My name is Keegan McInroe, and I am a singer-songwriter from Lubbock who’s been living in Fort Worth off and on since 2001, when I began my four years of study at Texas Christian University. Over the course of my 10 years writing, performing, and recording original music, I’ve played hundreds of shows and traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Europe. My latest tour is taking me to New York City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague, Barcelona, and dozens of stops in between. Whether you’re an independent musician like me, a fellow budget traveler, or simply a reader who loves a good tale from the road, Texas Troubadour Abroad –– my (mostly) weekly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.
“Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them.” –– Francesco Guicciardini
The sun is shining brightly on this early morning in the idyllic seaside Italian city of Trieste, and I have been sweating out last night’s multitude of bitter-sweet Campari Spritz cocktails, walking the streets for over an hour, bag in tow, guitar on back, searching for a café with WiFi.
At the beginning of my tour, I made brief mention of the potential internet difficulties in Italy and noted I would return to the subject at a later time. This morning’s exercise has provided me an immediate and existentially pertinent occasion.
In most every country I’ve traveled in, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Burger King, and other similar chains offer free and convenient WiFi connectivity. Often you don’t even have to enter the establishment. You can stand right outside and link up.
This is quite convenient in my particular situation, as I am traveling with an older iPhone that cannot operate as a proper phone in Europe but does still function as a handheld internet device. I’ve had Verizon suspend my service for the three months I am abroad, and with an internet connection, through What’s App or Viber, I can make free texts or calls to others who also have these respective apps. Or, if I’ve lacked the foresight to copy a needed phone number down in advance, I can get said number from my e-mail or Facebook and search out a payphone to place the call. They are often few and far between, but payphones do, indeed, still exist.
In Italy, however, there is a law about having to provide proof of your identity by way of an Italian phone number, which I clearly do not possess, to access many of the free and public WiFi providers in McDonald’s, train stations, and the like. Starbucks may be similar in this regard, but I haven’t seen a single one in my nearly two weeks here.
As a new friend pointed out the other night while walking the streets of Trieste, Italians need no help with their coffee.
Italy is slow to change in matters of food and drink, particularly concerning such indulgences of national pride as sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and coffee; thus, many American chains such as Subway, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Starbucks, which are found readily enough scattered about many other European countries and their given cities, are not to be found –– or are very seldom to be found –– in Italy.
Many bars and cafés here have their own private WiFi, which can be joined with the appropriate password, but many do not. After walking into six or seven different cafés this morning, I have finally found one in Trieste with internet. Hallelujah.
But what Italy lacks in WiFi ease it makes up for with a seemingly endless array of other pleasures and beauties. This is my fourth time traversing this boot-shaped nation of Dante, Julius Caesar, Galileo, Sophia Loren, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and so many other well-known historical figures, so I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy my fair share of the country’s varied offerings.
I arrived in Italy 13 days ago from France. The misadventures of that train trip from Lyon have been largely documented in a previous writing here. I did, indeed, miss lunch with my friend in Torino, but I also arrived in Verona in plenty of time for my house concert. Due to continual rain, the show was moved from the house in the hills to a more humble yet still lovely abode in the city proper.
During my last tour, Verona was one of my favorite stops, largely due to an incident involving a member of the local band, Michele Bombatomica & The Dirty Orchestra.
Michele, the group’s frontman, and Andrea, the band’s bass player at the time, who has since left Michele Bombatomica to pursue a single floor-tom solo drum project and is sporting one hell of a mustache, had helped arrange a Sunday night show for me at a wonderful dive bar for which they both serve as barmen called Malacarne.
Though Michele was not around to enjoy my last visit, Andrea was, and after my performance at Malacarne, he approached me with an intriguing project. It seems they were –– and still are –– in the process of filming a fake-documentary about Michele Bombatomica & The Dirty Orchestra in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap.
It was proposed that I learn one of their songs the following day, perform it for their camera, and then give an interview, wherein I was to detail how this bastard from Italy (Michele) came to Texas, befriended me, stole my song, and returned to Verona where he was claiming the tune for his own fame and fortune. Free booze were offered to loosen me up, though that was hardly necessary, as I thought it a fine premise and an enjoyable way to spend a day and night I had off anyhow.
