A place to Mungindi for (apologies for the terrible pun!)

IMG_3382270px-Mungindi

In April I was able briefly to swell the population of Mungindi (NSW and QLD) from 1,110 to 1,111. It happened when the gals from the local book group wanted to discuss my book (Treading Water – shameless plug), and invited me to join their next meeting. ‘What’s that?’ I exclaimed to my friends George and Jane, who issued the invite. ‘They want to read my book, and they only live 500 kilometres away? I’m there!’

Fresh from hob-nobbing with the Clapham trendies in London, I knew it would be different, and it is. It’s hotter and drier and less crowded than London, but Mungindi can give Clapham a run for its uber-trendy money. And where better to start than in that that barometer of cool – the coffee shop? Does that pass muster? (note rural metaphor) Let’s see, does it have:

  • A clever pun for a name? Yup
  • Authentic industrial chic? Definitely
  • Great coffee? absolutely
  • Welcoming/familiar /home from home/ stay as long as you like? (You know, like in the Friends’ coffee shop Central Perk) Oh yes!
  • Fashionable clientele? Well, we did bump into a well-known local artist and cotton farmer, who was wearing a pair of shoes I considered mugging her for. But if ‘active wear’ is all the go in the coffee shops around Clapham, they might find themselves out-chic-ed by that tall willowy gal looking amazing in jeans and white shirt. Her fashion choice has to accommodate running her house with four kids and a nanny, managing her and hubby’s large business enterprise, and maybe taking the helicopter to Wollongong later! I suppose that might just qualify as active wear.

daily grind

So yes, The coffee shop gets a big tick.

What about accommodation? Well, if you’re as lucky as I you’ll be welcomed into the pages of Vogue Living, all due to the design flair and enterprise of Anna, Jane’s multi-talented daughter.

Jane:Annabrekkie MungAnd since they are both foodies from way back, the cuisine got lots of stars from me (to be honest, I lost count after the third -or was it fourth – G&T). As for the guest wing (attached to the vast machinery shed) it’s so gorgeous, I wanted to live there foreverguest room

So all this augured very well for the Book Group. I’m a bit of a BG veteran…six at last count, and still active in three of them, but this one was a bit special. For starters you just couldn’t live in this community if you were daunted by distance, and I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of miles driven by everyone in order to be at the meeting. But once welcomed into Sally’s spacious and gracious home, they were there to laugh, talk, share experiences and party! It’s an all day frock up, morning tea, lunch, afternoon drinks affair. And they were so appreciative that I had come all that way to talk about the book. They have to be joking! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything…it was quite wonderful, as you can see. And can you spot the one who had to leave the lunch a little early to drive 80 kms to supervise the sheep mustering? She’s the one in the active wear!

book group

Some time in the afternoon a crowd of children wandered in for after-school snacks and a swim in the pool. Someone had picked them up from the bus and delivered them all safely – just part of this far-flung village raising its children together. Earlier in the day I had met many of them all in their all age classroom at the local school. I was immediately reminded of another small place a mere 13,000 ks away and about 20 degrees cooler, which happens to have the best education system in the world!

*William Doyle, Fulbright scholar and a lecturer on media and education at the University of Eastern Finland was advised by his Harvard professor to “learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools…” Following his recommendation, he enrolled his seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, “which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union.” What he discovered is also there for all to see at St Josephs Primary – which is about as far west as you can go in one day in Queensland! Let’s see…

  • “Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest.” Yup
  • “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.” Definitely
  • “Children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality ‘personalised learning device’ ever created – flesh-and-blood teachers.” Absolutely!
  • “In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: ‘Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,’ and ‘Children learn best through play.’ Oh yes!
  • “The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive in a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals.” Right on!
  • “As a visiting Chinese student observed: ‘here, you feel like you’re part of a really nice family.’” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Most of the kids will go to boarding school in the city, but what resilience and sense of themselves and their place in their community they take with them. I used to work in a school that had a boarding strand. So a simple question like what did you do on the holidays? Opened up a whole new world for us all. The town mice, who thought wandering round the shopping centre looking for the right nail polish and the hot boys, was good fun, had to concede that their country cousins had something pretty special going on. Amid the cotton chipping, lamb rearing, mustering, harvesting etc etc which these gals did routinely, their stories told of community, hard work, wonderful family times (that includes their horses, dogs, and all manner of four legged and feathered creatures), more hard work, resilience, yet more hard work and a long treasured sense of belonging to the country they love.

Internet service in Mungindi might be dodgy at times but communication is fantastic, not to mention all age learning, talking to each other, being accountable and important in your group, active community work through all sectors of the town, and mutual support. These are the offers made by the country. Ooh…where have I heard that before…is it Finland?

 

*http://www.smh.com.au/national/this-is-why-finland-has-the-best-schools-20160324-gnqv9l.html#ixzz455UH1Uco

 

Cruising with Charles – A Baltic Adventure

 

 

Baltic Skyscape theme?even betterBob and Ang Sunset

 

If you’re any good at lolling on deckchairs, being plied unobtrusively with drinks at the swirl of a signature, mooching from meal to meal, chatting amiably to anyone who sits nearby, gazing at water and sky for long spells, and generally floating along becoming benignly institutionalized, then cruising is for you.

