I’ve had the
privilege of doing just that aboard the Timberwind, with my old friend
Captain Bob Tassi. Look at this:
http://www.facebook.com/SchoonerTimberwindCruises [6]. This man is one
of the most revered Captains of the fleet, so you’ll be in good hands.
August 22-25. I’ll be playing you songs, the cook will be down in the
galley making dinner on the wood burning stove, or we’ll be ashore
some little island feasting on lobsters. It’s a damn good way to close
out the summer.

Wow. I just re-read all this. I’m gonna have some fun. Hope you can
join us somewhere along the trail.

Sending all my best wishes,

kw
If you’d like to join the mailing list for the newsletter, please sign up here: kevinwelch.com/contact.php

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And now, Kevin (yawn) Welch.

Dear Reader. Go back in time with Future Kev, back to April 16…….

Two weeks gone now, and only a half dozen shows or so, and I’m already bored with myself. I have zero ability to convincingly bullshit my way through a whole set and act like I really believe you should do yourself a favor and listen to me. I mean, usually I do think that if you give me a chance you’ll be very slightly better off than you were before. Only incrementally better off, but everything counts. And so, when I realize I have the creeping self-boredom stealing over me, it’s a very real problem.

Yesterday was Sunday, and it turned out my gig was at four in the afternoon. I was happy about that, because I was very tired, and the thought of having an early evening to catch up on emails and maybe skype a family member or two sounded great. I was hungry, tired and my gig was in a part of Holland whose people had been described to me as ‘reserved’. They were perfectly nice, I liked them, but frankly they only seemed mildly entertained, and that was dangerous because I was only mildly entertained too. I sort of needed a crowd that liked me a lot more than I deserved, because that could have helped. I could have basked a little. Fed off their energy like the life-sucking death eater I had become. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

But no, as it turned out they seemed to have a pretty good read on me, and though we all gamely tried to rise above it all I don’t really think we did.

Tomorrow is a travel day, and most of the day after. Heading to somewhere around Munich. I’m going to be thinking this over.

Oh hi. Yeah, yesterday was the travel day, and so is today. We drove down through Holland and Belgium on the small roads mostly, and it was beautiful. Winding roads through low mountains and pretty little villages down in the valleys. We didn’t make great time but that was ok. We stopped almost randomly in a town called Trier, found a decent old hotel in the town center and a nice restaurant right down the street. Being my first night in Germany in many many years, and probably only the second at all in forever, I was hungry for a real German meal, and I scored that, along with many glasses of good beer. Later on I went back out, to a bar I had noticed which was right next door to the hotel. I was surprised when I went in to find that it was a hookah bar. It was, naturally, very smoky, but in that incense way. They were smoking tobacco but it didn’t smell anything like a pool hall or an old Norwegian folk club. I read and drank a few beers and had a couple shots of Old Havanna (cheers Poul). When I slept finally I had Russian dreams all night it seems. My dreams were gray and endless, and when I woke up this morning I was in Germany and there were colors. My tour manager Joanna was waiting for me in her apartment across the hall. She had been up researching this town, Trier. It turns out it’s the oldest town in Germany. As we were pulling in the evening before I saw what were obviously Roman ruins, and about half jokingly speculated that they were older than Jesus. Turns out that in fact they are, having been built during the First Century BC. What’s more, right across the street from us stood Karl Marx’s house. He was born right there and raised, and when he took off for the rest of the world, that’s the house he said goodbye to. I know now that there are lots of things to see in Trier, and if I ever get back there I’m going to plan for it.

I’ll close for now, so that I can watch through the windshield, practice my silent scream and exercise my sphincter as Joanna slams her brakes on so she doesn’t crash into cars that are not, possibly because it’s raining, going 140 kph. It’s a good thing she’s such a skilled driver, because otherwise we would already be dead, and I would never get to go back to Trier. [OK, that wasn’t fair. Everybody over here drives like that, and probably if you don’t you cause huge pile-ups. future kev]

April 29. I’m hopping over the whole Scotland/England run here, some of which I’ve talked about in earlier chapters, just to get back to what you do when you get bored with your set, with yourself. I’ve been dragging out old songs every night, not many, just a few, but each night trying out something that’s been laying around getting dusty. I’ve been playing stuff that is hard to navigate with this thumb problem, some of the worst contenders, and it’s been amusing and strange, but the only thing I can think to do is to go up against it and try real hard. Trying to get better with the pick, and dynamics, stuff like that. I’m playing better, the shows are getting better, and I’m not bored anymore.

Anyway, I gotta go to sleep, I’m heading to Belfast tomorrow, and I have a serious repack to figure out in the morning. I’ll talk to you after that. 

Sláinte!

 

 

 

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To Newcastle and On

Ahoy and avast you scurvy yardarms. Aboard the ferry heading for Newcastle, sun is shining outside, sitting in a snug little bar drinking Heineken and banging on this thing. Just enough wifi to piss a guy off. I’ve made this crossing before and it seems like this is a nicer boat than some. Let me say right off that a burger and fries is EU16.50, which is about 300 dollars, unless the exchange rate has adjusted lately. If I were willing to give them EU35.00 I could eat a steak or some fancy fishes and act like a big shot, but I would bet you EU 18.50 that it wouldn’t be worth it.

