čtvrtek 29. dubna 2010
Oliver in Royal Albert Hall: A Sentimental Diary of the Fan Who Drove - Part III.
It was busy outside the Hall. Tens of people in anxious anticipation waited in front of the stage exit, hoping for signatures. I stood by the side, waiting for Ante. But he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, two guys with CDs in their hands approached me.
“Hi,” said one of them, tall, attractive, suntanned. “Are you waiting for someone?”
“We sat right behind you,” said the other one, shorter and funny. “We thought you were alone.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“We just want to get some signatures,” said the tall guy, importantly lowering his voice. “I think Oliver is just about to come out this way.”
“I think so, too,” I noted. „But I am not waiting for him.” What a pain it must be for the artists, - I thought, - to be constantly followed by neurotic fans, who wait for the one glance and then worship and interpret it for the rest of their days.
Ante suddenly walked out of the door. The two guys and several other people from the waiting crowd instantly surrounded him, asking for signatures.
Slightly puzzled, I watched the two guys get their CDs signed.
Ante unrolled from the crowd and approached me. “Hi Blanka,” he said. “Enjoyed the gig?”
“Loved it,” I replied.
“I'll be right back,” Ante said. “You can join us in my car for the party, if you like.”
The two guys looked perplexed. “You are friends with Ante Gelo?” said the shorter one.
“He's friends with me,” I trilled. The two guys looked uneasy. “He is cool. But before he quits smoking, he has no chance by me, I am afraid.”
The tall guy made an offended grimace and announced - “I think he is the best Croatian guitarist of all times.”
“I wouldn't exaggerate,” I said. - Gosh! These guys were such a pain. Yes, I did see Ante at the stage, but he was one of many and this was not his concert, after all.
Oliver appeared outside, smiling widely and accepting congratulations. He spotted me and waved. “Hajde, naša Čechyňa!” he shouted happily. “Kako je ti se svidio koncert?”
I showed a thumb up and smiled back. “Odličan! Najbolji u životu.”
Oliver sank into the crowd, signing papers, tickets, CDs and hands. The two guys gave me suspicious looks.
The conductor walked out and stretched his arms, like a sportsman after a thorough work out. He seemed equally unnoticeable as before the concert, only now there were too many people preventing him to simply walk away. My two guys were immediately after him.
“Could you please sign my ticket, maestro?” said the tall one.
Now - he's pathetic, - I thought. An obsessing fan, craving for signatures of whoever is involved in pop music, and even calling him maestro.
The conductor smirked at me. “You smoke?”
“No,” I said. “But go ahead. You deserve it. Twas quite a show. Bravo.”
He lit up his cigarette and disappeared behind the crowd.
“You know Bjelinski, too?!” The short guy looked at me with an unpleasant urgency, implying that if I don't admit I am, in fact, a hidden family of all three of the artists, or, a Mosad special agent at least, they will make me reveal the truth by force.
Luckily, Ante came back and shouted - “Hajde, Češka, idemo!”
I waved at the two guys and stepped into the car, with an expression of a film star, who is terribly busy and must rush to a party so glamorous that Leonardo diCaprio could dream about being the waiter there.
If the concert was the best one I've ever been to, the following crazy marathon through London bars did definitely not stay behind in the rating of my nights out.
When catching the first tube in the morning to get at least the breakfast at my B n' B, having totally missed out on the bed at night, I was inspecting business cards in my hands: it looked like I met half of Croatia in the bars we went through in the past hours. A good dozen of invitations to visit were stretching in front of me over the upcoming summer and all along the coast from Rijeka to Dubrovnik.
I lost track of the best Croatian guitarist of all times quite soon, but there were many other people who kept coming up to me, claiming that they want to meet Oliver's greatest fan ever, who drove here all the way from Prague.
“When are you going back?” asked a friendly young man whom somebody revealed as Danko, the owner of Ictinus Grupa and hence the hidden soul, making the whole wonderful gig happen at all. He didn't look like a manager who bears responsibility for seven digit budgets, who must make decisions worth a fortune every five minutes and come up with elegant solutions even under volcanic ash-clouds. Just like Oliver didn't look like a singing prodigy right away. Instantly, I remembered my few encounters with important executives and CEOs back home. Most of them could apparently take lessons of low-profile and cordiality in Croatia.
“I'm returning tomorrow,” I replied. “I unfortunately hit the bottom of my budget for this trip about two days ago, so I can't afford any extensions.”
“Why don't you go on the bus with us?” Danko said. “It would save you the trip to Dover and the ferry ticket.”
“Who – us?” I wondered.
“Well, all of us – Oliver, the musicians, the crew. We leave tomorrow night.”
