Sunday, 5 August 2012

55 Today

I've tried to time my trips home so that they coincide with important triathlon training or racing dates. Thus far it's been quite successful. As a result I unfortunately missed Kate's birthday in May. Today the circle was made complete as I celebrated my 55th alone in Europe.

The day started off well. I slept in until 8am, had a simple breakfast and went for a long easy run. To be different I chose a route that I used from my previous apartment and haven't run since the beginning of June. It was nice, just over 9 miles in an hour and 20. It was quite humid but not too hot at that time of day. After stretching and showering I walked over to one of my usual outdoor restaurants for a chanterelle omelette which I was happy to wash down with a Hefeweizen (beer, Paul).

I have a meeting in Italy tomorrow morning so I flew to Milan late this afternoon. I'd been planning this for just under a week and had chosen a restaurant not far from the Novotel that got pretty good reviews on Trip Advisor. I like staying in Novotels but although the quality of food in their restaurants is OK, I find it very generic and unimaginative and not at all representative of the region in which the hotel is located. Not quite the birthday dinner I was looking forward to.

It was a longish walk to the restaurant and a few raindrops started to fall as I reached it - Closed on Sundays. I had to go back almost as far as I had come to get to the centre of town. As I walked the rain started to pick up and thunder and lightning closed in. As if by Divine Intervention a simple bus shelter appeared next to a roundabout just as the skies opened up. What was strange about this thunderstorm was that there was no perceptible movement of the clouds. The storm just seemed to sit on top of me in my bus shelter. My very own little dark cloud. I stayed in that shelter, open on three sides but with a roof, for about 20 minutes. Once the rain stopped, a very quick walk through the town of  Cardano al Campo (not one of Italy's garden spots) revealed only a couple of dodgy looking open eating spots. At that point I decided to cut my losses, walked back to the Novotel and had pretty much the dinner I had unsuccessfully tried to avoid.

I've had quite a few birthdays, 55 to be exact. Most of them have been very enjoyable. This year's didn't quite measure up. The amusing thing is that in all likelihood this is the one I will remember most vividly: Alone in a foreign country, away from friends and family, getting stuck in a thunderstorm and topping it off with a mediocre dinner. Next year I'd like to trade more memorable for more enjoyable. 

Happy birthday to me.
And thanks for reading,

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Music: The "World" Comes to Nuremberg

Main Stage at the Hauptmarkt at night
This weekend I had the pleasure of taking in one of the coolest and most enjoyable experiences to come to Nuremberg during the time I've been here. It's called Bardentreffen and it bills itself as Germany's largest free open air music festival. This year was the 37th annual edition and they estimate that 200,000 people took it in. I took a larger interest than I otherwise might have since the theme of this year's festival was "Canada in Concert". Hmm, how do you like that? The music from my homeland is World Music. I may have some thoughts on that in a future post but needless to say, as one member of a highly invisible minority I felt it was patriotic duty to take in as much of the festival as possible while paying special attention to the Canadian acts.
Looking down from the Alt Rathaus
The crowds move between stages
I can only liken the Bardentreffen to the Winnipeg Folk Festival but with a number of significant advantages. First of all there is no admission fee for any of the acts playing at any of the 8 main stages set up in the old city. Alcohol consumption is not "Allowed" or "Tolerated", it's an integral part of the experience. I saw no examples of public drunkenness, just a lot of people including families enjoying themselves. The fact that it is in the old city means that if the occasional shower happens (they did) or a torrential rain falls (it didn't), the festival ground doesn't turn into a quagmire. The whole area is easily accessed by Subway, Bus or bicycle and if like me you are lucky enough to live downtown, by foot. To walk between the two furthest venues would take me 15 minutes tops. And the crowning advantage? I could use my very own bathroom between sets! Top that Birds Hill Park.
Busking in the Street

One of the smaller stages
In between the main stages and all through the city there are buskers playing virtually any kind of music you can imagine. Many of the outdoor bars and restaurants had live musicians playing at their places as well. I'm not a music critic so I won't even try to go down that path. Just suffice to say that there is a wide variety of talent and abilities. At any given time the best music playing might have been on the street rather than on one of the main stages. You just decide what you think may sound promising and give a listen. If you like it, stick around, if not then move to the next one. Since you haven't invested any money there are no qualms about moving along if a particular band isn't floating your boat.

I never made it to the African food stand
and apparently it was my loss
I may not know who he is but I know
why he is smiling!
And then there are the food vendors. Well, this is Germany so count on at least one beer tent at every stage. Two or three at the more popular ones. Food vendors were also concentrated around the perimeter of the venues. Of course there are the ubiquitous grills with bratwurst and steak sandwiches and the usual Turkish fast foods. But there were also foods from India, Morocco, West Africa, South America, various parts of Asia and different German regional specialties as well. Cocktail bars, ice cream, crepe and candy vendors are also there in abundance so it's pretty certain everybody will find something they like to eat and/or drink. If not take your pick among any of the restaurants that also seemed to do very well during the festival. Yet another advantage to the urban setting.
I did have a few observations on the Canadian Content.

Lisa LeBlanc de
Nouveau Brunswick
Anyone from Europe or the US may have received a distorted impression of the prevalence of French in Canadian music and perhaps in Canada itself. I would say that well over half the Canadian acts were from Quebec or New Brunswick and performed in French. Having lived in Quebec for many years I think that's a good thing. Traditional French Canadian folk music really lends itself to the feel of this festival. I sometimes wondered why the performers thought that speaking broken English would be better than speaking French to a German audience. I guess English really is the unofficial second language here. They were very well received and the occasional German greeting or sentence really went a long way no matter how bad the grammar or the pronunciation. I really would have loved to have seen some traditional East Coast Music from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island as well.

If Canada was the featured country you would not know it from the time slots they were given to perform in. Two nights in a row there were Canadian acts at 7pm at the largest stage in the Hauptmarkt (Main Market Square). There was an OK turnout for both but the really big crowds turned up for the shows around 9 pm. Most of the acts at that time were from Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

The headline Canadian act was scheduled to be Yukon Blonde from Canada's west coast. Although I know the name I'm not familiar with their music. They cancelled their appearance on relatively short notice and were replaced by Lisa Leblanc from New Brunswick. I thought she was a good performer with two excellent back up musicians. I just wasn't that knocked out by her songs.

Felix Award winning Nicolas Pellerin from Quebec
If you ever have the opportunity to see Nicolas Pellerin et les Grands Hurleurs or a band called Genticorum, do not miss them. They are both traditional Québécois folk trios with slightly different takes on a similar theme. They are also terrific entertainers. I promise you will not be disappointed.

I saw and did so much over the two and a half days that I could probably go on forever but I won't. I'd just say that the Bardentreffen is a wonderful festival and a great experience. I'm not sure I would fly over from Canada just to take it in but if you do happen to be in Europe at the time it's on I think it warrants a trip to Nuremberg. I think you'll like what you find.

Thanks for reading,