According to my Tour Book, I have just come from Windek Germany, where I stayed at the home of the one and only Wolfgang Pracht. Wolf. We had some talks, me and Wolf.
I think I choose to not write publicly about Wolf, because if he wanted to talk to my few readers I’m sure he would do so, and it feels unseemly to turn around and repeat our conversations. He was a fine host, a very interesting person, and a new friend. I’ll leave it at that.

Next day. Crossed with no incident. I was hung up for awhile at passport control while they verified and registered my Sponsorship number or whatever it was, but I didn’t mind at all because I was in no hurry and they were very nice. I think their computers were down, so they had to call someone on the phone. Finally finished up and found that they had a taxi waiting for me, the driver relaxing and reading his paper. Another nice person. I started to feel like that’s the way all these Geordies act. (A Newcastle native is a Geordie. Don’t know why) [they supported the Kings George I and George II during the Jacobite Rebellion in the early 1700s. future kev] This guy told me all about the area, and told me where my gig is, and was generally so helpful that I thought he was going to turn off his meter and drive me around for a little bit.

Got to talk about the drinking around here. But I’ll have to do that tomorrow, after I’ve sobered up.

So, about the drinking. Waiting in the boarding area for the boat the afternoon of departure, the passing fragrance of fresh smoked weed, we were very close to Amsterdam after all so that was no surprise. But a lot of the younger guys and some of the girls were shit-hammered-shouting drunk. I mean, pleasant, no trouble, just really exuberant. But good and fucked up. We got on board and off we went. I found the above mentioned quiet bar, and stayed out of the disco two decks above, and lo, it was good. The next morning as we were disembarking, and by that I mean getting off the boat, they were still drinking. Still civil mind you, but cracking hot cans of beer
at 9 am. Some were drinking red wine. One guy had a fifth of some kind of whisky (I somehow never got close enough to read the label) and I noticed that the cap was nowhere to be seen. Half empty, he was working his way through the line like the rest of us taking good long pulls like he was hydrating from a water bottle. I watched him approach the passport control officer waving the fifth around. She just laughed at him and sent him on through. Now, listen, anyone who knows me knows that I drink more than my share. But this was some championship swilling I was witnessing. And I don’t ever want to rise in the ranks to these heights. Couldn’t probably. I would just vomit to death.
So, like I said, I had the nice cab ride to my hotel, got there around 11:00 or so, and I’ll be damned if the lobby wasn’t filled with basically the same people. There must have been forty men and and another forty women crammed in there waiting for transport, and at least ninety percent of the men were drinking warm cans of beer, big tall ones. Several came off the elevators with whisky bottles, to the warm cheers of their brethren. These were apparently the captains of the teams.
Let it be known that I’m only a lonesome rogue reporter here, with a little hangover myself, no judgements, but if you ever see me working my way through an early morning customs line in a tank top and skull cap drinking from a half empty whisky bottle, will you please give me a good talking to? Thank you.

What I want to talk about next is the unbelievably beautiful drive we took today, my new tour manager Shaun Whitehouse and I, along Hadrian’s Wall from the East to the West across the North. We had to ignore the South entirely, because we had our hands full, direction-wise. I would show pictures here, but with my iPhone I couldn’t come close to showing you what I saw. The word Epic comes to mind. We saw similar countryside years ago driving from Scotland down through Wales, and it was just as stunning. But this was a surprise somehow, because almost the moment we crossed the line out of Newcastle we were in it, and I had no idea that was going to happen. If I ever get a chance to come back here, I’m going to take a long long walk. [I borrowed a photo from DiscoverAdventure.com, go there to see more. future kev]

Future Kev, still here: Next morning. Glasgow, played last night, all is well, heading out. Here’s a photo of the street, which I tarted up pretty good. Cheers.

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Thinking about Levon

April 17, Trier Germany.
Thinking about Levon.

When I was a kid, late teens, me and Pat started going over the line to Arkansas, usually to Fayetteville. One of the first things they taught us over there, and one of the only things that didn’t involve getting awful high, was that Levon Helm was one of their home boys. They said that he would show up now and then, often times to sit in with his old friends, the outstanding Cates Brothers. The Cates were usually playing at the Library, next door to the beer joint we played in, the Swingin Door. SInce I was underage anyway, the Library seemed sort of swank and a little more deadly, as it was a whisky bar and stayed up later, and because the Cates were sophisticated and world class players and because sometimes they said Levon would turn up and play drums, right there next to the Swingin Door on Dickson St. One of my friends there told me that he used to go to Springdale with Levon, to some bad ass juke joint, and that Levon was always packing a pistol in the waistband of his jeans. The people around there called Springdale ‘North Fayette-nam’ because it was pretty scary I guess. I’ve looked back at those days many times to try and remeasure and reassess with the benefit of all these years of experience, and I have to say that I’m pretty sure it was a crazy little patch over there back in those days, by any standards. So, Levon packing sounds about right.

