It was good to sleep‐in the morning after the Lyon concert. The night before, I was on the verge of just falling asleep standing; I charged the bed as if it had all sorts of desserts on it and disappeared into a world of dreams within seconds.
It rained for a while during the night; leaving the hotel, I stepped into a few puddles as I was walking my way to Lyon Perrache. I have to say this about Lyon—looking at their subway maps and tram maps, there’s quite a few options for people to get around—comfortably. Subway trains there appear to be modern and spacious, and so do the trams; when you look at Lyon’s public transport maps, you start thinking you’re in some sort of a mega‐city like New‐York. Public transport there reaches bloody everywhere.
While Lyon is the second largest metro area in France after Paris, life there appear to be much more laid‐back and relaxed. People are relatively quiet and appear to be somewhat more courteous. I should look into that to see whether I just encountered the right people at the right time, or is there really such a difference between Parisians and people in Lyon. Altogether, with its relaxed atmosphere and impressive beauty (especially at the Vieux Lyon area—the old city), Lyon strikes me as a place well worth of a second in‐depth visit. Something about Vieux Lyon gave me a pleasant sensation of warmth, cosiness—that sort of a place where you’d be happy to spend a few days and explore.
In Canada (and this is a topic that often came up when I had discussions with French fans), the only city we have that provides similar French‐style atmosphere is Québec City, which is the provincial capital of Québec. And, to address one question that always comes up: No, guys. The fact that I’m from Canada doesn’t mean that I speak French… First, I wasn’t born & raised in Canada, and second, while French is a formal language in Canada, it is not widely used in most provinces (Québec, New‐Brunswick and some parts of Alberta and British‐Columbia are primarily French).
Three subway rides and I made it to the train on time. The train ride from Lyon to Nîmes takes about one hour with the fast TGV train—piece of cake. That was going to be a very easy travelling day.
Not much to see along the way; at around 12:45pm, the train arrived at Nîmes. Maybe I was crazy, but all signs towards the exit led people to a stupid small elevator. I started to really doubt whether there are stairs anywhere in this train station, but decided to not go out of my way to explore. Very poorly designed train station, with low arcs everywhere that you feel like you’re walking through tunnels, and can’t see anything at the distance because those arcs block your vision.
GPS turned on (to find the hotel) and I exited the station; welcome to Nîmes, where the last Get Lucky concert in France was to take place.
My room was ready at 2:00pm sharp. This hotel, Citea Hotel Nîmes, offers nice apartments—small, but there’s everything you need. For its price, it’s certainly a bargain. Located right behind the train station; actually, the station has two entrances—north and south—and had I taken the south exit, I would literally face the hotel. I don’t think it happened before in this tour, that the train station, hotel and venue were all within minutes walk from each other.
However, if there’s one thing that this journey has taught me, it would be to never be too surprised when something goes wrong. Shit does happen, and just when it appeared as everything was perfect, I untangled the network cable I was given and tried hooking it up to the wall, then to my laptop.
Now you tell me if you have ever experienced such a thing before: the cable was too short. That for itself may not be so surprising, but when you consider the vast distances the cable had to go through… the plug in the wall is literally three feet away, and this cable measured about 2.5 feet. You see? even the tiniest detail can sometimes go wrong. After attempting a few strategies, I realized that there’s only one particular way to lay my laptop on the desk and still get Internet connectivity: laptop must be attached to the corner of the desk. Can’t move the laptop once it’s connected. Stretching the cable to the max.
Did some blogging and tried to nap for a while (I somehow began feeling tired again)—with limited success. The concert was scheduled to start at 8:30pm, with markknopfler.com early‐entry privileges at 6:00pm (strange seating concept: it’s a general‐admission seated concert. Everybody sits), so by 4:00pm I was already on my way out, carrying a small backpack containing my laptop (to continue blogging while waiting for the concert to start).
Nîmes (pronunciation: Neem; Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%AEmes) is a history‐rich city in southern France, about an hour or two from France’s border with Spain. It is a popular tourist attraction due to its rich history which dates back to the Roman Empire. It is a home for around 150,000 people.
