A retrospective on my thirties

It's a little hard to believe that it's the last week of my thirties, and what an amazing decade it has been. I look back on the things that have happened, and the growth I've had, and it's a little hard to believe.

At first glance not much has changed. When I turned thirty I had already been full time as a musician for five years, and I was in the midst of my first foreign busking tour. I've refined things, of course, but a core of Renaissance Festivals augmented by international street performing is still my fundamental business model.

It is with a closer look that the differences are revealed. I'm a far more skilled player and performer than I was at that time, for example. My festival performances are still anchored by playing in the lanes, but also include a solid stage show that eluded me throughout my twenties. The music that I'm writing is more complex, and I've taken up a deeply challenging historical repertoire.

Similarly, the basics of my inner monologue haven't evolved very far. I'm still buffeted by alternating moods of euphoric confidence and crippling anxiety. I am, however, better able to compensate with a deeper experience of successes to temper my insecurities and failures to moderate my arrogance. More importantly, I've got a much firmer grip on when I need to bring this information to bear, recognizing when I'm in an unhealthy mental space.

My body is changing and it's an interesting quest to find the balance between treating symptoms and changing my lifestyle; I miss caffeine but I feel so powerful without it. My face is becoming more and more my own, as smile lines beneath my eyes vie with the concentration wrinkles on my brow. My hairline is thinning and receding even as it greys to match the delightful amount of white in my new beard. The belly fat I've fought for my entire life has subsided only to redistribute to the sides so rapidly there are stretch marks, which is both a big victory and a new struggle.

And finally there is my personal life, which I keep strictly offline. I won't go into details, but I've gotten a lot better at asking for what I need in a relationship. I don't want anything different than I wanted ten years ago, but I'm a lot better both at recognizing when I have it and letting go when I don't. And, while I still find myself making the fundamental mistake of promising things I cannot deliver, it's happening a little less often these days.

I'm excited for my forties, and eager to see how I further grow and evolve in that time. Aging has been a fascinating experience for me, and I look forward to seeing what further turns it will take!

Musical memories

I'm a musician and a traveler, so it shouldn't surprise me how vividly I associate certain songs with various places. I just heard a pop song and suddenly I was back in Sardinia. Another and I'll vividly, viscerally reexperience Argentina. It brings me great joy, and I duly using SoundCloud and Shazam to reassemble playlists from my various adventures.

Daily Life

Living on the road is very different than vacationing. This is true in general, but especially when I'm traveling abroad.

I typically eat out of grocery stores, for example, even if I'm not doing the sort of light cooking that I do in the States. Eating out every day is not only detrimental to the budget, but brutal for health. It was important to acquire, early in my travels, the skill to pick up affordable picnic basics and build a long-term diet from staples such as bread, fruit, and cheese.

And then there is my daily schedule. I tend to work for 4 hours a day on those days when I'm playing, with five hours or so between my first and second sets. This leaves me part of the morning, midday, and the early evening to myself. I take a lot of rambling walks as my main recreation, but often I'll hit a museum or other tourist attraction in the afternoon. However, because of my schedule, there's typically only room for one.

It's by routines such as these that I've built a life for myself on the road, where it doesn't matter how frequently the scenery changes because the basic elements of my day rarely do.

Halfway Point

Well, technically the halfway point was a few days ago, but I haven't really had the motivation to write recently. The trip is a real whirlwind, and I'm a little dizzy for it. I'm having a pretty great experience, though, and I'm quite pleased with how things are going. I'm already tentatively writing itineraries for future Chile tours, and I would like to make them a recurring part of my schedule.

There have been setbacks, of course. The PVC couplings I use for joints on my portable dulcimer stand weren't up to snuff, but I figured out a way to use tape on their insides to create a subtle fix. I'm rather pleased with that bit of ingenuity even as I'm a little miffed I hadn't thought to test the new setup before flying ten thousand miles with it.

I'm stressed, of course. Bus travel here is quite comfortable but a bit haphazardly organized. I haven't missed one yet, but I'm never confident until I'm on board and I've been confirmed that I'm in the right place. My language proficiency is stepping back for every step forward, and every day that I feel confident is matched by another day when I feel continually bewildered and lost. There's a race at my temples between my greying hair and receding hairline, and I always come back from overseas tours feeling like I've aged at an accelerated pace while I'm gone. But while I'm here, living on the balls of my feet and adapting to surprises, I feel very much alive. And if past is prelude, when I come home to familiar surroundings I'll feel incredibly powerful for having been away.
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I always appreciate when a child tips me from their own pocket, no matter how small the change. But today took the cake when a little girl tipped me from her own candy stash
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Chilean adventures, continued

I'm torn between disbelief that it's only been two weeks and that it's already been two weeks. I'm covering ground like I've never done before, changing cities every 3-4 days. It was a good choice based on my previous South American experience, where I was several times tripped up by local anti-busking regulations but then stuck for a week because the economics of a long bus ride and losing a room deposit were greater than potential busking profits. Still, it's starting to get tiring.

I think I may take the weekend off. I've had a remarkably successful time so far, and I've sold more than half my CDs less than a third into the tour. Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco, and Valdivia were all very good to me, and today I rolled into Villarica.

That trip is itself a bit of a tale, with a bus breaking down part way and an hourlong wait before another bus came along with standing room only. I'm rather pleased at how that came out, honestly, because it shows a lot of personal growth on my part. Earlier in my travel experiences I might have meekly accepted the word of my driver and waited for further instruction, but I was a little more insistent this time and it worked in my favour. As a bonus, after twenty minutes the guy seated beside me got off the bus, opening up the seat and leading to a delightful conversation with Marlena, a Chilean-American who was traveling to meet distant relatives.

