Dear Feedback File,

It’s been a while since I’ve visited anyone or played any gigs in Europe … since a tour sitting in on drums with the radiant and dynamic Shannon Wright in late 2004, actually. I made it back to the continent in one piece a few days ago for a quick visit with my brother Stewart and his cool family. Stew’s an in-demand specialty machinist who happened to play as a bassist in a few Charleston rock bands (Plug Ugly, Not, and Bison, circa 1989-1993). He still has bass guitars and amps scattered around.

After a 15-hour trip from Charleston to Philly to Frankfurt, and, finally, Geneva, I landed in the scenic Swiss town of Nyon — an old Roman city just 25 minutes north of Geneva on the coast of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman). It’s very Frenchy European in this town. I’m definitely one of the slobbiest-looking guys here. Stewart’s wife is Czech. It’s a fascinating and amusing cultural mix.

My young niece is almost too cute and squealy — a real doll. It took two days, but she doesn’t cry, wince, or scream when I walk in the room. I think she likes me just fine now.

While this officially a family visit, I have managed to sample some interesting cuisine and beverages along the way (in the name of research for the City Paper, of course). The strong Le Semeause coffee, the sweetish Czech-made Becherovka liqueur, fatty salami, the homemade veal and carrot stews, the grainy rye breads, the industrial-strength Fit Crisp Muesli (“with Apfel und extra knusprig”), and the meatballs with cranberry jam at the weird Ikea mega-warehouse down the highway – they all have made impressions on me. But I like the beer the best.

From the Czech Republic, I’ve enjoyed a few lagers that can’t be found in the States. Zlatopramen and Březňák Světlý Ležák beers come from the northern Bohemian town of Ústí nad Labem. They’re similar in malt flavor and hop aroma to the more recognizable Staropramen (from Prague) and Pilsner Urquell (from Pilsen), but with less of a spicy hop accent. Sipped a can of Budweiser Budvar (the original Budweiser from Bohemia) with some asparin and barbecue-flavored peanuts, too.

At the laid-back Le César pub, Stewart and I enjoyed several classic Belgian ales (such as Duvel, the dark and light Chimay ales, and a malty and deceptively strong Brugse Zot), plus a few weird and weak-flavored Swiss and French lagers. Feldschlösschen is mighty popular in this Vaud region, but it’s extremely light and mildly metallic in flavor. The Le César bartender played copious Beatles and Fat Domino tunes over the late-night stereo, much to the delight of a local guitarist at the bar (who happened to be the town’s only microcephalic).

The local “American Idol” TV show is called “Star Nouveau.” The Swiss let people bring dogs into grocery stores and restaurants. Meat, bread, pasta, beer, wine, and coffee are incredibly expensive. The city streets are disturbingly clean. City drivers are excruciatingly polite to pedestrians. Many of the Swiss toddlers resemble grimacing baby versions of Eastern European leaders of the 20th Century. The view of the snow-capped Jura Mountains is fantastic.

I hope things are well over in Charleston. Gotta go watch a Czech version of Sesame Street‘s Elmo.

Au revoir.

Ballard