Palm trees and hot tubs
Once upon a time, an English symphony orchestra decided that an ornate Tuscan church would make a lovely alternative to their usual London concert venue, and a plan was hatched forthwith. A plan that came to the ears of a lady writer and her chap, with an invitation to pack their violins and play Rachmaninov and Elgar, and a new fangled piece by someone they hadn’t heard of, along with the Londoners. The seed had been sown, and a road trip for two in an elderly convertible was now well under way. The roof had been down since Mont Blanc and the perils of reapplying sun cream in a moving topless car, sampled. The ‘shake and spray’ cans of rather lovely smelling sun cream had seemed a good idea at the time of purchase, but with hindsight was not the best option in a breeze. Fortunately, the black leather car seats suffered no adverse effects from their impromptu spraying. In fact, the navigator earnestly assured the pilot, they looked more glossy, once it had been rubbed in.
It was rather a shock to one’s road trip routine to finally arrive at one’s ultimate destination in Tuscany, and to find oneself amongst quite so many people gathered in one place. An entire hotel given over to an orchestra and their entourage, was pretty extreme compared to a pilot and navigator team. When one meets up with a bunch of musicians, especially a symphony orchestra’s worth, there is an unwritten rule that one should share a bottle or seven and party in a friendly, carefree kind of way. And so it was that once rehearsal and dinner were done we found ourselves in an outdoor bar resplendent with palm trees, sofas and hot tubs, scoped out earlier in the day by the first bassoon. Given the quiet of the streets as we walked into town to the bar, not to mention the slow motion tea dance taking place behind enormous windows in one of the hotels along the way, the bassoon’s party oasis was quite a contrast.
I did not feel the need for a hot tub experience that evening, and sampled instead a cocktail or two, marvelling that such a place existed in the middle of town and that it was able to lose a symphony orchestra within its candlelit, white-canopied opulence. The lead ‘cellist relaxed on a bed, chatting, looking as if at any moment she would be fed peeled grapes; a host of boisterous violinists clinked glasses at the bar. The supermodel promotional staff stalked about on skyscraper heels, flicking their long hair and smiling at those who needed to be smiled at. It was a people watcher’s paradise. The Mafioso next to the bar was an expert, watching the happenings of his clientele unfold before him. He conducted his staff discreetly with a wave of his hand and a jerk of his dark head, working his jaw constantly, like a cow chewing the cud.
We seemed to have hardly drawn breath before the concert was upon us. Just time to squeeze in an open air opera trip, by a lake with a view, and a trip up into the mountains for rest and relaxation in a restaurant garden, with a view. Italy does do scenery exceptionally well. The concert church looked very old and history-worn at first glance and was, needless to say, bursting with beautiful Baroque grandeur on the inside. It was all too easy to become distracted with the elaborately painted ceiling and miss out a vital violin entry or two in rehearsal, though I had my concentrating head well screwed on for the concert. In actual fact, the light became so dim as the evening unfolded that it was tricky enough to see the notes on the page in front of me, let alone the artistry above my head. The temperature in the church was somewhere in the thirties. The audience fanned their faces with their programmes as they listened, tugging shirts and skirts away from their bodies in an effort to waft precious air onto hot skin. The orchestra, unable to waft, was in danger of melting, Salvador Dali like, into their white plastic chairs and making an unspeakable mess on the floor. It was a risk worth taking though, to play Rach two with my road trip pilot in a Tuscan church.
All good things must come to an end, apparently, and ultimately my road trip did too. Not before a visit to a Tuscan beach though, that we had to pay for the pleasure of lying on, but actually, in the end, didn’t. That was a first time experience for me, doing a runner. Well, more of a silent, single file fast walk actually. And not before driving through the south of France, stopping in the most divine hotel in Antibes, with its balcony and view of the Mediterranean. I could have lived there. In fact, I was secretly a little disappointed that the Old Lady’s electrical gremlins, which caused the pilot and navigator serious anxiety approaching Antibes, were resolved over night. If all good things really must come to an end, then roof down, sunglasses on, is the way to go.