10351444_10153488672671521_2520539601490101178_nHere I am in the most beautiful city in the world, which I am returned to for my friend Andre’s wedding to Anastasia (that’s me at the reception singing two songs for them). Oh my God! This place is so friendly. People smile at you in the street as you walk past. Sometimes they say things like “Good morning!” Or “I’ve got two magazines, would you like to read my other one?”
Palm trees like giant green pineapples with flared leaves jostle with the bougainvilla and other blossoms I don’t recognize on the sidewalks. There are trams whizzing along Church Street near where I’m staying. Actual trams. That real people commute in. It would almost be too much (I think there is such a thing as ‘too beautiful’ just like there is such a thing as ‘too thin’ though perhaps not ‘too rich’) if it weren’t for the mess of cables all over the place, which stops it from being too chocolate boxy.

Yes I had to endure a 30 minute ride in blazing sunshine over the glittering Bay to Larkspur just to rehearse
I can’t believe I used to live here and then moved! Then again in the non chocolate box department, it would be hard to beat where I live in New York. Young men on every street corner doing pull ups on the traffic lights. Giant pit bulls straining at their leashes to get at the chicken bones strewn all over the street. The faint smell of … well, let’s just say, not eucalpytus trees and blossoms. And God forfend you should leave your brolly in the vestibule of Balthazar’s when it is bucketing it down as I did once (and ended up looking like a wet tee-shirt contestant by the time I got home).
Hah! Take that, San Francisco! With your clean streets and your people smiling at you as you walk past, and your ferry rides across the Bay to get to your rehearsals, and your Trader Joe’s and supermarkets which sell alcohol under the same roof! Not to mention your coffee shops on every street corner in residential neighborhoods, and your specialty cheese stores, And delicious breakfast confections such as those you have tried to tempt me daily at Martha & Bros coffee shop..Er … hang on a minute …

“Welcome to my humble abode — for the evening only!”
Oh all right. I admit., it is pretty fantastic. I’ve had TWO burritos (how come nowhere else makes them like they do here?), and got takeout from my favorite Chinese restaurant in the world — Eric’s on Church Street — the night I arrived. And even the cat I am sharing the apartment with runs to greet me PURRING, when he hears my key in the lock. Although it’s kind of hard to sleep with him trying to burrow in the bed with me at night.
And yes, yes, I am literally stopping in the street to smell the flowers. And I thought it was sweet when a woman on my commute to Larkspur (by ferry — sigh!) sneezed and the entire ferry-full of strangers said “Bless you!” in unison. And the wedding was beautiful. And the bride’s dress was like whipped cream. And her mum’s speech was absolutely hysterical — funnier than Tina Fey! The house concert I did the night before was amazing in a Russian Hill mansion owned by a woman who just loaned it to us (us being me and pianist Dan Zemelman) as a favor. Unbelievable house (and yes, since you ask, I really enjoyed greeting people the door and taking their coats and proffering wine like the lady of the house).

 

YOU in New York at the 55
But being here makes me realize I’m a New Yorker to my very bones. I even walk like one! — going at my normal pace the other day I suddenly noticed I was overtaking everyone on the street. And on my first day here, as i walked into a store, and the girl walking out said “Hello” I had to stop myself saying ‘Hell – oh — oh?” (i.e., in three syllables with a giant question mark on the end) — although I would never take someone else’s umbrella. So even though it is gorgeous (and even the weather behaved — for the most part) …. And even though I know Joni Mitchell would disagree with me ….
Ah but my heart cries out for you, New York
New York, I’m coming home
Will you take me as I am, strung out on San Fran (might be all those trips to Martha & Bros coffee shop)
You make me feel good rock ‘n ‘roll band
I’m your biggest fan, New York, I’m coming home
See you soon, I hope.
Love Tessa
NEXT UP: Joe’s Pub, New York, on October 8 (Yes, Yom Kippur! When all of New York is staying home for crying out loud!)


