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Turnham Green to Zurich

Venice to Rome via Stockholm
Kampala, the Tender Talents Magnet school
Australia to Hong Kong
Taipei to China
Buenos Aires to Miami

USA, Canada and back home

16 Sept to 28 Sept

From South to North, Buenos Aires to Miami

ChurchBuenos Aires is as far away from Hong Kong as it’s possible to get.  There was a two day stopover in Los Angeles: time to do some laundry and a chance to go to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl before checking in at 9am at LAX for a flight via Atlanta.

Delta blow
Ever since I heard Astor Piazzolla’s album, Zero Hour, I’ve wanted to go to Argentina.  I arrived after an overnight flight, still jet-lagged from the flight from Hong Kong to LA.  Mind you, I was pleased to have arrived at all.  I’d checked in at LA at 9.30am the day before and flown to Atlanta to pick up the plane to Buenos Aires.  At Atlanta they breezily informed me that my flight was oversold, I didn’t have a seat and that I was number four on the standby list.  If the word “sorry” came up in the conversation, I missed it, and, even though I’d checked in eight hours earlier, it was no reason to assume they were going to let me on the plane.  I was very controlled, kept all my darker thoughts to myself, and was thrilled when they rewarded my restraint with a seat.  Thank you so much Delta!

You know when you’ve been tango’d
Almost as soon as I arrived at the home of the very lovely Livingston family, my Buenos Aires hosts, I was out of the door again and on my way to hear a tango recording session.  I spent the afternoon in the control room listening to six of Argentina’s best tango musicians recording half an album.  Absolutely wonderful stuff.

Families reunited – an Argentinean link
That evening was a very special one for me.  I’d noticed a Diego Juritz popping up in Google searches of our family name and, as there aren’t many of us in the world, I had to track him down.  Diego arrived and we exchanged family histories.  Mine left Posnan in Poland to emigrate to South Africa in the 1820s.  Diego’s grandfather had a Spanish name which implies that the family was living in a Spanish speaking part of the world before he was born.  The biggest surprise for me was that Diego’s family is Jewish, mine is gentile.  More research required, I think.

There was time for a very brief busk in the park at Recoleta outside the main cemetery.  Very cold and windy but I did earn 16 pesos (about £1.80) in about as many minutes.

Moments in Montevideo
After two very short days it was time to move on to Montevideo, a beautiful, slightly dilapidated city, quite tranquil after Buenos Aires and especially so after the Far East. I found a great spot to play in the pedestrian mall in town.  A bit chilly and, although fairly good in the remuneration department, not nearly enough to cover my hotel room.

The director of the opera house who passed by sent a message inviting me to play outside the theatre that evening before the first night of Carmen.  I went along there, partly against my better judgement as I have found concert halls not to be great spots, and was proved right again.  After 20 minutes, and some harassment from the security guards who hadn’t got the message that I was going to be there (I’d spent about half an hour confirming this arrangement with the theatre beforehand). I gave up with about 25 pesos – about $1 – to show for the effort. 

It was getting dark when I returned to my old spot in the mall.  By now the crowds had dwindled to street traders packing up for the day, a few drug addicts and a small group of street children hanging about.  After about an hour, I’d earned enough to buy supper.

The next morning the alarm went off at 3am and I got my taxi to the airport.  The ride was, shall we say, exciting - at about 60 miles an hour through the town with a driver too busy to take much notice of red lights as he scrolled through numbers on his mobile phone!  (Sounds more like London drivers to me, Ed.  That’s a comment from one of my backroom team of two at home.)

Rio rocks
The MazeI arrived in Rio later that morning and followed Bob Nadkarni’s instructions to The Maze, his guest house on the favela in Catece (the one obligatory destination in South America, this place, see - ignore the fact that the website is sometimes out of date; Bob’s a busy man wheeler-dealing with top film companies on how they should compensate the favela for using it as a film location).

After a completely open schedule in Montevideo, Rio was pretty busy.  My first gig was a street in Carioca in downtown Rio where I set up amongst the card sharks. I really wasn’t sure how Bach was going to go down here so was really pleasantly surprised when a small circle formed around me.  I was joined after a while by Helen from the BBC, who lent a touch of glamour to the proceedings (it always helps to have someone holding a mike at you in the street – people stop just to work out what’s going on).

That night was jazz night at the Maze with a great band of Brazilian and German musicians who put up with my attempts to scrape along with them.  Bob, in his role as life and soul drifting by, Caipirinha in hand, repeating his mantra, “It’s got to be fun”. It’s a phrase that could sound a little hackneyed but, coming form a former BBC war correspondent who had witnessed the massacre at Shatila in Lebanon and, in his time, been on the wrong side of the occasional firing squad, it carried a certain ring to it.

FavelaRio’s favelas are notorious hideouts for drug gangsters and generally pretty dangerous places to be around.  The Catece favela, accessed by motorbikes that carry you up the steep winding road, is perfectly safe.  A large SWAT headquarters stands at the top of the hill making life very difficult for anyone trying to get up to no good.  Houses that started out as corrugated iron shacks about 25 years ago are now piled on top of each other.  There is constant building going on here.  If you run out of room, the only way to go is up which is what everyone is doing.