Many years went by, as years tend to do, and just like most people I knew, I kept Levon in my sights. The Band were of course one of the best parts of the Twentieth Century, and the stuff that those guys did tattooed us all, forever. It was in the early 90s, the one time I met him, and it was because of Carlene Carter, bless her.
We were each on Warner Bros, we were each making music videos, we were friends, and during this time it was fairly common to do back to back videos with the same production teams, crews, craft services, all that, because once everyone was set up and the things were in motion, it was a lot cheaper to just keep on cranking. We were in LA, and my shoot was finished. I think we had been shooting out in the desert, if I’m remembering the right video. In any event, I was finished and had a day off, and so I went over to Carlene’s shoot, which was an interior, on a set. There were a lot of interesting people on it, but for some years now the only one I’ve been able to remember is Levon. He had finished his appearance or something and me and him started shooting the breeze over lunch. For a couple hours we just talked and talked. I realized at the time that this was not so much because of me, but because of Levon and his friendliness. In other words, I didn’t think he was hanging out with me because I was cool, but because he was cool. He told me a story I want to pass along. I had asked him what he was mostly doing, gigging, acting, whatever. He said he was looking for some more acting roles. I had the feeling that he really wanted some more film action. He had recently played the chief mechanic to Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, and he was great. He said that they shot much of that out at Edwards Air Force Base, where the original test flights had taken place. There was a bar right there, and all the pilots, crews, everyone involved with the aviation business of the base used to drink there, and so during the filming that’s where Levon and the rest hung out too. He said that one night something moved in over the top of the base, right over the bar too. Something big. They all went outside to see what it was. Levon said that sitting right above them, perfectly still, was the biggest goddamn craft he had ever seen. He said it just hung there and hummed. I don’t want to go on describing it any further because I would be paraphrasing and this was a long time ago, so I’d get it wrong. But he said no one had ever seen anything like this thing before or since. Then it just moved away and was gone. Levon Helm looked me in the eye and told me that.

I only started typing because I hear that he’s in the last part of his long battle with cancer. He’s in the glide path. So I’m thinking about him again.

Sometime after his first, to my knowledge, bout with cancer, me and Claudia were down in New Orleans, and we decided to go into this place called, I don’t know, Levon’s or something. It was set up sort of like a House of Blues, seating downstairs and a balcony, and a good stage. It was a restaurant, but we had stopped in because we heard Levon might be playing. It was disturbing right off. I knew that he had been really sick, that he had lost his ability to sing, and that he wasn’t playing much. It felt like someone was using his good name to sell shit actually. T-shirts and crap like that, and the food menu featured stuff like The Great Divide Burger and the Big Pink Fruit Salad. Making those up, but it was really just like that. We sat upstairs overlooking the stage and listened to a band playing. I really don’t recall anything about them, but at some point they pushed another drum set out, right next to the other drummer, and Levon came out and played some. I have to tell you, it wasn’t a great thing to see. He seemed awful tired, and he wasn’t contributing anything but his presence, and you know what, it felt like a contractual obligation. I dreamed up this whole scenario, where they gave Levon a bunch of cash to use his name and likeness, and in return he had to agree to appear so many times a year. I base this on nothing, and I may be wrong about the whole thing.

Anyway, I only bother to record this sad occasion, (at least sad to me) because that night he looked like a man past his best days, and glory be, I was wrong.

In recent years the old boy rose again and he has been shining bright. His Midnight Ramble, dang I really wanted to do that. His gorgeous records from the last decade received tons of accolades and awards, and we got to see him loved on and praised the way he deserved. We went to see a show in Dallas last year, and though he didn’t sing, his playing was sharp and his pocket was deep, and I mean it. He was still a great great drummer. The very last part of the very last song, I Shall Be Released, he sang that. His voice was weak and quavering, but beautiful, and it felt like a gift from him. I don’t want to get too goopy about all this, but really, we were lucky to have him, weren’t we…..I just can’t say it enough. We’re all grateful to you Levon, thanks. We love you man.

