Finding it hard to Sopot myself, Day 1

Flies kept me from sleeping well and awoke me earlyish today (8.23.10). Gosia and I decided to head to the beach between Gdynia and Sopot despite the warnings of rain and happily it held off the whole time we were outside. She’d built up the place with photos of a gorgeous cliffside but I was distinctly underwhelmed when we arrived – the “cliff” was hardly twenty meters. The beach itself reminded me strongly of Florida, as did the entire vibe. Soft sand, greenish water, seaweed, a dead bird, tiny waves, old people and students. We spent a pleasantly relaxing hour or so there, just dipping our feet into the water and munching on a some light sandwiches while I sang some chill songs (many of my own).

Okay, it looks big with Zebra there…

Sopot felt incredibly boring to me. Very Las Vegas-y, sort of that generic seaside resort with the same insipid “attractions.” Seeing as the passersby on Monte Cassino street were therefore loaded, though, I had high hopes. I saw a couple of other buskers when Gosia and I scouted the whole street and set up in a clearing where I wouldn’t disturb any shop owners… and it was rubbish. People just passed me by and then after a few songs I heard a violin interrupting my sound space. A pair playing guitar and violin had set up just down the street, so I packed my things and marched up to them, angrily.

I managed to cool down and tell them off very nicely when I got there, explaining they ought to ask first, scout the street – that neither of us would do well with us both infringing on the others soundspace. They seemed oblivious but apologized. I think I also managed to keep a level head because they played well (though simply) and the girl let me borrow her violin for a moment. I was quite surprised when I took it by how loosely she strung her bow. Now, I just played totally random improvisational stuff. I started with a few chords of the Chaconne, messed around off G minor and A minor chords, played broken sixths and thirds or other arpeggios – simple warm uppish stuff and instantly drew a crowd. I don’t think I played more than two minutes before I gave her back the violin and by that time maybe 15 people had gathered and applauded. Pathetic.

One of these audience members turned out to be a serendipitous find. A kindly old Polish lady asked me “Where did you learn to play like that?” and noticing my guitar asked if her son might have a go on it. Disgusted at the world, I acquiesced, having us move down the road to a nice pitch beneath a tree before lending it to him. James, a twelve year old half British kid who speaks fluent Polish and English, slightly chubby and full of energy, started playing Tutti Frutti facing me. He played and sang quite well and again a crowd drew near. The case was open, facing us and away from the street but after the song finished he’d earned four złotych. I told him he was free to keep playing but his mom smiled kindly and took him on, saying “Maybe when we come back down.”

Gosia’d rejoined me by then and sat behind me to a lukewarm pitch. Many stuck around from James’ song but refrained from tipping when he didn’t return. I made a bit of a cynical game of it – not to say that I held back or sang sarcastically, no I gave it my all in each song – but I alerted Gosia before each experiment, just to have a witness. My best songs, and only my best songs: Hallelujah, Stand By Me, etc. garnered a coin or so. Aside from that the racism experiment provided my only earnings.

The waitress in the restaurant across the way gazed dreamily out the whole pitch. This, and Gosia, gave me the energy to keep going. Once she darted out to tip me and everytime she moved from her spot with her head propped on her elbow on a lectern-like object to serve someone or take a bill she looked dazed and shook her head as if to rouse herself from a trance. She was the reason I sang Hallelujah, actually. Towards the end of my pitch Gosia’s friend Natalie, a denizen of Sopot, joined us and helped me out by requesting songs. To my utter surprise her request of Brighter than Sunshine ended up my most succesful, and Torn came a close second. They’re not my strongest and I found that odd.

James and his mother re-appeared as I finished my last song. Perfect timing, I figured, and handed him the guitar to play some. Just as he slung it over his head, however, an angry old Polish lady barreled towards us, screaming about regulations and such. What was oddest about the whole thing was the distinctly targeted nature of her anger – she directed it entirely at me. I’d already stopped playing but she shook her fist menacingly at me (she held a rather large stick in the other hand but wasn’t speaking at all softly) trembling with “You. Go. OUT. OUT.” I’m hesitant to brand it as yet another racist encounter in East Europe but it was a little odd.

Natalie provided a haven for us in her flat a few meters down the road. James’ mother proved the exact opposite of mine in trusting both him and us – he came with us to play and eat and drink some tea while she wandered about elsewhere. We spent a relaxing hour or so there. James taught me some Michael Jackson and regaled us with tales of his busking adventure in Hungary (a couple days), his opinions of popstars (rubbish), other buskers (rubbish), and Bruce Springsteen/Michael Jackson (brilliant, and the latter wronged by the media). I treated him as an adult and maybe because of this he sort of latched onto me like his new pet. We jammed a little and on his insistence departed the flat for another pitch on Monte Cassino.

Light rain fell so we decided to occupy the same pitch as before, happily beneath the cover of a tree. James’ Tutti Frutti went ignored this time, however, perhaps because the passersby saw he was accompanied by me (I played backing chords). We moved on to Black or White, which changed the rest of the evening. Still no tips – he sang while I played – but by the chorus the buskers who’d been struggling up the road came and joined us in song. The two girls danced enthusiastically in a hippie-esque twirling/flamenco clapping way, singing along and smiling broadly. The next hour was total chaos. I felt a little guilty for the pitch – it was the party-on-the-street kind of “busking” I tend to stay away from – but hell, I had fun. The same waitress seemed to sympathize with me and had an obvious pattern of attention when I sang and tending to the customers when others did.

It’s hard to describe the whirlwind of activity. I passed my repertoire list to the male busker, who’d just busked his way to Portugal, and we sang our common songs interspersed with James’ own (on his insistence), which I backed with random chords and echoes of the.. childish lyrics. The two girls didn’t know many lyrics but happily sang along in the way of backup singers – swaying along in time, snapping, and “oohing” to Let it Be, Tears in Heaven. They swooned over Hey There Delilah and danced crazily during I’m Yours. When the man and I sang Falling Slowly (at a faster tempo than I’d like and with less of my lingering pauses) a couple of high school girls in I heart New York shirts joined us and “oohed” along. The man boasted a very low voice so it was impossible to harmonize – we sang the same part about two octaves apart… not my best rendition but fun.

One of the buskers from the gate to the long pier wandered by during Mrs. Robinson and tipped us wonderingly. Our tips were generally non-existent, as most of the people stared incredulously at us (sometimes staying to gawk) but never shuffled forward. The rain petered out halfway through, about when the night grew truly dark. A crazy drunk emerged, dancing and shouting along to us spastically. Somewhere in there we swapped collection cases – I’d take breaks while James or the man sang a song I didn’t know and chat on the bench with another “busker” from our growing ensemble. By my last song – a full on Hey Ya complete with four backup singers doing the swimming hand motions, two men responding to the “Alright now Fellas” we were a party of eleven.

I began to feel overwhelmed and made an excuse to duck out to find Gosia. My fellow buskers graciously passed me all our paltry earnings and after a bit of searching, James and I retrieved our respective cases (he’d borrowed Natalie’s guitar). He continued to latch onto me, trying to make me stay the night with his family but I demurred. We parted with his insistence that I visit him in Katowice, soon. Somewhere in the frenzy, however, I lost my Capo, or it was stolen, which tinged this very memorable pitch sourly – the cost to replace it would set me back significantly.

Earnings: 39,00 PLN, 2.5 hours
Song of the Day: Brighter Than Sunshine – Aqualung

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