Okay so Belarus was hands down the most fun I have ever had traveling for a gig. I got to hang out with one of my very dearest friends (Essential Sue) and made some new ones (including Inga, who brought me out there and made it such a success), played with an unbelievably excellent band, taught a master class at the Belarus Academy of Music — my first! — drank lots of Soviet champagne, and had a string of amazing, mostly sold out gigs, playing for wonderful, appreciative audiences. What’s not to love? The picture is of my first concert at the Belarus State Theater — photographed by Yuri Dudinski from the US Embassy.
 
I almost didn’t make it. There was a blizzard in New York and the freeway to the airport was a long line of stationary red brake lights. Thank goodness for my amazing cab driver who, due to some nifty back street driving, put up with my pogo-ing up and down in the back seat, got us there only 15 minutes after the gate was due to close, and only TWICE said, “You should have left earlier!”
 
My friend Selene had managed to find a number at Aeroflot with a human being on the end. A stern human being. At Aeroflot. Who said there was NO WAY ON EARTH they would hold the gate and of course would not give me the number. But pleading tearfully for her to call the gate herself and tell them I was nearly there worked. When I arrived, I ran up to the gate with my arms and legs sticking up all over the place and they closed the gate behind me. Yikes. Thirty people were not so lucky and missed the plane. Then, of course, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for two hours waiting for permission to take off.

This made me late at the other end, where Bellavia (the national airline for Belarus) — after a phone call from Inga — actually held the plane on the tarmac for 20 minutes and sent a bus just for me to take me out to it. She’d told them we had all these sold out concerts that I couldn’t miss, which absolutely explained the mysterious extra special treatment I was getting — people scrabbling to help me carry my bags and being super nice … you know, like I was Elton John or something.  Here is a picture of Inga standing next to the poster she made for our first concert at the Belarus State Theater.

By the way, did I mention how ridiculously beautiful all the women in Belarus are?
 
 
The audiences everywhere were amazing. Many came over and told me that they had been moved to tears. One boy said: “Your music makes my heart sing with emotion!” And an older man turned to Inga in tears and told her: “She sings of the love I never met.” Profound. We got a standing ovation that night. The band, Appletea, was extraordinary — even though we were a septet and could have been an unholy mess. And there were so many young people there. I think maybe because the education system is so excellent so they are very sophisticated listeners. Here is a picture of the wonderful 17-year-old, Elisabeth, who speaks perfect English, which she learned from the Internet, sold my CDs and was generally indispensable! Note fab t-shirt which Inga had made.

That t-shirt has my face on it!

 

Speaking of young people, the students in the master class at the Belarus Academy of Music were fantastic. Not only did I hear some wonderful singers, but they were so deep. 

Workshop class at Belarus Academy
One young woman gave me a beautiful interpretation of the meaning of Summertime, when I asked her to tell me what the song was about to her. She not only talked about the horrors of being a slave but imagined how a slave mother would feel singing to her baby who was going to grow up to be a slave. But, of course, Russia has a tough history so it’s no wonder its people are so soulful. And there was so much raw talent in the room. It was very exciting to witness.
The next two nights — Sunday and Monday — we played at a little club called Graffiti, where the crowd was even younger and just as attentive — in spite of much Soviet champagne and vodka (“It is Russian tradition!”) and where it was so sold out the owner had to give us the second night for the overflow and still people couldn’t get in. I absolutely have to go back! Even the smoking was bearable!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Audience listening.
island video, minsk
Click the picture to watch the video on YouTube

The teeny club, Graffiti, was kind of like the 55 Bar, only a much younger clientele. And instead of wine and beer everyone was quaffing Soviet champagne (delicious!) and vodka. The tables in rows in front of you were where all the young people were sitting, looking super attentive and dreamy (okay, some of them were kissing!). And then at the back near the actual bar, where the videographer managed to squish herself in, was where the talking element sat. But it wasn’t too bad actually – from the stage, that is. Listening to the video, it isn’t ideal where the camera was. 

And here is some video of the second night — us doing The Island by Ivan Lins and the Bergmans. I think there are more videos to come. Also, I must chop the first concert video into separate tracks because I have that too and there is no talking. 

 
More please! Next stop … Moscow!