Oliver must have thought he's having hallucinations when he saw me arrive to the bus, with a bunch of my nomadic bags hanging from all over me like Christmas tree decorations.
“You go to Prague through Zagreb?” he asked, doubtful.
“I go to Prague through Calais,” I said.
“And from there?”
“From there I drive my gorgeous car.”
Oliver narrowed his eyes, hooked. “What is it?”
“It's Mazda MX-5.”
“I drive this car in Pelješac,” I said, shaking my head. “And in Pelješac, as you might know, one likes to drive with open roof.”
Oliver nodded, providing expert approval of my automobile choice for Dalmatia. “Your dečko lets you go on trips like this?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“You have no dečko?!” Oliver gave me a serious look, pretending a sort of fatherly disquietude. “We should find you a proper husband, then.”
“That's very thoughtful,” I said. “I only hope you can find husbands as well as you can sing!”
I was convinced that bus trips like this were over long ago – that they belonged to the historic time thirty years ago, when there was nothing – no low-cost flights (and therefore no volcanic ash-clouds either) and also nowhere to really go to, if one was from somewhere deep inside the Eastern Block. Occasionally, the local referent za kulture would initiatively organize a bus trip to a mediocre concert in some of the brotherly communist countries, Poland or DDR most likely (Yugoslavia was a special treat for accomplished citizens, members of the Party or people who had friends at the visa section of the Foreign Ministry). Such a bus constituted an island of freedom, where it was allowed and even expected to drink, sing, play the guitar, exchange sandwiches and homemade schnitzels for beers, tell dirty jokes, make pranks on the driver, flirt with the girl at the seat in front of you and generally unchain oneself from the grey, anxious and hopeless reality back home.
It was fun.
To my great regret, though, I had to refuse all the drinks, because I was supposed to step in my car and hit the road as soon as I get off the ferry in Calais (assuming that my car is still at the same place and in a condition to be driven).
I sat next to a very serious Slovenian, who was surely not going to drive earlier than in 24 hours, but who – programmatically – didn’t drink either. (Question of the day: Are Slovenians real Slavic people or are they, in fact, the advance team of Austrians? Their non-existent sense of black humour, irony, self-depreciation and other brutal communication habits, typical for most other Slavic nations is blatant and it makes those sitting next to them on a wild rocking bus feel bad and guilty for actually having a good time. Whatever.)
Oliver sat in the back, humming and overlooking the wilderness with an uncles’ tender understanding, his eyes affirming - “Yo, kids - I used to have fun, too”.
It was after midnight when we finally got on the ferry in Dover. I sat down at the table with Oliver’s chorus, all leaning towards their armchairs in different stages of sleep. The conductor came by.
“Can I?” asked he, pulling one of the chairs.
“Sure,” I replied. “Tired?”
“I’ll sleep on the bus. But you’ve got quite a ride ahead of you, eh? What do you do back in Prague, anyway? Music?”
“Writing, for the moment,” I said, “and I play the violin whenever there’s an occasion.”
“What do you play?”
“Rock mostly,” I said, “but I started off with twenty years of classical music, as most violinists.”
“What classical? What were your favourites?”
“Mendelssohn violin concerto, for example,” I said, aware that this might say nothing to the pop-conductor, no matter if maybe years ago he did study at the conservatory. To show off, I silently hummed the few opening bars of the concerto.
The conductor joined in and flawlessly finished the phrase. “That’s quite advanced,” he noted.
“You know it?” I cheered. “I am impressed. So you did a bit of classical, too?”
“A little, here and there.”
“And what do you do when you don't work with Oliver?”
“I conduct other ensembles.”
“Such as?” I insisted, out of politeness, expecting he will mention some names of Croatian pop-music that I’ve obviously never heard about.
“Such as the National Philharmonics, most lately.”
The ferry must have stopped for a few seconds as all the water of La Manche froze out of boundless embarrassment. I felt like Bridget Jones at the book launch when she remarked that Salman Rushdie is actually quite a good writer, while Lord Archer’s books aren’t bad either.
Poor conductor man must think I am out of my mind, - I panicked. He will get up now, walk away and never talk to me again, and he'll be very right doing so! I wish I could disappear! Ah!!
“Let me know when you are in Zagreb,” he said. “You could come and see one of our concerts. I mean, if you haven’t denounced classical music completely.”
“Oh no,” I trilled. “I haven’t. Thank you!”
“My name’s Alan Bjelinski.”
“Drago mi, maestro.”
It was luckily time to get back on the bus and leave the ferry, before I could do more harm, talking about music, or, talking as such.
It was three in the morning.
A fine bottle of whiskey had just started circulating on the bus and the opening credits of Inglourious Basterds appeared on the tv screen. I swear I would have stayed on board up to Zagreb!
