An Americano In Europa
I’m in my second week at the Le Royal Hotel in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Whenever I’ll be on location and living in a hotel, I always make note of the path through the lobby to the elevator, familiarize myself with the buttons once inside and upon exiting on my floor, the dimensions and lighting of the area around the elevator’s doors. I figure out where my room is and as I walk towards it, I think to myself that all this will become very familiar over the next few weeks but it will be an earned familiarity. I will be living in a hotel. Most of my fellow guests are staying for a day or two but I’ll be here for weeks. I’m like a local in a tourist town. Within a few days, I have developed a rapport with the restaurant staff, who have figured out that their hotel has been invaded by a bunch of weirdo actors.
At this point, I’ve done this many times all over the world. I have a routine. At the first possible chance, I walk around the neighborhood to see where the coffee and grocery opportunities are. This time around, my neighborhood is very nice but not all that interesting. My new local coffee place, called Coffee Fellows, serves a good Americano, an order that always sounds strange when I say it, but is only open until 2000 hrs. and isn’t really a work oriented joint, with its small tables and casual lighting. Still, I go in there and try to get that corner table that’s not so close to all the other people who pack the place. The grocery store is quite good not far from the hotel. I walk on the streets near the hotel to neutralize jet lag and immerse myself in my surroundings. This is my new home for a while. Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town plays in my head.
Last week was a blur of activity, waged in the mists of jet lag. We’re shooting in an old building that has no heat, so all the rooms have plug in heaters. Between set ups, I put on a coat that’s like a sleeping bag with sleeves and wait it out. The scenes which held all my large dialogue parts were done last week. I’m amazed I pulled it off. Take after take, I was hitting it and not dropping any lines. I have six more shoot days and if I had to, could do the rest of my dialogue in one day. Most of the remaining shots I’ll be involved with will probably end up being painful. Swinging at men, and causing a commotion always leaves me dented.
Many years ago, I learned something a lot of American alternative music combatants with a grain of ambition and survivalist instinct know very well: you will be in Europe a lot. People who were in broke ass bands in the last century are some of the most well traveled people I’ve ever met. Many of them were here so much, they picked up German and French, some moved here. In many ways, my old outfit, the Rollins Band, was an American band with European sensibilities. We were here all the time. We would spend weeks just playing shows in Germany. There were so many great things about this. I can’t speak for anyone else in the band but I learned a lot being around Europeans. The differences between America and anywhere else are too many to list but perhaps the most profound differences between America and the continent of Europe are age and experience.
In the last century, Europe was shaken to its core by the second World War. A war that was bravely taken on by American forces but that didn’t do a fraction of the damage to American infrastructure. Survivors all over Europe literally had to sweep the rubble of what was their town to the side and start again. I think this impacted the collective psyche of the continent. Even those who weren’t alive for the six years Europe was torn to pieces and the years afterwards, when millions of PTS stricken people had to figure out a way forward, have an imprinted ghost memory of what can be lost, how bad it can get and what’s important. You can see it in everything from the construction of buildings to how people regard each other. This is at least one of the reasons why British PM Theresa May reacted so quickly and sharply to comrade Trump’s recent clumsy and dangerously stupid tweeting of Britain First propaganda. She gets it. Trump obviously does not.
As a young American traveling from place to place, I soaked this up more than I realized. There was without a doubt, a romance of being a “band in exile” even if it was all in my head. When I was in Europe, looking out the window of whatever transport was taking us to the next show, it would occur to me that this was real, this is what we were doing with our lives. It was a monumentally impactful thought that influences a lot of what I do and how I do it to this day, including where I’m writing this from and why I’m here. I’m not on vacation. This is my life out here and I am of the opinion that not only am I in the right place but that I am incredibly lucky.
Of course there are pains in the ass no matter where you go but the level of overall civility in Europe is noticeable. I must say, I prefer the harder elbow-to-the-ribs American version, and believe that Americans are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever been around but there is a lot to be said for European sophistication. It definitely raises the level of the game. I truly enjoy how familiar “merci” and “d’accord” have become to me over the last several days.
Walking the streets around the hotel on my nights off, it’s been hitting me how hard Europe has informed my life. I think I’ve come here almost every year since 1981. I can’t help it, whenever I’m here working in a film, I feel like I’m Peter Falk in Wings Of Desire.