For the past number of years now, I’ve been taking an annual writer’s retreat with my childhood friend and fellow writer/musician brother, Watson Davis. He and his wife, Audrey, had been living in Dallas for awhile, so I would travel there during the Christmas break each year (before connecting with family), and we would hunker down in their crib for several days and step off into a parallel universe of all things writing: talk of our various projects; plot points, story arcs, and other crucial challenges; brainstorming and refinement of ideas; writing techniques and software aids; editing, revision, and more dreaded editing; general commiseration about process and, of course, a whole lot of writing. (And with an extensive home gym and a fridge full of vegan viddles, I would generally only leave their place for a run – that’s it.)
Of course, we would welcome the distraction of lots of football and plenty of movies to rock the story muse. Always great times, and now an unshakeable tradition.
With my main man, “Dr.” Watson Davis at the Prodo in Spain.
Of all the pics we both snapped on this trip,
this lame-ass selfie was the only one of the doctor and I!
This past year, however, my friends uprooted their world and moved to Spain. So, it was decided that the writer’s retreat would have to continue across the pond, and that it would have to go down a bit earlier in the year so we could enjoy some optimal weather. Also, it would have to include some additional travel, seeing as how crazy picturesque Spain is, and how intriguing Morocco is. Who was I to argue?
Madrid – Part 1
Let me first say that, as far as I can recollect, this might have been the first time I traveled overseas when I was NOT actually playing shows. It was a weird feeling, to be honest. I would find myself having “soundcheck flashbacks” mid-afternoon… like I would suddenly snap my head upright and think, “Holy shit… what time is soundcheck today? Am I late?” … only to realize I was basically there as a common tourist, for a change.
By the time we hit Madrid after more than 13 total hours in the air, it was late morning, so we hit the ground running. But first, there was the drive through Madrid en route to the hotel… and one of my favorite things about Europe; all of that timeless architecture. Snapped a few random pics and was reminded, once again, of how comparatively new America is in the grand scheme. Most of the buildings we all see over here everyday are what? Less than a century old, for the most part? Over there, it’s another story…
Our hotel was right near the Royal Palace so, naturally, we had to take a peek.
Man… these motherfuckers know how to live large, let me tell you – even though it remains only a “temporary” residence for the royal fam these days. If it were me, I would never leave… nor would I have hundreds of tourists traipsing through my crib every day. Actually, I’m glad they do allow for that, because there is an unspeakable amount of great art and beauty in there. You really need a few days to cruise through the place and fully drink it all in.
A bit later, we scoped out the Temple Debod; a real-deal Egyptian temple which was dismantled, transplanted, then rebuilt in Madrid. A bizarre but stunning cultural juxtaposition.
Day two, still in Madrid, found us cruising over to the Prado before catching our flight to Morocco. This is one bad-ass museum, and the fact that it plays home to the infamous Goya “black” paintings was a special bonus. These are a real treat to see in person; somehow even darker and more disturbing than in photos. Plus, we virtually had the exhibit to ourselves for a few minutes, which created an even more contemplative atmosphere with which to take in these killer paintings.
My friends had arranged for a private guide named Said (pronounced “Sa-eed”) to take us around for the two days we would be in North Africa. So after a quick flight to Tangier, he met us at the airport, got us settled into our hotel, then led us by foot through the town square casbah nearby. This place just oozed of an old world feel indicative of a setting where densely stacked buildings can be 1000 years old. It’s a vibe, for sure, and we loved it there.
As we strolled the narrow streets in a labrynth of cold, cracked stone and vibrant colors, spice markets, fruit stands, gift shops and general stores were plentiful. Of course, we had to drop into a few, most notably, perhaps, a huge, three story art and furnishings shop that was packed so tightly with shit, it was almost impossible to decide on anything.
But we all managed to grab a little something to memorialize our time there. I nabbed a small sandstone camel sculpture, and a cool African desert landscape painting that I would drag around in a cardboard tube for the next five days.
Day two in Tangier had us taking an early road trip. But first, a nice early morning run was in order. I was looking forward to doing what I often do on the road; taking in the sites of a town on foot with a 5 to 8 mile run. However, this idea was squelched by both the late night and early morning front counter hotel attendants, both of whom implored me NOT to go running through the streets of Tangier before 7:00 AM… and if I did, not to take my iPhone or any other valuables with me. What? Why? After more than 30 years of road travel, I’ve gotten pretty good at assessing the “danger quotient” of a city. And so far, I was not picking up any kind of violent, confrontational kind of vibe from these folks, especially when compared to certain American cities… including my own beloved home neighborhood in LA, and I have no qualms about running through those streets in the middle of the night.
I didn’t get it. This is a region of the world known for pick-pockets and hustlers, not the gangbangers and pistol-wielding robbers we have in Big City, USA. (Guns are illegal as hell over there, in fact.) What could happen? Would I have four of five of these skinny little Arab guys chasing me down the street, trying to take my iPhone from me? I couldn’t see it.
