Alban's Blog

Bad luck – bad travel…

Starting at around 9:30 pm this past Saturday my little streak of bad luck started with me taking a rare run on our treadmill. The only way I can be convinced to run on a thing like that is to watch some TV at the same time. There is no TV in the room with the treadmill, but a ladder, on which I genius-like placed my beautiful Macbook (the silver Apple-laptop) to watch some Seinfeld. 15 minutes into the show some vibration of my feet hammering this running-machine made the ladder tremble and my poor little Mac fell down, screen broken. I don’t mind being unlucky, but if it’s because of my own stupidity, I have a hard time forgiving myself.The next morning, Sunday, Feb 15, I took the train to Giessen, a small town about one hour North-East of Frankfurt, for a so-called “soloist’s portrait” before having to play both Saint-Saens concertion Tuesday. I arrived there at 2 pm, warmed up at one of the dressing rooms until the conductor Carlos Spierer, and old friend of mine and the “host” of this portrait, picked me up shortly before 3 pm. Both of us were rather distracted about the public conversation we had to lead that both of us didn’t really realize that we left the door of this room open. My brand-new blackberry laid openly on one of the desks, backpack and suitcase as well as the cello case with substitute bow in another corner of that room.

When I came back from the very interesting perforance/interview the blackberry was not on the table anymore, and after a few seconds of hoping that somebody might have put it away to protect it (how cute!) I realized that it was stolen. Suitcase, backpack and cellocase stood still there, but when I checked inside of the backpack I saw pretty quickly that my leatherpurse with all cards had been taken out plus my old Nokia cellphone (very nice one, still worked wonderfully…). Who cares about cards, you can cancel them and they’ll send you quickly new ones – but in this case it not only included my identity card and drivers licence, but also my greencard, and on Wednesday I had to fly to the US. It’s funny how slowly one adds up the different pieces until the disaster becomes clear; without the greencard I could not enter the USA, because it would be illegal to get into the country as a tourist while playing a concert.

On Monday I called the US consulate to find out what to do – “President’s Day”, an American holiday, nobody there, but an automated system: people who had their green card lost or stolen could go there on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 8 and 11am to apply for a letter of transportation. I called Tuesday to describe the urgency of the matter, but no chance – I had to go on Wednesday at 8 am and hope I would still make the flight at 11 am. In the meantime my US management who doesn’t believe in miracles, cancelled the concert in Birmingham, AL without having a chance to talk to me, since without a cellphone I was not reachable. This I found out on Tuesday afternoon and decided to fight instead of giving up this concert I was actually looking forward to.

So in between rehearsing the two very beautiful but rather difficult Saint-Saens concerti (I have to play the No.2 in Berlin in April), doing one school visit and fighting to get another sim-card for my cellphone (which I didn’t succeed), I managed to convince the Berlin drivers licence department to connect with the office in Giessen (they are not supposed to do that) to at least give me an International licence because I had to rent a car in Atlanta to drive to Birmingham (don’t ask why didn’t fly to Birmingham directly, that is another long story). I was so happy to find people in these offices who are jumping out of their normal routine and make things possible – huge exception! The small but very enthusiast orchestra played under the direction of Carlos very well, I think it was a good first performance for me, and I know now what I want to do with that piece, but my thoughts were already at the next day.

Wednesday I took the train at 6:20 am, arrived at the consulate with cello and suitcase at 7:35 am, and after standing in line for 15 min I was told that I could not bring neither cello nor suitcase in, backpack yes. Big disussions, no chance – I had to run 500 m to a kiosk at the corner to “park” my stuff. Another 10 min in line for the security, where I was told backpack itself is fine, but not the laptop in it. No exception possible, I had to run back to the kiosk. Finally, at 8:30 am I stood in front of the booth with another lady also applying for the infamous letter of transportation. I’ve been told that it takes about 1 hour to apply for this letter, and I handed my stuff in at 8:40 am without having waited for my cue.

At exactly 9:47 I held this letter in my hands, ran out of the building, took a cab, picked up cello and suitcase from the kiosk, and this devil of a cab driver managed to get me to the airport at 11:13 am, crossing in the meanwhile 4 red lights, driving 130 km/h instead of 60, but since it was an international flight, the check-in closed 1 hour before, at 11:05. Luckily enough they got softened by my story and let me still check in – I couldn’t really believe it. The flight to Atlanta via Newark went smoothly and arrived at 7:15 pm only 45 min later than expected.

