Monday, February 28, 2011

Living La Vida London: Day 1 [Part 6]

London Day 1

The train from Paris to London was great. In fact if I ever have to do that again I will totally take the train.  I Highly recommend it.  When I got off I was met by Carol-Ann, a friend of a friend who had been helping me secure lodging for the week. I was so grateful for her because she also bought me a SIM card for my phone and an Oyster for the Tube.  [Angle #4]

I got off the train at St. Pancreas Station and then we boarded a city bus to the North of London where Jeff and I would be staying. Jeff was arriving on Tuesday morning so he was not with me at this point.  The flat was along Holloway Road and the area seemed cool. Lots of shops on the street so we could get almost anything we needed. Great! :-)

When we got to the flat it looked cool on the outside, but then we opened the door to the building. The hallway smelled a bit like pee and I was immediately concerned.  But I let it go because sometimes how things are on the hallway of a building does not reflect how all individuals are living there. I know that very well from living in New York.  So I kept an open mind.

We knocked on the door of Carol-Ann's friend's place, where I would be staying, and no one answered. We knocked a couple more times and then we just tried the door. Well, low and behold it was open. I was also a bit concerned about that, but then I said to myself that maybe he left the door open for us because he knew he had to run to the store or something, but then wouldn't he have just called Carol-Ann to tell her that? Hmm... Okay. I'm still keeping an open mind.

When we got in he was asleep on the couch. Ok. She went to wake him and then took me back to my room.  I hadn't met Carol-Ann's friend at that point, but when I went back to the room I knew I couldn't say there. But I was trying to make the most of it because I didn't want to seem ungrateful for the work she had put in to help me out. So I put my things down, and then she said her friend wanted to talk to me about keys. No problem

When I went out to talk to him about the keys I knew something was wrong. He seemed like he was on or coming down or something. I know he just woke up, but my intuition was telling me something else.  It was more than just being woken up.  He then started telling me about the keys and some rules or something and then he asked for more money than we agreed on. Some mess about it being more than just me in the house, usually only one person stays in the room I'm in, blah, blah, blah.  All this and he couldn't even look me in the eye.  It became very clear to me that he just needed some extra loot so he could score again! Well at least that's what I felt.  At that point I pulled Carol-Ann aside and told her that I could not stay there. She totally understood and she was heated at her friend. I mean she was really pissed.  At that point I just didn't feel safe and I felt really bad for her because she was totally embarrassed. I know that must have sucked.

On a whim I called another friend, Michelle.   She is also a friend of a friend, but came highly recommended by my friend Ahmed who had stayed at her place for a while during the couple of years he lived in London.   I had spoken with her about staying at her place before I got to London, but chose not to because she wasn't as central as Carol-Ann's friend.   Well, thank Goddess Michelle was still open to having us at her place.  [Angel #5]

So Carol-Ann and I gathered my things, she helped me get myself situated on how to get to Michelle's house, told her boy we were leaving and bounced!  She later confessed to me that she was getting concerned about her friend a couple of days before I arrived and was trying to find us another place to stay. She also told me that she had already given him an extra £30  and cleaned his flat before we got there!  What??!!   I am really thankful for her, but I am so glad I stuck to my gut.   We topped up my Oyster card so I could ride the bus and Tube that night.  We both needed to calm down and see if we could get my SIM card working in my cell phone. So we decided to hit a pub near her place and the Tube station that I needed to take to get to Michelle's place. 

We ended up at this spot called The Library, which turned out to be where I was scheduled to play the next night.  So now I knew exactly where the place was.  We had a couple of drinks and tried to get my cell working, which turned out to be a bit of a disaster.  For some reason T-mobile just couldn't get it going. So I emailed Jeff to let him know what was going on so he wouldn't be caught off guard when he got here.  I met Carol-Ann's beautiful children who came by to drop off my CDs that I sent ahead to London. We drank and talked a bit more and then I went on my merry way.  Although Michelle lives in South London, that night it felt like a short ride to her station.  Thank Goddess she came pick me up at the train. I know I told you she's an angel, but really. Really!

When I walked into Michelle's house it was like the light came on. Compared to the other spot, this was like the W Hotel. Her and her family have affirmations all over the house, vision boards and crystals.  Ah, I was right at home.  It had been such a long day, but I was wired.  I stayed up much later than I should have because I had to meet Jeff at the airport at 8:25am.  That meant I had to be out of the house by about 6:30 or 7am. Remember I told you all I am now in south London and sometimes it felt like the deep south. So much so that when Michelle came to pick me up from the train I saw a fox in the street. Yes a real live fox!  Little did I know that would not be the last fox I saw that week.  Those jokers are taking over the city and it's a little bananas if I do say so myself. Can you imagine foxes running around in Brooklyn or Harlem? This is what I'm talking about.

