Greg Koch is a prodigious consumer of caffeinated beverages, and Italy is the center of the universe for those seeking the rocket-like boost the dark stuff gives you. I have been introduced to the slightly watered down Cafe Americano, made with lots of espresso. I feel two days worth of fatigue and road complications lifted off of me as if by magic.
We are at the Jet Best Western in a new town – I think it's called Gallarate – that seemed to be as nondescript and slightly run down as the last one. Yet in the middle of it sits this little oasis.
In my home town, the Best Western was the place for steak dinners and was considered classy, but no comparison to our current digs would be fair. Sitting in a shaded, sunken patio just off the lobby and enjoying the fact that summer has lingered long beyond the Wisconsin cut-off date, I am called to look at the pool by Greg. It's the one you dream about on a hot July day, and I have packed no trunks. I'm sure the last thing they want to see here is an ugly American skinny dipper, but the temptation is strong.
All of this has me feeling as if the axe is bound to fall shortly, sort of like the turkey before Thanksgiving. So we set out for a stroll, certain other secrets will be revealed and, wouldn't you just know it, they are. First, there is the church, so lovely I contemplate becoming an altar boy once again. With genuine Renaissance art and stained glass that lets in a dollop of heavenly light, just walking on the marble floor creates a musical echo that sounds angelic.
Sharing what I guess you'd call a piazza with this edifice is the Luzicafe. We walk a little more to see if we can top it, but only as a formality and chance to say we got a little exercise before we stuff ourselves full of genuine Italian calories. There is an inner courtyard where thoughts of fall are banished by sunlight and warmth. A pleasant and oh-so-stylish waitress patiently translates the delights on the menu to the best of her ability. I secretly record her voice for later reference in a way that would make the NSA proud.
The food arrives and goes to the very top of my list of the best meals had in this part of the world. The experience is of course augmented by the sunny afternoon, the church bells next door on the half hour and the fact that we aren't cramped in a van for eight hours or working out the insurance details on a very minor fender bender in two languages. But it stands on its own and is so photogenic that I find myself acting the Facebook cliche of taking a picture. No one is perfect.
I'm working on enjoying all this for what it is, and last night was a clear demonstration of why we are here. Greg's demographic can sometimes seem to be a loner's convention – lots of guys who subscribe to Guitar magazines and obsess about string gauges. The Italian version of this particular fellow is sweet and occasionally talks a girl into coming. As I sing my heart out, I can't help but notice all the loving gazes directed to the other side of the stage. I'll have to love myself, I guess.
Greg then finished with a solo performance that was shocking in its breadth and execution. Most of it is done Chet Atkins style and at warp speed. The medley included "Mr. Sandman," "Chinatown, My Chinatown," "Lady Madonna," "Stairway To Heaven" and then back to "Mr. Sandman" to finish up a room full of slack-jawed worshipers.
True to Chet, these tunes all included rapidly moving bass lines and independent contrapuntal melodies. In the pantheon of guitarists, his stock has to rise a few points a little every time he does. I consider myself a decent guitarist, but this is ridiculous.
Now on to the pool to shock the natives.