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The Pope and Pistachios

The Pope is coming to New York tomorrow.  I’m  not Catholic, but from what I can see, as Pope’s go, this one is okay.

In spite of all the preparations, NY nonchalance is in abundance.  Sure, there’s lots of prep, street closings and traffic headaches anticipated,  but here in NY, we are used to lots and lots of stuff, so what’s a Papal visit?  And so what if 70-80 other world leaders will be in town?  Nothing to worry about.  It’s not like we’re Philly or something…

(So I realize I have just offended all our fans in Philadelphia. My apologies.  I like Philly as a city.  I just hate your sports teams, and any real Philly fan will understand this, as they feel the same way about ours.  At least you’re not Red Sox fans.)

And to be fair, here in NY, we’re used to dealing with this kind of thing.  The UN General Assembly meets every year.  What’s an additional Pope?

All this has me thinking back to 2002.  We had been performing in the St. John Valley in northern Maine. After the concerts, we stuck around for four additional days to record in the beautiful acoustic space of the “Association Culturelle et Historique du Mont-Carmel”.  This was our first venture into recording as an ensemble.  We commuted each day from the dorms at the University of Maine, Fort Kent to Lille, about a 40 minute trip.  The locals thought we were crazy — though more for staying in the dorms (!!) than the drive. Saying that, quite a few were concerned about the traffic we had to deal with. This mystified us:  The three other cars on Route 1?  Not a real issue. Clearly they had never driven to a wedding gig on Long Island in June!

As I said, this was our first attempt at recording and I learned a lot.

I learned that it is really hard to play recording engineer and musician at the same time.  Matt has excellent ears in his head and knows his way around Pro Tools, but running the equipment, positioning microphones, and then having to sit at the cello and play is a lot to ask.

I learned that recording equipment makes noise.  That’s why they have it in a sound proof room.

I learned that even in Lille, there is noise from outside.  It’s rather amazing how much sound comes from Route 1.

I learned that it’s really easy to set off a fire alarm in a college dorm while illegally cooking on a hotplate.

And I learned that Don Cyr really knows how to cook and knows exactly when to bring fresh strawberries and pistachio nuts into an edit session.

Oh, that reminds me — I learned not to listen to the takes right after you play them.  Even if you are on a time constraint.

Most importantly, we learned to hire the right people so we could focus on playing.  (That’s you, Peter Karl and all the great people at PARMA Recordings!)

Once we were done, we had a few free days before we had to be down the coast for more concerts.  We were on a tight budget (hence the accommodations at UMFK) and not knowing Maine as well as we do now, we decided to stay in a motel on the outskirts of Calais.

Calais (pronounced callous by the locals — none of that fancy French stuff!) is on the corner where Downeast Maine meets inland.  Somehow, we stayed on the north end of this town.  We were far enough out to not even realize there is such thing as downtown Calais.

I”ll pause here to stay that memory is a funny thing. I am sure we were north of Calais.  Suzanne is positive it was on the south side.

And we had terrible weather.  Rain!!  And more Rain!!!

The first night there, the motel management recommended a restaurant just down the road.  We drove there in the old Chevy Cavalier (nicknamed the Chevy Cavalier of Death) even though the place was less then a mile away. I can’t recall the name of the restaurant.   This was before such things as Yelp were around, but if they had existed, I would have given this restaurant no stars. As a matter of fact, I would have given it 3 negative stars.   Super pretentious, with table cloths and 6-piece silver settings, AND they had the audacity to charge $20-30 for entrees –– NY prices (and high New York prices to boot).  We were one of maybe 2 tables there and for good reason.  Dinner was over-cooked and reminded me of a menu from a 1976 Bar Mitzvah on Long Island.  A mediocre one.  Poorly prepared and over priced.   Can we say terrible!

The next day we made a trek across the border to the Canadian tourist town of St. Andrews.  Apparently this is a really cute place.  Unfortunately it was overcast and gloomy the entire time we were there.  The only thing I really remember was being stopped at the border crossing, as the Canadian Border Patrol gave our car an extremely thorough search.  Later we heard a story on Maine Public Radio that three people had stolen a ATM card and gotten away with $220.  Apparently they had a car with NY plates.  Even though the suspects were two men and a woman, I guess we ticked enough boxes.  I also remember Suzanne buying a baby gift for her step-sister’s baby (she’s be 13 now) and. some nice person, maybe the baby shop lady, telling us about a better route back across the border. Following those directions we ended up at the alternate, truck route crossing. After the extended car search heading outbound, we were all a little on edge crossing the border home.  No extended search this time, but the US border patrol agent found it hard to believe we were staying in Calais on holiday.  In retrospect, I can’t fault him there.

So on Day 3, with rain pouring, we holed up in one of our hotel rooms and watched TV.  All we could get was Canadian TV and what were they covering?  That’s right, Pope John Paul II was visiting Toronto, and all Canadian media was in a tizzy –– a wall to wall Pope-a-Palooza! The coverage was mainly in French (a language in which none of us are fluent) so many times we made up our own narrative.  There was quite a lot of interpretive dance and singing, in Toronto that is.  We mainly drank wine.

Now Pope Francis is coming to NY.  Sadly, we have not been asked to play for the Pope –– his loss.  Instead, I think we might have to gather together and watch a bit of NY style Pope-a-rama, for old times sake.



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