When I finally got settled in, it was about 2 or 3am so I only had a few hours to sleep.  But at least I could sleep.  Thank Goddess for that.  I am so glad I listened to my gut in this situation.

Weary from the day and after a while of winding down, I finally fell asleep.  I had a big day ahead. I was France tired and London weary, but okay.  I wouldn't have my life any another way.

Near my new home in London.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Au revoir Paris: Day 4 [Part 5]

Paris Day 4

So it’s my last day in Paris. I scraped myself up to eat my last breakfast on the house. Most of the Burnt Sugar crew were heading back to New York except a few of folks who were staying on in Paris and I was heading to London.

Latasha got up early to go to the pharmacy near the Hammam to get a few products because they were much less expensive over there. I wanted to go there myself, but thought I had run out of time when she reminded me that I could leave my bags at the hotel until it was time for me to go to catch my train to London.  I totally didn’t think of that. The rest of the band had to leave around 11am, but my train wasn't until 3pm so I had plenty of time. I waited for the Sugar crew to come down so I could say my goodbyes and then I headed to the pharmacy in the area where the Hammam is, based on directions that Latasha gave me. Well, she was right on the money. Right when I got off the Metro there it was!

Karma, Paula and Latasha couldn’t stop raving about the products that the ladies used on them at the Hammam so I went and got myself some good stuff. Latasha also suggested that I go see the Hammam from the outside because it’s beautiful and she was right. It was also a nice little walk off the beaten path.


More Hammam

I walked a bit, then headed back on the Metro. Walking back through the stations I finally saw the billboards about the Sons d'hiver festival and there we were.  It was a great reminder of the days gone by and how much fun we had.  It made me a little sad to leave so soon, but in the paraphrased words of Jay-Z; we came, we saw, we conquered.  I'm sure Burnt Sugar will be back in Paris.

Festival billboards in Metro walkway

Check us out!

After a short ride on the Metro I was back to the hotel. Upon arrival, I got my bags, called LaRonda to thank her for everything (she tour managed) and then headed to the Eurostar train station. Au revoir Rue de Bercy.

It was home for a while

When I got to the Paris Nord Eurostar station I was on the hunt for food. I found a little spot outside of the station and purchased my last sandwich in Paris. Note: Paris should be renamed the city of the sandwich becasue if you can't find any other food you can always find a sandwich. I got to the station a little early so I had to wait a bit for my train to be called.

When I finally heard the call I headed up to go through customs to get on the train. If you have never been though customs trying to get into the UK let me tell you that it is known for being a little tight. I’m usually really prepared for them, but I totally forgot that I needed to have the address of where I am staying. I did have it, but it was in my phone and I couldn’t get online in the train station because you had to pay for wifi in there. So I filled out the rest of the cutsoms form and put the name of the “friend” I was staying with in London and then went to the window. I told the customs agent that I had the address, but it was in my phone and I couldn’t get it out because I couldn’t get online. He told me that if my email messages had cached out then I could see them, but I couldn’t and that was the truth. So he asked me a couple of questions about my “friend.” Where/how we met. How long we have known each other. Etc. I guess I was convincing enough because he let me through. I say “friend” because the person I was really going to stay with was a friend of a friend and I didn't know her really at all. Either way I was through.

I got on the cue with the rest of the folks and headed for the train. I was really ready to sit down and relax for a few hours. I was beat down tired. The original plan was to stay awake and watch the French and English countryside pass me by, but my body said otherwise. I was in and out of sleep the whole ride and then before I knew it we were arriving at King’s Cross/St. Pancras station in London. Au revoir Paris, Hello Governor!

On my way to London

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Walking Paris with my Mom! Day 3 [Part 4]

Paris Day 3

I scraped myself up the next morning. Got some breakfast with the Burnt Sugar folks (I think, lol), got dressed and headed out to meet my mom and dad at their hotel. This was my one day off in Paris so I had to make the most of it. There is so much to see in Paris, but I was ready.  I know how to do a city in a day. I did it in Rome so I knew I could do it in Paris.

