Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Road To Amsterdam

So, as I neared my twenty-second birthday, my travel buddies and I climbed into Jim's old Volvo, and we headed north, driving out of Morocco on our way to Amsterdam. I guess we were in no great hurry, because we made numerous sightseeing stops along the way.

One stop I'll never forget, was in Granada, Spain, where we toured the Alhambra. This is a fabulous grouping of fourteenth century Moorish palaces and gardens. I was dumbstruck. I had never seen, nor have I seen since, such a breathtaking display of architectural beauty. The water flowing through the formal gardens, the fountains in the tiled courtyards, the exquisite craftsmanship of the Moorish decoration, the elegance of the structures, the perfect balance between nature and art, all seemed to create a very convincing vision of heaven on earth. This was the incredibly advanced Islamic civilization that gave us algebra, and actually ignited the European Renaissance.

There were lots of interesting stops as we drove through Spain and then France. But we finally arrived in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. We ended up in the Centrum, which was the old part of the city. Built along canals, it looks a lot like it did in Rembrandt's paintings from the seventeenth century.

That's when Jim started telling me about "cracked" houses. Apparently, Amsterdam was in the middle of a housing crises. Many houses had been evacuated, so that they could be torn down to make room for new construction. The problem was that the city had gotten way behind on their rebuilding schedule, and hippies from all over the world had secretly moved back into the abandoned houses. Some had been living there for years! The city would smash the sinks and toilets, and tear out the electrical wiring to prevent people from moving in, but the kids were pretty inventive.

And so, I found myself living with a motley crew of international hippies, in a "cracked" house in Amsterdam.

(to be continued....)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Take Me To The Casbah

And so I entered Morocco. Passing through Tanger on my way to Casablanca, it was like walking into a dream. It was the Arabian Nights. It was a thousand years ago. The maze of winding streets, the braying camels and donkeys, old bearded men wearing robes and turbans, the beautiful haunting calls to prayer, the open-air shops selling colorful spices, the tantalizing smells of food being cooked outdoors. In the cafes, the business men wore red fezes, drank glasses of sweet, bright-green mint tea, and smoked from hookahs.

All around me, the crowing of roosters, the incessant honking of horns, the fabulous rhythms of north African music playing on radios, mixed in with snippets of Jimi Hendrix. Now, at this point, I was spending a few days in the Medina, or old section, of Casablanca. I'd met up with a couple guys I'd hung out with in Spain, and we shared a room to save some money. They had heard about a beautiful seaside town called Essaouira. We decided to check it out.

It took a long bus ride down the coast to get there. I dozed off and it was night when we finally arrived. As I stumbled off the bus and rubbed my sleepy eyes, I saw a vision I will never forget. The sky was ink black and brimming with the brightest stars I had ever seen. There was a golden-yellow crescent moon hanging low over the whitewashed walls surrounding the little town. It was perfectly silent, except for the gentle sound of distant waves on the shore. This was Essaouira.

After the cacophony of Casablanca, it was a vision of stillness and peace. It was a timeless vision. It was a place Moses or Jesus could have walked by. My heart opened
up to this place. I settled in and spent a couple weeks there.

I had some nice adventures there in Essaouira. One night, one of my friends decided he could make opium by boiling down some poppy bulbs which we could buy in the market. We eventually drank the miserable stuff. I can't say for sure if it really worked, but I do remember dancing and laughing all that night down by the fishing boats.

One day, while sitting and reading in a cafe, I met a really nice Australian guy named Jim Robinson. And he had a CAR! Jim currently lived in Amsterdam and he said he'd be happy to drive me and a few of my friends up there. He even said he could find me a place to stay up there FOR FREE! Well, that closed the deal. Two guys and a girl I was with piled into Jim's funky old Volvo, and we headed north.

(to be continued.....)


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Into Africa

We took trains down to the very bottom of Spain, and finally reached the Straits of Gibraltar. Our goal was, of course, every hippie's goal during that romantic era– the enchanted, exotic, ancient land of Morocco.

But as we approached the border crossing, we kept hearing strange rumors. They weren't letting any more hippies into the country. Could all our travels be in vain? I mean, let's face it, we did look pretty much like hippies.

As I stood face to face with the Moroccan border guard, he took one look at me, a scruffy, unshaven, long-haired American kid, and said, "no hippies". I had to think fast.

In my broken French, (in what was, till then, the only really useful result of all my high school French classes) I said "si je vais couper mes cheveux....?" (if I will cut my hair...?). And he seemed to say, it's possible.

So right there in the parking lot, I borrowed someones scissors, and using a car window as a mirror, I cut my hair. Hell, I'd come all that way and there was no way they were gonna keep me out of Morocco. Amazingly, it worked! They let me in! And my wonderful Moroccan adventure began.

(to be continued.....)


Monday, August 17, 2009

Travels In Europe and Africa

When I graduated from music school, I was twenty-one. I left Detroit, the city I'd grown up in, and went to live in Europe for six months. First, I spent about four months in London, working diligently everyday on composition. But the winter was coming on and my money was getting low, so I figured I better head south.

I'll never forget getting on a plane in cold, rainy, dark, and miserable London, and it seemed like about twenty minutes later walking off that plane onto the warm, sunny, brilliantly blue-skied, Majorca, an island off Spain, in the turquoise-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Wow! I'm sure I must have said to myself, good move, Ross, this is more like it!

Slept in caves in Ibezia (when it was the Isle of Hippies), and had a little romantic adventure in the back of an abandoned school bus on the very first night (which is more than I'd had in my four months in London). Back in Barcelona I met a couple fellow travelers and we headed down the coast of Spain. Destination Morocco, North Africa.

(to be continued....)


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dancing at The Teatro Zinzanni

Last Wednesday, my band, The University of Soul, was rehearsing at Secret Studios in San Francisco, and actor/singer Sally Kellerman stopped by. We sang a few songs together and generally had a great time. She invited me to see her perform the following night at the Teatro Zinzanni.

I shared a table there with Henry Marx, the owner of my label, Music Force Media Group, and Robert and Rory, the owners of The RRazz Room. It was a lot of fun, but I made one BIG MISTAKE. I was sitting right next to the stage, and before long, I was literly pulled onto the stage, and in front of several hundred people I had to do a weird, improvised dance with Sally! I basically felt like a complete idiot, but everyone seemed to get a big kick out of it.

But the most amazing thing was the magician in the show. During a break, he came over to my table, took off my glasses, put them on the table in front of me, and proceeded to make them levitate off the table. It was totally unbelievable.

After the show, Henry, Sally and I hung out back stage and met the really fascinating, international circus performers in the show. As I looked around, the whole scene made me feel like I was on the set of a Fellini film....

Lots of love,