Even the very word “Venice” conjures up ideas of Shakespearean romance and Italian adventure in my mind. We were due to play in Venice and I was pretty excited about it. We were to leave the car on the dry outskirts of the town and get picked up by gondola. It was the highlight of the tour. The tour was pretty tiring, and I'd eaten far too many kinder bars than is good for a person. I was severely looking forward to drifting along a Venetian canal, peeking at Venetian strangers from behind a Venetian mask.
Then I found out that the venue had imploded or gotten waterlogged or something. To be honest I didn’t actually care what had happened. All I cared about what that the gig had been moved to nearby Mestre. There are no canals in Mestre. It’s like Venice’s industrial little sister. Foiled. Disilusioned. Crestfallen.
The venue in Mestre was a kind of cellar come art gallery. I took issue with the sound engineer (who was also the art gallery owner and the bar man). I know about sound. I’ve been a musician all of my life. I am also a woman, and I think that is why I was evidently deemed to be clueless by this man. I have little talent when it comes to mind reading, especially mind reading in Italian, but I fathomed that this engineer/art gallery owner/bar man thought that by expressing a desire for less volume out front, I was overstepping the imaginary line that fences ‘woman songwriter’ safely away from ‘man sound engineer’.
The gig ended at about 1am. I’d driven from Pisa that day, which took about 5 hours (plus an additional hour of driving round Mestre in a loop, trying to park). Also, we’d have to be leaving at 7am the next day to get to Rome. I was pretty keen to get to bed. There were three of us in the band. When enquiring into the sleeping arrangements the sound engineer/art gallery owner/bar man had in store for us, I found that the situation wasn’t good.
I wouldn’t say I’m extraordinarily highly strung when it comes to sleeping, but I do love my own space. I’m not a fan of sharing beds. It’s not restful for me you see. I am too polite - I would rather lie still with my arm going numb under my body than risk waking someone up by wriggling around. It turned out that this sound engineer/art gallery owner/bar man imagined that we’d all three of us share one small fold-out bed in his spare room. When I learned this I wanted to cry. Tiredness pervaded my very pores and the thought of only a few hours of semi sleep before the 8 hour drive to Rome the next day made me want to die.
Nevertheless, you become accustomed to such things when you’re a not-very-famous travelling musician. I accepted my fate and sat waiting for the sound engineer/art gallery owner/bar man to finish his (apparently last) glass of wine and take us to our place of slumber.
An hour later and he was still drinking and laughing with his friends, and we were still waiting. It was 2am. We decided it best to load up the car and wait in a conspicuous fashion with the engine running. This we did, and on he chortled and laughed and quaffed the wine away. It was time to take issue with him again. I am English. My idea of taking issue with someone goes something like “excuse me, I was just thinking, it’s nearly 3am and, you know, we’re pretty tired and we’ve got to drive to Rome tomorrow so I was wondering if maybe we could leave and maybe get a little bit of a snooze, don’t mean to be a pest I’m so sorry for asking”. This had about as much impact on him as a feather falling on a Rhinoceros’ bum. The final straw was added to the already weighty load when I asked for the ump-teenth time if I could go to sleep and they laughed at me. They laughed at me. I can’t decipher Italian conversations well, but I knew they were laughing at me. Their pointing at me was what gave it away.
It was past 3am. I was really, really, really upset.
Finally, his girlfriend begrudgingly tore herself away from the party and we were asked to follow her in our car. She was leading us to their house. My heart actually ached I was so hurt. The last thing I wanted was to sleep in their house, unwelcome, crammed into a tiny bed with two other people, for a tiny amount of time, then get up and drive to Rome.
I followed her car with my aching heart and my throbbing tiredness, dreading the imminent future with every ounce of my being.
All three of us thought it at the same time... Then We looked at each other. As the woman who's car we were following went straight on at the round about, I dropped down into second gear and sped off in the opposite direction. I didn’t know where I was going. My sat nav was perplexed. Adrenalin. Get away car chase!!! In my mind’s eye I saw her checking her rear view mirror and wondering where we were, pulling over to see if we were trailing behind, turning back to see if she could find us. But I was heading full speed in the opposite direction.
Through the mountainous roads I drove. Throughout the night and all through the morning. We stopped at service stations and I drank espresso like there was no tomorrow. I ate more kinder bars.
There were cargo lorries full of goods, taking bends far too wide and sandwiching my little hire car between the cement central reservation and their giant wheels. My vision was blurry. Adrenaline kept me happy for about an hour then it was heavy going. We decided that dancing around in a car park might help. Unfortunately there were police men watching us and we got questioned and searched. I think they thought we were on drugs. What were three young English women doing at that hour, excitedly driving a hire car full of instruments and kinder confectionary in a southerly direction? Luckily, all our paperwork was correct and proper due to my amazing organisational abilities, so they let us go. And anyway, apart from upsetting a few wannabe Ventians, we hadn’t done anything wrong.
We arrived into the dazzling sunshine of Rome just before midday. I was friggin' tired but we were, miraculously, alive. Furthermore, I still had my dignity.