Bright Nights in Beograd

Beograd, October 21st 2017

Although we were set to spend a quiet night at home, after leaving a late afternoon birthday party my sister Jelena decides that we simply CANNOT go home and after winning my not very solid resistance, she drags me to my favorite club in the WORLD, the Strogi Center- Beograd.  Belgrade for the foregneirs.

The vibe is incredible, you can feel it already while crossing the front door and starting climbing the stairs, there are several rooms in what seems to have been a huge apartment, Austro-Hungarian style: ceilings almost 4 meters high, wooden floors, large wooden-framed windows

The club has been decorated with huge paintings portraying Icons that go from John Lee Hooker to Sun Ra via Miles and Grace Jones. It’s all pretty RED, and it is just fabulous. The crowd is young and the energy is exuberant, the whole place groovy and relaxed at the same time; no place for yuppies and hipster, I would say it’s real Indie, but truth is that it’s just too real and creative to be forced into a definition.

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I order on glass of wine, one only, I swear.

Problem is that the rest of them arrive on their own, one round on Marco, one of the club owners,  one from a guy who declared something like I am the living demonstration that beauty is ageless. Which means that I really start looking old, the thought is dark enough to drink the whole glass in one gulp.

A street vendor tries to sell some hats without any luck, so of course my Sister HAS to buy five of them. She keeps a cowboy-looking one for herself and gives the others to some girls that immediately produce a countless number of selfies and one glass of white wine for me and one of Rakia for Jelena. Ziveli.

The band is good, performing a mix of Stevie Wonder, Vulfpack and even an old Robben Ford number, it’s just a fabulous night. After having screamed, talked, danced, sang aloud, discussed, smoked one million cigarettes and drank an unidentified number of glasses of white wine, it’s time to go home. The place is still in full swing but it’s already 3 am: time to preserve “ageless beauty” by going home and have a beauty sleep.

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While we walk in the Beograd Night (and I couldn’t define myself as perfectly sober) I try to sing the bass line and the theme of Stand By Me simultaneously.

We suddenly hear a choir behind us. Four young and very pretty girls singing along, they keep walking with us for a while just for the sake of keeping singing.

A guy crossing the road in the opposite direction stretches his arm, points at the sky and sings his heart and his lungs out on “No, I won’ be afraid! No, I won’t shed a tear!”

We keep walking and people keep singing along.

At the beginning of  Knez Mihailova, the main pedestrian street,  there’s a bunch of cops monitoring the place day and night and I am not really sure weather it’s allowed to sing very loud in the city center at 3 am. I am debating this topic with myself (I seem to be a bit slow…) while keeping singing full power, Jelena gently elbowing me because indeed maybe singing that loud in the middle of the night in front of a police squad is not a great idea.

And then.

Then.

Then.

Then one of the policemen starts singing, and loud. And in tune. And with a smile that runs from his right to his left ear.

The others clap, and on two and four!

A whole chorus, then I go to coda and ending.

The Beograd Police Department is clapping, while  Jelena is shining like a lighthouse.

We walk away in silence, goosebumps from our toes to our souls, after few steps Jelena says “Photo????”

I usually would say no, but there’s not such a thing as “USUALLY” in this night so, damn, YES, so we turn and RUN back and I ask the singing policeman if I can have a photo with him.

“No I am sorry I cannot. But you could give me a hug…”

Beograd’s night, I am hugging a cop as if I joust found back a lost brother. Maybe for this minute it is really so.

Beograd night, there’s so much light in a night like this.

We finally leave and we’re silent, no need for words in this incredibly luminous night, Jelena and I and Divali.

“When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon will be the only light will see no, I won’t be afraid no, I won’t be afraid just as long as you stand, stand by me.”

Annunci

PHOTO DIARY: Ulan Bator, Mongolia

I would have never imagined that Jazz would have brought me to Mongolia.

But one sunny day of the end of September, I landed in Ulaanbaatar where bass player and educator Martin Zenker had invited me to perform a few concerts with him, Claus Raible on piano and Huslen Baasanbayr on drums. Martin asked me if I would be willing to give a masterclass for the singers, I decided to volunteered for almost three weeks as a Jazz Vocals teacher in the GoetheLab jazz program at the UB College of Music and Dance. The experience was overwhelming. But that’s gonna be another page of this diary… By now let me introduce to the world’ coldest capital city. Its inhabitants are incredibly warm hearted and the city is cosmopolitan, contradictory, charming and challenging,

Ulaanbatar, UB for its friends, it’s an adventure in itself.

