Saturday, July 24, 2010

Alpine folks try to be Appalachians, and it rocked my socks

'Baby girl, don't worry, we are going home,' I whispered to Genepy, the bunny.

You see, I was driving the car on the second most curvy road in the mountainous region where I live, Valle d'Aosta. Which means that it is so curvy that when you come around the bend you just about run into yourself coming the other way! Genepy was in her new pet carrier, that I wrote about in the previous post, and she is a giant bunny so she pretty much filled up the whole thing. And she wasn't too happy to be in the car, in a slippery plastic carrier, on a curvy road. But, she was going to the village where she was born, in Valgrisenche, which is in a very narrow valley which ends in a giant dam. The story of how Genepy the bunny was adopted from the 'Guardian of the Dam' (no kidding!) in the middle of a snowy November night, to save her from the fate of her siblings which surely ended in many stomachs, will be told another time.

I was going up there, and toting the rabbit with me, because I was staying up there for the weekend, at the en of a three week traditional music camp called 'strada blu' (blue road) held by the local CenTrad organization (they teach people traditional music from around the world), which this year was all about TRADITIONAL AMERICAN MUSIC! Which of course meant that my very talented father, Wayne Erbsen, was teaching the final week, for the advanced students. He is a 'jack of all trades, master of all' kind of guy when it comes to American history, folklore, and traditional music, and he's been teaching, literally, for 50 years, so he was the perfect guy for the job. Somehow I ended up teaching dance workshops, for two weeks up there. Taught them flatfooting and even some contra dancing! I had never called before these weeks (I'm a contra dance musician and dancer...not a caller), but I did pretty well considering it was my first try.

Italians discover contra dancing:

flatfooting battle:

Anyhow, I had obviously been up there a number of times over the three week camp to hang out, teach dance classes, play music, and visit with my dad, but hadn't yet spent the night, which just about everyone else both working and taking classes there does. It's at an ancient fort that was converted into a WWII military base, and is now a restaurant, bar, B&B, and community center. It is in an incredibly gorgeous place. So, I made it up there with the bunny and as soon as I parked the car, I heard the unmistakable sound of my dad playing music, which is as recognizable to me as his voice- if not more so. I jumped out of the car with my fiddle and Genepy, and ran over to where he was playing with a group of students. I whipped out my fiddle and joined in. The bunny made a ruckus, so I took her out and she sat on my lap while I played. It was a little bit more difficult when I played the banjo, but as she is a spoiled brat who loves old time music she gets what she wants!

It was awesome. The group split up into six bands or so, and they were all practicing for something that evening, which turned out to be incredible, and I don't think I could possibly put it into words. We were hoarded into a bus with our instruments, and taken to a village where each of the bands (I was in one with my dad and some other great musicians, including an incredible singer) were given a place to play in the town, along the pedestrian walkway. I assume it is pedestrian, anyhow, because the streets are too narrow to imagine any kind of car driving down them. My group was placed on top of a who-knows-how-old arch over the walkway that led into a really cool barn that would be a potentially great place to have a dance.

It turned out that we were the last on the 'tour'; all the townspeople basically went from one band the the other, down the street, 'til they got to us. There was local wine flowing freely, as well as nachos and salsa, because that is obviously American to them. And straw cowboy hats. We played and played and eventually ended up under the arch, playing and dancing at the same time. After a bit, once it started to get dark, we were herded once more up the hill with our instruments, where there was a big cookout (no attempt at American food here... this was pure Valdostano fare), a big bonfire in the middle of the street, and perhaps the biggest music jam I've ever been a part of. About 30 of us were playing American old time music, by the bonfire, with Alpine townsfolk milling around and dancing, and it was beyond words. I was there in that moment, playing my guts out on music from my homeland, belly full of good food and wine, sweating from the fire, surrounded by family and friends and I thought, 'THIS is as cool as it gets'.

And it just kept getting better. Those of you who have seen me play music, especially for a contra dance, know that sometimes I get a little wild and shake my head and jump up and down and wiggle my hips and basically throw myself around like a crazy woman when I get really into the music while playing my fiddle. I've seen videos of me doing that, and it can get pretty crazy, but I took it to a whole new level this night, and the Italians, who are not inhibited at all, decided that it would be a good idea to dance around like crazy people as well while they played their fiddles, mandolins, guitars, harps, drums, clarinets, flutes, and accordions. So, if you can imagine, it was the middle a summer night in a small Italian village in the Alps, thirty musicians are playing American music with all their mite, jumping around, hootin' and hollerin', sweating from the exertion and from the fire, with village folks getting into it too. I think my dad took a video and I'll have to post it at some point.

Lets just say it was a hellofa time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

An encounter with a little boy and an empty cage

I just finished work after a long week, and had walked to the pet store to buy a carrier for the bunny Genepy, so that she is more easily portable. I was walking back across town when I was stopped by someone. A very young, waist high someone who came in the form of a curious little Italian boy, probably about 3 or 4 years old. He looks up at me and latches onto the pet carrier. We had a conversion something like the following, roughly translated into English:

'what's in there'

'nothing! It is empty. But it is for my rabbit.'

(he grabs onto the carrier again, this time sticking his nose against the door and sticking his tongue through)

'rabbit? Where is the rabbit?'

'She is at home! She is waiting for me.'

'oh no! Is she alone?'

'yes. But I will be home soon to play with her'

'are you her mommy? does she have a daddy?'

'yes, I am like the bunny's mommy! And she has a very nice daddy'

'will she get a snack? I want to go in the cage.'

'uhh... I don't think you will fit in the cage. It is too small for you.'

'no, it's ok. let me in! I want to go inside! Where is the bunny?'

