Shivering as we walked through the dark streets of Cardiff, I had fantasies of being tossed in jail . . . at least that would be warm, right? And how bad could a Welsh jail be? Shake the thought . . . and just keep moving . . .
The thoughts were largely provoked this morning by tantalizing blog entries by a couple of cousins currently studying abroad. My cousin, Will, is at St. Andrew's in Scotland, and his blog describes a close encounter with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in Glasgow. Similarly, my cousin, Alyson, is enjoying a study experience in Copenhagen, and her blog mentions an upcoming music festival where she'll be seeing great shows like Galactic and Keller Williams. Their experience with these US musicians in intimate European venues reminds me of my last week in London in December 2002. We headed to a venue called "Bush Hall" where we saw Austin singer-songwriter Patti Griffin give a remarkable show. It was a taste of music from home as welcome as the barbecue restaurant we found in an East London market (run by a guy from Arkansas . . . which was good enough for us).
Meanwhile, I have been creating a mix of global music back home. I've collected some great stuff over the years ranging from random Tibetan pop music to the bluesy sounds of Ali Farka Toure. I've add some interesting European finds, like Sui Vesan and Sigur Ros, to the mix as well as a great Blanquito Man track from the movie, Babel, called "Cumbia Sobre El Rio."
I sit at home listening to music that reminds me of being abroad while my cousins are abroad listening to music that likely reminds them of home. And we all do a bit of travel, at least metaphysically. But back to the cold streets of Cardiff . . .
24 Hours in Cardiff
My favorite international concert experience involved a much different situation than the ones above. A friend from college, Shelby, and I headed to Wales in November 2002 to see Welshman, David Gray, perform before an adoring home crowd in the city of Cardiff. Even his grandfather watched from a balcony.
Our plan was to stroll into Cardiff the morning of the concert, see the sights, find a youth hostel, and have a few drinks at local pubs before and after the show. Immediately upon our arrival in Cardiff, we knew our plans would be derailed. The streets were swarming in a strange patchwork of black and green and red. The black colors belonged to the jerseys of the New Zealand All Black's fans while the green and red represented the Welsh team. Cardiff was mad for the rugby event about to unfold, and we soon realized that our lodging prospects were dimming. Regardless, we headed to a castle and some shops and generally fell in love with the town. The day felt like Mardi Gras, with the Kiwis getting a very early start to the celebration. In the first match between New Zealand and Wales in a very long time, both sets of fans were there to party . . . and to win.
A quick inquiry into our lodging options revealed that there was really no room at the inn, so we determined the time had come to reach a pub and get a pint before the concert. We watched the match from the bar and soon received lectures from our fellow patrons on how rugby is a vastly superior sport to American football. After all, why do our guys have to hide behind pads? They had a point, and they were buying us beers--so of course, we agreed. After watching more rugby, our agreement was suddenly genuine.
So we headed to the concert, and we loved every second of it. The venue was like a high school gymnasium, maybe a bit larger. The crowd adored the show, David Gray's drummer performed his usual quirky antics, and, for those hours, I had forgotten that we would soon be out on the cold streets without shelter.
And then we were on the cold streets without shelter. The post-rugby party was in full swing, and we began thinking creatively. As we wandered, we grew colder before noticing a glow from a nearby Burger King. A bit hungry anyway, we realized we could hang out at the Burger King until they closed at 2:30 AM. So, equipped with fries and cokes, we headed to a long wait at a warm booth.
But we hadn't really thought this plan through. After all, drunk people tend to be attracted to fried nastiness, and Burger King offered exactly that. After a few hours, the natives were growing restless, and the Kiwis and Welsh fans were started to have a bit of a row. This was relatively entertaining until some genius realized that cups of coke make ideal projectiles. Soon, the Burger King was turning to a chaos of soda showers as cups missed their targets and smashed into the walls. Hoping to avoid a cold night of soaked stickiness, Shelby and I headed out of the King and back into the streets.
But the streets had changed in the passing hours from clean cobblestone to knee-high refuse. Styrofoam containers, previously home to delicious doner kabobs, now blocked our path, and the bottoms of our shoes became stained in condiment juices. Nice.
So we wandered and wandered. We soon found the train station was closed (the Gare du Norde had been a nice home on a cold Paris night once), so we huddled into seats at a relatively sheltered bus stop. Soon , we were shaking from the cold, and Shelby threw out a suggestion, "Dude, why don't we just sleep in a hotel lobby?"
I pondered his suggestion and images of vagrants flashed through my head. We couldn't be vagrants (obviously not thinking . . . we had just been sleeping at a bus stop). "Come on, man, maybe a hostel has some space."
So we navigated the dark streets until we found a youth hostel. We rang the buzzer and soon heard a voice, "We're full."
"Please, just a little room on a couch? Do you have a floor we could sleep on?" I sounded pathetic because I was. It was 3:30 AM, and my body was shaking.
And we were wandering. Movement kept us warmer. We noticed some doner kabob stores open, but we were both short on cash--the exchange rate had been killing us for four months, and paying for a sandwich seemed like steep rent.
"Maybe we can find a hot vent." That's what people find in the movies, right? We just needed to find a grate with steam rising up.
We wandered through the refuse and considered making a small fire. The fire would warm us, and, worst case scenario, a night in jail would give us a warm bed, right?
Around 4:30 AM we spotted a hotel. The doors were open, the lobby looked warm, and a group of All Black's fans were still drinking at a table. Shelby's suggestion, made two hours before, seemed brilliant, and we soon found ourselves unconscious in green wingbacks in the lobby. We were warm and asleep and life was good.
At 6:30, a manager tapped me on the shoulder. "Sir, you will have to leave around 7. The guests will be waking up."
I thanked the man for his hospitality. We must have looked pathetic to warrant the charity . . . it was welcome.
We wandered back toward the train station to catch the first train back to London. We had down duvets awaiting us. As we boarded the train, we miserably slumped into our seats and began to doze. As I passed out, I noticed the seats next to us being filled with three guys carrying a few cases of beer. It was 7 AM, and they were beginning to drink.
Their energy was nauseating, and I was soon blissfully asleep.
It was an awesome concert.