 

Home! New York! Despite driving rain, the 55 Bar was absolutely packed for both sets last night. And, as well as our beloved regulars, there were tons of new people there…. I felt utterly redeemed after California. Fire. Rain. Lonely days that you think will never end. Nothing stops New York-uhs, especially 55-uhs.!

THIS IS A PICTURE I TOOK OF NEW YORK IN THE RAIN A FEW WEEKS BACK. NOTE PEOPLE WALKING ABOUT IN IT.

So are just some of the reasons we love the 55:

1. It is an amazing place to work out new stuff and experiment in a no-pressure environment in front of a loving, receptive audience! Last night I threw all this stuff at Jason and Victor that we had never done before, Round Midnight, Just One of Those Things and other [gasp!] STANDARDS — which I almost never do but have, lately, rediscovered after a long long rest — and they did an great job, unfettered by the spectre of people sitting with arms and legs crossed miming “show me!”

2. You never know who will be in the audience. The President of East Timor came one night — admittedly he was brought by a friend, but it was very exciting and everyone wanted to know who was there who could possibly need the (extremely OBVIOUS) bodyguard who was at the bar looking like one of the baddies in the Matrix (too muscular for his suit with a curly wire protruding from behind his ear, like Agent Smith). THIS IS A PICTURE OF AGENT SMITH. Not at the 55 Bar.

3. We always sell CDs — although last night, RIGHT IN FRONT OF someone who had emailed me in advance to ask me to save my one remaining copy of Nights of Key Largo (Venus), I sold it to a young woman who wanted to buy the CD with “the sex song” on it (AKA’The Island’) because I thought he wasn’t coming. Yikes! Luckily, my latest shipment has arrived from Japan and is ready to pick up. To hear/buy any of my CDs check this link Tessa’s Music

4. The bar staff — led by their fearless leader, Tara — serve up magical potions with diverse names like “beer” and “wine” and “cocktail” but which all have the same marvelous effect of making you feel kind of warm and squiffy inside!

5. I’ve been playing there for more than six years every month, since the late and great Queva (that’s a picture of us hugging) gave me my first gig there in May 2003

and turned it into a “home” gig for me. Other “regulars”  include jazz giants Chris Potter and Mike Stern, and Motema (who put out my latest CD Obsession) label-mate, the amazing singer-songwriter KJ Denhert.  Queva once surprised me with a huge birthday cake and free champagne for everyone on a gig I did near my birthday, and then she did it again to celebrate my third anniversary of playing there.

6. Everybody knows your name! It’s like Cheers with good music. They even know my mum! (Pictured with me below — at the bar … hic!)

My singer friend Kate Geller suggested I write a blog for other singers on how to take care of your voice on the road. So … here are my travel tips for singers, for voice/health AND general tips – which actually apply to all frequent fliers. Feel free to add tips and comments.

PACKING
1. I never go anywhere without my ‘travel scarf’. This is a huge wool scarf which doubles as an extra blanket on the plane, since the doll-sized plane-issue ones generally don’t cut it. Or sometimes I roll it up and use it as a back support or a second-rate but better-than-nothing neck pillow (see item 11).