The fabric your jeans are made of—denim—derives its name from this city, as the textile industry is (and has been for a while) strong here.
I am thinking that maybe the fact that this city so well‐known for its history, with the Roman Empire and all, is also the reason for the central train station to be designed the way it is, with those bloody vision‐blocking arcs all over the place; anyway, it doesn’t take too many steps out of the train station and into the city area to realize that, yes, this city has some serious mileage on it.
From the train station, Avenue Feuchêres stretches for about a hundred meters north‐west, boasting quite a few Brasseries, cafe’s and hotels. Takes about a minute to walk it, until arriving at Place de la Libération which is a large circle currently offering nothing as it is under construction and has fences all around it. Walking clockwise along the circle, you already start seeing the venue—Les Arènes de Nîmes—a huge, spectacular ancient arena within a few seconds as it is right around the corner.
Les Arènes de Nîmes (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_of_N%C3%AEmes) is a Roman amphitheatre from around 70 A.D. It is oval‐shaped and used for bull‐fights as well as other events—including concerts: Metallica taped Français Pour Une Nuit (a DVD) in this venue.
I was actually on my way to a Japanese restaurant I had read about (named “Shogun”), when I encountered two AFMK members who were wandering around the venue. I completely forgot that ticket pickup starts at 4:00pm so I went to pick the ticket up—always good to strike tasks off the list as soon as possible. A short walk up the street and I arrived at the restaurant—CLOSED, thank you very much.
I started wondering how come I had no luck having a full sit‐down restaurant experience in Lyon as well as here in Nîmes, as I encountered a pharmacy. Time for a new deodorant and some toothpaste, you know, these things tend to run out. €10 later and I made my way back to the venue, hoping to grab a bite on my way, in one of the numerous restaurants around.
Nîmes’ central area—the old part—is lovely:
Found a Brasserie with a menu to my liking (that is, a menu in French which I could kind‐of decipher to English; restaurants here tend to not carry English menus), sat down and waited for service.
And waited a bit more.
And as my patience started running out, I decided to wait more.
Then I really, really started to wonder whether I’m doing something wrong. No way that this country is known for its top cuisine but nobody wants to offer it to me. I noticed a sign saying “Pizzeria” at the distance; pizzeria’s are usually open all the time, so at least I’ll be able to grab something.
Lo and behold, a few AFMK members there sitting around the table. Nelly took the time to explain why is it that I just can’t get service anywhere. Unlike North America, where you can step into a restaurant and order food at any time and it will be served to you, restaurants in France (and perhaps some other parts in Europe) work differently. They only serve meals at prescribed times—around lunch time and dinner time, with lunch service ending at around 2:00pm and dinner time starting at around 7:00pm. The rest of the time, some restaurants aren’t even open—and those that are open, often just serve drinks and snacks.
Well, great. I then remembered noticing a cafe along the way offering sandwiches, went there and ordered a pizza. Yes, they had pizzas. No, it wasn’t a pizza—it was a random mixture of dough, cheese and ham that was baked and served in a way that simply doesn’t have the right to be called “pizza”. God I miss Italy; yet I was starving so had they served me with dog shit I would have probably eaten it as well.
Finished eating at around 5:30pm and decided to head to the venue. markknopfler.com ticket purchasers were instructed to wait next to a particular gate—away from the general‐public gates—for early entry privileges. Early‐entry doors were scheduled to open between 6:00–6:15pm so, having nothing better to do, I headed there—only to find out there there was already a line‐up.
People were telling me that, in Europe, the more you head south, the more things work “differently”, if they work at all. 6:00pm passed, and so did 6:15pm, as myself plus a group of around 50–60 people were waiting in the sun. A security guy came in and told us all that we’re wasting our time and we should go join the general public: perfect demonstration of a person who either doesn’t know anything about his job, or just wasn’t informed properly. A few people left, but I figured that as long as I am at the same line‐up as Nelly, I should be OK.