Bob had arranged an informal concert on the one bit of land that was sacrosanct – the five-a-side football pitch.  I was joined by the local samba drum group, one of those organisations doing a great job by giving local kids the opportunity to join something other than a gang.

I’d been invited to do a concert at the Museo de Republica.  The organisers had done a fantastic job on publicity and, when twice as many people showed up as could be seated, we had to move outside to the museum’s gardens.

After that there was a chance to wind down a little.  Next day was a concert for a local international school and then a dash up to the Corcovado for the ultimate tourist photo overlooking Rio.  Sod’s law that the clouds closed in just as we got there.  You can see the results on the web page.

Getting from Rio to Caracas proved to be less than straightforward.  I arrived there after a detour to Miami feeling a little shattered.  This was the part of the journey that I’d been really looking forward to: a chance to visit El Sistema, or FESNOJIV, the world’s leading social music programme.

I had time for a very quick snooze at the (cheapest I could find) hotel before Rodrigo Guerrero from FESNOJIV arrived to pick me up.  Rodrigo said that he was sorry that, because the children were just getting back from their summer break, they were still just at the warming up stage.  Could have fooled me.  For the next three days my vocabulary consisted mainly of three words - fantastic, amazing and wonderful – and I don’t believe I overused them.

The hotel was rather a different matter with a sink with one more than the usual single hole in it to let water out, chewing gum in the carpet and intermittent hot water.

fiddlerEl Sistema is a huge organisation with some quarter of a million children currently involved in their programme.  These programmes are beautifully organised and, despite the scale of the operation, every child is important.  The kids work amazingly hard yet they all seem to be enjoying it and, when I heard a group rehearsing Mahler, I could see why.  I really couldn’t say that there was a single highlight to the visit; it was just all wonderful.  The kids’ choirs, the new concert hall, the instrument workshops and the various orchestras … all just so impressive.

Back down to earth (or water)
Day two and the hot water supply gives out at the hotel.  I spend 10 minutes trying to clear an airlock in the pipes by forcing cold water down the open hot tap – to no avail.  Have a cold shower – apparently very good for the immune system, or so I am told.

I was thrilled to have a brief meeting with FESNOJIV’s founder, Maestro Abreu.  A true visionary, he still has huge ambitions for the future of the Venezuelan project.  I believe he aims to have a million children involved in their programme.  FESNOJIV is now helping local authorities in, amongst others, Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany set up programmes and I was very pleased to hear that they will offer Musequality any support they can with our projects.

Rodrigo’s last piece of advice to me was to leave plenty of time to get to the airport in the morning.  Caracas’ traffic is terrible and any time after 5am can see you stuck in a traffic jam.  This meant leaving the hotel at 4.30am.

I wake up and stagger into the bathroom.  Never mind the lack of hot water.  ANY water would be nice.  No such luck.

Just the ticket … to Miami?
I arrived at the airport in bags of time.  Just as well. My flight is delayed by six hours. I have two TV interviews set up in Miami which I can’t miss so I run to the American Airlines desk at the other end of the terminal.

One seat left on their plane at 9.30am – business class - $1,150.  Ouch.  I hand over my credit card.  Doesn’t work.  Hand over the debit card.  Nope.  The woman explains that this is because my credit cards have chips in them.  I hand over my emergency card – still no joy.

American Airlines in Caracas are shut so I can’t pay for the ticket there by phone.

I ring Jane in London.  She calls American Airlines in London.  I then think that it would make more sense for me to speak direct to them.  Jane is now on the phone for 40 minutes so I ask another friend to text me the AA number.  I get through to the London office but they won’t open up the reservation if someone else is dealing with it.  Eventually Jane rings back.  She’s managed to pay for the flight.

I go to the counter.  “My wife has paid for the ticket.”  “Thank you sir.  Can you give me the credit card that you used to pay for the ticket?”   “It’s in London - with my wife.”  “I’m sorry, sir, but without the card I can’t issue the ticket.”

I decide that banging my head on the counter may not necessarily move this situation forward.  Instead I have a brilliant idea.  “Could you try my card in another machine?:  Two minutes later she’s back with the ticket and I’m $1,150 poorer, but I will get to Miami on time.

Am I catching up with it – or is it catching up with me?
I realise that I’ve not done very well at updating my blog but, to be honest, I’ve had much less time than I thought I would with a lot of travelling, wandering around finding pitches, constant emails to set up the next few days and, I admit, some socialising.  A detailed account will follow once I’ve had time to edit it to something readable.

Now, catching up with my blogs a little late, I’ve got just 10 days to go and am really looking forward to getting home! I’m on a stopover at Rochester Airport on my way from Chicago to Boston.   Yet another 4am start this morning but, with luck, that will be the last one of the trip.

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