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Work Work Work

Work Work Work

My down time is over for now. Well, that’s not true, day after tomorrow is a day off too. I’m heading up the road to a town called Leiden for a show tonight. I was in Leiden either a year ago or two years ago, i can’t remember. It was at another time when I had days off in Holland, and I had decided I wanted to see another canal city with a whole lot fewer Americans. Beautiful place. So today I’m going to cab back to Central Station and take an early afternoon train, and I’m even going to stay in the same hotel. There’s a bar on the other side of the canal that I like. My old friend William is meeting me up there too. I don’t recall what year I met William, but it was awhile back. Probably early 90s. Bob Saporiti and I were traveling together as we were apt to do back then, and he and William were buddies. We used to hang at the Nightwatch and drink schnapps and get our bartender friend Cor to do magic tricks behind the bar. He had one that was sort of a three-card monte thing, where you’re trying to guess which cup has the olive under it, and when you were finally good and confused he’d lift up the cup and there would be a damn lime there. It was a real crowd pleaser. I went to see those guys last night and the night before too. Cor, Nuri, Michel and Roger. Roger is the new guy. He’s only been there 15 years. When Dustin was in his teens I took him there, bought him a Heineken, first beer I ever bought the lad. Same thing for Savannah. Me and her watched the World Cup there over a few days and nights. Never got to bring Ada here, which is a shame. She would love it.
That’s one thing about this town. When you leave and stay gone for a year or two, you can come back and everything is just about where you left it. Even the little shops where you can buy cheap wine and strong cheese and fruit and good bread, they don’t come and go, they stay. I like that.
The last two days I’ve gone for long aimless walks to parts of town I don’t usually get to, looking for cozy little cafes to eat good Dutch food and drink small glasses of beer and shots of espresso. Every street is lovely, these long stately boulevards, many with a small or broad canal down the middle, and big dignified buildings all brown and gold and fat-bellied on either side. I don’t know if they do this, or did this, with every thing they built way back when, but a typical construction trick was to have the house or building lean out just a little bit. They were taxed according to the size of the footprint, so they tended to build narrow and tall, and as a result the staircases here are famously steep and narrow. I’ve come down some, I swear I turned around and took like a ladder. This made it very difficult, in fact impossible, to get heavy furniture upstairs, and so they leaned the structures out over the sidewalk so that when they hoisted a piano or a sofa up it wouldn’t bang into the walls on the way up or down. Must have been interesting to build that way. I wonder how they did it.


Today I expect to see flowers. The tulips are up. Tomorrow I may go to a giant farm, but I bet we’re going to see some from the train today. The weather has finally turned fine, and I’m sorry to miss the sidewalk cafes back in Amsterdam (I’m on the train now). But, even as wet and chilly as it was over the last few days, I was ok with it. More than ok.
One thing I’m noticing, more and more of those big slow turning three bladed windmills like they make in Denmark. Wind power is happening. The small old windmills which Holland has long been famous for were not to generate power but to control the water. Since so much of this land was claimed from the sea, and the sea is walled off above the land, keeping the water in these canals is vital. [I’m realizing that I don’t yet understand  the whole land reclamation thing, so I’m gonna try to read up. future kev.]
By the way, just pulled out of Amsterdam and the train has stopped at the Haarlem Station. New York City was originally New Amsterdam, and of course that’s why the Dutch also had a part of town called Harlem. But you knew that.

Here I sit in Leiden now, waiting for William. I guess he missed his train. He just texted that he’s arriving 45 minutes later than planned. I’m sitting in perhaps the only Starbucks in the world with no wifi. But they do make a mean latte.
My plan is to make it to the hotel and catch a shave, clean up a little and change clothes. I was asked if I wanted to take a boat ride before the show and I automatically said yes. That’s generally the right answer to that question. It’s an open boat and it’s going to be cold. Really cold. Maybe I oughta bag it.
Oh yeah, here’s William.

Last bit before I post this. Took the boat ride, it was wonderful and it came with a history lesson about the town of Leiden, which is just a little older than 1000 years. Romans. Played the gig, next day saw the flowers, unreal, next day another gig in another town, loved it, today we’re off for a two-fer. Some kind of giant record convention somewhere and then a show tonight. I gotta go.

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Thanks Again Mark Twain

I have spent many happy hours reading, and also listening to, the newly released first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. In it he ruminates off and on through the first several hundred pages on how to best write the thing. At last he figures it out, and here’s what he figured out; write about what ever comes to mind, and when you get sick of talking about it, change the subject, and maybe come back to it, or maybe not. Also, he decided not to write it at all, but to say it out loud while a stenographer copied it down. I can just imagine the poor person furiously hammering away while Mr. Clemons paced and puffed away on his cigar, spilling all the beans about his truest feelings, some of which were so true that they were not to be published until the author had been dead and gone for one hundred years.

Now, I’m certainly no Mark Twain, and frankly, neither are you, but no matter, we can still learn from the old master. While I can’t seem to locate a stenographer anywhere these days, I believe I can take a tip from the first part of the Twain method, and in fact, I think I had better, because yesterday I wrote and wrote and wrote about my first full day in Moscow. I found myself still blathering away after a couple thousand words and realized that I was still only halfway through the story. I had to go back and delete an entire page of stuff, which actually felt pretty good, but in the process I saw that I’m really not interested in signing on as a full-time journalizer, never have been. I want to tell these stories largely because soon I’ll forget them forever, just like I’ve forgotten most of the rest of my life, and sometimes it’s entertaining to me to come across some long lost adventure hidden away in a dusty closet in my mind.

