San Marino on the rocks

When the week began, we had S. Kyle Robinson in the house; Sunday was the second day of doing overdubs, then Monday and Tuesday we worked on vocals, doing lead vocals for all his 9 songs, and I did backing vocals, vocal edits and added more overdubs if I found something was still wanting. In the nights after our sessions, I did the last mix for the country album, the live take of “Time of the Preacher” with Keren Ann in Paris; not much to mix– I had a stereo track to work with, but there were some mouth clicks and other things to pencil out; I added some reverb, and got the level up substantially, the take was recorded at a very low level to avoid peaks.

Wednesday was the last day for touching up Mimi Schell‘s mixes, make instrumental mixes, etc. A big job, there were some songs that didn’t need further touching up but a few needed some relatively important changes. We did have time to take dinner with Kyle, tho, at the Chateau Tortiniere, just outside of Tours. Aden came too, and we had our aperitif on the terrace over looking the pool, and the surrounding valley and woods. Beset by mosquitoes that should have aircraft identification letters on their tails, we took a table, at well, and Dom & I navigated home in the dark, despite the earlier of a massive, yellow moon. Back at the house, I worked until very late on the rest of Mimi mixes.

Thursday morning we got Aden to school, and I busied myself getting ready to go. Dom was kind enough to drive out to the chateau and give Kyle a ride to his train — my train was leaving from Tours, so I was on my own. Dom took off after lunch, I futzed around, cleaned up the house, made sure all the towels were out of the dryer and hanging in the sun, did every dish I could find, hit the road. A great day for a train ride, and the first step of the journey was a nice one — a TER, that is, a non-hi-speed train, to Le Mans. I had the solo seat at the very front of the first class car, so I was barricaded in by my suitcase, and could look out the window at the golds and greens of the French countryside. In Le Mans I had just a few minutes to find my TGV, but find it I did, and it wasn’t long before I was at the Air France check in in Charles De Gaulle. For European flights, the process of check in is now fully automated– you print and apply the tag to your luggage, then advance to an unmanned check in desk, use a scanning gun to scan your boarding pass and bag tag, put your bag on the belt, and it’s done.

I had a lot of time to kill. Pretty sad little dinner in terminal 2, and I spent the rest of my down time analyzing the mixes for the country album, Mimi’s album, and check the mastering for the Phantom Sound album, which tho it took ’em a while, is amazing. Emily Lazar did it, at the Lodge…pretty legendary place, and I have to say, I have almost zero comments on it; typically on the first round of mastering there’s a handful.

By the time I boarded my flight to Bologna, I had a list of things to try on the country mixes, Mimi’s mixes, and a few notes for Marisa on her mastering. So, on the flight, I could snooze without guilt.
We landed, and I got my suitcase. My friend Suz, who set up this weekend’s activities, was there waiting outside bag claim, with her friend Cristian. We had a train to catch, and my flight was a little bit late getting to the gate. But…all of a sudden, Suz’s train app informed us the train to Rimini was delayed by….23 minutes. Of course. We ended up with time to kill on the platform. They announced the train was coming in on another platform, the one behind us. No problem. We got on board, and only then did Suz think to check where our seats were…well, no problem…just the other end of the train. We started walking. Most of this late night train, which starts in Milan and goes all the way down the length of the boot, was wagons lit. It gave the train a strange air. Sometimes a car would be completely shut up tight, no sign there were people on it. Other times, there were doors ajar, and you glimpsed people, looking, frankly, kind of miserable, in their beds.

At last we arrived in the compartment. Two other guys were there, one was chatty, one dozed. Oh, and a studious looking young woman. She watched something on her iPad, but eventually talked to us. Stops were not announced on the way, and the train was so far off its schedule the app stopped working. Because our car was the last, we usually couldn’t even see the signage on the platform to see what town we were in. But the girl was getting off at the stop before us, and we figured it out. Meanwhile, the conductor appeared, and Suz presented our reservation info. According to the conductor, we were on the wrong train; our actual train was so delayed it hadn’t even left Milan yet; trains were running 4-5 hours behind. Out of loyalty, we should have sacrificed and waited, perhaps for another day, for our train. So, we got a lecture, even though it was the train company’s fault that the trains were that far behind, and in fact, none of this was apparent. On the platforms we were presented with the trains as if they *were* on time. Remember in Italy, this kind of stuff can get to the Monty Python level of absurd.

