Mulhouse, Day 1

After a week in Genoa, it was time for the Harp Guitar Europe International Festival so we had to get to Mulhouse, France, and quick!

Our dear friend Alberto Basso kindly drove us the two hours up the coast to Nice, where we boarded a small puddle-jumper to the EuroAirport, that most confusing of destinations which sits on the border of Switzerland and France (I tripped over the imaginary dotted line running through the terminal).  This serves Basil and Mulhouse (pronunciation: purse your lips and same something approximating “mi-looze”), and our only glitch was that the person in the States who booked our international Enterprise rental car reserved it on the Swiss side, despite Jaci’s clear and insistent instructions.  This shouldn’t have presented a huge problem, but despite the counter agent’s assurances, it would come back to bite us in the ass big time.  Meanwhile, after spending a half-hour trying to figure out the GPS, the agent had the manager come out and he got it going…only for Jaci (who we had registered as the sole driver) to discover that the driver’s electronic seat controls were broken and that she would have to drive the whole weekend in an awkward, largely prone position, her hands barely reaching the wheel.  No, there wasn’t another car – we needed an automatic, and this Mercedes was it.   We also didn’t know that these diesel Mercedes literally turn off their engine at every stop.  Rather unnerving at the roundabout when you’re attempting to dart out into traffic with what sounds like a powered-down parked car.  She never quite got used to it, nor the stupendously touchy brakes, which caused my noggin to slam into the windshield every kilometer or so.  This was really the GPS synthetic person’s fault, not Jaci’s.

Ah, the adventures our faithful GPS led us on!  You know The Office episode where Michael (Steve Carell) drives into the lake because the GPS insists he must?  We had a lot of those – ordered to drive through permanent stone pilings and all manner of mislabeled roads, the signs literally never matching what was displayed onscreen, nor resembling in any way the gobbledygook the “English” voice was narrating.

Our “20-minute trip” took about 2 hours but we finally found our hotel, dropped off our luggage, freshened up, then braved the next drive to find our harp guitar friends at the college dorm they were all staying in.  This was at the College et Lycee Prive in nearby Zillisheim.  And whaddaya know – we made it!

Along with festival organizer Yaouen, his wife Veronique and helper friend Annie Drouillard, our host was Pierre Heyd, President of the L’Association Jazz a Zillis’ who helped Yaouen realize his dream of this second harp guitar festival in France.

When we were all gathered, Pierre led us through a private tour of the currently-studentless campus, where he often holds his Gypsy Jazz festivals.

The facility is a former Catholic school (now Episcopal), dripping in centuries-old charm.

It was great having the place all to ourselves.  If only we could have held our event here!

Doors to the beautiful chapel where Pierre often holds his concerts in (we couldn’t get in).

In the corner of the very top floor resides the original library, where he says the priests would study.  We were all mesmerized, including bookphile Jaci.

We couldn’t believe the age of some of the several thousand books, just waiting to be plucked off the shelf. When were they last touched?

Yaouen caught me in just such a moment of discovery.

You could smell, taste, and feel the centuries that permeated this place, along with a corresponding accumulation of dust.  Many of us soon had burning eyes, especially poor Jason Carter (seen here at the beginning of a major red eye allergy).

How many harp guitarists can you fit on a spiral staircase?
L-R: Matthias Desmyter, Annie Drouillard, Veronique, James Kline, Claude Laflamme, Michel Pellerin, Jason Carter, Sean Woolley, Jaci, me, Benoit Meulle-Stef, Pierre.  Yaouen is taking the photo.  Not yet arrived: Andy Wahlberg, Jan Vanek, Cedric Verglas, Lukas Brunner.

Our hosts wined and dined us in the dorm’s common room with snacks, great food (Pierre cooked up some tasty barbecue) and an excellent red wine (yes, Philippe – I enjoyed a French wine!).

During the meal, several of us sat spellbound while Jason regaled us with tales of his 2007 trip to North Korea.  You all need to get his audio book, as you will simply not believe it.  Fascinating and inspiring.  Still…well, suffice it to say that I will not soon be accepting a drink insistently proffered by the head of the military from a bottle whose ingredients include a dead snake.

We all had to try out Benoit’s amazing new creation for our friend Hiro Takai that you’ve all seen taking shape on Ben’s Facebook page.  It was 99% done, just a bit of final finessing.  Hiro, you are going to love it!  Though you may need to visit the gym much more frequently…

Jim Kline joins in with his ever-present whistle.

Claude plays Yaouen’s harp guitar that was built by Cedric Verglas.

Too much fun! But it was time for Jaci and me to head back to our hotel (we had begged off the communal bunk beds citing Jaci’s bad back and my noisy CPAP machine).

Michel and Sean show off their room.  Well, theirs and several others’. It was like “harp guitar boot camp!” or something, with all the guys stuffed into two barracks.

Claude chuckles about his assigned spot under Yaouen, who he hopes won’t come crashing through Three Stooges style.

Now just imagine Andy Wahlberg sleeping here!  He would arrive later, and how the guys missed getting a photo of his two feet sticking comically out of the bed is beyond me.  Similarly, I could’ve done a whole blog around the recording I begged Benoit to make when he described laying there in the dark listening to four harp guitarists all quietly snoring, each with their own uniquely themed motifs and in completely different tempos!  Alas, he chickened out, and this important historical documentation remains unarchived.

Next: The Harp Guitar Europe International Festival begins! (after a couple of quick sightseeing stops)