I checked the Metro map and figured out how to get to my parents hotel. I got there with not problem, but there was one incident along the way. As I was walking down the street to their hotel this man pulls up next to me and asks me if I speak English. Then he started to go into this whole spiel about how he had just come from some big fashion conference and tells me he wants to give me a leather coat that he has in his car supposedly by some “big” designer.  So I got with it and say, “For me?” Yeah right! Anyway, he goes on to tell me that he will give me the coat if I help him out with some gas money because he had to drive back to Milan. What??!! Milan? Okay. Then he proceeds to point his speedometer, which was on 0 (because he’s stopped) and try to convince me that that’s his gas meter. Right! So after I made it clear that I wasn’t going to give him any money and that I’m from New York, he starts to give me some sob story about how he gambled away all of his money so he really needs help. Okay man, the gambling angle is getting you nowhere. So after doing a bit more begging he realized that I’m not the one and goes his own way. Ah Paris...

Shortly after that I arrived at my mother’s hotel. I could see a bit of the Eiffel Tower from the street her hotel was on. I have to be honest and tell you that I was not initially impressed. I could only see the top of it and it just looked sort of old and rusty from the vantage point. Well, boy was I wrong.

Partial Eiffel Tower from street of Mom's hotel
After chatting with my parents in their hotel room, my mother and I set off for our Paris adventure. Their hotel was right between the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. So we decided to walk toward the Tower and make our way from there. When we got to the spot where probably everyone in the world has taken their obligatory Eiffel Tower photo I was in awe. We all know that the Tower is large. We know this. We have seen the photos. We have seen it on TV.  But nothing really prepared me for just how HUGE this thing is. I mean it’s just brilliant. I was really taken aback. I didn’t expect to be so impressed by it. You know how we artsy folks sometimes want to turn a blind eye at the touristy stuff because we don’t want to be like the masses, but sometimes you just have to do it. You can’t come all that way and not do it. So me and my mom did it big.

Ladies & Gentleman, the Eiffel Tower
Me at the Tower

After gazing on the Tower for a while we walked down closer to it. We were right on the Seine so we decided to take a boat ride down the river. We got a one way ticket and hopped on. It was really nice to see the city from the water. We passed various sites, museums and traveled under bridges with statues adorned with gold leaf.

Gold leaf sculptures adorn bridges over the Seine
More gold

When we got off the boat we were right by Notre Dame. We took a few photos from a distance and decided to go in. The line to get in Notre Dame looked a little crazy, but it moved quickly. We took a stroll around the church, checked out the alters and stained glass. The crazy thing about Notre Dame is that they had mass going on while people were touring the church. They also had a priest on call for confession just in case you were moved to spill it on vacation. It is a beautiful place, but it kind of irked my mother that they had a gift shop in the church. I have to agree with her on that. When I went to St. Peter’s in Rome that was not happening at all. It felt like they were pimpin’ the product for real. Asking for donations is one things, but a straight up gift shop is a whole other.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Notre Dame.
One of the Rose Windows inside Notre Dame

St. Joan of Arc inside Notre Dame. I always liked her.

After Notre Dame we made our way to the Louvre. It was a bit of a walk, but not bad at all. We weren’t sure if we were going to go in, not knowing how much it would cost, but I wanted to go in so we got on line. As we got closer to the front I realized that they were not taking money from people. OMG! It was FREE!!

Entrance to the Louvre!

The Louvre is huge to say the least. So we had to pick a side and go for it. We chose the Denon side where the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo are. As we entered the section there were big signs about not taking photos of or touching the art. Cool. Perfectly understandable. So away we went.

We started in the Roman section and it was great to see all the statues. There is a statue of a Black Roman made of black marble that was beautiful. Does anyone know who this is?  Just one hint, he's not Septimius Severus (AD 145-211), the first Black Roman emperor unless the likeness is way off. Trust me, I checked. As we were walking through this section I saw one person take a photo and then another. I was confused because I knew what the signs said, but security didn’t seem to care. Okay so now the museum is free and I can take pictures? What day was this in France? So I whipped out my camera and shot a few flicks.

Black Roman sculpture in Salle du Manège room at Louvre. Can anyone tell me who this is?
Isis in Salle du Manège room at Louvre
Osiris in Salle du Manège room at Louvre

We then walked around to see if we could find the Mona Lisa. I have to admit I wasn’t all the way interested in seeing the painting, but damn it I was there. So off we went. Let me tell you, the paintings in the museum leading up to and in the same room as the Mona Lisa were way more interesting than her.  That is because the Mona Lisa it’s really small and it’s behind glass and some other barriers. That sort of defeats the purpose of looking at art. I like to get up on it. Look at brush strokes, colors, etc. You can’t do any of that with miss Lisa. Such is the nature of priceless art. It also made me wonder if it was really real. I mean how do we know if it’s not a copy. I now I sound really blasphemous right now, but I say, put some sort of homing devise on it and let people get up on it and look at it. Single file please. Lol. Clearly it was all anti-climactic for me.