We got off in Rimini, it was about 1am. Incredibly, Suz had convinced the desk clerk from our hotel to come and get us. And there he was, with his girlfriend — now having waited about 45 minutes for us, as compared to our original arrival time.

Where were we going? Why, the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, of course.

San Marino, the world’s oldest republic, is a tiny fortified town perched high on a nearly vertical column of rock, shooting up some 750 feet from the towns at the base. San Marinus, a stonecutter, hiked his way up there some 1700 years ago, and stone cut himself a church, which, in that time, got you a sovereign nation and sainthood. Now, it would get you a few youtube hits, maybe. It’s been a republic since those times. No king. San Marino even boasts a truly unique historical achievement: it’s the only country in the world to have an *elected* communist government. That is, it had a communist party in power, without having a revolution. This was in the 1950s, as the country had to rebuild itself after The Second World War had left things rather untidy. Perhaps it was a way to organize that task to that every citizen took part. Nowadays, it’s a little tiny country, which makes money from tourism, enjoys very low taxes, and more or less operates with the same features — open border, the Euro, etc — as the the countries of the EU, Schengen and the Eurozone, without being a member of any of these organizations. In other words…they get to keep their money, and it shows — the standard of living is higher–everyone is a little richer than their neighbors in Italy.

Well, at nearly 2am, there wasn’t much to see. Which concerned me, as our driver, Marco, was taking these hairpin turns on the way up the mountain at about 60 miles an hour, and I don’t think he could see any more than I could. And I was in the back seat. Evidently, there’s just a few roads in the whole country — you get comfy.

The legend of our hotel, the iDesign hotel, … was that it was built a decade ago, and was shut down soon after; the owner, already a nightclub owner of great enterprise, was using it to facilitate his interest in the sex trade. The police shut down the hotel, and this man evidently simply packed up his suitcases of Euros, and moved to Brazil, none the worse for wear. The central bank of the country bought the place, fixed it up, and sold it to the next investor. Anyway, what you need to know is that ‘design’ in hotels always means you’re going to spend an extra 40 minutes figuring out how to turn the tap off, and that the bidet is square. Don’t get me wrong– I loved it. Breakfast was healthy and generous. Wifi worked like a charm. Bummer about this part of the world tho is that the posts/corresponding holes for electrical outlets are closer together than in the rest of Europe. So, my usual plugs didn’t fit. I had one plug converter that would work, which meant at any one time I could charge my phone (which has a very short battery life) or my laptop. The USB charger for my phone died just before I left, so I only have a wall-mount charger, from the US. First world problems. Enough of this chit chat, it was bedtime. We have a country to explore in the morning!


They actually changed the breakfast time for the entire hotel, just for us. Normally it ended at 10, but Saturday they extended it to 11. I was pretty tired from the previous day’s travel, so I needed it. It was hot, already. At about noon, the hottest part of the day, Suz & I set off for the actual city of San Marino; the hotel was downhill a bit from the ancient citadel. We walked up the shoulder of the road; We saw no one else walking on the road. For one it was hot, for another, you need a car to get in and out of San Marino, except for the hourly bus service to Rimini. Tour groups arrive and depart on a regular basis, too. Only fools like us would walk in 90 degree heat, even if the route was generally shaded by trees the whole way. In fact, I love things like this. It was so extreme, so demanding. It was a quest, an adventure — with a goal. The thing to do, you see, is to visit all three of San Marino’s iconic medieval towers. But first we needed to find the city itself. Not a lot of signs on the way. But finally we saw a few buildings, and some people. We came out of the trees. I went into the first shop we saw, bought Aden a post card, wrote it; the shopkeepers asked for selfies with me, then we dropped the card in a mail box and worked our way into the old center. San Marino city it extremely small; other tiny capitals — Vaduz, Andorra La Vella…look like Tokyo compared to this little bourg. It’s just a few switchbacks and fortified walls. In the middle of the town is a quarry where much of the stone for the the fortifications came from. Oh, yes. Who runs this republic? The Captains Regent. There are two who run the country together, and they change every 6 months. Imagine. It never stops. On the day they are elected, the citizens have the right to present their grievances, in person. And the Captain has to listen and take note. Then, after that day, it’s no longer open for this kind of direct dialogue. The Captain Regent has another responsibility: upon being elected he/she must buy a crossbow, and put it in the state armory, to symbolically contribute to the defense of the nation.

