Enjoying breakfast in Rome. Photo by Caity Krone.
Beer, Berries, La Boyère
My summer spent visiting five countries and the songs that guided me through it
By AVA MCCOY
As a musician, my memories of travel heavily involve the sounds around me. I visited five countries this summer after graduating college. My memories of this journey are soundtracked by the songs that carried me through it, and this piece is an exercise in commemorating that special time in my life.
When I arrived in Argentina, my first destination, I was absolutely exhausted. I had just come off a week of finals, graduation, family dinners, and more pictures saying “cheese” than I had the energy for. My mom and I traveled to Iguazú to embark on a weeklong fitness trip with a group of friends. For over a decade, my mom and this group have traveled internationally with the goal of practicing yoga, dance, and strength training as well as experiencing the food and culture of their destinations. We began our days at 7am on the yoga mat, and our teacher, Nadia, would push us to our absolute limits. Four hours of exercise a day plus hikes, meals, and socialization left me feeling drained about three days in. I took it upon myself to skip out on dinner one night and take a long bath.
I hadn’t listened to Absolutely by Dijon all the way through. I decided to listen in the bath. It was a total clearing of my mind, emotions, heartbreak, and self-doubt. Dijon made this particular album in dedication to a friend he was in love with. I think so much of living is unlearning how to miss another person, a place, or time in your life, and in this particular moment, I was mourning the end of my college experience. I was mourning versions of myself I was leaving behind, past lovers, and friends that have come and gone. Dijon’s approach to songwriting felt so vulnerable, raw, and unfiltered. I saw a part of myself in his art. When he let out a yell, I felt safe doing it too. I drained the bathtub to the closing track, and felt the beginning of mental clarity for the first time in a long time. I was humbled by the rainforest and the lush foliage that swallowed us.
Playing songs along the Iguazú River—one side is Argentina, and the other is Brazil.
After our time in Argentina, my mom and I traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On our first night, a driver named Lido picked us up. I knew Brazil was famous for bossa nova music, and the genre is some of my most-played music on my playlists. I asked Lido if he knew of any good live bossa nova clubs. He immediately lit up, and said he would take my mom and I to his favorite local live music spot. We had just landed, it was 10pm, and we were ready for bed. However, according to Lido, this was the best night to go out in Rio, and we wouldn’t see nightlife like that the rest of the trip. We drove through the lively neighborhoods of the city and arrived at a packed club with people of all ages dancing the night away. My mom and I found a table and tried Caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil. We ate hearts of palm and marveled at the moment we had found ourselves in. All of a sudden, the band broke into a song that captured the entire room’s attention. The song was “Deixa Acontecer” by Grupo Revelção. It begins with lively guitar strums, a melody that felt like the breeze on the beach, and many voices layered to create a chorus. Everyone stood up from their seats and danced throughout the club, holding their friends close. Witnessing sheer joy and not knowing the significance of the music reminded me just how universal music is as a language. I knew what they were feeling deep in their souls regardless of translation: love for each other. I ended up looking up the words in English, and the song discusses not searching too hard for love, but letting it find you naturally. I felt that radiating from all corners of the room that night.
Rio from above.
After our trip to South America, I quickly re-packed my suitcase in Boston and prepped for a month-and-a-half stay at a farm in Brittany, France, a trip I had been planning for almost three years. My brother got married in 2020 to my sister-in-law, who was born in France. Her family owns and operates an artisanal beer brewery in a small farming community in Brittany. I decided to do a workstay with their family as a way to not only get to know my brother’s in-laws, but to practice my French (which was very rusty after four years of little to no practice), learn about beer brewing, and experience the farm lifestyle. I arrived in Paris around 5am, weary-eyed and teary, and the exhaustion very quickly turned to excitement. I slept in the Paris train station for roughly 12 hours as I waited for my brother’s mother-in-law. We took a train to Rennes and then drove to their 400-year-old farmhouse situated on a beautiful hill overlooking corn fields and grazing cows.
The local market in Fougères, a town in Brittany.
The true gem of this farm was the in-house cook: 101-year-old Grampy Bill. Bill worked as a chef for most of his life, including as head chef at the Savoy in London. Despite beginning to lose his vision and hearing, Bill was sharp as a tack, and every single meal he cooked left me floored. Each meal we ate was nearly all local. I don’t think I ate a packaged food for three weeks straight. If we needed herbs, we brought a pair of scissors outside to snip off a few shoots of chives. Want something for dessert? Walk into the backyard to the raspberry bushes and pick a couple dozen. I was in awe of how sustainably their family lived, and the attention that went into each meal we ate.
