Summer in Europe
" I was relieved to be unburdened by language, to be alone in a foreign country"
How can I share a moment of time with you?
There is a nomadic quality when moving through the landscape, one moves yet sits still, one sees the landscape but is not attached to it. In an exhibition of absence for that which is not there, the traveler seeks to find new modes of classification for the unknown. This can often be poetically encapsulated through music. Not just the music you are listening to at the time of travel, but also the music of the culture, the acoustics of social spaces and the way different people from different areas occupy space. The musicality of foreign lands not only accompanies you on a trip, it becomes the point of reference, a sonic marker that burrows into the memory. This is where the fertile grounds for the songs of experience you may be writing are born.
Traveling to through Europe this August I was tempted to abandon my ukulele and leave it at home. The last time I travelled with my little yellow friend I nearly lost it at LA security. Having flown from Australia and weary from the epic journey I absent mindedly left my instrument in the x-ray machine and went merrily on my way to board my flight to New York. It was only at the gate that I suddenly in a cold sweat panic realized it was gone. The flight attendant told me that I had five minutes before the gate closed. I retraced my steps, running like a crazy woman, tripped and fell, but made it to security to reclaim my best friend. So on the day of my departure to Europe, when my fellow band mate from Crazy Mary called me for a pre-departure chat insisting I take the ukulele, I was hesitant. But he was adamant that I take my four-string friend in case inspiration found me on my travels. Needless to say inspiration did find me. Any musician will tell you that once the destination has been met after flying, you have to re-tune your instrument. This became a habit that became akin to tuning to the environment and got me listening to each soundscape I visited with an eager ear. Traveling to a foreign place is often a visual feast but the sonic landscape, if one pays attention to it, can also provide a deeply moving experience.
Sitting in Rome in a quaint café amongst ancient churches, drinking cappuccinos I heard the banter and the lyrical sing song of Italian baristas. Cicadas chirped in the treetops singing their love songs while traffic and mopeds rolls over the cobbled streets. Looking for a mate, the cicadas aren’t only heard when the pink dusk settles over the ancient city, but also early in the morning before the sun beats down to cook the dusty road. As I couldn’t discern what anyone was saying, I was relieved to be unburdened by language, to be alone in a foreign country. All the while I’m composing songs in my mind to my absent other.
Then out of Rome onto traveling along the Amalfi coast along the seemingly perilous and ancient roads that line the cliff face, the sounds of air rushing through opened windows blearing euro-pop. Motorists honking their horns beeping to warn that they are approaching, unseen behind the curves of winding roads. Our taxi driver informed me that there are many meanings behind the beeps and honks of motorists depending on each scenario. When we arrived in Priano, a majestic seaside town that resembled the gates of heaven, the first audible sound marker was the ringing of church bells. Two bells rang on the hour, every hour. The first was a tin clang metal followed by a second bell with a richer more officious tone celebrating and confirming that the new hour was upon us. Cicadas provided the sonic backdrop to the somewhat epic descent down the four hundred paved steps to the rocky ocean. The beach in Priano with its lazy Mediterranean rhythm kept my imagination company for hours, the sound of the ocean lulling and slapping against the rocky shore unlocking memories of childhood oceans in Australia. The rolling of rocks on the rocky coast and the sounds of children screaming in delight and shock of the crisp water were almost as enjoyable as the ocean, cold and clear and cleansing. I had my own songs stuck in my head for days.
Out of Priano and onto Florence we shuttled on the fast train listening to the pressurized swoosh of landscapes blurring outside the window. American music kept me company during the trip. I plugged in electrically and dreamily mused over the importance of trains and their affect on the sound of rock and roll. Florence was a short stay but I remember the immense quiet of the five hundred year old villa I was staying in. There was a dog barking in the night, the sound of insects, the hum of a fan.
Next stop Berlin. Coming from Italy my first thought was how the accents in Germany had such a different quality, the latter sounding so much more efficient and official compared to the lyrical and dramatic Italian accent. Germany sounded like the undulating pulse of techno and the whine of tires, a ticker tack of wheels on the road after a late night of dancing. Germany is the home of electronic music, minimal and infectiously danceable, but the Germans also have a nostalgic love of American rock and roll. I had the great experience of seeing the band ‘Iron and Wine’ in Berlin. There is something fantastical about listening to American music in Germany as it stirs up some melancholic longing in me, first for the American landscape and my own idealistic ruminations of America inspired by images of open fields, like the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains or New York City. This musing induced by a cacophony of sound harking back to the jazz influences of Miles Davis and coupled by the haunting falsetto of Samuel Beam, also had me yearning for Australia, the one of my childhood.
Then there was the sound of people laughing and talking in the bar below the apartment I was staying in, merging off and on with the screaming of sirens, so particular and shrill in comparison to their New York counterparts. And there were more sounds, like children laughing, and the grinding of coffee in the morning, the whistle of planes overhead, the clanging of construction……
These sounds resonated in my body. Because we aren’t just stimulated by sound waves physically, they also resound in the mind in the form of memories. We carry them with us throughout life and they become the inspiration of songs. And yes I’m glad I took my ukulele. I played it nearly every day.