Middle European Tour Journal-Serbia to Vienna

From Vladichin Han, Serbia to Vienna

Over breakfast in the lovely courtyard of the Hotel Han, our driver (standing far right in this photo), who let us know straight off that he had 2 passports and there by could "go anywhere" (he has a Serbian AND Croatian passport) was grumbling. "Tziganes (gypsies) don't like me..mumble mumble.." Evidently Sascha felt he had been drinking too much, too much to drive us safely. Sasha calls his boss and chews him out royally. Hence, "gypsies don't like me." We are soon met by Boban's boys, driving a formerly Austrian Ford Transporter van, their normal of mode conveyance in Serbia, all 14 of 'em with gear.

We drive briskly to Belgrade and to catch a plane to Vienna. Along the way our still grumbling driver points outs various bridges and public buildings along the route. "Here..NATO..bomba..." I reckon I hear this 7 times, so when Merlin suggest we uncork the "Yellow Wasp" slivovitz he picked up in Belgrade airport, I heartily agree. It's 11 am and we've begun a trend. By 1 pm we're passing the "famed" Beograd Air Museum, featuring a wide array of rotting detritus courtesey former Warsaw pact aircraft dating to 1949, before entering the airport area proper. We bid a final farewell to our ever grumbling, most likely gypsy-hating driver.

When we originally arrived at the Beograd Aerodrom a few days prior and were promptly charged 55 Euros each to enter the country (up from 10 Euros just the week before,) we joked sardonically " I wonder how much will it cost to get out." 800 Dinar (12 Euros) is the answer. It's the "Airport tax" to get past the Serbian Customs officials. Now we need to get actual Visas to get back in for our appearance at the Ring Ring Festival here in Belgrade next week. The ever helpful Bojan says don't worry, he'll take care of it and we, completely out of our safe American element believe him. (As always and true to his word, he did indeed make all arrangements.)

The Vienna experience was all and all a little too weird for words. It's a live concert broadcast for the opening of the Vienna Festival Week, evidently quite a big deal. Austrian State TV (ORT) is set up to broadcast the concert ALL over Europe.

Normally the opening is your standard old fasioned, snooty classical performance. But in recent years they've tried to spice it up with high concept and a more adventureous talent booking policy. This year they've employed a movie production company to try and pull it off.

This year's high concept theme is of Vienna as the central station of the "Station Europa." Very, very "Spockets" we come to understand but we are being paid to play along. Paid quite a bit actually. Our best guess is that we're here to speak for Jews and Boban the Rroma, in some small way somewhat absolving these racist bastards of thier barely contained contempt of our two cultures. (uh, sorry, but these Austrians want you to think that they did the world a favor, and come to think of it, they're the victims of WW2. But I digress...) The music we're playing is all from Bregorivich soundtracks, essentially stuff he lifted from Serbian bands like Boban, so it's nice to see him getting a paycheck too.

There are to be THREE DAYS OF REHERSAL, as in all Austrian functions nothing will be left to chance. But we come to find that majority of the music for the important grand finale is all sequenced on tape. Even so, they are micro managing everything to the littlest detail. It is after all, going to be broadcast all over Europe. The real work for us is getting with the locals we're supposed to play with in the concert proper, which turns out to be more work than we originally planned.

Highlights Include:

The combined Brotherhood of Brass is to collaborate with a local acapella hip hop quartet called Bauchlang. Sounds awful on paper, but they actually rock. One fella makes a beat box sound with his nasal cavity, holding the mic up to his nose. Susan inquires if that's a normal thing or something he came up with. He figgers it's all his own, and I'm apt to agree. Rehearsals prove daunting what with 3 languages in play, but Frank, chaos being his element, pulls it off very well.

A local cat named Otto Lechner was hired on accordion to play a number with us; great player, even better rancountuer. We get the idea to break down to a smaller combo for his tune adding Sascha and Dragu from Boban's band to back him up, though I sit it out. Sounds very cool and looks even better.

A hip local string trio called Trilogy layed out a pretty cool version of Kraftwerk's "The Model." One of the violin players wears a shirt that from a distance looks like a "CK" Calvin Klein shirt, which in actual fact says "FuCK me." He even gets it past the censors unnoticed. We decide we like him.

There's a really lousy Kraut rock band on the bill as well, shipped in from Germany. Though they are nice kids and some of us hang a bit after the second day of rehearsals. Sweet kids. Dumb as potatoes.

As our rehearsals are scheduled for evening time, to reflect the exact natural light that will be present show time, we have our mornings completely free. Frank, Curtis and I pay a visit to the famed Nacht Markt. We find many goodies to basically provide our own craft service for the rehersals as these lousy Austrians don't. Organic tomatoes, spicy sausage and goat cheese, fresh bread, olives and dried kiwi and other fruits are on our backstage menu. Not to mention sauerkraut.

In the Market, we meet Leo the famed local kraut and gherkin maker. That's a whole story on its own. We take many photos of his stall and decide to make him his own web site.

Since I am on a diet and all I decide to walk my ass off. In a city with so much culture I decide to start with the Modern Art Museum, filled with cutting edge and avant guard works , and end in the Ferdinand I exhibit at the National Museum across the street, filled with suits of armor and Rembrandts. Four and a half hours and I'm museum out (and they we're over 10 bucks each to enter so now I'm broke.)

Just prior to our big performance, Curtis takes Frank and me to the best schnitzel house in town. (Weiner-schnitzel, get it?) An amazing little joint called the Figmueller. As is evidently the custom there, the waiter basically tells us what we're having, we nod and he brings us what he thinks we should have. And it's great. A 15" round pork steak beaten to a thin pulp, lightly breaded and pan fried, served with a lemon slice, a fresh salad and red wine. Whoo-eee.

Amazingly the show actually goes well. The whole square is packed to the gills (around 17,000 they reckoned) and evidently millions are tuning in at home as well, as it was broadcast live on all the German speaking chanels in Europe. Each individual act's segment is great though the big grand finale is just a soulless and corny as it was rehearsed.

Here's a preveiw from the local paper:

In the morning Boban's Hungarian bodyguard- drivers meet us at the hotel to take us to Szeged Hungary.