Come for a stroll with me….

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Where on earth can you find a writer that portraits ERICH FROMM? Incredible Mongolia…

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If you ask me, this is the photo that represents Ulaanbataar best. Martine will probably like it…

RETURN TO INDIA

00:15, february 2nd 2017 LANDED, Cochi Airport.

I did it. I have booked a hotel room from Bangkok.

I know, I know… to adventure, booking ahead is the Kiss of Death…but the idea of walking around in the middle of the night looking for a place to stay somehow convinced me that although very very middle-class, booking ahead would make my life very very easy.

I know, I know…..to a travel very very easy is the Kiss of Death.

Maybe I am getting a bit senile.

My pre-booked hotel is walking distance from the arrivals, exactly the kind of slightly sad middle-class hotel you would expect around an airport,  but the hot water is hot for real and the wifi works, which is pretty much a MIRACLE, and the two gentlemen at the reception, Mr Thomas and Mr Deepu are adorable.

The next morning Mr Thomas insists to give me a ride to the bus stop although I tried to convince him that as I walked the same way the night before I really have no problem to find my way back (the bus stop is just across the airport) but he rather leave the reception unattended and give me a lift.

The warmth of kindness. Welcome back to India.

The few minutes that the ride takes are enough for me to get to know that Mr Thomas is from Kerala, has three daughters who all got “high education” he says with pride and obvious love,  that he worked in Bombay for 25 years and finally him and his family returned to Kerala, being now “very very happy”.

 

 

Something I always loved a bout Kerala is the coexistence of Saints, posters announcing “Amma at the Lenin Hall”, Jesus and Che Guevara side by side, Holy Mary and Ganesh. Kerala’s syncretism is authentic and deeply rooted.

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The original plan was to spend two days in Fort Kochi, but I found a old hotel: I am a old-hotels-hunter.

The rooms are more than “simple” but there are no tiles in this faded beauty: the charm of old marble floors made me stay for almost a week.

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The Chinese nets are few, in these eleven years since I first visited Fort Cochi obviously things went wrong: too high maintenance costs for a too poor catch. I saw the nets being pulled out one after the other, empty.

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Now most of the fish come with boats that have been fishing in open waters

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Roaming the streets of this town and being absorbed by its multi-colonialistic past makes me feel as laid back as the shadowy entrances of its old buildings and alleys. Fort Cochi is a Grand Dame, a Duchesse, a living memory of the times before nobility went extinct, and with it a certain elegance that was the result of being pretty rich and highly educated

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But what really makes me stay, is the Contemporary Art Biennale: the locations hosting it are outstanding, it’s a big (and complex) event and some of the art exhibits left me breathless.

Contemporary art has often the goal to create not only a sensation but also a reaction: one installation filled me with an emotion that was so intense that I started crying.

“The sea of Pain” from Chilean artist Raùl Zurita.

A dim-lit building flooded with seawater, you have to leave your  shoes (or -as they say here- footwear..) out and venture in the water. Here words become too poor, I leave photos to give you an impression

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“Alan Kurdi was three and his photo circled the world. He lay face down and the blue red of his clothes was striking in its strange tidiness on the shore. Hours later the Turkish coast guards recuperated the bodies of his mother and small five-years-old brother, Galip, but of him there are no photographs. No one can mimic his final image moored face down at the water’s edge. No artist can provide that low bow. Ah, the world of art, the world of images, billions of images. The words of a poem are cleaner, more pure. When the boat filled with Syrian immigrants overturned, the father swam from one boy to the other trying in desperation to save them, but he could only see how they disappeared. I wasn’t there, I am not his father.

There are no photographs of Galip Kurdi, he can’t hear, ha can’t see, he can’t feel, and the silence comes down like immense white cloths.

Below the silence you can make out a piece of sea, of the se of pain. I am not his father, but Galip Kurdi is my son.”  -Raùl Zurita.

I read, I cry, I walk back in the water, I cry.  Salt of tears salt of sea water.

The one that made me laugh the most: Liu Wei, a young Chinese artist, with BIG DOG

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Western historical architecture, building made of ….oxhide dog chew. All dog edible.

