Thursday, 30 April 2020

The great - deserted - outdoors

I wasn't planning on doing another hiking post like the one I did on the 29th of February. Reality, however, caught up with me and while hiking is not a recommended activity during a lockdown, this little walk was done by necessity. Yes, I do go out, occasionally, only to go to the chemist's who is very near my house and i don't bother with taking photographs. I don't even go to the supermarket, I order by phone and the goods are delivered to me. But this time, I had to go to the bank. Not exactly to the bank, but to an ATM. I wanted to withdraw some cash, although this is not a big necessity since I pay for everything using a debit or a credit card. But I also wanted to pay the bills of those aforementioned credit cards.

Unlike the chemist, there isn't a bank near my house, so I would have to take a longer walk. So I thought that this time I should take my camera in order to capture the outside world during a lockdown. I chose an area near the National Road (that's the motorway for the Brits among you) partly because there wouldn't be any people walking around and partly because a deserted motorway would be a perfect photo opportunity. You see, I didn't want to go into a bank (I had no desire to mingle with other people), I wanted to go to an empty bank and use its ATM. Moreover, in that particular area there are three branches of three different banks.

I headed first to the bridge over the motorway to take some pictures. Then I headed toward the banks taking more pictures along the way. The first two banks are on my side of the motorway, while the third one is one the other side. I used a subway that is nearby to cross over. There weren't many people around. I only met some who were having a walk, two bikers, one walking her dog and I also came across on an open kiosk and shops that were selling food. The employees however were sitting either inside or outside waiting for the time to pass.

The success rate of this expedition only measured a meagre 50%. I was able to withdraw the cash that I wanted, but none of the ATMs would accept deposits so I wasn't able to pay my card bills. Well, if they don't want me to pay them, I won't pay them. At least I had a nice walk after almost a month indoors. And since my walk was in a different area to the one on the 29th of February, I didn't come across any wild boars. I'm sure however that with so few people around they must be more of them wandering in the streets back there...

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

My 2009 tour of Italy with Bruce Springsteen - Part 3 : Udine

Sometimes you just don't want to go to the pit. And that's when the pit comes to you. This is exactly what happened on my third and final destination of my tour of Italy with Bruce. Having followed the roll call procedure in full for the Torino concert I decided to take it easy in Udine and not go into the pit. So after my train arrived at the station, I went straight to my hotel to relax and later I decided to go and find something to eat in the city. The following day, which was the actual day of the concert, I decided that it would be a good idea to go to the stadium to see how it was there, how easy it was to get there and so on.

Besides, I have been a fan of Udine FC ever since I was little. Well, it couldn't have been easier, because there was a special bus service clearly marked "Concerto Springsteen" that took people from the city center to the stadium and back, and all this for free! So, I got on that bus, arrived at the stadium and started wandering around. At some point I noticed a queue. I approached to see what was happening and I saw someone handing out the pit wristbands. I had arrived at the exact time that the wristbands were being given! The last person with a number was 1000. But when they gave him his wristband, I noticed that they continued giving wrisbands to the people that were behind him. Without a second thought, I joined that queue and was given a wristband as well! They told us something in Italian, and they translated it as this: "Let the people with a number go into the pit and then go in behind them". So that was it! With the smallest of effort I was in the pit. I had a beer right there and then to celebrate and then went to the bus stop where I met another fan from another country, Belgium I think it was. Meanwhile we could hear the soundcheck with "Raise Your Hand". I returned to the city and had a stroll around and then returned to the hotel to relax.

In the evening, I went back to the stadium, I bought a new Springsteen cap from the merchandise stand and made my way to the pit. I remember passing by a long line of people waiting for a chance to get into the pit and someone at the front telling them that "il pit e chiuso" ("the pit is closed'), while I went past all these people displaying not just my Udine wristband, but also my Torino and Rome ones. (Rome was red, Torino was green and Udine was yellow). I still have them in my collection.