Miss Lisa if you're nasty!

We then tried to get over to see the Venus de Milo, but we ran out of time.   But I did get some shots of the Winged Victory.  You can't miss her on your way to the Mona Lisa. Just incredible! We got to the museum really late. If I had known that joker was free all day I would have been there way earlier. The Louvre boasts that if you were to stand in front of every piece of art for 1 minute it would take you four months to get through the whole place. That's big!

Winged Victory a.k.a. Nike

After leaving the museum my mom and I started walking toward the Champs Ellysées  and the Arc de Triomphe. We walked through the park next to the Louvre, which had an arc that looked a lot like Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn,  by the big Paris ferris wheel, the Luxor Obelisk, and on to the Champs Ellysées where I was stopped in my tracks by a Virgin Megastore! Wow, they do still exist. Although it is wintertime in Paris I can totally see how people can have the potential to fall in love there in the spring. When everything is in bloom I’m sure it’s pure magic.

Me and Mom at the Louvre
Okay BK, does this or does this not look like Grand Army Plaza?

Le Grande Roue (Ferris Wheel) from boat on Seine
Luxor Obelisk
It seems there are still record stores in Paris. I think I need to be there!

We walked, and walked and walked so by the time we got back to her hotel we were past ready to eat. We met my dad at the hotel, took a quick breather and headed to dinner.

We went to a little spot near their hotel. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was really quaint and very good. It was the best meal I had in Paris. We ate, drank and talked Paris. I was so tried and ready for bed, for real. I walked with my parents back to their hotel, said my goodbyes and headed back to the Metro. I could see just a bit of the Eiffel Tower lit up from the street. I wanted to walk around and get a head on shot, but I was too beat. Next time. :-)
Late night partial Tower by Mom's hotel
Arc de Triomphe. Giving Washington Square a run for it's money.

When I got back to the hotel it started to sink in that that was my last day in Paris. I have to go back. I need more time to see the city and get a better feeling for it. I have a place to stay in the South of France now so I just need a ticket.

Rue de Bercy at night

Back at the hotel a few folks were hanging out and as tired as I was I sat and chilled with them for a while. I'm glad I did because Paula came up with a really cool concept for a travel show for me.  I can't give it away because I don't want to look up and see someone else doing my show. Ha!  I will say this though. One of the shows will be called, "Shelley Does Delhi!" LOL! 

I headed up to my room and got my bags in as much order as possible since we were checking out the next day.  Day 3 done and I was beat down tired, but it was a magical day in Paris.

Novotel de Bercy at night. Home for the last three days. :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sons d'Hiver: Hommage a Miles et James: Day 2 [Part 3]

Paris Day 2

I made myself get up to eat breakfast. I knew it was going to be a long one because we had to perform two sets tonigh. I must admit I don’t know what I did after breakfast. Went to my room, chilled, I don’t know, but I had to be ready in the lobby by 1:15pm to go to soundcheck for the days events.  In my sleepy fog, I made to to the lobby at the appointed time.  Then we all piled into the two vans and headed for the venue. The musicians went a little before the vocalists. Since I’m both I just headed out in the first shift.

Upon arriving at the venue we all made our way to the stage to set up for soundcheck. We had a big chunk of time since we had to check for two sets. Melvin Van Peebles band was also on the bill for that night. His band includes many of the members of Burnt Sugar so it was a very long day all around.

A bit of the Burnt Sugar set up

For those of you who don’t know, Burnt Sugar it is a huge band. Let me break down the personnel and instrumentation of the band (for this gig) so you can get an idea of what we are working with here. I’ll start with the rhythm section and move from there.

We had two drummers (LaFrae & Chris), two bassists (Jared [electric] & Jason [upright]), three guitarists (Andre, Asim & Greg), two on keys (Myles & Bruce), two strings (Mazz [violin] & Will [cello]), three percussionists (Myself, Mikel & Satch), five winds/brass (Micah [alto sax], Avram [tenor sax & bass clarinet], Flip [trumpet], Paula [bari-sax] and Satch [flute]), Electronics (Latasha) and 5 vocals (Karma, Lisala, Latasha, Mikel and I). That is a grand total of 21 folks y’all!

