These days it’s too easy to carry tablets, smartphones and other lightweight what-have-yous around the world. So you end up doing the very same things in a foreign country that you do at home. By ‘doing’, I actually have in mind something fairly passive. In my case, in Mexico, lying on my bed with headphones in ears and tablet propped up on chest, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube music videos.
I learned more about British folkies Fairport Convention during an intense period of musical education this summer than I ever did in several years of living in my home country and getting into folk music. The broadband in Mexico City is faster than we get in many parts of rural England, so it was new and exciting for me to watch glitch-free footage of Fairport’s dizzy turn at the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre or a Sandy Denny profile.
One afternoon I watched a 1980s performance in which fiddle genius Dave Swarbrick played and sang with a cigarette sticking out of his mouth. The song ended and I discovered online that he had died the previous day (and that his poor health had been due in no small part to his smoking). Eerie.
Why was I watching über-English bands? Good question. I was guilty too of listening to BBC Radio 4 podcasts, just as I do in East Sussex. All this when I should have been absorbing myself in all things Latin American.
To be fair to myself, I did listen to the mellifluous Spanish voices on Radio UNAM and buy numerous Mexican newspapers. It’s just that every minute devoted to listening to book discussions on Radio 4 or lapping up Steeleye Span’s performance at Penshurst Place was a minute I could have profitably spent investigating Mexican folk sounds such as son huasteco.
It’s the fault of the technological wizardry that makes it possible to watch or listen to anything you like, on whichever continent you’ve laid down your bags (even on a bus journey). You just fall back on the comfortable habits of home.