Having said all that, I do need to note a few things about this time in Moscow. First, I’m out of there, having just lifted off on Lufthansa flight 1446 to Frankfurt, and I have to say, as interesting as it was, as successful in some key ways, and as joyful as it was to hang with the Konradi clan, I was ready. I was cold, and Amsterdam awaits.
A remarkable aspect of it was how well Ann-Tyler did at setting the whole thing up. When I got there I was hooked up with a stellar bunch of players, we did two hours of live National radio, I did one solo gig, a small house-concert thing in an art gallery that covered all my expenses plus some, and another show with said players at a cool little club which was, I guess, sold out. On the front page of the biggest newspaper in Russia I found a photo and a blurb about my visit. All this from a woman who has never promoted a single music event in her life. Well done Ann-Tyler!
So, let’s go over a couple of things in the Muscovite culture. First, the Underground. I’ve put a few photos up on Facebook already. When you hit the Metro station you first step onto the longest escalators I’ve ever seen. Originally dug out to serve as bomb shelters during the war, as I understand, Stalin himself decided to convert these tombs into art galleries, ‘for the people’, using the labor and lives (and deaths) of thousands of prisoners and others pressed into post-war service. So when you finally emerge, deep underground, onto the platform, seemingly any platform, you find yourself in a beautiful hall of unique design and motif, with tracks on both sides and decorated pillars down the middle. . From the ceiling there may be a hundred very fine old chandeliers, any one of which would cost a small fortune in an antique store in the States, and in between there might be a series of paintings or brilliant mosaics depicting Soviet propaganda, workers in the fields or on tractors, soldiers handing presents to little children, strong-faced men and women in sleek looking factories, and everywhere still, the Hammer and Sickle, now in disuse but left over in abundance in all the old halls. On the walls you find exquisite frescoes, sculptures of animals or, again, workers, farmers, common people. The floors are often marble tile. Each platform is different, some more outstanding than others, but all are amazing. As deco as anything I’ve seen, and in that badass Soviet style. And, considering that every single day, approximately ten million people, that’s right, ten MILLION people move through these stations, everything is remarkably clean. You seldom wait more than two minutes for the next train, and the system is so understandable that it puts the London Underground, which I’ve always admired, to shame.

The only parts of the experience that wore me out were the noise and sometimes the crowds. The trains howl and scream as they come blasting out of the tunnels, violently shutting down and stopping, the doors flapping open, leaving you to negotiate upstream against your fellow man coming or going, and god help you if you get caught in some of the doors when they close again. Some seemed to sigh and shut in a fairly gentle way, but some, especially if they are held back for a brief moment, slam hard enough that I’m pretty sure you could break hand bones if you weren’t quick enough. And then with a prolonged and agonizing shriek the monster blasts off again, the whole process taking maybe one minute, tops.

The other freakout thing is this; some of the areas at the top of the escalators get unbelievably crowded, as maybe a couple hundred people gather and attempt to board and descend. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Imagine it, a small chamber with as many people in it as is possible to fit. You have been in crowds before. Unless you have ridden the Moscow Underground you have never been this crowded, trust me. You are mashed up against someone in front of you, in back of you, on both sides, diagonally too, all around, and I mean mashed. You can not move. And then the wad begins to shuffle and inch, in tiny baby steps and very very slowly, toward the one narrow escalator opening which you can only presume to be somewhere up ahead of you all. There is no escape from this. I was thinking of an old friend who suffers badly from claustrophobia, and I felt grateful that she wasn’t there with me. It seemed somehow subhuman, mindless, and impossible. And then, just when you can’t take another second of it, there you are, stepping on, your personal space restored, and down and down and down you go to the splendor of Stalin’s little art project.

One last cultural mention for the day involves what seems to me to be an unnatural aversion to, well, the floor. You aren’t supposed to touch it somehow, or to let any of your garments drag across it, or, God forbid, to ever sit on it. I didn’t notice this, but Ann-Tyler told me after the fact that at some point my giant coat, which I was carrying while down in the overheated bowels of the earth, was touching the floor. I don’t know where this happened, but she told me that all those around me were clearly uncomfortable about it. It’s just something you don’t do. And you don’t sit on the ground either, outside under a grand tree on a spring day. Especially girls. Now, once again I’m talking about something I know very little about, as this was just explained to me quickly and in passing, and it was just one more semi-bewildering piece of information I filed in my weary brain, but as I understand it, the belief is that sitting on the ground will somehow damage a girls, um, reproductive organs. This so baffled me that I’m sure you can see why I haven’t devoted a lot of time to really learning all the ins-and-outs of it, and that was not a pun, no matter what you may think. In fact, I think I had forgotten all about it until today when I was going through security at the airport. Unlike our system in the States and basically everywhere else I’ve ever traveled to, where we line up by the x-ray conveyor belt in our ridiculously inefficient anti-ergonomic method to disrobe and unpack half our shit and empty our pockets and take off our shoes and scarves and jackets and every other damn thing, (sideways!) the Russians have an area devoted to retrieving a bucket or two, including small ones for your shoes, sitting down and taking a moment to do all of that, but to do it right. It’s civilized and makes a lot more sense. The part I’m getting to though is that there is a big box filled with these little disposable plastic socks, which nearly every single person stopped at to pluck out a pair, so that when they took their shoes off they could immediately and with all seriousness cover their stocking feet, so they wouldn’t have to come into such intimate contact with, shudder, the floor. I stood there and thought about it for a minute and then figured, what the hell, and I got a nice blue pair for myself too. Maybe they know something I don’t, like what they put in the floor wax or something.
I do have a couple more stories, about the gigs and stuff like that, but I think I’ve taken up enough of your time for now. Plus we’re starting our descent into Frankfurt.
Skol hi-dee-ho!