OK, so I got into the pit. What next? My friends were at the front, so I was alone. I thought I would stay at the back of the pit so I would not get squashed, That was when I noticed a Canadian guy who was a friend of a Greek-Canadian friend. We sat together talking and he told me "when I give you the sign, we get up and go to the front". Indeed at the previous two concerts, while waiting for Bruce in the pit, at a particular moment everybody got up and moved closer to the front. This is what happened again, so suddenly I found myself very close to the front of the stage. Not only was I in the pit, but I managed to get to the front without following the roll call procedure. There we met an Italian family who were all Bruce fans and started talking to them.

And suddenly, it was time for Bruce to come on stage. He was going to start with another one of his "surprise opening numbers". And what a surprise it was this time! Charlie, Nils and Roy came on stage with three accordions playing a tarantella melody which turned into "Sherry Darling". By far, the best version of "Sherry Darling" I have ever heard!
The main melody was played with accordions and not with Clarence's saxophone. Clarence himself came up on stage with Bruce. He had been wearing a hat in Rome and Torino. He took his hat off this time and this is the image that will stay with me because this was the last time I saw Clarence. 

Everyone had their own usual place on stage and although I could see Clarence clearly, I somehow, like in the previous two concerts ended up opposite Steve. A girl suddenly noticed my three wristbands and told me "I have been to the Rome concert and to this one. Which one was your favourite?" "Torino", I replied. "I hate you" she said. (These three wristbands were clearly a babe magnet!)

The rock 'n' roll highlight this time was "Summertime Blues" and it was time for song #13. In Torino this was "Drive All Night". This time it was "Be True". Which is very funny considering that this friend of mine who I mentioned in my previous post and whose favourite song was "Drive All Night"... well, guess what! Her second favourite was "Be True". And Bruce played these two songs on the two concerts she decided not to attend! She is still mad at me...

Finally, the first song of the encore was "Born In The USA" in its full band version, another song I hadn't heard before live. It all ended with the customary "Twist And Shout". As the stadium was emptying, I found my friends and we went back to the city using the "Concerto Springsteen" buses. The local McDonald's which normally closes early stayed open until 1 that night.

The following day was a Friday, but it was not yet time for me to go home. My return flight was on Saturday. So on Friday, I first visited Venice which was nearby and then I headed to Milano from where I would take my flight to Athens. And having got used to this "travelling one day, concert the next day" routine it was hard to believe that I wouldn't be seeing Bruce again that night.
Surprisingly enough, this was my first trip to Italy after 20 years, but there would be more to come in the following decade...

01. Sherry Darling
02. Badlands
03. Hungry Heart
04. Outlaw Pete
05. Darlington County
06. Something In The Night
07. Working On A Dream
08. Murder Incorporated
09. Johnny 99
10. No Surrender
11. Raise Your Hand
12. Summertime Blues
13. Be True
14. Streets Of Fire
15. My Love Will Not Let You Down
16. Waitin On A Sunny Day
17. The Promised Land
18. American Skin (41 Shots)
19. Lonesome Day
20. The Rising
21. Born To Run
22. Born In The USA
23. American Land
24. Bobby Jean
25. Dancing In The Dark
26. Twist And Shout

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

My 2009 tour of Italy with Bruce Springsteen - Part 2 : Torino

My next destination after Rome was Torino. It was, if I remember correctly, a 7 hour journey and I slept through most of it (even though we had our passports thoroughly checked by the Carabinieri before the train left the station). My hotel was just beside the station, but I didn't go there when I arrived. We went straight to the stadium in order to get our numbers for the roll calls. We were quite early and we got very low numbers and this time I was determined to follow the procedure correctly, which meant wake-up calls and a few trips back and forth from my hotel to the stadium and vice versa.

I didn't get as much sleep as I would have wanted that night as a result, but that would be partly rectified later. After the last roll call on Tuesday morning, we had to stay there because the gates could open at any minute and we would have to get in, in line according to our numbers. There was a street market that day near the stadium, so we went there and bought... pillows. Yes and we used them to sit down outside the stadium and even, in my case, sleeping! Yes, I'm not ashamed to say, that I slept out in the street! (Out in the street! Geddit?) And in the middle of the day at that! And if that sounds strange, let me tell you that some people, mainly those organizing the roll calls had brought their tents and slept there during the night, not because they couldn't afford a hotel, but because they wanted to be there for the roll calls. Anyway, our long wait there was made easier by the fact that there was cloud cover (but no rain) during most of the day (we were near the Alps, remember?) so we didn't have to suffer the scorching heat we had experienced outside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome the day before.