SCARF/BLANKET/NECK PILLOW/GLAMOROUS SHAWL, BACKSTAGE WITH TESSA AND DANIEL KRAMER

2. Unless you are appearing in the same place more than twice, don’t take more than two — okay, three — outfits. And no more than two pairs of shoes and earrings/accessories. You think you will but you won’t use more than this, and the more you take, the more time you have to faff about in the hotel room in front of the mirror. Not to mention carrying it all… which brings me to ….
3. I take in my HAND BAGGAGE (more on hand baggage in a min) one of those felt covered freezable cold packs because carrying heavy bags has been known to throw out my back — though not since my new suitcase (see item 7). I find the cold pack works for me. Some of you may prefer hot ones. Find out which is best for you and pack one — or both. Also pack in your hand baggage good painkillers — just in case.
4. Okay, so hand baggage. Always pack at least one copy of all the music you will need and take at least one box of CDs in your carry-on. That way, when you’re waiting around for your bags at the airport and they DON’T COME (see Letter From Tokyo 1 in February folder of this blog), you will be covered. Naturally, since you have taken this precaution, your bags will arrive. But don’t chance it! The two (packing what you need in your carry-on bag and the checked luggage arriving on time) are definitely related, This is known in England as “sod’s law” — though I am not sure what a sod is in this context.
5. Pack a pen with your passport to answer all the landing forms questions, like “Are you bringing any guns/bombs/plutonium?” “Did you pack any livestock?” “Have you petted any rabied animals while you were away?” “Are you carrying more than $10,000 in cash?” (Hah!) “
6. Take small toiletries items in a separate quart sized ziploc bag and put it in your carry-on case near the top so you can whip it out when you need to.
7. My four-wheeled suitcase has changed my life. CHANGED MY LIFE! It practically pushes itself, spins in every direction and I would marry it, if I weren’t already taken — by the very man who (perhaps realizing I would develop “feelings” for my wonder-case) advised me not to buy it. Now I want a four-wheeled carry-on because my tiny carry-on bag (with only TWO wheels) feels like it weighs twice as much as the giant one. I bought it at Marshalls, or Filene’s Basement or Daffy’s, for $79 – reduced from $300-something. I have had many cheap suitcases over the years and they are not worth the savings. Trust me.
8. I have a packing checklist on my computer which I update before and after every journey. When I am going out of town to perform, I print it and check off everything as I get to it. It has on it things to pack, things to do (like charge cell phone or empty trash, or freeze/throw out perishables). I have two checklists — one for domestic and one for international travel.
9. Take a hairbrush, minimal makeup (i.e., lipstick) and sunglasses in your hand baggage. I was once met at the airport at 4am (after 20 hours traveling) WITH TV CAMERAS! Thankfully I had my hooded coat to cover up as much as possible of my face and hair but …. Let’s just say that now I know why movie stars don’t go anywhere without their movie star glasses. And, since that experience, neither do I!
10. I take an atomizer filled with water to spritz my face throughout the flight. It helps to counteract the dehydration far more (and less messily) than moisturizer.
11. My other best friend when I travel is my bead-filled neck pillow. I sewed a sort of tie on it so I can actually WEAR it. This also means that I don’t absent-mindedly drop it on the bathroom floor because I forgot to remove it. It allows me to sleep sitting up on a plane. Without it, I can NOT sleep. During a six-hour layover at Moscow airport recently, I tied it into a ball so it remained firm, put it on my 4-wheeled suitcase, leaned forward and … I slept! Just little 20-minute cat naps at a time, but it helped. I won’t pretend I arrived “rested”, but without that little pillow there is NO WAY I would have been able to sleep at all and I would have been completely fried on arrival.

NECK PILLOW/WARMER WITH NATTY TRIM

12. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD! What’s this doing under “packing”, right? Or have you been to Siberia? (see Siberia blog). Or, indeed, Japan (see Letter from Tokyo 1), when I woke up with jet lag at 2am and, after counting the hours until breakfast discovered that it was soup and rice. Or maybe your alarm didn’t wake you after your 25-hour journey to get somewhere and you missed breakfast. Or you have a ten hour layover at an aiport like Palermo, Scicily (I know, Italy, right? What happened?) or Moscow SVO. Last time I went to Russia, I took four protein bars (giant kind) and five balance bars. Even though I stayed at two nice hotels, I needed them. In fact, I ran out. So pack food – breakfast bars, protein bars, whatever you need for sustenance. And if you find yourself in Siberia, fake a dizzy spell near a supermarket! The one I went to was better stocked than any supermarket I have ever seen in the world – though of course telling the difference between sour cream and yogurt in Cyrillic is a bit of a challenge.

EXTRA PLANE STUFF
1. Last time I went to London, it was snowing there and here, so my boyfriend told me to call ahead and check for cancellations. The flight was canceled and rescheduled. So I got to spend an extra day with him, instead of sleeping on my suitcase at the airport or — worse! — doing what singer Sheila Jordan did recently, shelling out another $60 to get a cab back home to wait for the next flight. Yikes! If the weather looks the slightest bit dodgy, call ahead.
2. Plane background noise is deceptively loud. This is one of all sorts of things I never noticed before I was a singer, but after an 8-hour flight during which you didn’t let your seat-mate get a word in edgeways, a girl/boy can actually lose her/his voice!

