Sadao and I arrived together at Frankfurt airport. We were coaching string quartets in Japan as a precursor to the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto.
After ten days of just listening to students play Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, and Mozart, I was dying to play some stuff as well. I recently came to the realization that I get jealous solely as an audience member. I’m a performer at heart and need the experience of actually being involved in the music that’s being performed.
Frankfurt is a big airport and it has been exactly one year since the last time I walked through the terminals. Something was different… there weren’t the usual congregation of random people here and there. The halls seemed cleaner. “Maybe they repainted the walls…” I thought to myself. “Wait a minute! I can see the walls!”
And it hit me at that moment that the ever-present veil of second hand smoke was missing all of a sudden. As I quickly perused the area, there were vacant smoking corners and frequent flyers sipping on their cappuccinos with empty looks on their faces. They were all stripped of their joy of experiencing a marriage made in heaven. Coffee & Cigarettes…
Sadao and I zipped through passport control and made our way to the platforms. We decided to take the train to Stuttgart and then rent a car and drive to Wurmlingen. Yes, “the village of worms”. Sadao and Jim share a house there.
The train arrived 10 minutes late and we boarded. It was very crowded and according to Sadao’s theory, the only way we were going to find a seat was to endure the 1.5-hour train ride in the smoking car. He was right but I decided to sit on the floor between the cars where the air was not as bad. I happened to be next to some Japanese tourists and it was fun eavesdropping on their complaints of how chaotic the train system was.
After renting a car it was off to the Autobahn! Unfortunately, we were given some family station wagon and the top speed we hit that afternoon was 170 kph. It was still fast by American standards but I was hoping to break 200. Oh well…
It was great to see Jim again and we caught up on things over dinner and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Lunch was the usual salad and pasta. Jim had created different sauces everyday and today’s sauce was the most memorable for me. He had made chicken soup last night for his daughter, Anna, who was feeling a bit under the weather. He took the soup and made a wonderfully creamy and nutty chicken sauce out of it. Genius!
The only thing better than having a BBQ is another BBQ so that’s exactly what we did for dinner again tonight. We prepared a different menu this time:
We rehearsed Haydn’s “Lark” Quartet in D Major op.64 no.5 today and had a really good rehearsal. The musical decisions we worked our way towards seemed both organic and logical. Of course it comes much easier when you’re working with such seasoned quartet players like Sadao and Jim. Add the incredible musicianship of Federico and it’s like experiencing a drive in a Mercedes Benz and just fine-tuning things here and there.
As the rehearsal came to an end we all knew that there was a reward waiting for us all.
We all drove to the supermarket in Tuttlingen called E-center. There is a bakery in the front section of the store and Federico and me in particular had to muster all of our will power to not eat anything before the BBQ. We grabbed a cart and headed for the meat section. It was glorious! There were links of sausage, prime cuts of beef, ground sirloin, pork chops, lamb chops, marinated kebobs, and bacon. I wanted to buy everything but we decided to stick to our game plan of hamburgers and sausages.
The only vegetables we got were the lettuce and tomatoes to put on our burgers, pickles in a jar, and “potato” chips.
Of course no BBQ is complete without dessert so we grabbed some Movenpick ice cream and lined up at the register. After seeing all this food in front of us, Federico and me could not resist the tantalizing aroma of the bakery any more. We were drawn in like moths to a flame and ordered ourselves a Fleischekase. This is a little wonder created by the E-center bakery and can be best described as tasty processed meat, sandwiched between a heavenly, fluffy, fresh baked roll. Mmm….
The anticipation of a BBQ is just as good, if not better than the actual act of eating. Jim was in the kitchen making the individual patties. Federico was setting up the table on the patio and Sadao and me were in charge of getting the coals ready. It’s funny how lighting a flame tickles our primal urges.
Needless to say, the BBQ was a great success and all we could do was lounge around for the rest of the evening.
We returned yesterday to Wurmlingen and mostly lounged around to decompress from a busy few days. I woke up fairly late to Federico practicing in the living room and Sadao practicing upstairs. Jim made us a lunch of salad and pasta. Simple is best and the magic is in the homemade sauce. Jim is a great cook and could easily open a Trattoria somewhere. I think it also helps that his wife, Giacometta, is from Sicily. The town where she’s from is particularly special when it comes to food. After a couple servings of espresso the quartet started to rehearse for the next program.