LaFrae, Chris & Jared

Horns & Strings

Part of the B.S. Crew

After soundcheck, we ate, chilled and then got ready to rock. The thing I really love about Paris is that there is wine with everything. Reminded me so much of Italy. Ah Italy…

We all got in our rock & roll best and waited for Melvin Van Peeble wid Laxative to wrap up their set. Well some of us waited while others played that first set. As soon as they finished it was time for us to hit our first set, which was “Bitches Brew” Hommage a Miles Davis. It was our interpretations of a few joints from Davis’s classic albums Bitches Brew and On the Corner.


Latasha & Micah ready to go!

Now, I’m just going to say without hesitation that that set was KILLIN’! I mean it was just incredible. I think it went better than any of us even imagined it would have been and we knew it was gonna be good.  Besides hitting the Miles stuff we also hit a quick bit of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”, which was a cool mash-up. Lisala ended the set with “Little Church” and just wrapped that joint all the way up. It was amazing! I got to play my Evian bottle, which is all that water is really good for. Ha! The bottle will make another appearance for sure. Oh wait, how can I forget my french name change.

When we were at the show the night before I picked up a program for the entire festival. In it listed the names of everyone performing on the Burnt Sugar set. I was somehow listed as Nicole Shelley instead of Shelley Nicole. I guess someone in Paris thought it sounded better that way. So in his best french accent, Greg introduced me to the audience as Nicole Shelley. I kind of liked it so I became her for the rest of my time in Paris.  I might have to bring her back again for another show. :-)

My percussion set up
When that set ended we really could have went home, but we still had one more section, the Hommage a James Brown. Yes, we were freaking the JB songbook once again. So after a short intermission we headed back to the stage. The James Brown set was a breeze after the Miles joint. We just went out there and had a whole lot of fun. From the very first note of the set the audience was on their feet and they danced in the aisles until the very last note. Of course there was a call for an encore so we went back and did and Miles Davis/James Brown mash-up at the end. Amazing!

Lisala, Micah & Karma! Yes Micah is having a great time. lol
Mazz, Micah & Myles
There were a few of things that really took that night over the top. The first was that I had my parents, aunt Helen and uncle Richard in the house. Second, my friend Heather that I have known since nursery school was also in the house. She now lives in the South of France so she took a short holiday and came up to Paris to see the me and the show. Yes! I hadn’t seen her in almost 20 years. Heather was kind enough to help my parents get a cab back to their hotel. I told my mom I would come see her the next day so we could hang out and see the city together, and off they went. Heather hung back with me and traveled back to the hotel with the band. She was more than happy to be a “groupie”. Her words not mine. LOL. Third, I got to see my friend Miles Marshall Lewis who told me he will be moving back to New York with his family after 7-years of being an ex-pat.  It's was really great to see him and we will welcome him home with open arms.

On the way back to the hotel lots of ideas were thrown around about what to do for an after party, but the idea of food won out for me. We hadn’t eaten since before the show so food was long overdue. One more big surprise at the hotel was Mike Ladd, another one of my poetry ex-Pats.  It was so great to see him even for that short minute.  He looks great!  So back to the matter at hand. Food! After some deliberation Greg, LaRonda, Myles, Karma, Will, Heather and I got into a couple of cabs and headed to the Bastille to find some late night eats.

The Bastille was hoppin.’ After walking a bit,  we picked a spot that was right on the square and they found a table for us in the back. We settled in and began our journey into food. It was a really great night. We talked, laughed and Heather got a little Burnt Sugar history around the table. I drank some very sweet beer that Karma hipped me to, and enjoyed the moment. Paris on the food tip was starting to redeem itself.

I was tired as hell when we got back to the hotel. Heather had to leave early in the morning. She was crashing with me and she said she wouldn’t wake me before she left. I just knew I would hear her leave because I sleep pretty lightly, but boy was I wrong. We didn’t go to bed until about 6am and she had to catch a 9:15am train. I didn’t even hear her alarm go off or feel her get up. The next thing I knew I was being woken up by housekeeping who came into my room because I did not answer the door when they knocked. I was KNOCKED OUT!! That is not my style at all. I don’t know the last time I slept so hard. I still can't believe Heather got up and out without me hearing a thing. It felt like a dream that she was there at all. If it wasn't for the note she left I would have doubted the whole evening.  It was kind of scary really. I could have been robbed! LOL. Not by Heather, but I’m just saying anyone could have come in there and I would have been none the wiser. Ah Paris. Another big day ahead.

Thank you & Goodnight!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bonjour Paris! Day 1 [Part 2]

Paris Day 1

When we landed in Paris we were greeted by a representative from the festival who took us to our hotel. It was a short ride from the airport to the Novotel de Bercy on Rue de Bercy.  The hotel was great and right next to the sports arena where they happened to be holding a world judo competition at the same time we were there. So we were sharing space with athletes from all over the world. Interesting combo to say the least.

The rooms weren’t quite ready when we arrived because we were a bit early. So we just chilled in the lobby until things opened up. When I finally got into my room I probably should have just went to sleep, but it's Paris! I can sleep when I’m dead. Lol.

View from my room
Paris Arena [can't remember the real name/from my room]
It may not look like it, but it was the best bed ever!

The situation room. It really was it's own room! LOL!
Some of the ladies in the band were going to the Hammam at the Paris Mosque where there is a spa and baths. There you can steam, get scrubs, massages, etc. I really wanted to go, but I had €100 to work with for the next few days so I couldn’t drop €48 of that on the spa. I later found out I probably could have gone because just to go to the baths and steam it was only €15, but that’s okay. I WILL get back to Paris.

Near Rue de Bercy
So instead of the spa I just walked down Rue de Bercy a bit to see what was what. Mazz and I later went out to get some food. Sadly my first meal in Paris was not exciting at all, but it filled the hole. I then took a short nap. I was beat down, but I was trying to stay up so I could get my sleep pattern in order. The jet-lag was beating me down. Of course I could have stayed at the hotel and got some real rest, but it's Paris and we had passes to see some of the other bands in the festival! So I peeled myself up and went with some of the Sugar crew to check out Graham Haynes presenting Bitches Brew Revisited and Ebo Taylor and Afrobeat Academy.

Me at the Festival
We hopped on the Metro (my first time on it) to get over to the Bastille, where we caught a bus provided by the festival, over to the venue. The spot was a bit outside of the city, but it was nice to ride for a while. When we got to the spot, I got another bad sandwich (ugh), found a spot to sit with Mazz and Chris and we settled in for the show.

It was great to hear Graham Haynes and crew do Bitches Brew, but when jet-lag is riding you Bitches Brew sounds like sweet lullaby. LOL! It just put me in a trance and I was in and out of consciousness for the whole set. I saw them do the show at Prospect Park over the summer and it was amazing. So I know what I missed, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I just pray I wasn’t snoring.

Ebo Taylor and crew were way more upbeat. So I stood up and bopped to the music till it was time to head out. The bus took us back to the Bastille and we were hungry. Folks were talking burgers, but that wasn’t doing it for me. Karma and I found this spot called Léon de Bruxelles that was open and they was serving mussels. That was it for me! So we ate, talked and headed back to the hotel. The Metro had stopped running so we decided to walk home instead of getting a cab. I was dog tired, but I was in Paris! LOL. So we began our journey. It was going well, but then we got a little turned around.  Luckily we hadn’t wandered too far out of the way so we found out way back quite easily. By the time we made it home I fell right out. I have to say that that hotel probably has the best mattress I have ever slept on. I slept so hard I didn’t even dream. Big day ahead.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Gift of Paris! [Part 1]

To get to London we must start in Paris. This is how I was able to get to the UK this time around, so we must start there.

Back in November I received the best b’earthday gift ever. Jared from Burnt Sugar asked me if I would like to join the band in Paris in February for the Sons d’Hiver Festival. They were invited to do the James Brown se and wanted me to come along. Of course I said yes! In my excitement I wasn’t even thinking past Paris. That’s when my friend Ian reminded me of how close I would be to London. He suggested that I inquire about extending my ticket, which never even crossed my mind. I haven’t been back to London since 2007 so I was long overdue.

Before contacting Jared to ask about the flight extension, I sent an email to my man Adam Rock at Jazz Re:freshed to see if he could book me for Feb. 10th, which would be the week I could be in London. He said he had something booked, but he would bump it and put me in. Yes! So I went back to Jared and asked about the flight extension and he said it would be no problem. With that, it was on!

I never thought it would have taken me four years to get back overseas, and now I can’t remember why it did. Sometimes the small things in life get in the way. But there I was, poised to go back to London and I was prepared to go it alone.