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
It is fabulous to be your own instrument — which is what singers are. BUT … the downside is, if you fall ill … you can sound like … well, imagine a saxophone that’s been left out in the rain for a week. Sadly, people won’t realize that NORMALLY (of course!) you sing like Sarah Vaughan at her peak!

SARAH VAUGHAN AT HER ‘CRAZY AND MIXED UP’ PEAK

Your frog in the throat off notes — assuming you can even get a note OUT — will be their first impression and, you know what they say about first impressions. I read recently about a Broadway actress-singer who was disparaged by a reviewer for not being able to hit the high notes. People! She had a cold!!! Warning: I once sang with a horrible cold. Not only did I sound like shite on the nite, I then couldn’t SPEAK for six weeks afterwards. You really don’t realize how amazingly useful speaking is until you lose your voice. Writing notes to the people in the supermarket when you can’t find something in the aisles is surprisingly laborious – especially when they can’t read your hurried handwriting. And the phone … fuggedaboutit! One of the most frustrating and emotionally trying six weeks of my life. So you should do everything you can to head off ANYTHING respiratory at the pass. Here are some of my health tips:

1. STAY WARM
Okay… remember that scarf? This wonderful invention was actually created to keep your neck warm. Opera singers wear their scarves everywhere and that is because they are effective! Staying warm is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Or is it that getting cold can make you ill? Whichever, a scarf is your best friend! If I have been in the cold and am not wrapped up enough or (horrors!) went out without my scarf, I ALWAYS have a boiling hot bath when I get in. This also works. Raising your temperature is the secret, apparently. If a boiling hot bath or shower is not an option (See Letter from Siberia post in 2008 folder to read about traveling 16 hours between gigs in Siberia on a train. No bath. No windows.) Get out your travel scarf and roll yourself up in it.
2. VICK’S FIRST DEFENCE
My friend Adrian Hedley told me about this. It works! That Siberian train journey I mentioned … the musical director got a horrible cold and actually lost his voice. He also had this habit of getting right up on you to talk. But First Defense, a nasal spray, kept me healthy. No, I didn’t squirt it on him when he got too close! (Only do this in a medical emergency!) I squirted it on me! Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I don’t think so. I think First Defense is a UK product. If so, the American equivalent is probably ZICAM. I personally like the candy version. I also really like the swabs — but it is absurdly expensive because you are supposed to throw away the swab after each swabbing.
3. SPEAK UP
If anyone gets too close to you, don’t be afraid to put a hanky over your mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I am a singer and I can’t afford to get ill.” People understand. But, even if they don’t, you have to do it. I haven’t had to do this yet, but if I sat next to someone on the plane who was ill I would ask to switch seats. It might feel a bit rude, but you can do it nicely. At least you’re not squirting them with First Defense.
4. VITAMIN C
Someone once told me that taking 1,000 mg doses of Vitamin C every hour or so, gets rid of a cold quickly. I have found this very effective. I don’t think you need to spend a bomb on Airbourne. My very favorites are Rite Aid chewable Vitamin C tablets with acerola. They are kind of tart, which seems to work on breaking down the — ahem — phlegm right away. I use Vitamin C like this as a preventive and as a cure.
5. REST
If you arrive somewhere and you get ill, go to bed. Even a few hours of BED-rest — i.e., actually lying down — really helps. When I was in Beirut I got flu on the first day and, canceling the gig not being an option, spent every day in bed and dragged myself out of bed every night to sing. Okay, I wasn’t my best for the first few days, but I got through it. This was before I knew about the wonder-drugs, First Defense and Zicam.
6. KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
Most germs are communicated via the hands. That means whenever you touch a doorknob, or hold a railing, whoever held it before you, if they had a cold, will have left those germs. It is a singer’s lot to be a germ-phobe. My friend Sue, who is not a singer, but knows far too many than is probably good for her mental health, carries sachets of hand-sanitizing wipes with her everywhere she goes. The seriousness with which she once handed me one when we were out somewhere reminded me of the time my mum told me she was VERY worried about me being in America: “I hope you are wearing at least SPF 30!” (It is my duty to look young for my age, so that no one wonders how old she is). I keep one of those mini hand sanitizing sprays in the same zipper pencil case where I keep my passport – and SPF 30 dabber.
7. GET THE FLU JAB
Since I lost my health insurance (don’t get me started!) I haven’t yet discovered where to get these done, but in my opinion, better to be safe than sorry. I used to get one every year. However, there are health warnings so you should weigh the risks. And, it goes without saying, if you are ill just don’t have injections of any kind.
8. STAY HYRDATED
Drink plenty of water during a flight to stay hydrated. In fact, it kind of ‘oils’ the vocal chords to be hydrated at all times, flying or not. So you should be drinking at least eight glasses a day. Call me a baby, but I find it easier to drink more water if I use a straw.