Over the centuries…that’s a lot of crossbows.

We had lunch to strengthen up. While Suz called the hotel to see which restaurant they recommended. I watched a lizard, a wall lizard just like we have in my garden, pursue its prey at the edge of the ancient quarry that you find in the middle of town. The lizard was a little different than its French counterpart–instead of variations of brown, it was mostly green on the front half of its body. I enjoyed watching its agile jumps to snatch gnats from midair.

We lunched at il Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori Agostini Massimo, enjoying the local wine; red is generally sangiovese and excellent; white is moscato spumante and very refreshing in the heat. The food of San Marino is generally that of Emilia-Romagna. A typical dish would be a “Piada” which is flatbread folded around something…cheese, meat. It’s not hard to follow the etymology of “Piada” to “pita”. The typical pasta of the region is “Strozzapreti” or “priest-strangler” which is handrolled. It was also truffle season, and despite that we were warned otherwise, food in San Marino was cheap by Parisian standards. Something like €13.00 for ravioli covered in sliced truffle.

Fortified by our meal, we hiked the three towers. At some point, you’re looking down (and distrubingly, the walkway around the top of the tower has drainage holes, human sized, that are now covered with metal bars for safety, but still…below your feet there’s a nearly thousand-foot drop. Being inside these towers is vertiginous enough; what about the people building the things??

The third tower is the runt of the three; in fact, it has no apparent entry and you are simply left standing in the woods to admire it from below. Rather than walk back in to town, we decided to press forward, taking a trail that emerged at the national radio/TV station, and we could follow the road back to the hotel from there.

Naps and a little drum editing back at the hotel. Then, in the evening, Edri from the venue picked us up and took us to their tiny bar and cultural association, Il Macello. The bar as on a rampart of the city, so from right outside the door, the view of the sunset on the surrounding hills was magical. There was a piano there, and we brought in a small amp and a guitar. Andrea, the sound engineer was friendly and articulate young man. And the Panda! Nico, the other partner, who drives a gorgeously restored Bedford van from the 70s, arrived. He’s an expert gardener, and is all smiles. Soundcheck was done, we moved the piano in to position and repositioned the small PA, and got the sound going. And back to the same restaurant for dinner! No problem there.

By about ten, the club was opening and people were on the rampart drinking and talking. The bar was at the entry level; then the room for performing was down below, in a cool cave. It was a bit hard to get people motivated to head down there, the night air being so pleasant, but people came down, mostly quite young, settled in on the floor or the handful of benches, or stood, and I started to play–and got a roar of applause after the first song! Wow. Well, that was nice. People really responded well, and the show was reasonably long. I played an altered version of “Time of the Preacher” with humorous lyrics about my day in their country. There was an encore, and a duet, with Suz (who had performed it with me in Spain a few years ago). I sang well, and the piano was in tune enough to play as long as I avoided a certain C 2 8va below middle C. Or, just played it anyway.

After the show, I chatted with locals, drank red wine, sold CDs. And in no time…it was 2am. I drunkenly appealed for a ride, and The Panda gave us a lift in the Bedford.

In the morning, it was a bit tough to get up, but by 9am Edri, having just closed up the bar three hours previously (he wasn’t even sure at this point if he locked the door) picked us up and gave us a ride to Rimini. We stopped just inside the country to have a coffee with the Panda. I had, as I love it, a Caffe D’orzo, that is a coffee substitute made from barley, which you can generally only find in Italy. We got our train, now express, on time, and even air conditioned, to Bologna; Suz did the books and handed me the profit of the tour; put me on a bus to the airport and caught her train back to Rome. I flew back to Paris, and caught my train to Tours, working on preparing the first mix for Popincourt on the way. Dom & Aden picked me up at the station, and we headed downtown for a glass of wine at a wine bar, and Syrian food, all on the trendy rue Colbert. It was gay pride, so lots of partiers about. It was a miracle we found a parking spot downtown. Back at the house, I executed all the mix touch ups for the country album and Mimi’s album, and did all the instrumental versions for the country album. Woah! And so to bed. Another international adventure, perfectly executed. Friends made, music exchanged. Thanks Suz and to my new Sanmarinese friends!