BAYOU SECO’S ROLLING POSTCARD
Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie
Oh the rolling postcard, watch it all roll by,
From the trains and the planes and the boats and the buses, and a hot air balloon floating in the sky.
Oh the rolling postcard, watch it all roll by,
When you get on home to your own sweet bed, you can still watch it all roll by.
Gliding down the autoroute past castles and chateaux,
A patchwork of fields, yellow, brown and green.
Wheat, barley, rye, oats, flax, corn and millet,
Tomorrow’s bread looks you in the eye.
Here we are again, travelling all around England/Scotland, France and Germany for our twelfth summer, playing our Chilegumbo sounds for audiences at many kinds of venues. At the the end of May, the fields of Rape Seed (Canola Oil) dominate the landscape, as the EU subsidizes farmers who plant it. It has a rank smell, and an almost fluorescent yellow color. The color bothers some English people because they think it is garish. One person said that someone should try to work on softening the color through plant genetics. However, we think it is like a field of sunshine on a rainy day, and there are many of those. There are many who are very allergic to it, but it is not juniper or mulberry and our noses behave and don’t sneeze. In southern France, the wheat fields are full of red poppies and it is a lovely sight to behold. Poppy seed bread and contented cows come to mind.
We are driving a Renault Kangoo that we have leased for three and one half months. It a nice small sort of van/truck with sliding side doors, a tailgate that lifts up and keeps us out of the rain as we load up all our instruments, and inside there is lots of headroom, even for cowboy hats. There are little compartments along the roof by the back seats like in an airplane. It has a diesel engine, is peppy enough for the German roads, and it is economical to run. It is the modern version of the Renault 4L, or the Citroen 2 Chevaux Camionette. Almost all the car companies have a vehicle of this style over here. Why not in the USA? Too practical perhaps?
We have just finished two and one half weeks of concerts in Southern England. We drove east and west six times, like we were lacing up a shoe. We played for two Cajun dances, four folk clubs (these generally take place in an upstairs room of a pub and usually there is no smoking), two concerts in Art Centers, one Folk Festival on the Norfolk coast by the North Sea in gale force winds (we were in a big Marquee tent and it was flapping and clanging all during our set), and two Pub sessions, one two hour session of just unaccompanied songs and ballads, and another session of tunes, mostly English. We also played a lot of school shows for all ages. One day we did five hour long shows in a high school aimed at the Arts, in a very rough district of East London. The kids really appreciated hearing our style of music and our stories about making a living doing what we love to do. We know we are lucky. We will return to England and Scotland in July.
After England, we drove to near Salzburg, Austria, where we visited friends we had met at the Buckhorn last Fall. The next day we played a concert at a school, and that night we played in a restaurant. We then did a two day long New Orleans Jazz festival south east of Munich in a lovely lakeside town called Prien/Chiemsee. It was fun even though it rained like crazy and was very cold, in the high thirties to the low fifties, and Ken had a bout of flu. We wished we could have sent some of the rain home as the NM dry season sets in. Now we are in France for the month of June visiting friends, doing some sightseeing, and playing a few concerts, markets, and a Cajun dance. We just participated in a wonderful piano/violin (our friend, Gilles Apap, on violin and Eric Le Sage on piano) concert in a 12th century Abbey in Riom north of Clermont-Ferrand. The acoustics were amazing. Every note was as clear as clear can be. It is one of those experiences I shall never forget. They ended the concert with us and another friend playing. We played two bourrées, a cajun tune and two Tohono O’odham tunes from Arizona.
The sunshine we packed into the suitcase is not definitely not needed here as summer is starting to kick in and it’s warm and only a bit humid and we can see the sunflowers starting to get tall and itching to burst into fields of yellow, green and brown. We will save our bit of NM sun for our return to England in July.
It is interesting to revisit these three countries each summer and see how things change. Driving habits for instance. Since they made heavy fines in France for speeding, it has become a little bit better. But people still follow too close, and do crazy things everywhere. At least the speed limit is 130 K tops. But everyone is always in a big hurry, and they take too many chances. Just like at home, everyone seems to have left late and is trying to make it up on the road. On the autobahn in Germany, it is now illegal to flash your lights at people in front of you to get them out of your way, and the Germans are very skillful and considerate when it comes to staying to the right when they are not passing. The speed limit goes up and down from 40 mph in a work zone, 50-60 mph on hills to 90 mph in the open, to no limit at all in some places. There are speed cameras everywhere and if your picture is taken you know it, because you see the flash and you will receive your ticket in the mail, complete with your smiling (or otherwise) face and your license plate number. We don’t know what happens with a rental car. In England the limit is 70 MPH on the motorway, 60 on the back roads, and 30 in town. Parking is a challenge everywhere. In Bath we spent 8 pounds parking in one day and it was free between 6PM - 9 AM. Some meters cost 30 pence (about 50 cents) for 10 minutes.
