Monday, March 16, 2009

Overnight Train To Nice

9:00AM March 15

Friday night I showed up for the gig around 7:45 to rehearse. We ran through a few tunes over the next hour and a half, forming a set list, and we got to work on a tune of mine called "Done." We then sat down for a complimentary dinner, which was one of the best I've ever had. I ought to do more gigs at nice restaurants. I had great ravioli, a glass or two of red wine, and a chocolate torte for dessert. How much more could you ask for?

We then played the gig--which I recorded, I'll be posting some of the better pieces later. It went pretty well, and at times we really got in a groove. The other musicians--Antonio brought in a sax and bass player to join John, the drummer, and I--liked my tune, and we threw it into the set. There was a fair turnout, but it was a tough crowd. We rarely heard any applause after solos, even some of the better ones, which was a little disappointing and less motivating. When you throw yourself into a performance and everything feels great but you don't receive any recognition of enjoyment from the crowd, it becomes harder to push yourself for more.

We reached the end of the set list around 11:30, and I started calling a few tunes we'd discussed earlier to get us through the last half-hour. After a particularly rousing version of Horace Silver's "Song For My Father," I thought we should bring it down a bit with the ballad "Misty," figuring we would still close the set with John Coltrane's upbeat "Impressions." When we finished "Misty" though, the owners were ready for us to finish, and it was a kind of awkward ending. As John said later, "that's probably the only time I'll close a set on 'Misty.'" It was fine though, as that gave me more time to make it to the train.

I was there in plenty of time, reaching the station by five past midnight, and I got my roommate Adam to take my guitar back to the room. At 12:30 I boarded what turned out to be the sketchiest train to Pisa Centrale. All three cars were graffitied on the outside, much of it over the windows; the seats were dirty, as were the passengers riding it, whom were loud as well, and the train attendant came around twice to check my ticket. A fight of some sort even broke out in the next car at one point, and many people got up to go check it out. The train attendant eventually broke it up. I was so ready for that cold train to end from the start, but my anxiety was compounded by the fact that it was the extra local train from Firenze to Pisa. It took an hour and a half to go essentially the distance from Trenton to Philadelphia.

Once in Pisa, I had another hour and a half to kill before catching the train to Genova, so I went in search of the leaning tower for the great night picture. As soon as you exit the train station there are signs pointing towards the Duomo, so I didn't think it would be that far. At 2:00AM those streets are pretty dark though, and it was a little intimidating walking around an unknown city with my two bags at that hour. When I reached the river there was some sort of huge party going on with lots of young Italians crowding around and singing in the main square--I later found out that it was the Festa della Done (festival of women). It certainly made the city safer as I ventured further onwards, wondering if it was smart to wander so far from the train station. I reached the gates of the city on the far side at about 2:35AM, and I was ready to turn back, but I decided to turn and walk back a different route. Of course, within about two blocks, just as I wanted to give up my quest, I spotted the leaning tower basking in the moonlight. I took in the beautiful sight, snapped a few photos, and then headed back to the station, sprinting at times to make sure I'd arrive in time.

The Arno in Pisa

The Festa della Donne celebration at the foot of Ponte di Mezzo

The leaning tower at night

When I finally got back it was 3:00AM, and I still had another half-hour till the train, which now appeared to be late five minutes...then ten...then fifteen. I was a little distressed at this point, as my changeover in Genova was only ten minutes long. Twenty minutes after the train was supposed to depart, it was announced that the train would be "arriving soon." It did finally arrive three minutes later, and I boarded what turned out to be a train full of cabins. At that time of night, all of the cabins are full, or the blinds are pulled so you can't go in and check, as the occupants are sleeping, so I pulled down one of the small seats on the wall of the train in the hallway and sat there freezing for the next two hours. Again, I was compelled not to sleep, as the atmosphere, although better than the first train, was not particularly welcoming.

This train only had two stops before me over the long distance I was traveling, and we sped along, reaching the station ten minutes before the initially scheduled time. I had plenty of time to find my next train to Ventimiglia, which departed at 6:00AM, heading west along the Mediterranean coastline. I got to watch the sunrise over the sea for about an hour and a half as I was moving with the sun. The only problem was that the Italians place a few rows of buildings in between the tracks and the coast, so I had to grab my views whenever possible in between cracks in the developments. This was also an extra local train, stopping in every single seaside town, sometimes twice, if they had two stations. It took the same amount of time as the previous train to go half the distance.

Sunrise over the Mediterranean in Italy

In Ventimiglia, the last town on the Italian coast, I had to buy a ticket for the French rail system. It was immediately noticeable how much better the French infrastructure was, and the landscape looked more maintained. The French also put the train right along the water, and I got some great views of the French coastline.

When I finally reached Nice, none of the girls came to meet me at the station, and all I had was a confusing address for the hotel. It took me more than an hour to find the hotel, walking back and forth from the train station to the beach twice. Eventually I made it, checked in, and headed out to meet the girls at a restaurant and enjoy the Riviera for three days.

The French Riviera, as seen from the train.

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