Not only did Bill teach me a lot about cooking, but his love of music was infectious. As a member of the Odd Fellows, one of the oldest English fraternal societies, Bill meets with a Zoom group every couple weeks with friends around the world to share folk songs and poems. I attended these meetings with Bill, sang a couple of songs to the group, and introduced them to some American folk songs. Bill and I practiced his songs beforehand, telling Alexa to turn the volume up to 10 so he could sing along to the recording.
If he heard a song that made him want to dance, he would walk over and invite us to ballroom dance almost immediately. I will never forget playing “I Just Wanna Dance With You” by John Prine one day when we were working outside in the garden, and Bill came over to dance with me. The classic country twang reminded me of square dancing, and I felt like I was taken back in time as we danced. The sun glittered through the trees, and I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
Bill taking an afternoon stroll around the farm.
While in France, I took a spontaneous side trip to the nearby city of Rennes. My sister-in-law’s friend from college was a member of an ice skating group that was on a European tour. He happened to come to the farm for a night to visit, and we quickly became friends. The next morning, he was set to leave, and as we sat around enjoying a meal together, he invited me to a Pride party with his ice skating team. I knew this would be an adventure, and I didn’t know the next time I’d have an opportunity to celebrate Pride in France. Upon arrival in the community where the skaters were staying, I was welcomed with open arms. We did each other’s makeup, hopped on a bus, and made our way to the party. Sadly, we didn’t know tickets to the event had to be purchased in advance, so we were left unsure of where to go next. We met two Romanian folks who were in the same boat, and they told us about a bar not too far away that they had just left. We decided to check it out.
The bar was tiny, with a DJ in the back corner and a crowd yelling French lyrics at the top of their lungs. We entered the dancefloor reluctantly, but the people there immediately invited us to dance. What followed was one of the best DJ sets I have ever witnessed. The song of that evening that really captured my attention was “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” by Baccara. This track felt straight out of a 60’s movie montage. The whole room twirled around to the infectious melody and string arrangement. The lyrics were in English, but sung in a French accent. The bass drove the song forward into a disco-fueled dance party. Everything in that moment felt euphoric—I felt so comfortable in a room full of people I may have otherwise never crossed paths with. I felt the same sense of joy that I felt my first night in Brazil. For the rest of my travels, this song became one of my favorites to play in my headphones while exploring.
I ended up spending time in Italy for three days on a side trip with my friend, Caity. We met through social media, as she is a musician and photographer. She had an extra bed at her Airbnb in Rome, so I decided to hop on a plane and join her adventure. We saw so many sights, took a chaotic day trip to the Almalfi coast, and ate every delicious thing in sight. However, my most treasured night from that trip was after we had gone to a restaurant recommended by Gwenyth Paltrow (called Cacio e Pepe). We wandered the streets of Rome back to our room, and played songs out loud on our phones to each other. We were picking songs that had stopped us in our tracks when we first heard them, and we couldn’t do anything but listen. Caity played “Didn’t Want To Have to Do It (Ver 1)” by Cass Elliot. I knew the song and had felt the same sense of magic that the track possessed. Having just met Caity a week before in London, it was so cool to watch our similarities unfold through discussions—sharing a deep love of a special song made me feel how connected we all really are. There are so many songs out there, and I still get excited when someone shares the same feelings as me towards music. It is so special that we can hear a song in a completely different state of life but have the same unspoken love for and emotional connection to it. The song feels like floating along a lazy river during sunset, and we strolled along the Tiber River singing our lungs out. We wandered the streets with gelato melting down our wrists and the biggest grins across our faces.
Connecting with so many souls around the world this summer was priceless. Seeing how universal of a language music is in real time was incredibly eye-opening as a creative person. The most unity and connection I felt during my travels was in spaces centered around music, or the sharing of it. I think this speaks volumes about how important creative expression is for people, and how it centers us. These kinds of experiences are fleeting but necessary, and the songs that impacted me on my journeys are forever with me. I wish the same to whoever reads this, as there’s nothing quite like reliving life through a song.