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Fire Bird

April 6, 2012 Russia.

Holy moly. As we were flying in I raised my window shade and saw below….well, it looked like something from a sci-fi film. I don’t want to be disparaging. It’s just that I’ve never seen anything like it. We were high enough that cars would have been flea sized, but low enough that I could clearly see the architecture of these tall, thin, long, very very long, almost plate-like buildings, which bent and angled into wings and sections. OK, this is not easy to describe, that was terrible. Let’s try this: You take a bunch of yellowish dominos, make them 3 times as tall as they usually are, and you stand them up next to each other in a line. Some you just line up four or five side by side, others you line them up and then turn the corner and keep going, once, maybe twice, maybe three times, randomly. You make groups of these very close to each other. Sometimes you stand them in an arc just for fun. Now, you do this maybe 5,000 times, with no detectable pattern, stretching in every direction as far as you can see. Make sure that all color is muted and make the air hazy. Actually, I could save us both some time and just show you this photo I took from the plane. It sort of conveys the desolation I felt, but not really. I was awestruck. It looked so, well, 1960 Soviet, but only in the worst way. As we continued our descent, I was really wondering where I was taking myself.   So, I’m happy to report that since I arrived here five days ago I have seen much that can only be described as shockingly beautiful, things I have never seen before and will never forget now.  

I was collected outside of baggage by my friend and Texas neighbor Ann-Tyler and escorted by train back into town, right into the center, only blocks from Red Square and the Kremlin. She and her husband Brian and their three young daughters, who I’m crazy about, live in what would have to be considered a very desirable flat on the ninth floor of a large apartment building. Real estate in this town is beyond expensive. It’s don’t-even-ask expensive, and so almost everyone rents. Every Christmas, and every summer, the Family Konradi spend back in Wimberley, right across the road from my place, in their other home, a place so appealing that frankly, I don’t know how anyone could easily leave it behind even for a long weekend. But they have a fascinating life here, the girls are busy with all the sort of things that kids are busy with elsewhere, there is a large social network of Russians and ex-Pats from all over the place, and life rocks right along. The following day Ann-Tyler had arranged a guided tour for me of the Kremlin, or at least a portion of it called the Armory Museum. There was a second tour also scheduled with the same guide, of the church or something, but as we will see, by the time I had seen the Armory I was so beat up from a combo of jetlag, fatigue and brain frazzle from the contents of that place that I had to decline the rest of the tour, giving the nice lady a half day off with pay. Let me remember to tell you that the Kremlin, far from being the giant gray hulking building I had always imagined, is actually a fortress of sorts, behind the walls of which are scattered many giant gray hulking buildings, as well as churches I suppose, and grand old structures like the Armory, and all sorts of government stuff. Kremlin means ‘fortress’ or something like it. Remember, I’m just an American tourist, so if you really want to know about this stuff, look it up or come over here yourself. I’m just telling you what I see and how it looks to me. The Kremlin wall runs right down the right hand side of Red Square, as you face it. Upon approach from the street you must pass through a large gate, and when you do, the first thing you spot is St. Basil’s Church down on the far end, and it’s pretty incredible.          

 

As we were walking toward St Basil’s, we saw over to our left, behind a low single chain barrier, a couple tough looking guards casually standing in front of the open door of a slick low slung entrance into something mysterious. Ann-Tyler tells me it’s the Tomb of Lenin, and that this is the first time she has ever seen it open without a mile-long line stretching from it. We decide we should go in. The guards explain that even though we could just step right over the low slung chain, we must instead go back to the beginning of this chain and enter there. The chain ran all the way back to the entry house where the big gate was. OK, what the hell, it’s Dead Lenin, we’ll do it. Eventually having to leave Red Square entirely and enter through another gate, we arrived back where we started, only a few feet inside the chain. Along the way we passed the gravestones of famous dead Soviets, including Stalin, Andropov, Kruschev, well, all the past bosses, the big generals, stone after stone. Just inside the forbidding door with a stair leading down into darkness, the grim silent guard signed for us to be quiet and for me to take my stocking cap off, which we immediately did. And down the short stairs we went, till we turned a corner into a dim room lit by red lights with a large raised glass case in the middle. You were not allowed to get close of course, or even stop and stand, even though there were no other viewers behind us. We circled the old boy as slowly as we could, and yes, sure enough, Dead Lenin it was. He has been sealed in wax. He looks very much like a Madame Tussaud fake, with one hand clenched almost in a fist and the other open and restful, still sprting the famous black beard, goatee style, and wearing a suit which is apparently changed every three years. They say Lenin wished to be buried, and presumably still does so, and yet, here it is, 80 something years later, and still he lies there. Back in 99 that crazy old sot Yeltsin was talking about burying him finally but it turns out that he was probably just trying to stir up trouble, hopefully even a Communist riot or two, so that he could call off the election that was going to remove him from power. Be that as it may, I have to say that those few minutes rank right up there with the strangest things I have seen in all my years.