Wei, how the hell did you get an idea like that??? I love you!!!!!!!!

Days start flowing like a river, smooth and fast, each day is filled by a million impressions that seem to awaken my senses, my mind and my soul.

I am back in India.

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The Adventurous Adventure

dedicated to Kunal and Ebin.

This was meant to be a photo reportage with almost no comments, but due to the fact that in some moments I had to take care of too many things, not all of our Adventurous Adventure was captured by the camera, so parts of the story needed to be written down.

March 10th, 2016. Seven o’clock, I wake up  because a shot of adrenaline runs into my blood stream, I don’t have even the time to open my eyes and I already cross with one jump the mosquito net that protects my sleep and divide the world of dreams from the one of reality.

Here I am, standing in the middle of my Goan room, more excited than if I’d won a Grammy: today is the day, the long awaited day of Operation Trip to Panjim.

I still have some e mails that need to be written and some to be answered, the morning is soon over and finally it’s twelve: departure time, the Adventurous Adventure starts, hop on the van! Kunal is sitting in front with his younger brother, Sintu and Bewer, our driver, Bruna and me on the back seat, Ebin between us, in the back wheel chair, walker and luggage.

Temperatures: hot as in the Sahara, but a lot more humid.

Mood: enthusiastic.

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ready!

The kids are as sunny as a sunny morning in Greece, excitment fills the van and it’s a lot more refreshing than air conditioning.

First stop: street restaurant with some proper Goan Thali. The place is small and totally packed and we have to struggle for a bit to get a sit, but we’re soon rewarded by an amazing fish curry rice. As soon as we renter the van, there’s a loud applause for Bewar, who recommended the place.

We cross the Mandovi river, which seems to be more majestic than ever (you want to see the world with new eyes? Travel with kids.) enter the Capital and reach our hotel, the Palacio de Goa: with a name like this, we can’t go wrong…. And indeed the building is imposing and draws more than a few OOHH WOOOW HAAAA from our open mouths, and a very loud OH-MY-GOOOD (Ebin, of course…)

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I look at the entrance stairs with a little concern, but as soon as we unload Kunal wheel chair and Ebin’s walker, the safety guard and the hotel bell boy materialized on our side, enveloping us in a cloud of kindness and broad smiles and suddenly, as if they performed some magic, we’re in the lobby! In a matter of a few seconds it’s clear to all of us that we found in  David, the bell boy, a great friend.  How long does it take for a friendship to start? Sometimes a few seconds. With David no more than two.

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David and Ebin

 

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checking in

We check in, and we OOHH WOOOW HAAAA at our room, and find out that there’s a phone that gives us the chance to get ROOM SERVICE (oohh wooow haaaa)

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YEAH!

From Kunal’s hand written notes:

I lemon ice tea

I choclate milk shake

II cold coffee

I black coffee

We all lie on twin beds take a little rest, sip our refreshments, watch Terminator 2  and I decide that I could spend a week like that: chocolate shakes and coffee, silly movies and amazing kids. But we have to proceed with our mission, so we leave Palacio de Goa, and head for a Sunset Cruise.

Again, we find some obstacles on our ways: plenty of stairs and  an endless cue, but again magically we are surrounded by helping hands and literally everyone tries to help, I start feeling like I am hanging out with some Super Stars, the Red Carpet is rolled down for us!!!

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on board!

My Lonely Planet is slightly obsolete, and the live traditional music show on board has been replaced by a DJ, and the romantic sunset trip’s soundtrack is full power Bollywood dance stuff, I look around in despair considering the possibility to get some French fries and stuck them in my ears. I will not survive an hour of Indian Disco! But again, Incredible India…people are asked to go on stage and dance (Bruna and I are the only white ones on board) and , EVERY single person, man or woman or child dance GREAT. Impeccable sense of rhythm, bodies are moving with strength softness and joy, spontaneity and so much freedom.

They have all you need to be a great dancer: coordination rhythm and passion. DAAAMN, it’s fun!

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Once we return to the pier, we decide to stay back and wait for the crowd to rush out, and again smiles and helping hands surround us, a group of newly married couple are sooo happy to have met us that they give us 1000 rupees. Dinner has been sponsored!