But it was time to leave the bus and start searching for my car in the immense parking lot.
The singing bus gave me a happy and harmonic farewell howl and dumped me off by the highway exit.
In complete darkness, wheels of my small suitcase rattling on the asphalt, I headed in the direction where I somehow sensed the ferry terminal. So this is how it all ends, - I thought, - in the middle of nowhere, rolling all alone once again. I wish I had more chance to say thank you to all those wonderful people – Danko, Nikola, Ante, Alan and Oliver, for coping with me with such generosity and friendliness.
Exhausted, I finally reached my car. I was continuously yawning when I put my stuff in the trunk, sat behind the wheel and thought about that maybe it is not such a brilliant idea to drive across all of Belgium now, after two sleepless nights. Well. At least I’ll get out of this damned parking and go sleep somewhere for a couple of hours.
Which was exactly the one thing I could not do:
Only as I turned the engine and the lights on, I finally realized that I was surrounded by about a dozen cars, parked tightly next to each other in a manner that clearly excluded the option of driving out.
I stepped out of my car, immediately alert and furious. How on earth could any reasonable person let the cars be parked like this? I marched towards the terminal building, determined to accordingly scandalize the situation.
By the entrance I found a bored and tired French policeman.
“Ma voiture est bloqué dans le parking, monsieur!” I declared.
It seemed to disturb him as much as if I just said that you make coffee by pouring hot water over it.
“Madmoiselle,” he started, “it is the middle of the night. Could you specify what exactly would you like me to do for you right now?”
Hate the French polished ways of telling people to bugger off. “Well – tow them!” I said, angry. Remove the cars that block me. That’s all I ask.”
“I am afraid that at half four in the morning, ma chére, it is indeed a little bit too much,” he smiled.
How possibly could France make it, unnoticed, all the way up to 21st century? – flashed through my brain.
“I don’t care that it’s half four,” I shouted. “It’s outrageous! You let the cars park all over the place and pretend this is some kind of a natural disaster, when it’s only an ash-cloud! What if something really serious happened? Imagine war!” I blurted.
But police officer was probably a Buddhist. He gave me a look, wondering if I ever considered meditation, and said - “I am sorry. Sleep over at the terminal like everybody else and come back at 9 in the morning. I am sure half of the obstructing cars will be gone by then anyway.”
He saluted, suggesting that French police is an institution that will last no matter what for the next fifteen centuries.
I stepped into the terminal. It has turned into a refugee shelter since the two days ago when I last bought my ferry ticket here. There were people everywhere, hundreds of them, sleeping on the floor and on each other’s heads, arguing over places at a non-existent queue. The Red Cross consisting of two tall, eager, sleepless and starved French guys, was distributing water and hot chocolate, and rushing to save lives of people who were fainting or giving birth somewhere in the depth of the crowd.
I found a spare meter of tiling by the toilets and crushed to the ground, sipping hot chocolate and feeling like a shipwreck in a sea of people. They at least were all waiting for a ferry trip, hope stretching like a carpet in front of them. What was I waiting for? What if it takes a week before I’ll be finally able to drive out? The past three days flew again through my head. Would I ever leave Prague if I knew I’d be ending up on the floor of Calais ferry station?
“Cheers,” said a man in his fifties nearby on the floor, raising his plastic cup with hot chocolate. His arm was covered by a provisional bandage. He put a bright pink pill into his mouth and had a gulp of hot chocolate. “Thank god for Ibuprofene,” he smiled. “So, where were you supposed to fly from?”
“Prague,” I said, slightly ashamed for pitying myself next to someone with a broken arm. “And I am trying to get back there.”
“A bit of a wrong direction, I’d suggest,” he said.
“Depends.” I told him about my car.
“And what brought you to London, then?” he asked.
“It’s a bit of a long story,” I said.
“I estimate we’ve got about ten hours in this queue. If it’s boring, it will put me to sleep at least. And if it’s entertaining – all the better!”
So I told him the story. I told him how I fell in love last summer, how I listened to Oliver’s music, how I had survived the winter, looking forward for his concert, how I finally met him and got back here, on board of Oliver’s bus, and how I was now stuck, not only in the parking, but also in my life, as it seemed to me, alone and a failed writer on top. It must have been the lack of sleep, but I felt I would have broken down to tears, if the man didn’t interrupt me.
“I envy you,” he said. “And I admire what you did. You must have shown a lot of courage all along the way. The artist must have been flattered to see you coming from Prague for his concert.”
“It has cost a fortune,” I noted, half ironically, half anxious. I truly wasn’t sure if there was enough money on my card to pay for the gas back to Prague. “But I am glad you like the story.”
“If you can write it in the same way you tell it, you can’t be a failed writer,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel more like a lunatic than like a writer, really,” I noted.