So into Villarica I rolled, and it was an interesting experience. The city is lovely, though much smaller and more touristic than anyplace I've yet been. Most interestingly, from a professional point of view, the buskers I've grown accustomed to are entirely absent. After several cities where amplified bands are not uncommon street corner ornamentation, it seems a little odd not to have encountered a single one. This makes me a little hesitant to try my hand and, while in years past I've brazened my way into things with a philosophy of "ask forgiveness, not permission" I don't really want to push my luck. An interesting counterpoint to my experience on the bus.

And I do rather want a break. I'm ahead of my projections, and while I embrace an attitude of "make hay when the sun is shining", I'm about to spend ten of the next fourteen days in now-familiar territory that has been good to me. It may be time to catch my breath for a bit.
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More on Language Quirks

It´s interesting and revealing to notice things that I screw up in languages that aren't my mother tongue. A lot of things that give me trouble in Spanish come from my muddy thinking in English. Times of day throw me, for example, but when I say ¨good evening¨ before noon it has a different connotation: in English I look distracted or ditzy, in Spanish I just seem ignorant.

Another such example is when to say ¨please¨ and ¨thank you¨. ¨Would you like some coffee?" "Yes, thank you" is often how I would respond, and it's wrong in Spanish. Arguable, it's wrong in English too, and this is where things get revealing. I hear "please and thank you" a lot as a shorthand, and it's always been somewhat irksome for me since it cuts short what could be vital social lubrication through polite manners. Still, it illustrates a larger point that we, as a culture, have lost touch with some very basic manners.

Thankfully, I'm getting an ever-clearer picture on how to change this in my own habits as I embarrass myself on other stages.

Linguistic geekery

I'm having an interning time, operating in my third language. I'm doing pretty OK, and it's starting to feel more natural as I continue, but there are still holdups. For one thing, Italian is a huge help until it isn't. There are a few simple rules to remember and I can often convincingly fake a word using its Italian equivalent. When that doesn't work, though, it really doesn't work, and what I find most frustrating is when a noun changes gender. It's not hard for me to remember that "orecchio" becomes "orejo", except that it's actually "oreja". Drives me up the wall.

The differences are interesting in other ways, as well. Spanish has a multitude of ways to call something attractive, where Italian gets a lot of mileage out of "bella". With "bonita, linda, hermosa", Spanish has a lot of ground covered. And their word for musical tuning gives me great pleasure, "afinar", "to make fine" (as in fine art). Italians are differently poetic, saying "acordare", "to make agree".

To sum up, I'm really enjoying pushing my limits when it comes to language. I'm learning a lot in a short time, and it's really intense. ¡Salud!

Highlight of a good day

It has been a truly wonderful day, performing in Concepcion for the first time. The city is built for busking, and is filled with buskers, but despite their numbers and their amplification I found ample spaces to perform. I had a lot of fun and did quite well for myself, but at the end of the day one memory stands out.

A little girl, maybe six years old, had been handed money by her parents to toss into my hat. I thanked her and made my typical half bow, and she responded with an absolutely florid bow in return. I've been grinning about it ever since.
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What a day it has been!

My plane landed in Santiago shortly before 10am and I cleared customs and immigration with no hassle. I caught a shuttle bus into the city and checked in to my hostel for the night. It's the only night of the tour where I'll be sleeping in a dorm, and it's been fun getting to know some fellow travellers. It's quite a mixed group, surprisingly close to my own age and including a professor and quite a few hikers.

The bed wasn't ready when I arrived, so I left my things and went for a few hours of walking through the city. It was surreal because I know I've been here and spent the night, but absolutely nothing about the city is familiar whatsoever. It feels like total Terra Incognita, and I've enjoyed exploring with a fresh eye. Tomorrow I head to Valparaiso, which I expect to be more familiar since I spent a delightful week there in 2014.

I spent a bit of time today reassembling my dulcimer; I slack the strings for air travel. Its builder has laughed at my abundance of caution, but it makes for much less stressful flights to know that my baby is completely unencumbered and is built to withstand 3000 pounds of tension. In a very rare occurrence, both my flights (CLE>ATL and ATL>SCL) were large enough aircraft that I was able to bring the dulcimer on board with me. Quite often the domestic leg is in a smaller plane and I need to gate check it with the strollers. If I'd known it would be overhead luggage the whole route I might not have spent the time taking the tension out of the strings, but gate checking is always at the last minute and I like to be prepared.

I feel quite well! With only a two-hour time difference I have no jet lag, just fatigue from a very fitful night in a small space. It could have been worse, of course, since I had an empty seat beside me which I shared with the woman on the other side of it so we could both spread out a little. I'm taking it as a good omen for the tour that on a pretty full flight I got such a luxury.

Of course, now that I've arrived I'm realizing my packing mistakes. I forgot sunblock, which was easily rectified at a corner pharmacy (though not before I got a little sun on my afternoon wander). More interestingly, I brought too many dark shirts. I'm used to coordinating outfits with jeans, but this time I decided to adopt a more formal look with black slacks and I probably should have taken that into account when choosing the rest of my clothes. I did run across a gentleman in a similar outfit, however, and his look screamed "musician" so I think I'll be OK.

My phone says that my "strolls" involved 11 miles of walking today, so I'm calling that a win. I certainly feel I've got a better grip on the city, and maybe it'll be a bit less foreign the next time I turn up. Tomorrow I'm off to Valparaiso, the standout city of my 2014 South America tour!
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