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the wonderful people who payed our dinner

Since we’re going out with this superstar kids, it’s obvious that this time it’s not gonna be thali: we are entitled by stardom to have dinner somewhere real CHIC.

Viva Panjim is the place.  A small alley, the atmosphere of a Portuguese street a hundred years ago, charm of the past colonial architecture.. The dining room is looking like the living room of some Portuguese Nobre,  I feel like the heroin of some costume drama. Sintu likes the aquarium a lot.

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Viva Panjim!

The owner in person comes to greet us and to introduce himself.

I tell you, travelling with some superstars is something else….

We study the menu with great attention and care, and order chicken noodles (Kunal) chicken lollipops (Sintu) fish fingers (Ebin) while we grown ups go for a more fancy choice: lemon honey garlic prawns (Bruna) and squid recheado masala (me). Ebin looks happy then dreamy, and the step from dreamy to sleepy to extremely sleepy is very little: he can barely keep his eyes open, so we know it’s time to get back to the hotel.

Since this is a real holiday, shower before going to bed is NOT mandatory, but I do need one after helping the kids to get into their pajamas I suddenly realize that the day was actually long, that my arms hurt, my heart flyes, that I feel 10 years younger and very tired,  I’ve been sweeting the whole day as if I was in a sauna, and so I proceed for a long shower. A HOT shower. A hot shower after almost 4 months is a magic moment, crowned by the almost mystical experience of wrapping myself in a white bath towel : OOHH WOOOW HAAAA OHMYGOD.

Luxury.

Talking about luxury, the next morning a buffet awaits us for breakfast in the hotel courtyard, again there are steps to overcome, but of course our friend David is there.

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breakfast, open air

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And then our friend Bewar comes to pick us up, bags packed, hands shaked, smiles smiled, and off we go on a little road trip: first to Old Goa and then to Dona Paula.

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Leaving Panjim…David, Sintu, Kunal, Bruna, Ebin, me
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Dona Paula, Kunal
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Dona Paula, Sintu and Ebin

And then suddenly it’s time to go back…to cheer up we start talking about our future travels in more far away places, like Bruna’s Rajasthan, although Ebin emotional autonomy seems to be over after a little more than 24 hours: he misses “the kids and Lucy. Me, as often, I seem to miss nothing and I could just keep travelling with them for a month…

Do you want to open a window on the unexpected kindness of mankind? Travel with disabled children, and do it in India. You will suddenly see the meaning and the sense of the expression “specially gifted” just by observing the reaction of people: the kids have been received in every place (be it a taxi, a hotel lobby, a crowded ship, a romantic restaurant…) with so much enthusiasm and warmth.

Like little heroes.

Which if you ask me, is exactly what they are.

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HEALING

And then, one day, you stop bleeding.
No matter how deep your wounds, no matter into how many pieces your heart has been hacked apart, one day you stop bleeding.
I left Arambol escaping memories and hoping that travelling could help me to regain balance. I was looking for silence, I needed the shelter of unkwnown places and the anonymity of being just another face in the crowd sitting at a bus stand, waiting.

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Shared a taxi ride and arrived in Agonda: the village is spotless clean and there are more white hair than dread locks. People enjoying spending winter and retirement money at the tropics, a more up market crowd in a more up market place, here restaurants and resorts are pleasing the needs of more demanding customers supported by larger budgets. There’s a hotel that charges 200 euros a night, a Westener price in a country where the waiter that serves you earns 40 euros a month. Obscene.
Yet, the coconut grove behind the beach is stunning and there are magical little corners to be discovered, if you feel like walking slowly and keep your eyes open.

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My luggage is reduced to the essential, and setting my few things in a new room gave me the much needed feeling to be starting anew.

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Yet, after three days I began feeling restless again, packed my bag, left my room and started walking direction South. The owner of La Dolce Vita, Agonda’s Italian restaurant, kindly stopped and gave me a ride to the bus stand; told him that I was going to Gokarna, but I could have as well changed my mind and hopped on the first bus that was leaving. As I said it the idea felt so good that I did exactly that, boarded the first available bus and reached Palolem, which turned out to be a place that was both too crowded and way too similar to the ones I just left behind.
I roamed around searching for a sign that could have gaven me a reason to stay and found none, so I hopped on another bus and backtracked to Canacona, where I eventually decided that Galjibaga was my next destination.

