Some Parts of the World Pt. 1
Singer-songwriter BettySoo battles elasticity in Italy
8:34AM, Thu. Jun. 2, 2011
Guest blogger BettySoo is writing about her current European tour, which is taking her across Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. You'll see dispatches here over the next couple weeks.
First lesson in Italy: Pack stretchy jeans. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I packed one pair of skinny jeans, but I obviously wasn’t picturing myself in yoga pants amid effortlessly fashionable Italians, thanks to several days of eating in Tuscany.
Thank God the one stage outfit I packed for my month-long European tour includes a skirt with an elastic waist. I’ve edited my insanely detailed Tour Packing List, which would make Rick Steves proud: items #90 and #93 have changed from “One Gig Outfit” and “Jeans” to “Decent Going Out or Stage Clothes with Elastic Everywhere” and “Extremely Forgiving Jeans.”
How do the Italians stay so slim? I have no idea. Maybe it’s the cigarettes. There’s more secondhand smoke on some sidewalks than there is oxygen in a greenhouse. If only there wasn’t so much food. And if only it didn’t taste so good. Here is a typical conversation at meal time in the beautiful coastal town of Piombino:
“Are you hungry?”
“Sure, we can eat. Yes, thank you…”
“Would you like a big meal or something light?”
“Something light would be nice.”
“Okay, sure, maybe just a salad?”
“Sounds wonderful, thank you.”
Ten minutes later, she brings each of you salads the size of LuAnn platters, each with 12 slices of prosciutto, large clumps of fresh mozzarella, four slices of fresh brown bread, a full sliced tomato, shaved parmesan cheese, olives, and a light dusting of arugula. Needless to say, I ate ALL of it.
Then there was the “light spaghetti meal,” which consisted of spaghetti with tomatoes, served alongside olives, canned artichokes, fresh artichokes, fennel, leeks, two kinds of bread, a semi-hard cheese, four kinds of soft cheeses (which they eat in bites the size of a large fig, so it fills your whole mouth), salad greens, prosciutto, white wine before dinner and red wine during dinner, then cantuccini, gelato, and vinsanto for dessert. At the pizzeria in Como, I was the only one who couldn’t finish my 16-inch pie.
The tour took us all over northern Italy: Cantu, Como, La Spezia, Milan, Riva San Vitale (barely across the Swiss border), and our favorite spot, Piombino. One notable hang in this Tuscan town is Gattarossa, which overlooks the water from a scenic point and whose open air café benefits from the year-round temperate weather. If you drive the curving highways amid the mountains of northern Italy southward through Tuscany, a large industrial scene rises to greet you, obscuring one of the true gems on Italy’s western coast.
An ancient town with existing buildings and walls dating to the 14th century, Piombino built its economy in the last century mostly on steel. However, the steel plants which used to employ tens of thousands of workers now employ only a couple thousand, leaving the local economy struggling, with hopes of attracting visitors to build a new economy based on tourism.
While I personally dread seeing the effect heavy tourism can have on such a picturesque city, I also understand the town’s desire to create incomes for its residents based on the beauty of the scenery. Piombino still possesses unspoiled coastal views and dramatic hillsides unmarred by the mansions that descend upon seaside towns when discovered by the visiting wealthy. So let’s all go to Piombino, visit the shops and historic sights, and eat what the season offers. Then we’ll leave, without caving to the temptation to ruin the view for future visitors.
Second lesson in Italy: You’re not going to look cool, even if you try. Our last day in Italy sealed this lesson for me. Doug and I went to a regional television station for an interview and to do an in-studio performance. After trucking our instruments and gear across a large pedestrian area, we arrived at the station, where I excused myself to change clothes and throw on a little makeup. When we met, the host looked me over and asked gently, “BettySoo, don’t you want to go to the toilette to change your clothes?” Cue the sad trombone.
Third lesson in Italy: Leave your wristwatch at home. No one seems to mind if you’re a little late in Italy, and they certainly aren’t impressed if you show up early. Everywhere I visited, folks weren’t there yet to witness my punctuality anyway, so rushing around only led to a whole lot of “hurry up and wait” situations.
I have a feeling this might be different in Germany.
BettySoo and Doug Cox are touring through Europe this spring and in the UK for several weeks in September. Both musicians tour year-round in North America and abroad to promote their project, Across the Borderline. Their new album, Lie to Me, comes out this summer.