These tips are not in my book Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better (Random House-Vemilion). But it has many others on navigating your way around the freelance artist’s life, and you might know some of the people in it (including me). www.amazon.co.uk

mipac poster

Me in Red Square for the first time.
Me and Santi Debriano

Moscow was truly amazing! Despite my fear that the 1753 seats of the absurdly gigantic venue [the Moscow International Performing Arts Center] would actually only have TWO bums on them, the gig was one of the most fun of my life! “Do you think there will be anyone there?” I said, mournfully, to the presenter’s assistant in the dressing room, where I was putting on makeup JUST IN CASE anyone had come. And she laughed and said: “Oh yes!”

When I got out there, people filled all of downstairs and some of the side seats and Francis (my percussionist, who I had shipped in from Tokyo, who has better eyesight than I do — okay, what I mean is, isn’t too vain to wearhis glasses) said that the upper deck was pack-ed (it is two syllables when he says it, cos he is Brazilian) and that there were maybe 1500 people there. The booker and all his staff were hugging me in the break, having been perhaps almost as concerned as I had been BEFORE the gig that the scruff bag (me) who’d got off Aeroflot after the 9 hour flight from hell the previous day was going to be able to pull it off.

I had been terrified that the entire thing was going to be awful. The guys (and me) were exhausted and two of them had arrived on the day. And Aeroflot is indeed the worst airline I have ever flown (the man next to me groaned for the entire flight — I mean ACTUAL groaning cos he had forgotten his jacket and it was minus 10 in the cabin… which was also ominously creaking the whole way). But although between sets and before the gig the band members were semi comatose, on stage they were like those toys you press the bottom of and they collapse and then you release it and they spring upright. They were amazing. You would never in a million years think they had just landed. On Aeroflot!

And the audience was WILD! Cheering. shouting ‘Bravo’ mid songs, clapping at the opening bars of songs they knew (including White Room). I felt like they knew me already and I knew them. Whatever people say about Russians being cold … well they must have been lying. Someone else said the audience wouldn’t speak English. Another flagrant untruth. They were even laughing at my jokes (though someone told us afterwards that the people next to her kept nudging her to translate certain songs). And at the end we got a STANDING OVATION. From 1500 people. I felt like Elton John or someone (only with my own hair). And I was surprised how comfortable I felt. Then again, the hugest ham I know (me) comfortable in front of a 1500-strong cheering crowd, who got my jokes too? Duh!

Oh, and the POSTER outside!!! Santi saw it as we were driven to the venue and said “Jesus! Isn’t that you?” I took a pic (okay, several pics — for Mum, of course!).

But I wish I had brought more CDs. By the time Irina had got out into the foyer, they had already sold out of the only 60 I had brought (imagining I would be carrying home 58, since I’d been expecting only two bums on seats). And the next day in the hotel a couple, who had been at the gig the night before, saw me in the foyer and bought two that I’d forgotten to give the presenter and the woman was kissing my photo and was nearly in tears telling me (in Russian) how much she had enjoyed the gig (an expressive people!).