Galjibaga offered me the quality and intensity of silence I was looking for, a long and still unspoiled beach and old portuguese houses surrounded and hidden by the vegetation. A glimpse of costal Goa in the early sixties.
I found a place to stay by choosing the signs leading to different huts: picked the one that had no adjectives on it, no “great, best, recommended”.

Moved in a simple room with a spacious bathroom under the trees, facing the sea, on the side of the house of Mrs Telly and her husband, Carlito, fervent catolics and very kind people. We didn’t speak a word in three days, our conversation reduced to smiles. Kindness is often unspoken.

I looked for a local place for chai-thali-baji pao, there was none: tourists and locals have no place to share and when I finally found a lady running a “supermarket” two square meters wide who could make me a chai, I felt as if I just won a lottery.

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From the extreme South of Goa crossing the border of Karnataka and reaching Gokarna is a one hour and a half trip by car, but with local transportation it took almost a whole day. After a last chai I took a bus at 10 am, then a train, and seven hours later I arrived at the Gokarna Road train station, a 25 rupees ride. Even though the costs of living are rising every year, the Indian Railways are still probably the cheapest of the planet.

And so now I am living on another beach, in a little brick house in a flower garden, at night the sound of waves cradle my sleep, washing away the memory of already half-forgotten dreams. Days have been very long, very quiet and very silent: after fighting an increasing and suffocating sense of loneliness, I just accepted it and from the very moment I stopped wishing to have anything else and anything different than long and silent days, the sense of solitude turned into a softened state of peace.
My mind is slowing down, and I feel as if being here now is all I want, it’s all I am : sometimes needing nothing leads you to find everything you need.
I am healing.

The valley of Sorrow

There are paths that you have to walk alone.
The one of Sorrow is so narrow that it doesn’t allow company on the way. There is place only for one.
It’s a difficult journey, where  not only you are alone but you also hardly recognize yourself.

I am travelling with a stranger.

I tried many things, I tried to pick up the pieces but they slipped from my hands like sand running through my fingers. And now I know that I have to go through this journey to find light at the end of darkness.

I started a journey
into the Valley of Sorrow
where thera are no stars
to break the darkness

I started a journey
into Infinite Sadness
a tear fell from the sky
and hit the ground: it was hard and dry

I started a journey
without my soul to guide me:
the well of love
have run dry

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THE END OF HOPE

 

I have not been writing a single line since I arrived in India, couldn’t find the time neither the right mental frame for doing it, my mind has been running circles for two months trying to find possible and impossible solutions,  fighting the most difficult battle I ever fought, and lost.

I have been trying to help a man. A man called Saji.

I met Saji thirteen years ago, the very first year I arrived in India, the very first day I arrived in this hippie’s Haven and Heaven . He was running a place called The Loekie Cafè. In those years this was THE place in Arambol, it was the place hosting the first open mike session, and I spent countless Sunday and Thursday Jam Session nights there for a decade.

There have been glorious days, the place ran well for years, although most of the income (in spite of what the gossip says) went to the family of Saji, whom having lost his father at young age, was the Man of his family, which means that he had  to support his mother, his two sisters  and pay the drawry for both of them. In India a drawry can still be an economical catastrophy for a family.

There have been the years of Economical Illusions, when Saji believed that he could expand his businness, supported by some westener with some savings and some vague investor’s dreams, some ggod will and a  lack of competence in that field. A bitter failure.

There have been the years of the Bubble Economy, when Russian charter flights would land at the Dabolim airport twice a day, package tourists with two weeks of holidays and lots of rubles in their pockets. Then the ruble collapsed and the Russians vanished.

There have been the Booze Years, when Saji charmed by the drinking abilities of some Foreigner Champions dug a bit too deep into alchool.

Ther has been the Burn Out Year, when Saji lost it and entered a delirium where he mixed reality and paranoia, hit two customers in the Loekie Cafè for apparent no reason, and misunderstood his friends for enemies.

This year, thrown out from the landlord who has rented him the Loekie Cafe space for 20 years (and ,oh yes, made a lot of money out of that) Saji moved to a new place, which had quite some potential, but he any clue neither any money to develop it. He felt defeated by loosing all he’ve got, being hunted by creditors, being unable to cop with changes that are happening at a speed that is unconceivable. But most of all he felt deserted by those whom he considered to be his friends: “When I could invite anyone for a beer everyone was around, now I am treated like a dog with rabies”. In his own words.