But – after thinking about it – I had to admit that I simply didn’t know the culture over there well enough NOT to take their advice. So I reluctantly stayed put and created a 45-minute workout with the various paths and stairways of the hilly, gated grounds of the hotel. This included some heart-pumping cardio intervals, intermingled with push-ups near the pool and pull-ups from the upper edge of a stairwell.
Sure enough, as I was finishing up at around 7:00 AM, the nearby town square – which had been eerily quiet through the night and early morning hours – started buzzing with life. When I asked Said and the day shift manager about this safety issue just before we left for the day, they both laughed at me. “What? A big strong American guy like you afraid to go for a run through town? Hahahahaha!” Then, of course, I felt foolish.
I was like, “Motherfuckers, it was your night-shift colleagues who told me not to go. What the hell?” We all had a good laugh, and Said enjoyed busting my balls about it throughout the day. Man, I would’ve loved to have taken that early morning run. Maybe next time.
Lixus and Asilah
The “tour” continued that morning with a scenic spin through Tangier, and all of its multi-cultural density.
Then, it was a trek an hour or so south to scope the ancient Roman ruins of Lixus. Wanna talk old structures? How about seven centuries BC? Man, if these stone walls could talk.
From there we cruised on foot through the isolated confines of the “beach town” Asilah. I remember thinking how rad it would be to keep a little pad there and spend a couple months out of the year just hanging, writing, and digging the breeze of the Mediterranean. Another life, perhaps.
Saw some camels by the beach on the way back to the hotel. It is, of course, against my “religion” to ride them, but I did have a brief bonding moment with one of the youngsters. Very sweet animals… kind of like a cross between a horse and a cow, vibe-wise.
The Food Sitch
As mentioned, there were no shows to do on this trip… which meant that there was no tour manager, or promoter ready to oblige my “pain in the ass” vegan diet, or interpreter standing nearby for any special restaurant accommodations, or any of the other special perks that make following a vegan diet easier overseas. No, I would basically be on my own this time. And I must say, between the communication gap and the slim pickings of vegan food offered at most of the places we went, it was not easy.
In Spain, vegetable paella was usually the safest bet when dining out. This is a special rice and veggie dish you could find at most places. Tapas are also big over there (basically a wide variety of appetizers served at restaurants and bars), but most of those were animal products-based, although we did get lucky a few times. So basically, I relied on my own supplies, fruit from the market for my daily smoothie (which I would make in my hotel room), and… veggie paella.
In Morocco, it was all about couscous and veggies. I could usually find some kind of vegan bread to enjoy with these meals, but just like in Spain, I definitely had to supplement with supplies I brought with me: smoothies with The Ultimate Meal smoothie mix (which I have every day at home, anyway); Clif bars and trail mix for snacks; and black bean soup and instant rice on standby, ready to roll.
Also, not to sound like a prima donna, but I am still blown away by the fact that American does not offer a vegan meal in either their first or business-class accommodations. There are at least four different categories of special meals available there. including Muslim, kosher, and even vegetarian (which typically includes some form of dairy). But no vegan option? C’mon, motherfuckers! Are there really so few of us out there? (Don’t answer that!)
Back to Spain; Destination – Retreat House!
The next day we connected through Casablanca and wound up touching down in Valencia, about an hour’s ride north of my friend’s place on the east coast. We enjoyed a scenic drive there, then settled into our “writer’s retreat” mode… sort of. It’s just so crazy beautiful around there, it would have been insane to not leave their house. And with them being situated right near the breathtaking Cumbre del Sol, I enjoyed a couple of the most scenic runs I have possibly ever had – anywhere. We’re talking rolling hills (whose steep inclines make for quite a workout), 360 degree postcard views, a California climate with clear skies at about 80 degrees, and the ever-present Mediterranean in the distance – the richest blues and greens you’ve ever seen – sparkling in the sun. (It made me forget how badly my lungs were burning!)
As for the actual work this time, my friend’s open air villa could not have provided a more writer-friendly environment. At one point I joked with Watson, saying “if you ever get writer’s block around here, you have much deeper issues going on!”
My main objective for this retreat was to lock down a publishing schedule for the following year. I’ve been sitting on so much near-completed material for so long, it’s time to start cranking the shit out there. Modern publishing methods make it easier than ever, in many ways. Otherwise, I dabbled with different sections from about three different manuscripts, and managed to crank out a complete memoir about my Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, the 30th anniversary of which went down during this trip. People seemed to dig the behind-the-scenes perspective of things, so I might wind up publishing a collection of this kind of non-fiction, memoir-type shit. We’ll see.
Until the next one…
Scope the VVI audition memoir HERE:
Scope out my latest book HERE: