Olivia Mancini is a familiar face in these parts. In fact, if we were to link to her full past participation here at TVD, this piece would never see the light of day. Suffice it to say she’s a regular and she’s touring and busking around Europe as this is being typed. And when wifi enabled, she’s reporting back.
Gig Number Two: On to Mantova | Being a touring musician in a foreign country, by its nature, is full of unknowns. Questions arise. Simple things become complicated. The familiar is unfamiliar.
Is this a one-way street? (Yes, and you are going the wrong way.) How do I get this machine to give me a bag of chips? (Your coins are too small because you have used up all your large coins in an effort to avoid having to understand numbers when you buy things.) Why is it Thursday and every single store in town is closed when I need coffee immediately? (Option A—you have slept way too late and have woken up during siesta hours and now you must wait until four; Option B—you are in Italy or Spain and it is probably a Saint’s birthday.)
That said, the power of music as a force for connection and mutual understanding is a strong one, and it is this connection that makes touring both bearable in the face of these most regular challenges, and the amazing and inspiring experience that drives one to continue, almost like a moth to a flame.
There are certain markers that a seasoned traveling musician learns to recognize like a beacon—two of the most powerful are vintage gear and vinyl records. If someone has a turntable and a collection of records taking up and entire room—or perhaps some prized vintage amp, they are most certainly a lover of music on a very deep level. This is not the American Idol type of fan base I’m talking about. These are people who love music, not celebrity—who attach themselves to its culture and history, and the inherently rebellious and revolutionary nature of such artifacts.
These were markers immediately visible upon our arrival in Mantova. We had already encountered many challenges in this region of Italy—chief among them being weather. Not only had a small storm seemed to have crossed our path, but apparently the densest fog I’ve ever seen in my life is a regular thing here. After our gig at La Salumeria del Rock in Reggio Emilia, we had spent an hour driving just about 1 mile trying to find our bed and breakfast with a visibility of about 10 feet in a seemingly endless series of vineyards. Scary, aggravating, tears right below the surface…a moment where one begins to consider the wisdom of lifestyle choices now playing out…
Having made it through all that, however, we plotted our course to Mantova (in the daylight hours!) where we were greeted by Giulia, the Italian angel who had set up our show and let us stay at her house. Immediately, we knew we all would be well and we were among kindred souls as Giulia offered us a vintage Italian amp (her boyfriend, Luca’s) to use for our show.
The evening did not disappoint. The venue, Spazio Sociale La Boje was a semi-legal semi-squat. The concept of a squat is a very foreign one to Americans—the idea that you can just take over an abandoned space with a bunch of your friends and do something wonderful with it is virtually unheard of. This seemed especially cool for Josh and me–fresh from our Occupy Oakland experiences, where unauthorized occupations generally end in some combination of tear gas, wooden batons, plastic handcuffs, and police custody.
La Boje, just one year old, was a flourishing space of creativity—walls covered in engaging and beautiful graffiti; posters for political meetings—even a giant tiled brick oven constructed by one of the many regulars. And who could miss the giant table full of records, from which the proceeds help fund operations?
We reveled in this spirit of populist solidarity and made many new friends. Thanks for the good times Mantova.