Days off on tour are spent finding an internet cafe to keep up on our business (we brought along a laptop but since it is a Mac, and we have AOL and are not compatible with globalnet, we haven’t figured out how to go online). Resting, reading, practicing new material (there is a very different repertoire we play in each of the 3 countries) and sometimes sightseeing fill the precious free hours. Now and then we can fit in a museum, or a Celtic site (Avebury in England is a favorite) or the standing stones (menhirs and dolmans in Britanny and other parts of France) and other such things. I hope to go to a huge bamboo reserve south of Ales where are now. We have seen a fantastic musical instrument museum in Anduze. But there is not too much time for extracurricular activities. It is usually - get up, eat, drive to where we are playing, do a sound check, find some food, play, then sleep. The new day brings a similar schedule.
Food - aaah we do get lucky here. For all of you who still think English food is awful, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Pub food can be very nice, grilled meats and fresh steamed vegetables. Fish and chips in the right spot (especially in a seacoast town) can be excellent, and there are some really good Chinese and Indian restaurants. It is best to ask the locals for a restaurant recommendation. In people’s homes we are fortunate to enjoy traditional English food. A Sunday dinner was a roasted piece of meat, yorkshire pudding, and six vegetables- asparagus from the garden, steamed cabbage and cauliflower, mashed carrots and swedes (rutabaga) and potatoes, both roasted, and boiled, sprinkled with parsley. Sometimes we buy Belgian endive, a red pepper, a few carrots or a cucumber, some cheese (that is an amazing experience here) and perhaps a bit of ham or a cornish pasty or a sausage roll and have a jolly picnic. It is hard to find picnic tables/pull off spots in England, but easy in France and Germany. In France you can literally find everything, (including cooked entrées) at the open air markets, and save a lot of money by not eating in restaurants. We travel with nut butters, which we on celery or carrots for lunch. But it is hard to find non-hydrogenated/non palm oil nut butters.
In England, if we have been put up in a B&B, we usually eat the cooked breakfast because it lasts us until dinner - bacon rashers and local sausage, eggs, grilled mushrooms and tomahtoes, and either baked beans, or potatoes. Up in the north and in Scotland, you also have the choice of blood pudding or kippers. The French breakfast is very light on the other hand, just a few pieces of baguette, and perhaps a croissant and jam and butter. The French and Germans usually eat a hearty lunch (often the big meal of the day). In Germany the breakfast is a delicious assortment of little rolls and dark breads, sliced meats and cheeses, and home made jams. Quite often, this is also the meal in the evening (abendbrot).
The French meals are usually fantastic. A simple one last week in a roadside cafe, consisted of a first course of crudités (grated beets, grated celeriac, a bit of potato salad, and a piece of ham), followed by a simple omelette, flagolet beans cooked with thyme, carrots and onions, and pommes frites, cooked at the right temperature and hence, not at all greasy or heavy. For dessert there were a variety of fruit tarts, or homemade vanilla ice cream with a hint of cinnamon (and we love fresh ground black pepper on vanilla ice cream). All for 8.50 euros. Speaking of pepper, we travel with a film can full of freshly ground, NM grown, cayenne pepper. It is the easiest way to add a bit of spiciness to rice or potatoes or eggs, and keep our taste buds happy. Sometimes we cook a red chile sauce (we also bring some NM red powder) or a gumbo or jambalaya at someone’s house. We have sometimes cooked NM or Cajun meals to go with concerts we have presented, to give the flavor of the music. In France, the mole sauce (chile, chocolate, and ground nuts) was not appreciated except by a few adventurous folks. In general, the quality of the food in these three countries is very high. The meats are very fresh and not wrapped in plastic dresses if you actually go a butcher. The fruits and vegetables are high quality and very nice. There is a lot of organic (biologique) produce available in supermarkets and at the market stalls. It is not cheap, those days are long gone.
We are very lucky to have so many friends over here to stay with in between the concerts. If it were not for them, we couldn’t afford to be here so long. But many of them have found their way to Silver City and have enjoyed the things we all know there. We are hoping that there is a sister city in the future for Silver City. Does anybody know anything about this process?
We are far away from our life in Silver City. The thing that connects our two lives is the music we play. Wherever we are, music is the common denominator. Our rolling postcard fills us with visuals that repeat and repeat like a rewound film. Reconnecting each summer with our friends, some that go back forty some years, is something very special of course. We have both found distant cousins in Germany and Scotland and have yet to even look in Ireland. Unravelling the puzzle of who we are and where we have come from is a fascinating thing. The music is also like an old friend that constantly grows and matures. Over here we sometimes find ancestors of the New Mexican and Cajun tunes as played by local musicians. Ah yes, the old friends. Isn’t that one of the little pleasures of life.
Until the next installment, love to you all in our lovely New Mexico, Ken and Jeanie