Me and Francis on the subway escalator


Otherwise, I am having a bit of a difficult time not speaking Russian. The subways (Greco-Roman temples outside and unbelievably beautiful — like the Met or the National Gallery or something — on the inside) are swarming with non-English speaking (how dare they?) Russians who, not realizing I am, in Russia, a massive big star of Elton John proportions (only with my own hair), are impatient with my plaintive: “Er… can you point on this map here to where we actually are now?” — perhaps because they don’t quite believe I can’t see that for myself. (I am a directional dyslexic). In fact, the reason I am an expert on the subway stations here is because I have seen them all by now, having been to the end of most of the lines before realizing, oh, I must have missed my stop. And since I can’t speak Russian and say: “Don’t you realize I am Elton John?” I am being shouted at a lot by subway staff because it turns out there are distinct exits and entrances and I can’t read which is which (yikes!). And I went to bed hungry last night cos no one in the hotel speaks English and the room service menu is in Russian. Sigh.

This is on stage at MIPAC
It’s all the more difficult because the written language bears a striking resemblance to Double Dutch (which I also don’t read), with letters back to front and upside down and words with NUMBERS in them (I am not kidding!). Plus, unhelpfully, the subway stations only have the name written on the wall ONCE, so if you miss that once, you have no idea which station you are at. Okay, I admit, not that I would have known even if I could have seen it, but you might. Luckily, there have been a few kind, hand-holding types who have been able to direct me in the right place, since I clicked that the thing to do was show them a picture of where I wanted to go in my guidebook! (a picture is worth a thousand words — especially words that have upside down letters and numbers in them).

My room at the Four Seasons hotel!

I did manage to score a night at the Ritz Carlton, on the back of writing an article for British ELLE on Moscow. I will tell you that I woke up the next day and I literally looked ten years younger. The bed was amazing. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Or, as we say in Russia…. RRY [upside down R] 3XX FLJXCVB-ING!

 


LETTER FROM TOKYO 1

July 2007 So … Does anyone out there know whether Mercury or some other planet of vital importance is in retrograde? First I spent the flight over sitting next to two unaccompanied children with very small bladders. I had the aisle seat. (Need I say more?) They could also sleep in any position (which meant me spending much of the flight with a small foot in my face).

But they were sweet when they were awake (and not needing to pee). They engaged me in conversation about elephants and robots (who doesn’t love robots?) and other things that I think more adults should talk about. And they were very sympathetic when I described my deprived childhood (Mum would not let me have an elephant for my birthday when I was four. Some cock and bull excuse about the garden not being big enough!). By the way, for those of you who know my mum, she was on top form when I saw her in London this time. She didn’t mention the dress not being red — though, as we hugged hello, she did whisper in my ear, “Stand up straight, darling!” Mums! Got to love them! (Or else!)

Back at Tokyo airport the woman at immigration wouldn’t let me through cos, knowing I was being picked up, I hadn’t written down the address I was going to. I made up a hotel — as advised by a very nice woman who was on her way to … the Ritz Carlton! Of course I didn’t look like I could possibly be the type to be staying there, being somewhat crumpled and baggy eyed with a foot shaped dent on the side of my head. But I wrote it down and she let me through anyway, thank goodness.

Then, after waiting patiently by the only moving baggage carousel for miles until there were no bags on it (this took some time), I was a bit concerned when my luggage was not forthcoming. “Oh this is the Texas plane baggage!” they explained. “Your bag is over by the counter.” Phew! However, it turned out, no one had seen my OTHER bag. Yes, THAT bag. The one with the microphone and music and shoes in it. The one with my ice pack — which would have been very useful right now cos — guess what? — I just put my back out! (stress-induced). The one with all my makeup in it! Yes. THAT bag that STILL hasn’t arrived and which Newark (who I blame entirely, since everyone at Narita was adorable) seems to know nothing about. As I walked out I noticed I was the last person to leave the airport.