So, what happened was that one of my friends woke me up from a deep sleep and told me "Get up Pap, we're going in". I just had time to grab one of the pillows we had bought (I think I left another one there in the street). I thought the pillow would come in useful, because we were in for another long wait once we got inside the stadium and I remember dragging it with me as we were guided to the pit in an orderly fashion. We were waiting there, thankfully sitting down, for quite some time, (though not so much as in Rome because there was no aquatic championship taking place nearby which meant that the show would start at a more reasonable time). We spent that time, telling stories of previous concerts and guessing what Bruce might play.

Finally, the wait was over and Bruce came on stage. And instead of opening with the usual "Badlands" as he did in Rome and in fact on several other dates of this tour, he started with one of what I call the "surprise opening numbers", songs that he doesn't play too often. This time it was "Loose Ends". The usual "Badlands" was the second song. But there were more surprises in store for us. At some point Bruce brought out a chair, sat on it with his guitar at the very front of the stage within touching distance (and every time he approached the front of the stage, I would get close to him, whether I wanted to or not, because the whole pit crowd would approach the stage - they would pull back when we went back, and they were very polite, saying "scusi" all the time) and sang "Workin' On The Highway" which is probably my favourite song from the "Born In The USA" album and I hadn't heard it live until then. The rock 'n' roll highlight this time was "Travellin' Band" one of my favourite Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.

But the biggest surprise of the night was to come just after that song and there was a back story to it. Two days before, in Rome, we were given sign requests for "Drive All Night" (a very emotional song off The River album which Bruce rarely played live back then). We kept waving them while Bruce was collecting the request signs and I think he took several of them, but he did not oblige that night. This time, the Italians took it a to the next level. They handed him a sign request that consisted of three envelopes, clearly marked 1, 2 and 3. Bruce opens the first envelope, out comes a sign saying "Drive All Night", He opens up a second envelope, out comes another sign saying "Drive All Night". He opens up the third and guess what: Yes, it was another "Drive All Night" sign. So Bruce, looks towards Max who just shrugged as if to say ("I'm OK with it"). That's when i thought "Success!". This time he was going to play it! But why did I want so much to hear it live? Well it was the favourite song of one my friends. She had been to several Springsteen concerts over the years and only managed to hear it once. Unfortunately, after the Rome concert she decided to go back to Greece and not to follow us to Torino, so she missed her chance of hearing it for a second time.

After the concert had finished, once again with the customary "Twist And Shout", my friends and I hang around for a while outside the stadium, eating junk food from one of the cantines, at the same place where we had been sleeping a few hours before while we were waiting to get in.

"I made it!", I thought. I had followed the pit roll call procedure all the way and I saw Bruce from really up close. But it had been such a tiring experience that I decided that on my next concert in Udine I would not go into the pit. Well, you know what they say... Never say never...

01. Loose Ends
02. Badlands
03. Hungry Heart
04. Outlaw Pete
05. Working on the Highway
06. Working on a Dream
07. Murder Incorporated
08. Johnny 99
09. American Skin (41 Shots)
10. Raise Your Hand
11. Travelin' Band
12. Drive All Night
13. Two Hearts
14. My Love Will Not Let You Down
15. Waitin' on a Sunny Day
16. The Promised Land
17. My Hometown
18. Backstreets
19. Lonesome Day
20. The Rising
21. Born to Run
22. Land of Hope and Dreams
23. American Land
24. Glory Days
25. Dancing In The Dark
26. Twist And Shout