Time passed as I chit‐chatted with a few people who revealed a great deal of interest in this little journey of mine. One of the only people speaking English there asked me a simple question—“how many times have you seen Mark Knopfler before”—not knowing about this blog’s existence. The answer “78 times this tour and about 115 times in total” didn’t quite ring well with him, I guess he thought he wasn’t hearing right.
General‐public access was scheduled for 7:00pm. I guess the poor general‐public had to wait a bit more; the early‐entry doors finally opened a few minutes past 7:00pm as people started shoving each other in attempts to get in first.
As my turn arrived—I was about 15th in line or so—the security guy inspected my bag, picked‐up the deodorant that I had bought just half an hour ago for €8 (you know, it being hypo‐allergen, organic and stuff), turned to the garbage bin and just threw it away.
Now, I don’t know if you had ever experienced something like that before, you know, being in a foreign country, having your bag inspected and then one of your items being thrown to a huge bin without being consulted or asked first. I should tell you that it’s not the best feeling in the world, to say the least. It’s hard enough to cope with the vast amount of idiots walking this planet, but fucking moronic idiots with power are the most frustrating to deal with.
– “… Why?!”, I cried.
– “Bu lekjsh asjhfg bceuiydh veif uvknf eiuhf dkdkjfh jhef dfakjshd oh beaaaai”, came the response in French which I of course couldn’t decipher.
That made me feel even worse. Upon entering the venue, I found one of the ushers, talked to her—only to be directed to her supervisor because the poor girl I was talking to couldn’t speak English to save her life. That supervisor came with me to the entrance, and with the help of one of the security people, fetched my deodorant back from the bin.
What I was then told was that they don’t want spray bottles in the venue. Too bad, though, that it was a roller‐type thing, not a spray. The ignorant checking my bag didn’t even bother reading the sticker (WHICH WAS WRITTEN IN FUCKING FRENCH).
Feeling as if I have just regained sanity, I went back in and looked for Florence (the girl, not the city); we met before at the Luxembourg concert, remained in touch ever since and decided to get together again before the concert in Nîmes—mainly to take another picture together as the one we took in Luxembourg came out way too blurry.
Was nice sitting down catching up, then went back to my seat and blogged for a bit. A short bathroom break before the show and I noticed a cute lady waving at me and gesturing with her hands as if typing on an invisible keyboard. Kristine was her name, an amateur photographer with whom I had great pleasure having a chat. Cheers Kristine, nice to meet you.
Back to my seat, and Kate Walsh took the stage for the opening act.
I enjoyed Kate Walsh’s performance in Nîmes much better than in Lyon; I guess it had something to do with being almost dead‐tired, and listening to Kate Walsh’s music while being in a 75%‐asleep mode is not easy at all as it’s slow, relaxed, calming, soothing music. Anyway, the duo (Kate & her accompanying cellist) did a great job.
Intermission time was used for hunting for food; hotdogs is all they sold at the venue. Huge line‐up the size of Exodus; back at my seat and took a few pictures of this great venue:
Excitement grew rapidly in this audience, quickly turning it to the loudest audience in France so far. Almost reaching the deafening level of Italy’s audiences—that’s a great deal of honour. The traditional “wave” then took place—an amazing sight that some of you may have watched before in soccer games:
The band captured the stage at around 9:45pm, stepping into a stage in front of frantic audience.
I was seated at the front row, centre section all the way to the right‐hand side—facing Richard Bennett. Good to be at the front again; there’s a trade‐off in venues like these—either be at the front, enjoy the show but miss the venue, or be at the back, enjoy the show a bit less (no visual advantage) but get very impressed with the venue. Having been at the back in Lyon, I was happy to be again at the front here in Nîmes.
Similarly to the Lyon concert, this one also had 14 songs, with Prairie Wedding being played instead of Coyote. Enjoyed this concert, though, better than Lyon; my condition in Lyon being one possible reason, but still, I think the band played better, with more enthusiasm, in Nîmes.
Mark showed off with some basic French skills, counting in French instead of English and wishing the band members Bon Chance prior to playing Prairie Wedding.