I stuck around the extra day to help bring about the desired end, got plenty loosened up, performed the song with passion, said many horrible things about a man I’d never met, and had a riot of a time doing so. I hope to live long enough to see the final product, but some things move slow in Italy, and Michele and company do not appear to be in any hurry to wrap up production.
The song they had me learn is a beauty, and I perform it and relay the story of my penning it quite frequently.
At any rate, Michele was in Verona during the current tour’s visit, and this man whom I had cursed from one end of heaven to the other on camera, was not only my ride from the train station to the house concert, but the following day, the two of us took a road trip together in a car he borrowed from his girlfriend’s sister up north to Locarno, Switzerland, for the Notte Bianca festival, which we were both scheduled to perform at.
Notte Bianca is a city-wide night party with stages set up in multiple squares about town and a variety of tables erected with arts, crafts, clothes, and food available for purchase. Michele and I were booked through a local event and concert promotion company called Risonanza Rec.
Originally, we were to play right on the streets, but a big jazz production cancelled its event due to a fear of rain, which had been plaguing the city in the weeks leading up to the festival, and so Risonanza Rec’s showcase was moved to the nice, large professional stage intended for the jazz show.
This was offered under the condition that the local Zumba group could throw down their high-energy, whistle-blowing, hip-twisting exercise routines for several hours prior to the evening’s live music. It was consented to, and the weather turned agreeable for the day and evening. A good show and a good night were had.
On the drive back to Verona the following day, Michele began regaling me with the adventures of Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time Prime Minister of Italy, who is currently in a bit of hot water due to allegations that he paid for sex with an underaged nightclub dancer, but as his name and his exploits were a recurring theme during my time here in Italy, I’ll return to this former cruise ship crooner in a moment.
Michele and I returned to Verona and Malacarne, where I was scheduled to play a show and he was scheduled to work slinging drinks. Of the bars I’ve been to in Europe, Malacarne is one of my favorites.
Malacarne means “bad meat” in Italian. It once served as an actual butcher’s shop, the butcher having the unfortunate last name, for a butcher, of “Malacarne.” For this reason or another, the butcher didn’t stay in business, and when it was purchased and converted to a bar, the name was left intact.
The interior –– furnished with a diverse range of mismatched furniture, non-operational and antique electrical appliances, a foosball table, an old, gutted television set, varied and unrelated artwork adorning the walls, and other assorted junk haphazardly placed about the four or five rooms that make up the bar –– reminds me of a watering hole one might stumble into in Austin. I would guess many a garage sale, thrift store, and flea market over several years had been frequented to assemble such a collection of decorations, chairs, tables, and couches.
Following the Malacarne show, I had two days off, which I chose to spend largely in the house of Michele, rifling through his CD collection for a much needed expansion of my computer’s musical library and to catch up on some rest and relaxation.
On the second night off, I went up to Malacarne to harass Michele while he worked.
Some details and the tragedy of that evening were committed to song the following day while making my way via train to Fidenza, where I was to perform at the punk-rock bar Arci Taun, recommended to me by good friend and fellow Texas Troubadour, Daniel Payne.
Payne has on occasion handled guitar duties for Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies on some of their European outings, and Bob has played Arci Taun.
This was a gig I was a little apprehensive about due to my musical distance from the punk genre and because the venue is typically open only on the weekends. The good folks of Arci Taun were making a special exception for me as my show was on a Wednesday night. But they were very enthusiastic about my coming, and when I got there I was informed that they seldom get authentic blues music in the area.
A good crowd actually turned out for my show, and I couldn’t have asked for a more generous, responsive, and attentive audience, leather jackets, Ramones patches, and all. Of course, I went heavy on the blues, but I couldn’t help sharing an old country song or two, including Johnny Cash’s murder ballad “Delia’s Gone.”
