Writing: sitting at the back seat of Daria’s car on our way back from the Lucca concert. We’re driving to Arezzo, and will spend the next three nights there at Daria’s friend’s house.
I woke up this morning fresh and alert; no more signs of sickness, thank God, but still I had to take those antibiotics I had been prescribed. No problem, Sir: if that’s what it takes to eliminate nasty germs over the next few weeks, so be it.
After making Valeria’s apartment my home over the last few days, it was time to pack again. Carefully selected the items to escort me during the next 3 weeks: except for one long‐sleeve shirt, all long‐sleeve shirts are out, as well as the coat. The new shoes I bought, as well as the T‐shirts, turned out to occupy less space than the space I had evacuated; that’s very good news. Nobody wants to carry any unneeded ounce while scouring Italy and Spain in July.
Everything I needed fit perfectly in a 70L backpack; as we loaded our belongings onto the car, I once again experienced yet another phenomenon that everybody here, who has ever been a part of a couple, could relate to: the packing.
I don’t understand how it is that I squeeze 4 months worth of living into a 70L backpack—one backpack—while these two lovely ladies I’m doing Italy with take three bags. EACH. Their part of the Italy trip consists of spending three nights at a friend’s house; if you seen what they loaded onto the car, you would think they were sent to serve as undercover agents in Zimbabwe for the next 12 years.
On behalf of all men, please allow me, the ladies amongst you, to ask you…
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH ALL THIS PACKING?!
Don’t worry, though; we (men) will continue carrying those for you; we all are, after all, only good for very few purposes.
The plan was to drive to Lucca—about 4 hours drive—and then drive to Arezzo, in Tuscany, right after the concert. In Arezzo, we would spend three nights—up to and including the night after the Perugia concert. Daria & Valeria have friends there, Roberto & Carmen, who were happy to host us all for a few days.
The ride to Lucca was very long, however much longer for Daria & Valeria as they did all the driving. I would be happy to drive but we were not sure whether Daria’s insurance policy would cover anything in case the shit hits the fan (myself being a foreign driver), so we decided to not take any chances.
During the ride, all windows were closed and the air conditioner set at maximum capacity; the car was in a pretty good shape but you could see that the air conditioner couldn’t keep up. The temperature outside was unbearable, sunny skies and insane relative humidity. As we stopped along the way to refuel, I was determined to get my tongue on some ice‐cream just to cool off a bit.
About an hour after leaving Trento, the terrain became less and less hilly until mountains were nowhere to be seen. From there on, for about a couple of hours, it was a ride through quite the boring plain—until we saw the signs of prettiness again, roughly around the time we were greeted with a sign saying “Toscana”.
We were now in Toscana (English: Tuscany), a part of Italy I had heard more than a few good things about; I was excited.
Toscana (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuscany) is a region in western Italy that is known for its terrific landscapes, distinctive food, superb wine (if you ever had the chance to have some Chianti, you may wish to know that it’s produced here in Toscana), as well as a long list of influential people who were born / raised here (Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei to name a few). The regional capital is Firenze (or “Florence” as it is known in English) and is considered to be one of the world’s top touristic attractions—on average, 10 million tourists flock this city annually.
Driving (or, in my case, sitting on my ass in the back seat) through Toscana is quite the thrill with terrific views reflecting through the windows—mountains cover 25% of Toscana’s area while plains cover just over 8%, leaving the rest covered by rolling green hills. Wineries and farms abound as Toscana’s soil is pretty fertile; this is one good region in Italy worth visiting.
After a long, long, long ride, we finally arrived at Lucca; found a parking spot and decided to wander around for a bit.
Lucca (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucca) is the capital city of the Italian province by the same name. It is a beautiful little town, known for its city walls that remained intact since the Rainessance era. The old town area, where most action takes place, is small, full of winding narrow streets through which it’s very easy to get lost. The pictures below show the entrance to the old town area (what looks like a big building), as well as a part of the city walls:
Walking through the gate feels like going back in time…
The old town area boasts a decent number of shops and quite a bit of character. The old town area has been going through some modernization over the last few decades but still, there’s a fair bit of history in the air as you walk down the streets.