I notice that this thing is getting long already, and I’ve only covered the first half of my first full day in Moscow. Let’s try to pick up the pace for chrissake.

Soon after, at the appointed time, we found the tour guide waiting for me in the Armory, and Ann-Tyler left me in her care, having seen this museum plenty of times herself already. As soon as we started it dawned on me that we were inside one of the greatest collections of Royal artifacts on the planet. This wasn’t your typical history collection of armor, crowns, gowns, robes, carriages, weapons, dishes, gold, silver, diamond encrusted everything. This was all of the best of those things probably ever gathered together, and I’m saying I’ve seen the Crown Jewels in England and this beat the pantaloons off that. It seemed like every time we finished up with one glass case of something or other, I’d turn around and gasp at what was to come. They have one room there filled with royal carriages, as I mentioned. Imagine, from the Disney cartoon, Cinderella’s grand coach (I know, I know, but stay with me)…..These were that but blown up and exaggerated beyond belief. There were maybe a dozen or so, though I’m spitballing, and the first was far beyond any I’ve ever seen, and each successive one was exponentially greater than the last. In another hall were items such as Catherine the Great’s favorite duds, Peter the Great’s (they were all great I guess) handmade, homemade boots, Ivan the Terrible’s spanking implements (made that up) and so much gaudy and way over the top, as in, over the moon, stuff that you can’t help getting queasy about it. Especially when you consider what the regular folks were doing through all this, through crushing poverty and freezing winters. I finally laid down on a bench, exposed my throat and begged to be released. It was fantastic. I was finished.

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stage one. boosters on.

IMG_2084

swiss airline ann.March 31, 2012. Flight 614, Detroit-Amsterdam. Delta. I think Delta ate KLM/Northwest. Or something. This feels more like a NW flight than a Delta one. Delta used to always feel like the seats were thin and the planes smelled, much like the interior of the old Detroit International Terminal, like hotdog water. The crew were always angry that you wanted to go somewhere with them. If there were movies it would be on a drop-down screen way down the aisle or right next to your seat above your head so you couldn’t see it. And of course the headphones didn’t really work either. They were sometimes the equivalent of holding a long rubber hose to your ear while someone spoke very loudly in the other end. I mean this literally. They were hard rubber or soft plastic and you stuck one end in your ear and the other end into a hole in the armrest, where there must have been a tiny tiny speaker or something. It just made a squawking sound. But that was usually for the best, because the films were not films you would actually want to watch or even hear anyway. Of course these days all that has improved a lot, at least on most international flights. Each seat features it’s own little screen on the back of the seat in front of you, and you have a handheld remote which lets you scroll through a million choices of films, television shows, documentaries. If you use your own headphones sometimes you can hear the audio fairly well too. None of that matters much to me right now though, because my handheld remote thing is deader than Elvis and the one film I was able to default to, (a George Cloony political thing which is probably pretty good even though I can’t stomach any more American politics) I couldn’t hear anyway, because it sounds like it’s running through my old Tube Screamer fuzz box.
And that explains why I’m doing this, banging away on my laptop and drinking red wine in a plastic cup, sitting next to a perfectly nice older lady who’s remote does work a little. I showed her how to run it.

In the morning we’ll arrive at Schipol in Amsterdam, early-ish. Too early to check into my room I suspect. I booked a room at my new favorite airport hotel, CitizenM, walking distance from the airport, really just a short stroll. It’s ultra modern and interesting, and at 90 Euro right at the top of my hotel budget limit for this trip. [By the time I checked out my bill was right at 200 EU. Ouch. future kev] But I’m tired and I decided to treat myself. I have no other plan than to train into town at some point and eat Indonesian food, and probably have a Heineken somewhere and watch the tourists. The following morning I’ll check out, stroll back to the airport and catch a flight to Moscow.