The last time I went Shawn, Achuziam, Lionel, Irv and Teddy came with me and we had an awesome time. I knew that it may not be a possibility for them to come this time as I could not secure anyone’s lodging or ticket except my own. So I figured I would pick up a band there and just go for it.

Somewhere along the line I told Jeff of my plans and he said he would be down to go and was really excited as he had been to London and really wanted to check it out. So it looked like it was going to be just two hairs in the U.S. büshe in London, but I digress. Let’s get back to Paris.

When I told my mother that I was going to Paris, she said she was coming. I didn’t know if she was serious, but then she kept asking me for travel dates and where we were staying so I knew it was really on.

As the departure date got closer I was in full swing of booking shows for the band in London. I managed to book four shows and two radio spots. Not bad for a gorilla operation. I was planning and squaring everything away right up until I got the plane for Paris.

I have to admit that before departing I was concerned about how much luggage I was bringing. Would it be overweight, would they let me bring my bass on the plane, etc. I was making calls to airlines and praying the whole time. When people would ask if I was excited I would tell them, “I’ll be excited when I’m through security at JFK.”

I wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible so I got to the airport mad early. I printed out my boarding pass at home so I wouldn’t have to do it at the kisok. I wanted to go straight to the line to check my bag and pray they don’t ask me to check my bass because I decided not to bring the travel case. For comfort sake I needed the bass to be on my back. I just had too much stuff for it to be in my other hand. I needed an angel.

When I got to JFK to the Air France counter it was empty. I mean totally empty. There was no one on line at all. Note: If you want to fly to Paris from JFK and not wait on line, fly on Thursday night, barring a holiday of course. It was sort or eerily quiet, but I was glad.

I walked over to the counter. Presented my passport and paperwork, checked my bag and headed for security. The woman at the desk didn’t ask me about my bass at all. Just gave me my boarding pass and a smile and off I went. [Angel #1]

Next shocker, the security line was damn near empty as well. I went through without any problem, but they wanted to look at what was in the pocket of my bass case. The guy at security went in and pullout out my screwdriver. I forgot I had it in there. I use it to take the battery in and out of my bass when I need to change it. Well I was prepared to leave that behind, when my man slid it back to me sort of on the sly tip! Wow! I mean I know that I’m not going to try and hijack the plane with my screwdriver, but how does he know? lol Oh well, I’ll take it. [Angel #2] I gave him a nod and headed to my gate. He was flirting with me a bit too so I think that’s how I got over. Lol.

I walked down to my gate and I was the only one there. The only other Burnt Sugar members who were on my flight were LaRonda and Lisala. So as I was there waiting I had to buy the obligatory overpriced sandwich in the airport. If there is time to kill that is a must, unless you are at Chicago, O’Hare and then you must purchase the obligatory bag of Garrett Popcorn. ☺

Before I was able to make my purchase I saw Lisala coming toward the gate. I was on the phone so I waved. When I got off the phone we chatted a bit and then out of the blue I see my old neighbor Chris from my Clinton Ave. days. Can I tell you how much I love running into people I know at the airport? I think this is the second time this has happened to me. I ran into Saul Williams at O’Hare actually, on my way to Michfest. It just reaffirms for me that I am doing what I supposed to be and that all my artistic people are living the life they want to live. Chris was on his way to the Sudan to teach illustration. Nice!

As I walked and talked with Chris, on my way to the obligatory sandwich, we ran into LaRonda eating her obligatory overpriced meal as well. Ah, the airport. Chris and I said a brief hello, moved on to get our overpriced meal and then parted ways.

Air France is incredible from before you even step foot on the plane. They don’t calls seat numbers or sections or any of that in order to board people. They just said “Air France flight 008 is now boarding” and that was it. Now that’s what I’m talking about. That’s just civilized. LOL!

My departure gate

When I got on the plane my bass didn’t fit in the overhead, but they gladly put it in the closet, in business class thank you very much. I also wanted a window seat, but I just ran out of time to request that so I was on the isle. Well when they closed the plane door the person in my row had not shown up so there I was with the window seat that I wanted! [Angel #3] I moved over, situated myself and soon we were off.

The Air France flight experience is incredible. People rave about Virgin America and Jet Blue and I have flown both, but right now Air France is giving both of them a big run for their money. Big! I had no idea flying could be like this. There was mad room in coach, lots of movies for free and the topper, wine! Red or white, and it was good. The food was good for plane food and you didn’t have to pay extra. The bread was on point and the cheese was amazing. They are serving France before you even get there. They were also offering Champaign! For Free! What? Just lovely.