Lucca is known to host the annual Lucca Summer Festival; Roger Waters, Eric Clapton and Santana played here in 2006—actually, at the very same square as the band was going to play. The square—Piazza Napoleone—is within 2 minutes walk from the old town’s entrance. Yes, you’re reading this correctly: the concert venue was actually located in a square inside the city. Very peculiar, somewhat exciting, I have to say… I have never experienced anything like this before. Here are pictures of the square, as well as the venue:
The weather in Lucca was hot & humid beyond any reason; one of those days that you’d much rather spend at home, in the shade, while millions of air conditioners work in harmony to fight the heat that threatens to conquer your fort. Perhaps the obnoxious heat was the reason for Daria, Valeria and I to wander aimlessly for about an hour before settling down in a restaurant for dinner.
While doing so, we ran into a few fans we had met before in Padova. Daria also ran into Mimmo, a friend of hers who also turns out to be quite the famous collector of Mark Knopfler / Dire Straits items. Nice chap. We ran into each other (literally) later on during the concert… read on.
Helping my American friends out, I also met Thomas, his girlfriend and their two friends (another couple) who were there on time to collect their four tickets at the front row. Thomas is Austrian and apparently this blog has made it to Austria as well. Nice bunch—thanks Thomas & Co for helping out!
We finally found a place to cool off for a bit and have some proper dinner. The hot weather really got into us all and we really just needed to rest. Decent pizza and a beautiful salad in a restaurant…
… and then we hopped to the next restaurant—two steps away—for some desserts. Lo and behold, Thomas & Co were there as well and we all had quite a few laughs over ice‐cream and drinks. Good times.
Then everybody left and I remained on site with my laptop, trying to catch up with some blogging. I’d like to take this opportunity to (again) apologize for the delays but I really have been having so much fun lately.
Half an hour later, I returned to the car to unload my laptop and then quickly back to the venue. The time was 9:15pm—about 15 minutes before the concert’s scheduled start time.
And that was when things started to get obnoxious, all the way up to the end of the concert—making the Lucca experience one that I would probably prefer to keep in a distant memory block in my subconscious, neighbouring with that of Oslo’s Norwegian Wood Festival. I am not talking about the music, which was good after all—considering; the poor concert experience in Lucca has everything to do with one determining factor: the venue.
It started when I approached the venue’s entrance and noticed a line‐up as long and convoluted as Exodus must have been. As the venue was actually a square right at the city centre, blocking all entrances and allowing only the Chosen People in was already a task that would be difficult for any concert planner—and it showed.
There were two line‐ups: one for the “general admission” section (standing), and one for the “numbered” (seated) section. Well, I should really say that there were two signs pointing to two different line‐ups; what ended up being is a huge bulk of people gathered together with no order whatsoever about 30–40m before the entrance. The first bottleneck was, then, the point where people had to split into either of the line‐ups as that was when the ticket inspection took place.
Doesn’t sound too bad, right? well, hang on.
You might think that that would be it, but no. Due to the way the venue was laid out, the “numbered seats” line‐up had to continue another 20–30m. There was only one path leading to the seating area, and the entrance to the seating area was at the left‐hand side of the stage, at the front row. That means that whoever needed to get into the seated area had to walk through the same path, cross the front row all the way to the middle and then spread out to the respective seating blocks.
That took fucking forever as everybody entering the seated area needed to get instructions as to where their block is. Now you might think that there should be signs there showing where each block starts and where it ends: THERE WASN’T, and that’s why some people had to actually walk back to the entrance to get further instructions, bumping into people who were on their way in.
I’m telling you folks, it was complete mayhem. 20 minutes after joining the line, I made it into the seated area (after bypassing a few extremely slow people who just seemed to stand there doing nothing) exactly when “Feelin’ Good” started playing. I had absolutely no clue where my block was (as I couldn’t understand Italian and there was no signage) so I had to rely on recent history and conclude that my seat should be somewhere near the centre.
I quickly ran into Thomas and his bunch; I knew that they’re at the same block as I am, just a few seats away. From Thomas’ seat, I started counting seat numbers until I reached number 16: it was occupied by a chap that was apparently full of hopes for the seat to remain empty. I could see his motive: it was the dead‐centre of the front row. He left, and as I sat down, the girl sitting next to me mumbled something in Italian towards me. I told her “I only speak English, sorry”, to which she replied with “Oh” and that was that.