The man laughed. “That’s a very wrong feeling,” he said. “And believe me I know about lunacy.”
“How so?” I asked.
He handed me his business card. “I am a psychiatrist in London. So in the improbable case that you would require my assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me. But before than, send me your story. I’m quite curious about the ending.”
“I guess that in the end, the psychiatrist will come up with a diagnosis and a cure,” I joked.
“Maybe you just try too hard,” he said. “If you let the things flow a little, sit there and relax for a while, I bet you’ll de-stuck earlier than you think.”
It was nine in the morning. Clear blue skies outside were promising a beautiful day. How lovely it would be to drive home with the roof open, - I thought. None of the cars surrounding me from all sides seemed to move, though. Furthermore, there was now no police officer to turn to.
I recalled the psychiatrist’s advice and decided to take it easy, for a change.
I pulled down the roof and switched on the engine to finally recharge my mobile.
Tog san dana tebi dosa ja, osim sebe nisan nista ima…
Oliver CD in my radio continued from where it stopped three days ago.
I put the volume up and started singing along.
It was Magdalena that attracted him: a handsome police officer suddenly appeared by my car.
"Tout va bien, madmoiselle?“ – he asked.
„Excellent,“ – I replied. „Apart from being doomed to starve to death at the parking lot in Calais ferry station, because as you can see there is no way I get out of here before twenty cars are towed away, which I doubt will be possible. So I am waiting for all the drivers to turn up. It might take weeks. Which sucks. But before the sun goes down and before my battery dies, I am doing excellent, because this fine music is the best company I can hope for.”
“C’est Oliverre Drragojević, n’est-ce pas?” he said.
“You know him?” Immediately, I straightened up in the car. Wow. Wow!
“I went to his concert in Olympia four years ago,” he replied. “Magdalena is my favourite.”
“It’s very unusual for a Frenchman to know Oliver,” I said, examining him suspiciously to make sure that he is not some kind of a prank, such as one of the musicians from the bus disguised as a French police officer and making total fun of me here.
“I spend all my summer vacations in Croatia,” the policeman said. “Hvar mostly, but I’ve been all over the coast from Split to Dubrovnik.”
I slowly glanced all over him. He was definitely cool. And nice, too. Besides, the uniform fit him extremely well, underlining his authority, which was…Well, it was sexy. (Yes, it was! And all women who claim that athletic men in uniforms leave them absolutely careless are either frigid or they’re lying.) I must tell Oliver on the nearest occasion that he definitely made a good attempt to find me a husband, singing like the Sirens out of my car, the little island in the ocean of Calais parking lot.
“I am sorry you can’t get out,“ he went on, critically overlooking the situation. „I’d like to help.“
“A conversation I had with your colleague yesterday night raised certain doubts about French police,” I said, “but I am still open to changing my mind.” I moved my sunglasses and produced a smile, aimed at alarming the police officer’s male ego.
There is nothing that can motivate a French police officer better than the challenge presented by a helpless hungry woman in a convertible, stuck in the middle of a parking. With a face expression of „yes-we-can“, the guy walked away to be back with a fresh sandwich and a coke.
„Courtesy of French police,” he said. „Now - it is ten o’clock. By noon at the latest you’ll be out of here, I promise.“
Kad Nadalina noge toca pounded out of my car to accompany the police officer as he launched a colossal logistic operation involving two towing cars, a bunch of mobile stripes that can actually move a car on the ground, inch-tapes, ropes and a team of ten people, who were now arguing over a zillion possible solutions. The policeman stood in the middle, organizing everything in manner of Gendarme de Saint-Tropez, yelling, giving directions and occasionally glancing back to my car with insecure smiles, asking for encouragement. I kept smiling back intensely.
By noon, the miracle was completed: seven cars were towed, while four others were moved in various directions so that I could finally start up my engine. The police officer was beaming. He personally manoeuvred my car out through a narrow alley created by his enormous mission. The support crew applauded.
I was free!
I thanked the policeman, feeling bad about not having anything to give to him.
He saluted comically and then leaned to me - “If I met you anywhere else than on duty, I swear I’d ask for your phone number.”
“I am sure we’ll meet in Hvar,” I said. “Or at the next concert of Oliver, maybe. But to make it a little easier, here is the phone number.” I handed him my card.
“I’m Sebastien,” he said.
I stayed enchanté for all the next 1100 kilometres to Prague.
When I looked up to the skies, I saw that airplanes started to cross Europe again.
But I surely wasn’t sorry for having missed mine.
Even if he doesn’t call, - I thought, - the awareness of love being possible is overwhelming, especially when singing along Vjeruj u ljubav.
Volume very up!
Even if he doesn’t…
There are so many stories to be written.