Post 90 / Hour 90 (!): Music Festival Tourist
By TLC Nielsen
[TLC Nielsen entered this story in our “Bad Tourists” flash humor writing contest earlier today.]
I knew I was a bad traveler, getting car sick as a child as I was jarred about in the back seat of our station wagon well before the days of seatbelt and car seat laws. Yet I never once suspected I would become a bad tourist — a bad American tourist on a music festival trip to Italy.
In my defense, the whole week would have tried the patience of the most amazingly calm, seasoned traveler: 100 degree weather, no air conditioning, no English to be heard outside of Venice and Milan, mystery meat served at many meals, and the bad timing of friendly fire killing an Italian journalist in the Middle East. I often heard “Americanos” whispered as our group walked past and we received lots of long stares. Not an ideal situation for my very first (and perhaps last) trip overseas.
My first test was the convent with the nuns playing host to my group, the loud American musicians. The classical musicians enjoyed the beautiful grounds while the jazz group frequented the bars nearby, including the one in the building run by the priest. The late nights did not sit well with our hostesses. “Silencio,” our hostesses commanded. They started getting up earlier to pray for our pagan souls. My spouse and I played with both groups. We had learned about the wool blankets and single cots and had planned accordingly. But the heat. 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit wore at us daily. The day we visited Milan, seven tourists died from the heat. None from our group, however.
The second test was the opening parade of the music festival. No one in our group had been told about this however. Of course, the temperature topped 100 and the older folks in our wind ensemble passed out as we attempted marching together for the first time in full sun. There were medics on hand and the musicians from Sweden, in their full wool uniforms, were harder hit than us. It is difficult to play an instrument when one’s tongue keeps sticking to the roof of the mouth. My spouse and I made it, thanks to all that carbonated water that was passed around to us mid-parade. But my attitude had soured and I just wanted to go home. Between the heat, my drunken jazz comrades, strict hostesses and unfriendly townspeople – I hated Italy.
The last test was perhaps the hardest but it was buffered by the friendships we had made with the other music groups that spoke English. The whole festival was in Italian and televised. Commercial breaks occurred, ironically, when the Americans played. At the very last meal celebrating all the different countries represented musically, a festival volunteer showed us all the specialty foods with flags from the different countries. “Where’s the American food?” I asked, wondering if it would be hot dogs or apple pie. “Oh, no food. The paper plates are in honor of America.”
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