This is an Ancient land projected in the Future with the speed of a bullet.

It’s hard to adapt to new forms of realities, to new economies,  it’s hard to understand why the needs of people have somehow suddenly and radically changed. No one wants the old Loekie with its old tables and No Interior Design Concept, the crowd is more demanding, and it’s attracted by the New, the Smart, the Fashionable. We look for the same quality that we want when we are in the West, the times when people would come to a place like Arambol to adjust to a simple and local reality are gone. The same happened  in Italy where suddenly  one day, after centuries, the traditional Osteria ceased to exist  replaced by cocktails bars, the game of Briscola and the songs sang with a guitar and some passionate voices tinged with red wine have been replaced by the new Clubbings and Events wave.

Indeed the Loekie Cafè was shabby, money to restore it unexisting and  in Arambol the restaurants are no more 40  but over 350. And most of all this year there is a new Jam Session on Mondays that became THE jam in town. Hosted in a place that is very big, very smart, very beautiful. The food offered is exquisite-exotic , from vegetarian sushi and Thai dishes on a menu that has a great graphic, and the stage that is way bigger than the one that most of Europe music clubs can offer. A big stage, to someone that never experienced performing on one, has an invincible attraction.

I bought paint and brushes, painted the tables, bought some 20 meters of colored cotton, got some bamboo and sew a few colourful panels, got candle holders, decorations, flowers, I bought a large cloth with a mandala as a background for the stage, but still… the stage was just straw mats on the floor. Sometimes I bought beer and food, because there was nothing to sell in the fridge, neither in the kitchen. I got a donation box that would go from hand to hand (so few hands…) during sessions, I asked and received a bit of money from few friends in Italy.

One of the young cooks working there who came all the way from Dharamsala to find work for the season ­–and was still waiting for salary- borrowed money from his family and bought a sound system. Paying someone to do the sound and renting a PA was a 12.000 rupees a month matter, a disaster.

I started hosting the jam session twice a week,  did a seriously good job as a sound engineer. I did the flyers, ran around with adesive tape and hanged them around each week, I posted on damn FB, but most of all, knowing that without the “community” support I would have never made it, I kept asking for for help. I believe I would have found it.

What I met was unforgiveness, lack of solidarity, hipness, the ambiguity of playing a game in which the rule is loosers are loosers and winners winners, summary justice and social injustice. “The strong beats the weak, that’s how it goes! And anyhow, who cares….” Another sacrifice on the altar of the quest of an individual form of happiness that implies radical selfishness.

Few people washed their conscience clean by saying that “what I was doing was very heroical and they appreciate that”, some declared I was nuts, and the most held me speeches about moral or about what in their unwanted and unrealistic opinions would have made the place more pleasing. I kept saying that what I needed was help and not opinions, my words falling into indifference and deaf ears. Very little people helped a bit.

Some said that they would at least come to the session, few did while several of the old timers kept apologizing every time I met them on the street saying “next time, next session…”

There are not gonna be more sessions. The last was yesterday.

Yesterday I waved my hand while leaving, “saying see you tomorrow” Saji called me back and very strangely hugged me. And then he said “Thank you for your help. Anna, thank you. I will see you in another life.”

I answered “Don’t EVER say stuff like this, let’s sit and talk”

We sat down and talked and talked, I offered unrequired wisdom and usless common sense, I talked of hope and possibilities and changes. I talked about many things.

Saji suddenly said that he needed something to eat, I misunderstood it for a good sign.

I left, almost 1 in the morning, while he was having some food.

This morning I met my Soul Brother, Claudio, who has been the only person that has really and truly been on his and my side, always, trying to support me every day, in every moment of this last two months. CARING.

Told him I was worried (as usual, but a bit more) and asked him to go to the Loekie and talk with Saji. He went there, called me half an hour later.

“Saji is dead, he took his life last night.”

My soul is a black hole, I find nothing left in the place where it has been,  all I feel is a twisted pain that spread into every cell of my body and an amount of rage that I never knew I could possibly feel.

It was the most difficult but sure one of the most important battle I ever fought in my life.

I lost.

I failed.

Saji’s dead.

Arambol, Goa, jan.18th 2016