The following day I made my way to Pesaro, a small but fairly well-to-do city on the eastern coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. I have an old friend from my 2004 fall semester in London who lives there, and I am the Texan Godfather to his and his girlfriend’s little boy. I posted up there for three days and enjoyed their fine hospitality, wonderful cooking, and strong coffee.
On my second day there, I had a show 12 km southeast of Pesaro in Fano, an old city that dates back to before Christ, when it was known as Fanum Fortunae. The venue I was to play at is called Bardàn Bar, and I had the pleasure of performing there in October of 2012, as well.
Bardàn is a small, shotgun bar, and they set me up on their little patio out front, facing Piazza XX Settembre, in the shadow of a large, old clock tower that chimes every 15 minutes or so. All the bars and restaurants along the square have tables set up in the square itself, and so you play not only to Bardàn but also to the patrons of the other establishments and anyone else who happens to be enjoying a stroll by.
The gig went well, and I have booked another show with them in July, when I’ll be passing back through Italy.
On my third night in Pesaro, my friends and I gathered at a home on the outskirts of town and enjoyed pizza and drinks and sunshine and 3-D glasses and good Irish whiskey with dark chocolate accompaniment, and, naturally, more tellings of the wild exploits of Silvio Berlusconi and my introduction to the term “bunga bunga.”
Of all current politicians I am aware of, the life of Silvio Berlusconi has to be one of the most shocking, entertaining, troubling, and extraordinary. While in Italy for my first time back in 2004, I remember an older, bearded Italian photographer in Florence talking to me over several drinks about how Berlusconi was “mafioso.” Each subsequent visit has yielded more and more stories, not least of which is due to the former prime minister’s ongoing endeavors in questionable activities.
In addition to facing more than 20 different court cases during his illustrious political career and fancying himself as quite the singer-songwriter –– he is fairly well known for spontaneously bursting into song during speeches and so on –– Berlusconi owns the Italian football club A.C. Milan and is the controlling shareholder for Italian media company Mediaset.
And then there is the “bunga bunga.” This is the name given to Berlusconi’s infamous sex parties. I was told the term and the idea were given to Berlusconi by his old pal, the late leader of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.
One can find many amusing definitions for “bunga bunga” online, but my favorite I have found today is from Wikipedia: “… a sort of underwater orgy where nude young women allegedly encircled the nude host and/or his friends in his swimming pool.”
Brilliant, and I do hope this column helps the term take hold in the States.
However, when the word was being introduced to me, it was basically just meant to signify the parties, with pools or otherwise, that Berlusconi enjoys throwing wherein young women are brought to entertain the guests with sex in exchange for large sums of money, a job in journalism with Mediaset, or, my personal favorite, an actual position in the Italian government.
To detail the varied controversies Silvio has racked up in his time walking this earth would be a lifetime endeavor, so I will limit my scope to two brief stories, the one beginning his career, the other possibly ending it.
The first was relayed to me on that drive from Locarno back to Verona by my old friend and song-thief, Michele Bombatomica. As the story goes, there was a stableboy in the employ of Berlusconi, then just a very wealthy but otherwise common citizen. The so-called stableboy, who may have actually been tied to the mob, ended up dying in a violent manner, and the signs, as well as a leaked phone call, pointed to Berlusconi’s involvement.
To gain immunity from the law and escape his prosecutors, Silvio got into politics. A delightful, shrewd, and apparently quite successful maneuver.
The second tale –– and the most recent incident that has brought the heat once again on this man of many talents –– told to me first by Michele but then again in further detail by the host of the house party my friends and I enjoyed on my last night in Pesaro involves a young girl. Stage name: Ruby.
In May of 2010, poor Ruby got herself arrested for theft of several thousand euros, whereupon the police discovered she was also in the possession of cocaine. Naturally, they booked her and put her in a jail cell. Silvio, who was in Paris at the time, called the station demanding her release, contending that this young Moroccan lass was the granddaughter of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
The police didn’t believe it was actually Berlusconi and hung up on the seemingly deranged man at the other end of the line. A short time later, Berlusconi’s lawyer showed up, and the girl was released. Silvio, of course, was simply trying to avoid an international incident. One doesn’t jail the Moroccan granddaughter of an Egyptian president.
