All the world is a stage
Escape Jan-Jun 1995
by Samantha Trenoweth
Touring isn't all it's cracked up to be. Hotel rooms, venues, restaurants, airports, mini-vans all swim before the artist in dizzying succession. Free days cost promoters money. Far from an ideal way to see the world, life on the road is like an organised bus tour without the sightseeing. Serious determination is required to see anything at all. Riding the wave of a string of successful albums (first Emigré, then Lily and now The Witness Tree), Wendy Matthews has spent much of the last few years touring and somehow she's managed to mix business with a love of travel. Wendy's no package tourist, even with a frantic schedule, she tries to taste the heart and soul of wherever she may be. That's why we asked her to devise her ideal whirlwind itinerary. Here, in no particular order, she shares her top ten destinations for the traveller with more imagination than time.
Not surprisingly, up near the top of her list is Canada, where Wendy was born. Here, she recommends two stops, the first in Montreal. "It's exciting, like a mini-Manhattan, it's old and steeped in history, and the mix of cultures is fascinating." Montreal combines the easygoing nature of North America with the romance and sophistication of France.
Next stop on Wendy's world tour is Banff in the Canadian Rockies. "It's like stepping into a different era," she explains. "There are still Indians in the hills. They have a festival each year when the main street of Banff is lined with tee-pees. The wildlife is extraordinary. I remember coming out of a party with my brother at two o'clock in the morning. We were standing on this old front porch, when an elk, with enormous antlers, appeared out of the darkness and poked its nose in.".
For something completely different, Wendy recommends a quick drive from Montreal across the border to New York, to hit the pavements and walk. "To get the feel of the heart of anywhere," she says, "I walk. I avoid the touristy spots and I talk to the band we're supporting or anyone who's been there before to get an idea of the best direction in which to head. "I love New York, for that shot of energy. The minute 1 hit the airport, I'm arguing with a cab driver at the top of my lungs. It clicks in immediately. Shopping in New York is pretty excruciating as well. 1 can spend days discovering all the tiny shops in Greenwich Village and Soho."
Our next stop is pure magic. Now it's time to hop on a plane and fly direct to Taos, New Mexico, not only another favourite shopping spot but a gateway to the majesty of the North American desert." This is the place to go for furniture," she says. "There's all that South Western stuff that I love."
From Taos, Wendy says, we should hire a car and take the road to Santa Fe, passing through some of the most spectacular desert landscape in the world. "There's a place called Ojo Caliente," she recalls. "It's run by Indian women and it's in the middle of nowhere. First, you get into a mineral bath and soak for a while. Then the women wrap you in herbal blankets and spray your eyes with cool herb tea. Finally, they give you this unbelievable massage. My mother and 1 literally floated out of there.
"After that, we drove towards Santa Fe. There was a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the Rio Grandee. We were sitting outside and my mother was talking, when I looked above her head and - you're going to think I'm nuts - the moon appeared to be pouring sparkly dust. I said, 'Excuse me, turn around and tell me if the moon is dripping.' She turned around, said, 'Yep,' and kept talking. It's a magic land. The Painted Desert looks like somebody's gone out with this big old paint palette."
Aficionados of the American painter, Georgia O'Keeffe, should make the pilgrimage to her home in Alberque. The house is closed to visitors and locals aren't too eager to give directions but Wendy, a serious fan, brought along a photo so she'd recognise it and was content to gaze through the gate at adobe walls and wooden doors that were immortalised in O'Keeffe's work.
Having experienced some of the diversity of North America, Wendy suggests we stop in Los Angeles for a salad (to stock up on vitamins) and catch a plane to London. "I really enjoy London," she explains, "but the food in England is white, bland, over boiled and disgusting." Not that we'll have time to think about dinner. If we follow Wendy's lead, we'll have our work cut out for us shopping. "I love the markets in London," she sighs. "Portobello Markets and Covent Garden drive me bonkers. It's dangerous. I like the vintage clothing and antique markets. I also have a thing for old Celtic jewellery and both London and Edinburgh are fantastic for that. There's also a particular kind of madness to the English that 1 enjoy. 1 find them amusing."
Remaining on the diet ("unless you're fond of haggis, which I'm not"), our next destination is Scotland. "Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen," Wendy says. "There's Edinburgh Castle, right at the top, and a fascinating walk, the Royal Mile. There are curio shops with antelope horn walking sticks for the moors. It conjures up another time which is still real here. It makes me think of fairies and castles.'
On Wendy's whirlwind tour, our next stop is Paris. Finally, food! ("There is nothing like a Paris croissant.") Plus galleries and picturesque neighbourhoods like Montmartre, from where generations of painters have gazed over the rooftops of Paris. What about the Parisians? "Our guitarist was horrified," Wendy smiles. "He asked somebody for a light and it was like, 'How dare you even ask, you ugly peasant.' We were in hysterics. It's all part of the character of the place."
There are two reasons why Wendy insists on the inclusion of our next stop, Stockholm. The first is the Grand Hotel, which, she says, is huge, ancient, ornate and situated right on the canal. The other reason is the boys. "There was a very cute boy from a video show," Wendy confesses. "At the end of our interview, he reached over and - I know this sounds pathetic - he lifted my glasses and said, 'Wow, you're beautiful.' I thought, 'Okay, I'm yours. Where are we going to be married?' Very nice boys in Stockholm!"
Wendy's tour winds up in her favourite place on earth, Barcelona in Spain. "I would pick up and live there for six months in an instant," she says. "You can see, feel and smell the history in Barcelona the minute you arrive." You could, she explains, spend months exploring the city's Barrio Cothica and still feel like you'd seen a fraction of it. "There are tiny, narrow streets, hundreds of buskers, flamenco dancers, fantastic silk embroidered shawl shops, little cafes, Caudi architecture and stalls with huge barbecued spicy prawns. You see artists' balconies and studios and you understand why Picasso spent so much time there. 1 just did not want to leave. Wendy did, of course, and far too soon. You, however, might not be so pressed for time, which is why Wendy left Spain to the very end of her itinerary. If Barcelona works its magic on you too, perhaps your next step will be to write home and say you won't be back for Christmas.
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