Dinner seemed like a chore after our long rehearsal so we decided to drive to Trossingen to eat. This is where both Jim and Sadao teach during the year and where Federico use to teach before moving to Indiana. Federico and Jim wanted to say hello to a friend of theirs in town so we stopped by the Hotel Baren. Hansjoerg was the owner of this hotel and has built a relationship with Federico and Jim through the years when they use to stay in his hotel. When we arrived, Hansjoerg was outside with some men with tools, beers and cigarettes. They were obviously remodelling the hotel. As we approached them, an old German shepherd came to sniff us and greet us. As Hansjoerg, Federico and Jim caught up, a handyman came up to Sadao and me and asked us in English where we were from. I’m sure he was German but he had an Australian accent when he spoke English. He made some derogatory remark about Asians but we just laughed it off. He then started to tell us some bizarre story about a musician he did some job for years ago. I couldn’t follow his English but I picked up on phrases like “yeah, and then he stabbed him!” After a few awkward silences, we said goodbye to Hansjoerg and proceeded to the restaurant. Unbeknownst to us, this was the beginning of an evening from the “Twilight Zone”.
With more than a month left before school was back in session, the streets of Trossingen resembled a ghost town. There was only one man sitting at the bar when we walked into the Greek restaurant. We asked to be seated in the smoking section and the waiter informed us that a nation-wide law was passed that there would be no more smoking in restaurants. He said there was smoking allowed in the billiards room though so we ordered our meal, took our pints, and headed for the sacred room. To our surprise, there were four men and one older man sitting around a table. As they puffed on their tobacco, the only voice we heard came from the old man. It was as though the village leader was handing down some precious wisdom to his tribesmen. We glanced over to the other side of the room and the waiter was smoking too. He gave us a knowing chuckle about how ludicrous it was that even he had to take refuge for a puff.
When we returned to the main dining area, a feast was waiting for us. Kebobs, taramosalata, pita, and feta cheese…mmmm
We also noticed that there were two other couples sitting in the opposite corner of the room. From our first bite to our last and even after we paid the bill, the couples hadn’t spoken a single word to each other. I don’t think they even looked at each other. It was odd and depressing. When we walked out of the restaurant, I saw that there was a full moon above us and maybe even a howling in the distance.
Yosuke had us arriving in Lecco and awaiting Federico the next day. He, in fact arrived just in time for lunch ? anybody reading this will by now have understood that food is of a central importance to this quartet. We all love to eat and sometimes it seems that anything else we do during the day is a way to bridge the time until the next meal. I still tell the story of once, when I was performing with Peter Schidlof (Amadeus Quartet). After we went on stage and sat down, he leaned over to me and asked, “Jim, where are we eating after the concert?” He also had his priorities!
In any case, after our reunion with Federico, some joyous catching up on news, and a quite acceptable lunch, we decided to rehearse, knowing that it would be at least 5 hours until the next meal. I politely went to the reception of this fine hotel to ask (in Italian) for a room where we could rehearse. They politely told me that they would only have a room for this purpose if we would pay for it. Funny, but sometimes maybe it is a disadvantage to speak the language. Sadao got on the phone in English, asked to speak to the manager, and in 5 minutes had a rehearsal hall for us.
This turned out to be a rather intensive rehearsal. Although we knew the program already, there was still a lot we wanted to do better and/or differently. We seem to do this a lot, as we never really have time to get into a routine, and we are all 4 always ready to try something different. It keeps things always interesting and fresh. It also takes a bit longer, so we had not gotten through the whole program before it was time for dinner.
We asked for some recommendations and ended up at a very nice restaurant near the lake. I have to confess that one of the reasons for choosing this restaurant was that we could sit outside, meaning we could smoke! The culatello, bresaula and of course the rabbit will remain in my memory.
