From The Desk Of Grant-Lee Phillips: True Tales Of The Rail Part 3

These are the true tales of the rail and the wing, seen from the vantage point of train stations, dressing rooms, airports and the not-so-glamorous back of a cab. Buckle up in the jump seat for this caffeine-fueled 15-day tour of Italy, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, France, England and Ireland. Don’t forget your passport.


April 20: San Constanzo To Bologna
Last night I performed in San Constanzo, Italy—a Baroque theater called Teatro della Concordia. Set into a stone fortress, the small theater is a step back in time with its raked planks of a stage, opera boxes and an abundance of red velvet. I can’t begin to imagine the history that such a place has bared witness to. San Constanzo and its seaside sister-city Fano are the picturesque image of Italy that I’ve always dreamt of. Sunbaked, weatherworn, classical: the kind of colors that aren’t remotely achievable, but through time, salt-air and a few thousand years of human occupation. San Constanzo boasts three, count ’em, Patron Saints. It’s host to several religious pageants and a major bake-off. The Italian ring cake known as the Terracolla, which resembles the King Cake of New Orleans, traces its origins to San Constanzo.

A pre-show meal is topped off with a licorice-flavored aperitif. The restaurant owner insists that my road manager and I partake. Italy is so giving, so invested in its determination to share the natural wonders of its food, its wine and culture. You can’t say no and why would anyone. The contrast between the states and Italy is striking. The gnawing stressors that Americans simply grow accustomed to seem to have been shed here long ago. On the train platform this morning I begin to chat with an Italian man in his 20s. He’s on his way to Bologna, as am I. He tells me that Trump won the primary in New York last night and had I heard? I had. It’s striking to me that Europeans follow and have always kept a close eye on our political process. “We find Trump to be scary.”

He offers and I agree, he is scary. He tells me about his grandfather, who once lived in New York City. And then WW II broke out. His grandfather was told by the U.S. government that he had to make a choice. Side with his adopted home of the U.S. and fight against his birth home of Italy or go back to Italy, where he would be enlisted to fight against the U.S. He returned to his family in Italy. The loose and tough talk of Trump and others has consequences. Like the U.S., many countries throughout Europe are demonstrating the symptoms of a nativist anxiety. More talk of erecting fences, tightening borders, scapegoating. I wonder if the freedom to roam, as I have done for so many years, will challenged in the days ahead.

What would that kind of Europe look like?