Salut i força al canut
>We unhappily leave Perugia at 1or 2 in the morning surrounded by revelry (the kind that makes you stay long past the prudent time of departure). Fernando drives all through the night, and Irene and I sleep. We awaken at the French/Italian border and get a good Italian coffee (around 6 in the morning). I groggily pull out my notebooks and start working on my symphony, and Fernando and Irene speak about something in Spanish (she wants him to give up the wheel which he declines to do).
Fernando has been working with us for about 9 years. His company books travel for groups all over the world (including us), but he comes out with us on our European tour every summer or whenever we tour South America (he's Venezuelan). This is some hard driving. 3 o'clock in the morning in some mountainous region, y’all up talking about all kinds of shit – family, heartache, fights you had, what you learned.
I am blessed to be around fantastic people. In the US, I drive with the great photographer Frank Stewart, who has lived one of the most colorful lives of all times, or Raymond Murphy who is a member of the spiritual aristocracy of the planet. Murph is so soulful you smell collard greens when he walks into the room. He was in the US Navy and Fernando was in the Venezuelan Navy…. and I can't swim (well neither can Murph). Fernando has worked in travel since he was 19. He formed his own company 6 years ago and is a hard, hard worker. Old school. Murphy, Frank, Fernando…Whew!! The Jedi. These men work long, consistent hours and will run you into the ground if you can’t keep up. They work through many a day and night without ever bitching and will embarrass you into being cool if you get tense (especially Murphy who was a military policeman and never gets tight).
Well, I have seen Fernando drive 18 straight hours, and he doesn’t bat an eye. And the wilder stuff gets, the more comfortable he is. As the years pass, you build up a book of stories about each other and your responses to crises. Fernando is great in a crisis. Something goes wrong and he says, "We work on it till we solve it, man."
I was lucky to have mentors like Crouch, Murray, Sweets. Fernando's great mentor is Jimmy Young. He worked for Jimmy on the beaches of Tobago. Jimmy showed Fernando how to live full and be free. "He taught me shit not in any books man," Fernando summarizes. Jimmy was the best man at Fernando's wedding. Fernando recounts a story Jimmy told him about a blind, old Chinese man who begs outside of a school. Kids would throw a range of coins, (dollars, quarters, dimes and pennies). The old man would only take a penny as some of the kids would tease him saying," You old stupid man! You only take a penny when we throw so much more." Jimmy said the fact that he took the one cent kept the kids coming back. He chose the experience over the money. Fernando says that's why he does this every summer. He drives day and night carrying bags and looking out for us because he loves the feeling of us: the band, Murph, Frank. This is our lives we are living, and the experiences we have shared define and refine who we are much more than what we are paid. Our sound man, another one who 'don't mind workin', David Robinson, flew to Spain for Irene and Fernando's wedding (Vic and I were at Northwestern). He represented us well on the dance floor and with his toast. People ask me what is the greatest honor I've ever received—-Grammys, or Honorary degrees, so on….. Fernando driving me, playing with Ryan, Sean, Printup….what we do, the way we are treated by all types of people all over the world and the way we treat each other…..that's the greatest award. It’s in human terms….
Now, this meal that we're driving towards is another type of award. The summer Spanish sun is unimpressed. Coming from New Orleans, I love heat but this is dry heat—-not to be played with. You understand why they siesta through the middle of the day. Now we pull up to Rafael and Carmen's (Irene's parents) home. Odysseus said he could tell the level of people's civilization by their hospitality—-Well, we're stepping into a highly civilized situation. Have mercy! Cured Iberian ham, Spanish tortilla, fresh steamed garlic chili clams, vinegar poached artichoke salad all topped off with that sweet Navarra Rioja! Carmen lights up the room. She is funny and makes us laugh through the whole meal telling jokes about food then men and women. Irene loves her mom's playful nature and Rafael plays the straight man but loves it a lot. They urge to tell more and more and say that she makes up many herself. Their townhouse is about three blocks from the Mediterranean in Calafell, next to Comarruga the birthplace of Pau Casals. We enjoy just sitting over the meal, joking and enjoying the fellowship. We end with a Catalan toast "Salut i força al canut" (cheers and strength to your johnson)… Soon it's back to work on this music.
About 6pm Carmen asks me if I want to see Casals' house.
“It’s a short bicycle ride with no hills."
Twenty minutes later she has taken me all onto the highway and up and down hills. Finally we reach Casals' house and concert hall. It’s tranquil and beautiful with bright ceramic tiles and a spacious garden. At this hour only the cafe is open but it's worth the trip.
We return, and Fernando has been on the phone for one hour. Trombonista Chris Crenshaw left his passport and missed the plane from Perugia to San Javier. He's stranded in Rome. After much haggling, there are no remaining open flights to Madrid in time for tomorrow's gig. Classic Fernando— he books Chris on a flight to Barcelona then drives two hours each way to get him. All on no sleep. They get here at 10:30pm, and Chris gets to enjoy steamed mussels and a poached dorade fish that floated off the plate as well as a special brand of hospitality.
This was a day. I went in the garage to practice and work on this music. Chris went to sleep, more than happy to have missed his flight. The whole day, Irene has been making us feel at home. She won't come on this next leg of the trip. Her mom said a man was in a restaurant eating some chicken and french fries, he suddenly calls the waiter over, "Can you have this chicken cooked? It's eating my fries….bring some fries too!"
I finish working at about 3 in the morning and sit on the couch to relax. Next thing I know it’s 6:30 and Fernando is coming down the stairs talking ‘bout "Let's go to San Javier". As we are pulling out, Carmen asks, “What is the difference between a man and a dog?"
"They both look at you like they understand what you are saying."