The next noon we were invited to Roberto’s country house for lunch. Roberto is not only the organizer of the festival in which we were performing, as well as some other festivals, but is also a wonderful guitarist, with whom I recorded the Gershwin songs a few years ago. He said, just get directions, go through the new tunnel up the hill and you will be here in 20 minutes. So I got wonderfully specific directions in the hotel and we headed out in the golf ball Honda. After about half an hour we had just gotten out of tunnels and were still heading up the hill with no sign of Maggio, which was where we were to be going. Finally, I said, “Hold on, this doesn’t seem right, let me call Roberto”. In fact we had taken a ridiculously long detour and Roberto talked me into continuing for another 20 minutes through the valleys. Obviously, lunch was waiting for us. In fact, the way down to the hotel and back up to the concert took only 20 minutes each way (now that we knew where we were going). Moral: don’t trust hotel directions, especially if they consult the internet!
The concert that evening was in a wonderful church in Cremeno, to which we arrived well before the concert to be able to do some more rehearsing. About that time it started raining heavily, so everybody was worried if any public would come to the concert. However, at the last minute, the church suddenly filled up and we heard a large public of enthusiastic music freaks. It would be hard to imagine a warmer reception.
After the concert, the mayor presented us with some very large, heavily illustrated and heavy books about Cremeno, some of which we are still carrying around. Roberto invited us to a restaurant, which stayed open just for us (we knew about this before the concert!), which meant that as the only customers we were also allowed to smoke. They started out by bringing us gnocchi di ricotta, which I would describe as a ricotta souffle. Heavenly! Suffice it to say that after a beginning like this, it could only be a spectacular meal. All is well which ends well.
I woke up to the sound of water running through the pipes. I figured it had to already be morning because someone was taking a shower but it was pitch black. And then I remembered I was in the basement and there were no windows down there. Every time I stay at the house in Wurmlingen, I sleep in the basement. The temperature is cooler and perfect for the summer.
Sadao returned the senior-citizen-mobile in the late morning. I practiced a bit and got ready for our trip to Lecco. The plan was to drive Jim’s car and meet Federico in Italy who was coming from Switzerland.
As Jim was backing out of the garage, I spotted a dent on top of the trunk. As the black Honda Accord exposed itself further into the daylight, it revealed its scars from a major hailstorm. Jim said the size of the hail ranged from golf balls to baseballs. He watched from a cafe in Trossingen as rows of parked cars got battered and shattered.
And upon a second glance, the Accord resembled a golf ball with all its dents. The good news was that the vehicle was more aerodynamic now. Here we come Autobahn!
We hit 210 kph with the remodeled Accord. This was more like it! Within the hour, we crossed the border into Switzerland. The air seemed immediately sweeter from all those wonderful chocolates the country boasts of and that’s exactly what we bought when we stopped for gas. I knew we were driving through the Alps but I couldn’t see it in front of us. Shouldn’t we be able to see one of the largest mountains in the world? Jim explained to me that the road was on a slow incline and we would be in the middle of the Alps before we knew it. Sure enough an hour later we were all singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”
There weren’t any snowcapped peaks but the enormity of the mountains and their reflections against the expansive lakes were breath taking.
The other awesome part of this drive was man made. Switzerland boasts the 3rd longest tunnel in the world at just under 17 km. It’s called the St. Gotthard tunnel and one should think twice before going in if they have Closter phobia since it takes about twenty minutes to drive through.
When we got to the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”, we decided to take a break at the next rest stop. The St. Gotthard acts as a divider between the German-side of Switzerland and the Italian-side. In fact, on the other side, it’s called the San Gottardo. Sadao noticed that the atmosphere at the rest stop was already different. People were speaking Italian for one but they were also more affectionate and the salami looked fresher in the ready-made sandwiches.
We crossed the border into Italy and arrived in Lecco shortly after. It’s one of the many towns surrounding Lake Como. We had a nice meal at the hotel that evening and went to bed.
私達はアルプスを走っているはずだったが、前方には何も見えなかった。世界一大きな山脈が見えてもいいんじゃないか？！この道は緩やかに登っていて、知らないうちにアルプスの真ん中に出るんだ、とジムが説明してくれた。１時間後には、みなで“The hills are alive with the sound of music…”と、サウンドオブミュージックのテーマソングを歌っていたことは言うまでもない。