At the hotel (no, I am not staying at the RC) I fell asleep with no dinner and woke up at 2 am and began literally counting the minutes (3000 or maybe 300, I’m not very good at sums!) until 7 when breakfast was served. At dead on 7 I ran to the dining room where I found a buffet breakfast of … er … soup, shredded lettuce, some sort of roll with currants in it and (thank God!) toast! And (more groveling thanks) coffee! Okay, weak coffee. “People! This coffee is weak!” (Of course I didn’t say that, but don’t they realize a New Yorker is staying at their establishment!). I know, I know. You’d think a girl would be grateful for anything after waiting FIVE HOURS to eat.

You would be wrong.

But it could have been worse. It could have been my friend’s journey from hell which was a catalogue of disasters culminating in being trapped at the airport (due to thunderstorms) for three hours with no AC or food or drink and mournfully looking out of the window to see another waiting plane on the runway struck by lightning and burst into flames! On second thoughts …no … actually culminating in getting home to discover she had forgotten her door key! So you see why I’m wondering about Mercury retrograde.

But the good news is that, while shopping for ice packs, I noticed that shampoo is indeed available for under five dollars!Contrary to all reports that it would set me back $100 a bottle.

Ekaterinburg Philharmonic audience

December 11, 2008 I finally arrived in Moscow. The Siberian tour was wonderful and I sold out of CDs and met lots of wonderful, soulful Russians. Okay, so the food wasn’t ideal. But everything else was amazing. We even went to a Scottish jazz pub (see picture of me standing between two hunky Russians in kilts). They even had a flag! Though there seemed to be a bit of confusion because it was actually the Welsh flag. I felt kind of sad as I said goodbye to everyone last night. We were traveling with another two bands who were opening for us. A certain bond happens when you travel en masse on the overnight trains in Siberia.

But although the cab ride from the airport to the hotel today took longer than it did to fly in from Siberia I am THRILLED to report that this hotel is POSH! Already had room service (expense be damned!) and am planning to avail self of the gym and maybe even the sauna later. Yes a gym and sauna and beauty spa are on the premises. I even have internet (free). There is wood. Real wood furniture. Two bedside tables — though a single bed. And a bath WITH A PLUG so I can actually have a bath. Luxury beyond imagining. As for my fellow musicians … Richie, Oleg and Daniel were heading off for another overnight train trip and the St Petersburg musicians were taking a 36-hour (this is not a typo) train trip back home. I thought of them all as I walked up the massive corridor here towards my room. I’m afraid I started laughing. Aloud. All alone. Not at my fellow musicians, enduring more travel horror (as if!), but with JOY! Pure joy! It’s the contrast, you see!

A nice glass of red wine later, I am feeling more like “La Souter” — as they called me in the Italian newspapers in Palermo. Although I must confess that playing at Philharmonic Halls throughout Russia does make you feel pretty grand. When I walked through the foyer to get dinner, the crowd that was still there after the concert burst into spontaneous applause as I passed by, waving and smiling in a queen-like fashion (having been instructed at the start of the tour by Daniel to act more “like a star!” As you can imagine the Queen of Ham doesn’t need to be told things like this twice!). Little did they (or I) know that dinner was going to be shredded boiled egg on mayonnaise and grated carrot on top of bread followed by spaghetti with no sauce, cos I don’t eat pork, which meant I missed out on the giant slab of pork that was served up with it. Or was that why they were applauding. 

But I had lovely emails today from people who said they witnessed people in tears at my performance (nothing like hunger to make you sing with feeling!). And I scored the massive poster outside with my picture on it. It is now all folded up in my suitcase, weighing more than everything else combined. Next up is the gig in Moscow club on Friday followed by a surprise Russian TV appearance on Saturday. Eek! I think I’m scared, but am hoping “La Souter” shows up for that one. And then it’s back to London and then HOME HOME HOME! I can’t WAIT! I hope you will be able to see us in January. Then I go to Korea for three weeks, and then back for February (save the date for Valentine’s Day at Cornelia Street — FANTASTIC food! — and also on Feb 25 at the Kitano, as well as 55 on Friday, Feb 13!) Meanwhile, more pictures from the tour.siberia 2 023 siberia 2 027 siberia 004 siberia 014 siberia 039