Wednesday, June 08, 2011

FCBB Euro Tour 2011

Fountain City Brass Band was on tour for the end of May and the beginning of June.  We returned yesterday and I promptly went to sleep.  This morning I woke at 3am, and I'm now working my way through a pile of notes and journal entries taken.  Here are some recollections:

-We had the same coach driver as we did during FCBB's last tour in 2009.  Enough good things cannot be said about him.  Paul Ware, who works for Bullocks Coaches in Manchester, (site: is a gentleman among men.  In addition to driving our merry band to hither AND yon, keeps the coach stocked with water and beer, keeps everything up and running, and still finds time to let us buy him drinks on his nights off.

It seems like each day on the tour features us asking him to take the bus somewhere impossible.  In 2009, it was up the side of a mountain to get to a castle on dirt roads.  This time it was taking the bus around a narrow corner crowded with shops and tourists in Drachten and onto a pedestrian mall.

As the pinnacle, he also took the bus into the roundabout circling the Arc d'Triumph in Paris, which is apparently the place where vehicle insurance policies are suspended.  It was utter madness, and he got our coach in and out without so much as a scratch.

With luck, we'll see him on our next tour.  He said he'd follow us to Australia...

-Speaking of Paris... It is a beautiful city, with more history than one can shake a bundle of sticks at.  Everywhere you look, there's another church spire or a building from the 1500's.  That really is the thing that strikes home as I travel -- things have been going in other places for quite some time.

With that said, it's a hard place to like on a first dance.

While everyone there seems to speak English, it appears to cause everyone displeasure to use it.  In the beginning, this caused me "white man's traveller's guilt" that I wasn't using the local language.  I felt every inch the outsider, and even something as simple as buying a magazine may lead to a conversation which I cannot respond to.

I was able to use one "new" French phrase that I'd picked up somewhere.  When eating during during the evening on our full day there, I was able to use the phrase "l'addition, si'l vou plait!" to ask for the waiter to bring the check. It gave me a proper thrill, especially since I wasn't sure I had remembered the phrase correctly.  I had only ever heard it used on television.  I didn't actually say "l'addition", but I did say what I thought it sounded like (something akin to "le Dishon").  Fortunately, since the sound of words in French is more important than the letters they use -- a full quarter of the French language seems to be made of silent letters -- I was perfectly understood.

I can understand the French pride on this point.  After all, they have a language and use it

-Contrast that Parisian experience with Amsterdam.  In the Netherlands, they recognize that few people speak Dutch world-wide.  Each Dutch student is well served to learn three or four languages to facilitate interaction and commerce.  Seemingly, 100% of the people we met in the BeNeLux countries spoke English.  They weren't always facile, but it was never difficult to make oneself understood and understand others.

Indeed, the Netherlands are an English-speaking tourists dream, because they feel like a foreign country whose population is easier to understand than some more rural parts of America.

-Also, pastries are really tasty in Europe.  It's kind of depressing, but they're SO good that it sort of becomes a "why would any other country even bother" situation.

-Having tapenade, slices of chorizo, part of a block of cheese, and warm french bread for a meal is tasty.

-It's depressing to go to a country vaguely assumed to have good weather by me, to then *experience* beautiful weather, then have everyone tell us it's not usually like this.

-Hearing an excited Dutch brass band player talk about himself as "one of those crazy Dutch guys" ranks as one of my favorite "treasure this in a box" moments.

-The American cemetery at Omaha beach is almost unutterably moving.

-I too can make snap judgments about people based on first impressions, and in this one particular specific moment, it was prescient.

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