As soon as Prairie Wedding started, I noticed Richard Bennett playing his part differently—the capo was, as usual, over the first fret but the C5 chord was played using different fingering. He played like that for the first verse, and as soon as he had a break, turned to fix the capo. Apparently it wasn’t put in tight enough, so one of the strings was buzzing; once the capo was fixed, it was back to normal for him again.
For those of you who don’t play guitar, this may not sound very impressive; trust me when I tell you, though, that this is not easy in the slightest. Playing C5 with the capo on the first fret is annoying enough as it is, let alone when you have to work out a different fingering layout all of a sudden as you realize something’s wrong with the guitar. I am willing to bet quite a lot of money that whoever was not at the front row and wasn’t looking at Richard at that time, could have never realized any difference whatsoever.
That’s what makes the difference between a good guitar player and a pro, I guess.
One song in particular was very touching in this concert—Hill Farmer’s Blues’ outro solo threw audience off their feet for being very touching. Mark tends to make that Gibson cry a little bit at the end of the outro, which he did beautifully this time.
During the band’s introduction, there came Richard’s turn to be introduced. Well, what do you know—it was his birthday; a great deal of fans, predominately AFMK members, got up and started singing Happy Birthday, and a large portion of the audience followed.
I want to take this opportunity, then, to congratulate Richard Bennett for his birthday. A guitar master by all means, this guy has been playing guitar for nearly 50 years now; show me one person to say that Mark Knopfler’s shows could be as brilliant without Richard Bennett by his side, and I will show you somebody who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. On top of that, Richard happens to be one of the nicest, down‐to‐earth individuals I ever had the privilege to meet.
Way to go Richard for your spectacular guitar playing and superbly charming personality; I wish you all the best, as well as many more years of staggering productivity. Congratulations for your birthday, man; here’s to you.
Done with Bonaparte came next…
… And then, the highlight of the evening: a magnificent, stunning performance of Marbletown. How these guys reinvent this song so often is way beyond me: a sweeping, dynamic, beautiful performance.
Mark himself knew how fantastic that performance was; whoever listened to this song played live before, should know that there usually is a delay of 2 seconds before the last chord is struck—this time, most likely due to knowing that this performance was something else, Mark had the entire audience on the edge of their seats as he extended that delay to about 5 (!) seconds. As that last chord was struck, the front rows—myself included—sprang off their seats and rocked the amphitheatre. I get the shivers just writing about that experience: a Marbletown to remember.
Many people at the front rows chose to keep on standing after Marbletown; it was then when I started to realize that there’s still a long way for this audience to go in order to become true Italy material: people at the back started yelling at the standing people to sit down. Not wanted to piss anybody off, I went back to my seat however people found all sort of ways to keep being attached to the stage:
Now: most of these people in the pictures above were already seated at the front row. Try to think, for a second, what makes a person, who sits at the front row, take a small step forward and sit on the floor, ducking down, in a less comfortable position, just to be 30cm closer to the stage. This is fascinating to me but, having seen this band perform so many times before, I can begin to understand where it comes from. This band plays music that you just wanna get sucked into. Could anybody refute this statement?
All and all, it was a fully‐seated encore except for people who chose to sit on the floor. It’s times like these when I miss the concerts in Italy the most.
Beautiful encore and the show ended two hours after it started. Watching so many people cheering at the arena was a very pleasant sight:
One more shot before leaving…
I was very hungry after the concert, and thoughts of having a short‐night sleep (next day’s train leaving at 6:30am) didn’t really make me happier. About a dozen AFMK members went to a Brasserie just outside the venue, so I tagged along for a good steak (nothing like steak at 1:00am) and took the opportunity to bid everyone farewell. A short stroll to the hotel, packed everything for a swift departure the next morning and off to bed.
Signing‐off this post while waiting for my turn for the reservation desk in Barcelona‐Sants, which is Barcelona’s main train station. This train station is fucked up beyond recognition and is absolutely useless for people who can only speak English. More details soon.