Suitcases on Cobblestone Streets

Venice is cursed. I walked cursed Venice in a cloud of confusion. Why did so many people bring so many roller suitcases? Did they not know they were coming to Venice? Did they not know Venice has a stone-stepped bridge every fifty yards? Sweat soaked beneath the savage sun, they heaved their suitcases — all of which were big enough to hide a dismembered body or two — up and down and huffed and seemed distraught at the amount of heaving required to make headway.

Walking Venice — Ridgeline issue 144

This opening paragraph from Craig Mod’s very enjoyable Ridgeline Newsletter could have been written about Lisbon as well. One hears them from afar, the tourists’ suitcases clattering up or down steep cobblestone streets, their wheels squealing from the abuse while the people get the workout of their lives. Mod calls this noise the Rimowa Thunderdome.

Some cities have cobblestone streets while the sidewalks are concrete or asphalt or otherwise fairly smooth. Not Lisbon. Here many sidewalks are made from a different color cobblestone, a smooth beige stone that becomes super treacherous when it rains. I am still experimenting with different pairs of shoes, hoping to find some that offer enough grip during a rain shower, so as not to break a leg. The experience of walking on snow in Santa Fe for thirty years gave my body the very useful ability to react to a slipping foot without going down. So far so good.

What’s the ideal baggage for travel? I don’t think there is one right way. Jon is in the duffel camp and has carried a Tumi duffel for at least two decades. It’s traveled all over the world and has been repaired several times. I used to be a duffel man but a few years ago I switched to a suitcase. There are times when it is so much easier to push a suitcase with one hand (those wheels have become really great, haven’t they!), with my backpack riding on top of the suitcase and the guitar case slung over the other shoulder, while Jon carries his bass case (not exactly light!) in one hand and the Tumi in the other. But arrive at a cobblestone street and he is the one smiling while I have to put the backpack on my back, hold on to the slipping shoulder strap of the guitar case, and drag the suitcase along pitifully.

A few things I have learned:

    – we carry more than we need to and could make do with less
    – be aware of the terrain of your destination
    – will you ride to the hotel or will you need to walk and carry or pull your luggage
    – suitcases, especially hard plastic or metal cases, break like oak trees while duffels can bend like bamboo
    – can your luggage be repaired or will it need to be replaced?

Even if a company replaces the broken suitcase, as they did with mine after the frame got bent, it would no longer lock properly, and a wheel came off, it’s a waste of materials and not a good solution.

Back to the clattering suitcases on cobblestone streets and sidewalks… Take heed and don’t start your journey with a long and exhausting and noisy nightmare of a walk.

Luggage for Musicians

A large duffel is better for the musician who tours by bus. This is because one can open its zipper without moving the duffel out of the luggage compartment. A suitcase, on the other hand, has to be moved out of the bus compartment and onto the parking lot, or the sidewalk, to be opened. This is not a problem when the sun shines or when the bus is parked in a lot, but when it rains, or the bus parked on a busy street with a narrow sidewalk, it represents a sizable problem. Do I carry the suitcase onto the bus, which doesn’t have the space for opening a suitcase either, or do I try to climb into the luggage compartment, which may be quite full of all kinds of other cases and boxes…

A suitcase is better for a van tour, especially one that begins with a flight to the location of the first gig. Even better is a suitcase with very good wheels. Additional luggage items can be strapped to the suitcase and the whole thing can be rolled along easily. Airports are designed for wheeled luggage, as there are escalators and elevators ready to carry one to a different level. Sometimes, however, the musician with the duffel sprints up the stairs faster than the escalator moves with the musician and his suitcase. That’s okay because the musician wheeling the suitcase will catch up when the musician who carries the duffel tires.

For many years I mostly toured by bus and therefore I have a few duffels of different sizes in my garage. As of the beginning of 2018 I switched to van tours and now you might spot me guiding a suitcase, with very good wheels, through hotel hallways and airports.

Thirty years ago this December we drove to Los Angeles for our first little tour, about four months before Nouveau Flamenco was released.