Monday, 30 March 2020

My 2009 tour of Italy with Bruce Springsteen - Part 1 : Rome

As Italy is going through a difficult time, it is important for me to remember all the wonderful times I've had and all the wonderful people I've met there. One of these times, probably the best one, was when I took an almost complete tour of Italy, from Rome northwards, following Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band on the Working On A Dream tour. What made it easier was the fact that the concerts were evenly spaced. One every two days: Sunday the 19th of July in Rome, Tuesday the 21st in Torino and finally Thursday the 23rd in Udine. In this way I could go to the concert on one day and then travel the following day to the next town and join the pit roll calls upon arrival. A friend of ours had collected our money and sent it to another friend in Italy who bought the tickets for us so we avoided the usual "ticket stress".
During the days before my trip to Rome I was running a high fever which had manifested itself during a Paul Weller gig in Athens and which I had probably contracted during an Oasis gig in London. There was a serious flu going around in those days. The fever finally relented on Friday the 17th, so I was able to travel on Saturday the 18th. And apart from me, there  were so many Greeks that had come to Rome for this concert that we were right in saying that "The Greeks invade Rome". This was something that would be repeated, again in Rome, during the 2016 River tour. We spent Saturday night by going to a Bruce Springsteen party in Rome, organized by Italians where a local tribute band played.

This was my first concert where I followed the roll call procedure, though not correctly which resulted in my (and a few of my friends') missing a roll call and getting a second, higher number. We still got in the pit though. There we were in for a long wait as there was an Aquatic championship taking place nearby which was not to be interrupted by the noise. This meant that the concert started well past 10 pm and with Bruce's 3 hour concerts you can guess at which time it finished. We spent this time singing Thunder Road with a friend from Cyprus and his teenage children, talking about friends who couldn't make it there (hello, Anastasia!) and trying to position ourselves in a better position inside the pit (which was basically cheating plain and simple but there you go).

All these things were forgotten when Bruce came on stage though. Now this was my only concert from the Working On A Dream tour where Bruce sang not two but three songs from the aforementioned album. 

So apart from the usual two ("Outlaw Pete" and "Working On A Dream") we also got "Surprise, Surprise" because somebody requested it. It was also the first time I heard "Thunder Road" (it was not a regular feature on that tour, but it is still my favourite Bruce song). During that song I noticed someone that must have come out of a cartoon. One of those characters with springs under their shoes so that they jump up and down. With every jump however she was coming closer to us and when she reached us we realised that it was one of our friends who had chosen this way to "cheat" in the pit so that she could be with us. We got "Seeds", we got "No Surrender" as well (very appropriate with so many Greeks from the No Surrender Community present) and this time Bruce did his regular speech during "Working On A Dream" in Italian. 

This was the first Bruce concert where I developed the habit of taking a photo of the audience behind me during "Born To Run" (that's when all the stadium lights are turned on).

Bruce brought his mum and two of her friends on stage during "American Land" and in the end they didn't want to go. He had practically to usher them off stage before he could continue with the next song! 

And finally, the rock 'n' roll highlight was an unexpected "You Can't Sit Down", apart from the usual "Twist And Shout" which was the very last song.
The concert finished in the early hours of Monday the 20th of July, but thankfully one of us had thought of hiring a bus to take us from Stadio Olimpico back to our hotels. But no, we couldn't go to sleep. We gathered in Piazza Barberini where the hotel that most of us were staying was and went into a late night bar and ordered some food and drinks which took half of a length of a Bruce concert to arrive.
The following day most people were heading to Fiumicino airport to get back to Greece (and there was a huge gathering of Greeks there on that day). But my roommate and I headed to the train station and got on a train to our next destination: Torino...

01. Badlands
02. Out In The Street
03. Outlaw Pete
04. No Surrender
05. She's The One
06. Working On A Dream
07. Seeds
08. Johnny 99
09. Atlantic City
10. Raise Your Hand
11. Hungry Heart
12. Pink Cadillac
13. I'm On Fire
14. Surprise, Surprise
15. Prove It All Night
16. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
17. The Promised Land
18. American Skin (41 Shots)
19. Lonesome Day
20. The Rising
21. Born to Run
22. My City Of Ruins
23. Thunder Road
24. You Can't Sit Down
25. American Land
26. Bobby Jean
27. Dancing In The Dark
28. Twist And Shout