Food & Folk

Saturday night I found myself at an enchanting potluck/folk concert at a bed and breakfast in the Italian countryside. Like many situations I find myself in, the evening commenced awkwardly.

The B&B owner, Giovanna, had invited friends, couchsurfers and members of the local English-speaking Meetup group (of which I’m a member) to listen to a house concert performed by English singer Jack Stafford and American artist Emma Hill. The hostess picked me up quite early, so, waiting for the other arrivals, we drank tea and chatted in her kitchen as her cats scampered around. (In case you’re curious, I brought a lentil/rice dish to the potluck—better than it sounds!)

After about an hour, Jack strolls in complaining of a lack of heat and hot water in his room (he and Emma are couchsurfing with Giovanna for two nights). He’s been touring around the world for the last 15 months, originally with a suitcase. Now he’s down to the clothes on his body, his backpacker’s guitar (small!), a bicycle and a pocketful of vitamins and ghee. He tells me he’s just come from Rome so I ask what he did there. “Oh. I’m way beyond touristy things. If you want to talk about that you’d best wait for Emma.”

Oh. Excuse me, Mr. World. I didn’t realize that owning a few pairs of pants and securing temporary housing made me so square. And I asked a general question about your whereabouts—you must have done something in Rome, or why were you there? Finally, I can’t stand when people automatically dismiss anything that might be classified as touristy. I mean, for crying out loud, we weren’t talking about Dollywood (which I would totally go to), we were talking about Rome where another word for tourist attraction is HISTORY. Oh, P.S. I then discover that he has an iPhone while my mobile barely makes calls, so who’s really keeping it real?

Haha. OK, so we were off to a bumpy start but at some point Giovanna leaves and Jack breaks out his guitar and starts playing. Holy shit, this is intimate, I think. He’s not serenading me or hitting on me in any way, but a one-on-one concert is pretty intense. He plays me a few songs he recently wrote in Greece and after that, we become friends, other people arrive and the wine flows.

The concert itself was quite magical. Jack and Emma, who met while Jack was on tour in Portland, Oregon this summer, sang folk songs in a candle-lit room for about 20 of us. Here I am on this B&B/farm in the middle of Italy listening to music that reminds me of Brooklyn and Amherst, Massachusetts. The show brought back memories of a trekking experience I had in Thailand years ago. We were miles and miles away from anything, and after our host passed around a bottle of moonshine, he brought tears to our eyes with his rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads.

I bought Emma’s CD. I love her voice and she gets points for being on NPR’s Morning Edition in September (OK, for a JetBlue story, but still. I have confidence her band Emma Hill and Her Gentlemen Callers will eventually appear on Weekend Edition). Also, she comes from a tiny Alaskan town (population 100*) reachable only by plane. Alaska rarely gets positive press, so I’m happy I met this hippie troubadour who ameliorated my impression of our 49th state.

(* Needless trivia: Alaska, America’s largest state, has less than 700,000 people in total. Connecticut, the third-smallest state in the U.S., has 3.5 million people, making the Constitution State the 29th most populous.)