Even renting the car with the international drivers licence proved easy, and at 7:50 pm I sat ready to go in the car to drive the 150 miles to Birmingham, Alabama. The delay with the plane was due to quite some storms which I didn’t feel up in the air, but once I started driving, heaven opened its gates and flooded the highway as if to avoid me ever getting to my final destination. I sped through all the adversity with my little red rent-a-car (no, no Ferrari) until I hit an 8 mile traffic jam. Exhausted and tired as I was I couldn’t phantom me sitting now for 2 hours in this car without moving (thus was the prediction of the guys in the radio talking about this jam – some trucks had crashed) and somehow managed to get off this highway, find a way around, and after exactly 24 hours (from my hotel in Giessen to the hotel in Birmingham) I finally arrived at 10 pm.

Next morning at 8:00 I showed up at the hall, miraculously refreshed after the deepest possible 8h-sleep, and after warming up we had a very good first little trio rehearsal for the Triple Concerto from Beethoven before the orchestra joined us at 10. The first concert happened last night and this incredibly beautiful piece by Beethoven made me overcome my sudden fatigue so that at the end we could enjoy a deserved dinner at one of the nicer restaurant, where conductor-pianist Justin Brown (he did amazingly well – I can’t imagine how to conduct and play this highly difficult piece at the same time) took us out.

Why don’t I stop writing? Well, the last bit of bad luck happened when I left the car in front of the restaurant: I had touched this probably pretty expensive Mercedes Coupé with my cheapo red no-brand rental, and the owner, fat, rich and incredibly arrogant, tried to stare me and my friend Bob (whom had come from DC to see me!) down, asking us how to handle the situation. He somehow didn’t like my idea that the insurance would pay for that, and since he didn’t stop staring, I was only millimeters away from exploding right into his dumb face – if it wasn’t for Bob, who gracefully saved the situation by offering the guy 200 Dollars (for the tiniest little scratch on earth!) who knows what would have happened. I am in general a very diplomatic person, difficult to upset, but my nerves due to this fatigue were just right on the surface, and I am very grateful that Bob jumped in the way he did! I would say that calls for a free cello lesson! 🙂


  • Michael Chen

    Hi Alban:
    What a story! I dont’ wish that kind of excitement and “luck” on any body but may be they helped with some aspect of the Beethoven! Have you thought about selling the rights to this story to some documentary film director yet? 😉

    OK Good luck for the next stretch of your tour – and I really mean it!


  • Tonya


    I am so sorry you had so much trouble on your travels… bad luck indeed! I was just glad your cello didn’t end up lost or broken by the airlines… that is what would have happened if it had been me.

    I am glad you were able to play your concert in Birmingham, and that you did not get in a fist fight with the arrogant Mercedes owner with the dumb face. 🙂

  • Suzana Stefanovic

    Geees ! I hate the inflexible bureaucracy,you would think someone would step out of the line for once in this case.Good thing your bow wasn´t stolen.

    The laptop story made me laugh-it sounds exactly like something I might do !

  • Pablo Hernandez Pagan

    Wao Alban,

    What a story, that was hilarious, I don’t know how you managed this but at least you had a pretty good ending. May you have succes in your career. May God bless you and your family.

  • willo

    Oh Mann, Alban!
    Sassen wir in Giessen und hörten dir und Carlos interessiert zu- es war einfach KLASSE! – zur gleichen Zeit der Raub…unfassbar…unser treudoofes, kleinkariertes Giessen -zu solchen Handlungen fähig…unfassbar!
    Also Wir haben uns dann am Dienstag die beiden Saint Saens Konzerte angehört/angesehen. Klasse,auf dem richtigen Weg, denke ich! Dann erzählte mir eine Lehrerin der Limes Schule, dass du beraubt worden seist…ich konnt es kaum fassen.
    Ich hoffe, du konntest inzwischen die meisten Teile neu beschaffen- und ich hoffe, du wirst dennoch einmal nach Gießen wiederkommen!!!!
    Es grüsst Willo

  • Alban

    thanks for all your comments – just one strange effect: while experiencing these couple of days I really felt like going through a tough time, but writing it down put everything into perspective and I almost didn’t post it because it didn’t seem so bad after all; well, this what a diary is made for – coping with adversity and realizing it ain’t all that bad! For this trip I had bought a second ticket for the cello, so it couldn’t have been broken this time by the airlines, even though you are right, Tonya, if I hadn’t bought it, it probably would have been lost or something like that…

    Best wishes,

  • Judy

    Wow, Alban, what a story – you must have been exhausted! Reminds me of December 2007 when some friends of mine and I went traveling around Europe for a month – we managed to miss three flights altogether and ended up taking a 20 hr bus ride from Paris to Vienna, not to mention staying the night in a Scotland airport.

    Still, I find that such crazy things make for the most interesting memories – routine travel gets old after a while. 😉 Good luck getting everything else sorted out.


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