With all this attention on Ruby, it came out that she was actually a dancer who, while still under the age of 18, had the good fortune of being invited to a real-life bunga bunga before her police bust. Silvio, who was undeterred by her tender youth, or perhaps engorged on account of it, bedded the young lovely and is now as surprised as anyone to discover that she was neither 18 nor the granddaughter of Mubarak.
Silvio. A remarkable and creative man.
After relating this tale to me, our party’s host –– there was a pool, by the way, but it was lacking circling, naked young women –– commented that a politician could never get away with such sexual exploits in the States. I agree with his assessment.
The American people can hardly be bothered about any action, great or small, by our government, unless it involves one of our politicians’ penises.
If there is a penis in the headline, the American public gets interested quick. And if the penis has been used in some questionable way: outrage and a lynch mob.
A president receives fellatio in his office by a woman not his wife, and lies about it, and impeachment charges are swiftly brought.
Fabricating wars, drone-striking innocents abroad, providing heavy weaponry to Mexican drug cartels, eavesdropping on journalists critical of the president, stockpiling three billion rounds of ammunition, weapons, and armored vehicles by an agency whose sole scope of concern is the internal United States, fanning the flames of violence with increased and continual arms sales to the world, supporting Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra front in Syria, dismantling civil liberty after civil liberty in the name of fighting terror, and other such atrocities are all met with blank stares and only mild interest, at best; or, sadly, with wrong-headed, impassioned defenses.
Oh, that the citizens of America would show the same concern and disgust for the giant American phallus being violently rammed down the throat of the world day in and day out that they show for the penis of the American politician!
But the American citizen can hardly be troubled by the unsheathing of said throbbing, bloody member behind the bent-over collective citizenry of our own nation, much less be made to care about who that red, white, and blue rocket is impaling around the globe –– but I am digressing, and quite graphically.
I’ve been cautioned against any talk regarding the exchanging of bodily fluids, and rightly so. Metaphoric or otherwise, these tellings should not be spilled here, so allow me to change the course of this conversation from politics and sex and briefly close this week’s missive with something that may benefit readers more directly than my ranting: Couch Surfing.
After my three days in Pesaro, I returned for two days to Verona, before making my way to Trieste, where I participated in the first official Couch Surfing experience of this tour.
In a few hours, I’ll catch a bus to Celje, Slovenia, where I have a gig tonight, as well as the second Couch Surfing experience of the tour.
Couch Surfing is an invaluable and ingenious resource for the world traveler and for those who wish to bring the world into their living room. The idea is that people open their homes to traveling strangers, providing free accommodation for an agreed upon number of nights, and in the process, share the joys of cultural exchange and international (or national) fellowship.
An individual creates a profile and then can begin seeking couches to surf or offer his or her own couch for others to surf. After an experience with another member of Couch Surfing, one can leave a public reference encouraging or discouraging others from hosting or surfing with the new acquaintance.
North Texas has more than 14 thousand members. I have not had a couch to offer since joining the community in 2011, so my experience has been solely as a surfer. There are, however, often events organized among Couch Surfing members with activities ranging from day-drinking to language exchange programs, so even if you are unable to host a surfer yourself, you can still get out and have an international experience in the comfort of your own city.
I’ve met some amazing friends through the program, many of whom I will see or have already seen on this tour, and I have had many memorable experiences. And while one does hear of such occasional horror stories as a man surprising his female guest with an erect and fully-nude entrance into a room to offer breakfast –– or worse –– all of my experiences have been positive, including this most recent experience in Trieste, where I have surfed two nights.
In Copenhagen last year, I did have a self-proclaimed nudist gentleman offer me the kindness to brunch at his house. I politely declined the invitation to have my eggs prepared for me by a man in the raw, but I appreciated his honesty.
Let your freak-flag fly, and fellow freaks will join you, happy and willing.
June 6, 2013