LUCK IN LUCCA
The drink that changed my life
I arrived in Milan not knowing anybody with just 40,000 lire in my pocket and my saxophone. Forty thousand lire may sound like a lot of money but the fact that a simple pizza cost 400 lire gives an indication of how quickly that amount of money could last you.
Once I had found a cheap guesthouse, it hit me that if I was going to survive in the city I had to get street-wise fast. I needed some inside information. The only reference I had was what the agent in Lucca had told me: ‘Go to Bar Plinio behind the Galleria del Corso. That’s where the musicians hang out and tell the owner, Plinius, that I sent you.’
I found the bar which was situated in the center of the city near the right -hand exit of the Galleria. I went in and introduced myself to the owner. Plinius immediately told me some harsh truths I didn’t want to hear. ‘You’re too late; all the bands have already formed for the summer season. You should have been here two months ago,’ he said.
Notwithstanding the unwelcome news, I had no choice but to go there every day hoping that something would turn up. During this time I got to know and like Plinius, a big, soft-spoken, philosophical fellow, who took me under his wing. He told me where I could find a cheaper guesthouse in the outskirts of town and where I could get the best pizza for the least money.
Sometimes he would look at my skinny frame, shake his head and give me a free briosche with my morning cappuccino. But despite having found a cheaper guesthouse and Plinius’s generosity, my money soon ran out.
A week later I found myself sitting in the bar almost completely broke. I had just enough money left for either a bus ticket back to the guesthouse or one last beer. Although it was late in the evening and an hour’s walk to the guesthouse, I decided to go for a last beer. ‘What the hell,’ I thought.
A few minutes after I started my glass of Nastro Azzuro, the door opened and three guys walked in. Two were around my age with long hair and dressed in t-shirts and jeans. The third was older, in his mid-thirties, dressed sharp in the latest fashion.
‘Ciao Nando’, said Plinio to the older of the three, ‘Long time no see. How are things going for you this summer?’
‘Fine,’ replied Nando, ‘I have work in clubs for the whole summer season. Up and down the Adriatic coast: Milano Marittima, Rimini, Riccione.’
‘Great. Sounds like you’ve got it all sewn up,’ commented Plinius.
‘But I have one big problem’, continued Nando, ‘I can’t find a saxophone player.’
I slowly turned around and put my hand up in the air. Before I could say a word Plinius laughed and said, ‘Peter here is a saxophone player. He’s been coming in here every day for a week looking for work.’
Nando, who turned out to be the bandleader, beamed and shaking my hand introduced me to the other musicians, bassist Sergio Caiazzo and pianist Renato Costarella. Without asking any questions he immediately offered me the job. The following day I moved into the guesthouse where they were staying and shared a room with the pianist at no expense.
That same week we started rehearsing in a rented basement. From being down to my last cent I suddenly found myself with paid lodgings and three months’ work on the Adriatic to look forward to.
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