'well, we will just have to get a bigger cage for you! But I really need to get going home so that my bunny isn't alone....'

'Is the daddy Italian? What language do you speak?'

'Well, I am American so I speak English'

'But what language do you speak? I want to go inside with the bunny.'

(he grabs onto the cage and tries to open it, peers inside, and licks it again. I am wondering where is parents are. Just then a woman comes up)

'mommy! there is a rabbit in there!'


After some more time of me convincing him to stop licking my damned rabbit cage, he let go and I came home. Now I have the bunny on my lap. Little Italian boys are funny!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Glaciers and Druids and Fiddles, oh my!

It has been an unusually long time since I posted. But, there is much to be caught up on, and I intend on having more adventures soon, so there will be even more to write in the future! These months have been insane; started my job (finally), wedding planning, lots of guests, gettin' hitched, hospitalized, and such things.

But first, I had a kickass adventure last night. One of those that you don't expect to have, but are eternally grateful for and quite possibly change your life. One where you set out to go to something that you are thinking will be pretty cool but possibly nothing special and then you get blown out of the water because you are listening to the best Irish bands in the world under a giant glacier in an Alpine forest, drinking mead, and surrounded by cloaked druids. That pretty much sums it up, but I feel like I should provide a few more details! Although no photos to speak of, because my camera is unfortunately broken and I didn't think to bring my husband's (oh! that word! husband! did you notice? It is because I am married now, you see).

The event that I am speaking of is called Celtica. I saw that Lunasa was playing, which is mostly why I wanted to go. They are an incredibly kickass Irish band that I am certain you have heard of, and if you somehow haven't, please stop reading this blog and listen to something of theirs right now. I didn't recognize the other bands, and actually thought that it looked like it might be quite a cheesy festival that I, a lifetime attender of many amazing festivals, would likely scoff at. Oh boy, I was wrong.

It spans 4 days, and takes places primarily in a really old evergreen forest right at the base of Mont Blanc (the tallest mountain in Europe). It's at a high enough elevation at the damned base that there was still some snow around. And it was directly beneith the biggest glacier I ever laid eyes on. One of those that you see and go, 'HOLY CRAP! That is a REAL glacier! EKKKKKKKKKKKK!', and can't take your eyes off it, except when you get distracted by the roaring glacial melt river at your feet (which is grey, because it comes from the glaciers, which are... grey), or one of countless waterfalls cascading from the tip top of the alps, or the giant centuries old evergreen trees, or the biggest mountain on the continent towering over your head. With all that, it is hard to keep your eyes off the glacier. It is pretty cool, and sad actually, you can see the path of the glacier as it has gradually retreated. It is such a strange thing, and it difficult to imagine that it was created purely by nature, but it would be difficult for man to create something of that scale. It leaves behind a trail of pulverized mountain and it's basically a crumbled mountain in a path in front of the glacier. Natures construction zone!

So that was overhead, in addition to Mont Blanc. There is the forest, and the river. And a very strange sound, exactly like nearby thunder, but it couldn't have been because the skies were totally clear. We eventually realized that it was the sound of the river moving boulders.

Upon paying and entering the festival, we walked through a forest path and then before us we came to a market in the twilight. Kind of like at the LEAF festival in Black Mountain, NC, if you've ever been to it, but more Celtic and less overpriced. It was pretty interesting; basically a street formed by two rows of vendors in the forest hawking their Celtic and Druid wares, ending with a stand that sold mead (idomiele in Italian). I've drunk a lot of mead in my days, and it is usually pretty nasty, but this was extremely tasty. And appropriate for the situation. At the end of the market, there was the main stage, where I heard something that sounded like harp music, but... not quite. It turned out it was a guy who is apparently far beyond the level of kickass that one usually stumbles upon in an alpine forest in Magic Storybook Land (AKA Valle d'Aosta, the region I live in) and was playing two giant harps at once in an incredibly complicated and gorgeous manner. It blew me away, and I am not easily impressed with regards to music.

Now, as for the people. They were dressed strangely. Not 'hippie festival in the woods' strangely, exactly. Well, yeah like this, but with woolen cloaks. Almost everyone. Also, just about everyone had floral wreaths on their heads. And a number of them carried ornate wooden staffs around. It was pretty strange, really. It turns out that many of them are Druids. Like, real Druids. Or at least the modern day interpretation. Celts obviously inhabited much of Europe before more recent empires (like the Romans and Ottomans) conquired it. I think my region here in Aosta was actually a purely celtic region until about only 2000 years ago. And druids are celtic high priests, or something like that. There is a modern day order of them that is apparently quite active in Europe.... kind of like how Native Americans are in the US, in some ways. Not culturally, because I don't think there are surviving celts who have continuously preserved their culture and lifestyles, but in the way that they were the 'native' inhabitants.

There were also lots of fires, and fire spinners, and such things. And a small creek that seemed to be used exclusively as a beer cooler. And really really great french fries and only Irish beer.

Lunasa kicked ass. A group of Irish dancers performed and their fiddlers, I swear, were playing mostly New English contra dance music. I swear to you! I actually yelped when I heard them play from a distance and ran to see if I knew them (but did not). I don't know what the deal was, but they sounded like it, and I can't think of another option. Except maybe they are Scottish and listen to a lot of contra dance music. That's the only other thing I can really think of, cause I kind of doubt they were American (as in, I'm quite certain I was the only American there in the whole festival).

It was amazing. I was inspired. I am now ready to jump back on the playing the fiddle horse and ply my guts out! And next time this festival happens (either in one or two years), I will be there camping in that druid forest for the whole weekend like the true festival girl that I am.

Now I am off to teach flatfooting to Italian teenagers for an old time music workshop week up in another high Aosta valley!