April Fools Day-April 2nd.
I did nothing but work and rest while here overnight. I didn’t even jump the train into town. It’s fine, as I’m coming back in a week or so. Amsterdam is one of the main hubs for travelers, especially Schiphol Airport. When you walk through this airport you hear all different languages, all different kinds of dress, shades of skin, and the announcements alone can keep me interested for long stretches. The names of exotic cities I’ve never been too, some I’ve never even heard of, places in China, Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, flights to Havana, flights to Newark too, anywhere in the world, anywhere at all, and in this vast birdhouse all the races and tribes are gathered, shuffling along with bags and children and tickets bought and paid for in every currency in existence, and it’s all right here. One thing I notice in these crossroad places, the time of day or night ceases to have such a strong hold on one’s notion of schedule. Our rhythms are unplugged from much of the normal stimuli we subconsciously respond to. One eventually just gives up being horrified by, say, a 3:30 am wake-up call, or inversely, still being awake at 3:30 am. After all, somewhere on the planet it is a more normal time. You just happen to be several thousand miles away from that place at the moment. Sometimes you find yourself still up after 24 hours with little or no sleep. You just roll with it as best you can, because often you have no other choice. Now, I admit much ignorance over our biology, but I would be interested to talk to researchers about what happens to our bodies, especially over time (let’s say, uh, 30 years) when we spend a lot of days and nights in this condition, of asking our bodies to just forget what it thinks it’s supposed to be doing in terms of sleep, manufacturing it’s little sleeping pills or wake up pills, it’s your time-to-take-a dump-signals, all that stuff. If I had a dictionary with me on this plane I’d look up the word ‘acadian’ because something tells me that word goes with ‘rhythm’ to describe these inner clocks of ours which travelers like me so frequently snub and ignore. [Nope, it’s ‘circadian’. future kev ] Oh well, who gives a shit. These things roll around in my head sometimes.

I’m on a SwissAir flight to Zurich right now, about halfway in, connecting there for another SwissAir flight to Moscow. I went for a walk last evening looking for a bottle shop and a chocolate shop, which meant Schiphol itself, because as anyone knows who has passed through there, it’s one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. I entered on one end, side entrance, and walked straight through to the other end, or at least the end of the line for passengers or shoppers. I wish I had had a pedometer to measure the distance. I think it was a mile. And if it wasn’t a mile, it was damn close. And this was just the front part, before you actually go into the airport itself, which is so vast that you really have to plan on possibly walking for 45 minutes or so to your gate. No lie.
I did find a good Dutch chocolate Easter Bunny for the Konradi girls, and a decent bottle of French red wine for Ann-Tyler and Brian. All I know is that I wanted to do my shopping in Holland, because I don’t want to buy anything at all in Switzerland, duty free or not, if I can help it. Years ago I recall dumbly staring at a bottle of regular old Jack Daniels and computing the cost at around $120.00 US. I have a story that goes with that, but I’ll tell it somewhere else if I get the chance, god willing.
And now it seems that we are getting close to Zurich, and I have to stop writing for a time.

The Swiss used to irritate me sometimes, even though I’ve always admired them for the very things that bug me. They are so obedient, so thorough, so clean, so on-time. One of the biggest ironies I know of can be experienced simply by crossing the imaginary line that divides Italy from Switzerland. The Italians provide an insanity from the opposite pole entirely, and I admire that somehow too. The trains don’t always run, or if they do, they are never on time, you oftentimes have to poop in a hole in the floor, and when they tell you to be in the lobby by 7:45, you are hereby advised not to appear before 8:15, unless you have some reading to do. And so forth. Cross the border into Switzerland and immediately, the trains arrive and depart with unnerving precision. Almost to the second. Everything is hyper-modern, except for the old stuff, which they also keep in perfect condition. They rebuild the tower clocks regularly it seems, whether they are working perfectly or not, and every few years they burn all their money and reprint new, fresh stuff. And the Swiss Franc bills are, or at least used to be, before the advent of the Euro, amazing in themselves. I’m no expert at all about this, but I recall once when I was touring through there, they had a new bill with a picture of a famous woman writer on it. In order to make it very difficult to forge, embedded somewhere in the bill was a little microchip or something, which contained the entire biography of the woman. This was a long biography, book-length, in the bill. And remember, this was probably in the mid 90’s. I guess after these things had been in circulation for a couple of years they were all gathered up and burned, because they were getting a little dirty.
I say all this, and believe me, I could say more, because on the first leg of today’s journey, I boarded the Swiss flight in Amsterdam, and as I was sitting in the exit row, not only could I not keep my carry-on under the seat in front of me, which you can do in the States and I think everywhere else, but I even had to put my shoes back on before we could take off. Little stuff like that, you know? They are very careful, the Swiss. That’s why I was amused to notice that, as the next flight, from Zurich to Moscow, was backing out of the gate, we had yet to have any attendants checking to see if our belts were fastened, our seatbacks were up, our stuff was under the seat, or anything else. In fact, there were even people still walking in the aisles. In fact, one of those was a woman on crutches. I checked again. Yes, this is a SwissAir flight. Of course, I thought: Russian crew….I mean, I guess it must be. Never, ever, in the 20 odd years of dropping in on the Swiss now and then, have I ever seen anything remotely as loose as that. That’s the kind of thing that would probably so horrify a…..(what are they called, a Swissman? Nope. Future Kev, check that out for us please)….ok the Swiss, I can only imagine they would arrest themselves and march themselves right down to the Policia, or whatever they’re called there.
Well, that little rant has worn me out, so I’m going to see if I can doze off for a few minutes, while we soar above the planet to lands which I have never known.
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Next up: Mother Russia.

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