You think the mess is over, huh? You wish.
The line‐up outside was so long that it wasn’t before the end of the third song (!) when people finally stopped walking out and about the front row. For some people who were entering the venue at this stage, finding their seats wasn’t their top priority, as they quickly reached for their camera and just stood there taking photos of the band, completely oblivious to the fact that they’re fucking up other people’s enjoyment.
The three first songs, then, basically didn’t exist for me as I was too busy ensuring that nobody was stepping on me on their way to their ass‐park, as well as enjoying the view of some assholes’ backs.
Once people traffic stopped, at last it was time to enjoy the concert. Short concert tonight—not only with respect to the number of songs played (Sailing to Philadelphia, Prairie Wedding and the alternating post‐Marbletown song were not played); the band seemed as if time wasn’t their best friend. Most songs are “open ended” in the sense that the band (well, Mark) can choose when to end them, and in this concert, it seemed as if there was no time to stretch solo‐work beyond minimum. I assumed this was due to some sort of a municipal curfew—after all, the concert is right at the city centre—however, in his diary, Guy Fletcher later mentioned that this was due to air traffic scheduling restrictions.
The audience’s participation in the concert was, well, Italian: very loud; and as the performance didn’t really leave much time for any pauses, we had shortly less than two hours of continuously active audience participation.
Things, though, started getting ugly and obnoxious again coming the encore. As soon as the last Telegraph Road bar was struck, the bulls started running towards the stage. For me it was a no‐brainer—one step forward—and still I got hit by a flying elbow. My instinctive reaction made me accidentally strike a stray elbow at Mimmo. We turned to each other, recognized each other and agreed to treat this incident as a mere accident and laughed about it (thanks Mimmo, sorry for any pain that might have been caused).
The sight of the audience standing by the barriers, however, didn’t strike the security staff as much of a desirable sight. They were either misinformed or just not doing their job right, but either way, they started sending people back to their seats. I should say though that they did it quite light‐handed, mostly talking people back to their seats however a few individuals in the audience (a bit far from me, to the right‐hand side of the stage) didn’t appear to like it all too much. I sort‐of got the feeling that a fist fight was to follow; luckily it didn’t happen.
It wasn’t before half way through Brothers in Arms when everybody went back their seats, trying all sorts of tactics in order to avoid doing so. One guy decided to sit on the aisle between the two central blocks, right next to me. A security guard came by and the two seemed to have a long discussion with no side showing any sign of retreat. The guy appeared to have taken the new “policy” rather badly so I decided to help him out. I can’t speak Italian to save my life but still, I squeezed a bit to my left and tapped on the right‐hand side of the seat, signalling to him that he’s welcome to share my seat. He appeared to be very happy about it; the security guard, however, didn’t quite know how to compute that chain of events as he was looking at me, looking at the guy next to me, then back at me, then went away.
So Far Away played wonderfully so I was the first one to stand up and urge everybody around me to follow—which they did. Another gathering next to the barrier and the security guards seemed to take it badly, started talking everybody back to their seats again. Paul Crockford then appeared out of nowhere and instructed the security guards to give us all a break. At the same time, a few fans managed to get Mark’s attention and point at the security guards, asking for his help—which he provided, by signalling to the security people that what they’re doing is absolutely unnecessary.
Only then we were left for our lives.
So we did actually have a good concert amidst the mayhem concerning the venue. I should also say that the surroundings of the venue—the Piazza Napoleone—is a brilliant place at night and so far Italy wins big time in outdoor venues selection. Having said that, sometimes certain elements make the total experience less favourable; doesn’t matter how well the band would play, still the mayhem at the venue makes it very hard to have great memories left of the experience once the concert is done and you’re on your way home.
We left Lucca at around 11:45pm. Destination: Arezzo, about 2 hours drive. My great Italian hosts did the driving and for some reason they kept laughing the entire way… not sure why. Shortly after 2:30am, we finally arrived at Carmen’s & Roberto’s house, where we were going to spend the next three nights.
Up to my room and just crashed into bed. The day later (July 11) was a day off so no reason to rush anywhere.