I could hardly sleep, which would catch up with me later, but for the time being I was happy as a clam. I was on my way to Paris.

The French countryside from my window seat

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Making a Change: The Year of the Rabbit

The locs

Well folks tomorrow we say farewell to the mighty Tiger and usher in the hopeful Rabbit. Yes tomorrow is the Chinese New Year and according to the Chinese tradition the Year of the Rabbit brings a time in which "you can catch your breath and calm your nerves." I know we could all use some of that. (Click Here for More on The Year of the Rabbit). In the spirit of the New Year, I want to tell you a story.

In 1993 I arrived in New York City. When I think of my journey working at Tower Records in Boston (R.I.P.), being transferred to the New York Tower in Lincoln Center (R.I.P.), so I could work as an unpaid intern at VIBE it all seems like a dream. I won't recap my whole crazy New York story, but I will say this.

When I arrived here in the Apple I was not rockin' locs. I had actually just cut off my first set that I started in college. I was one of 3 or 4 people on my campus with locs.  Let me accent this point by telling you that  I went to The Ohio State University which boasts a population of about 60,000 students and at that time only about 2,500 of those students were Black. With that in mind the 3 or 4 of us with locs were the minority within the minority. You dig? Loc'ing was not popular and often times people thought I had lost my mind. This is the midwest after all. The land of the relaxer.

When school ended and I landed in New York, well Parlin, NJ to be exact, I had a fresh fade. Daily I would commute into the City for work and that is when saw all these loc'd folks going to work too. Nobody was looking at them crazy and they had a job (something my family was concerned I wouldn't have if I loc'd my hair).  It was then that  I knew I had found my people and it was time to try again.

One of the first people I met in New York was Greg Tate.  I interviewed him for an article I was writing about the Black Rock Coalition. At that time he was one of my loc'd bredren. I remember telling him that I was ready to loc again and he kind of gave me a speech about commitment. LOL!  About how much it would really take to maintain them and once it was locked that was it, and so on.  Then he pretty much told me, in so many words, that he didn't think I would make it down the loc'd road. That I would fall off around the time I started seeing too many naps. LOL!  I can laugh now, but then I sort of took it as a challenge.  Thanks Greg.


So with the gauntlet thrown I began to loc, and boy did I loc. I loc'd through moving from Jersey (out of my aunts house) to Queens (in and out of my girls basement) to Brooklyn (into an apt with my girl Heather), through finding my tribe (The Tea Party, 452, Brooklyn Moon), through working on Long Island (CMP), through working in radio (MJI), a myriad of magazines (VIBE [2x], Martha Stewart, O, George, Harper's Bazaar, et. al), though starting a band (Shelley Nicole's blaKbüshe), making two albums, being homeless, and friends taking me in,  through love and heartbreak, loss and gain, cars [2] and no car, yoga, surgery, meditation, much partying, getting out of corporate America and several volumes of books filled with my personal New York adventures (literally I have journals for days). Seventeen years of locs and now I'm back to the beginning.  It's a fresh start and it feels amazing!


The Back Jack!

I cut my locs with my friend Nye at her spot in NJ. As I held my locs in my hand, I couldn't believe they had been on my head. It was so time for them to go. They had served me well. They had rocked hard with me all over the globe. 

Nye and I had a great time on Wednesday.  She washed, cut and twisted the top, but we had to go see her barber Rossi for the final touches. So we drove from Newark to East Orange and stepped into the Lincoln barber shop. I hadn't been to the shop in 17 years so I had forgotten about the energy in there. I have to admit I love it.  Of course all of the fellas are on guard when you walk in, but then they are trying to get your number as things loosen up, but it was a great vibe.  Shout out to Rossi who lined me up,  made me feel like a queen and cut Nye some slack for being all up in his chair space. LOL! She was my hair producer after all.  I showed the barbers the locs I had just cut off and they were in awe.

Nye & Rossi
Me & Rossi

Side note: Fellas please chime in on your feelings about women and hair.  I need to know why some of you scoff at the idea of a short haired women.  

So now it's ceremony time. You know I have to do some sort of offering, which will happen when I get back from Europe.  In the mean time, now I'm in the market for hats, big earrings and a barber in Brooklyn. If you can supply any of these items for a women send them my way and I'll have a big hug for you.

Welcome the Year of the Rabbit. I'm ready to make my wishes and watch my dreams come true. How about you?

Me & Nye