But when you’ve exhausted the possibilities of Crafty Corner, bean bag bowls, the bridge tournament and Scalphabet, and it’s a bit early to order cocktail of the day, you will need a good book. I can recommend Claire Tomalin’s wonderful biography of Charles Dickens, because even though the Baltic Sea is a far remove from the grimy streets of Shoreditch (not so grimy these days), I had no trouble imagining the master novelist charismatically cruising and schmoozing on board the MV Marco Polo.

seascape leaving Helsinki 2Baltic cabin

 

And he wouldn’t have been lazing in his comfy cabin reading biographies of himself. Oh no. He would have been out there, charming everyone, hobnobbing with the captain, taking over the bridge, the Captain’s Club and no doubt guiding us single-handedly through the impossibly narrow Kiel Canal. Then in the evening, with the indefatigable energy and enthusiasm that apparently characterized his life, he’d be in the wings ready to take over from the sequin-laden entertainers (and, being partial to dress-ups, he wouldn’t mind donning a few sequins himself.) He’d be giving dramatic readings that would put the lecture on the Hanseatic League in the shade, and, better yet, eavesdropping on a cast of character ready made for his next novel: A Tale of Lots of Cities: Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tallin, St Petersburg and Stockholm.

Baltic Deck and islandBob and rudy 5

The days “at sea” would have his quill sharpened and scratching overtime. He might start on the aft deck, where the early drinkers gather in convivial groups, around the bronze statue of an apparently gelded Nureyev – arms outstretched to welcome the smokers relegated to the chilly starboard side. Then there’s the enterprising widow who lives twenty minutes from Tilbury and hops on and off these cruises like a number 24 bus, holding court with a cuppa and a fag and dispensing investment advice to anyone who’ll listen. He’d meet be-jewelled older ladies with their young consorts, and mothers and sons who have come a long way just to sit opposite each other without talking.

But he’d also see lifelong friendships blossom among hitherto strangers who have streamed up the gangway from all walks of life. For a few days the campanologists leave the bells of Crowland Abbey, and the Bodleian archivist abandons his nineteenth century pamphlets. The teachers busy themselves figuring out how to make a trip to the Summer Palace tax deductable, and the florists, lawyers, builders and all their fellow workers submit gratefully to a comfortable captivity where hardest decision is to choose the smoothie of the day (Chocobanana or kiwi and almond anyone?) By far the largest demographic are the retirees, who have left all those grandkids unminded while they enjoy Mood lifting melodies from the Movies in the Show Lounge, and have a good old moan about the demise of the UK .

baltic Matryoshka-dolls-cherub Hermitage

 

All this is to the accompaniment of food, food and more food…not so much booze and cruise, as float and bloat. Well, that was us. Plenty of fitter folk – from the tall and rangy to the small and tubby – walk the decks and pump the gym machines with enviable brio.

And Dickens wouldn’t be the first writer to see a ship as a metaphor for the voyage of life, most especially its hierarchical divisions. Clearly the poshies are up the top amid the swirling spas, and if status is indicated by the size of your window, the folk down on Deck Five, who need a ladder to peek though their porthole, are still a cut above the inside cabins. Even further below, the staff range from the humble squirter of hand-sanitiser, to the beautiful Ukranian dancers – at least seven foot tall on their black patent stilt shoes. But on board a ship, unless you’re festooned with buttons and braid, you’re not very important, and we did wonder if the lovely Edison, who kept our cabin spotless, saw much of the ocean until his annual trip home to his family in the Philippines.

So, on to the Baltic cities, and to quote our mutual friend Charles, it was the best of times, but it was also the worst of times.*  Vodka in an ice glass at the Helsinki Ice Bar? It sounds cool (pun…sorry) and if you want to drive 30 miles from the city to see a huge shed with a bit of snow  and  a few sad huskies going round and round a track, maybe it is.Baltic Bob in ice bar Baltic Ang in Tall-in the rain

But that was only marginally worse than Sunday in Sassnitz. If I want to go to a quiet little town where everything is closed, I’ll go back to the nineteen fifties for a day out at the English seaside. And getting soaked in picturesque Tallin-in–the-rain detracts somewhat from its mediaeval charm, not fully redeemed by a bowl of elk soup at III Draakan. Back on board we were rather dismayed by our first night at dinner with a surly couple who barely spoke to each other. (No, it wasn’t us). But a fortuitous move to an earlier sitting found us joining a really lovely crew. Thank you, Jo and Roy and Joan and David, for our nightly dinner party…definitely the best of times.

Baltic dinner for sixBaltic Bob & Ang dinner 2

And there were many, many more: sailing in the golden evening light through the innumerable islands of the Swedish Archipelago … red and yellow timber houses amid the trees, boats bobbing and kids fishing from pontoons…just idyllic! Baltic back deck islandsBaltic house on island 2

And Stockholm is one of the most beautiful and livable (if not affordable) cities we’ve ever seen: miles and miles of gracious buildings on the prettiest of waterways, biked, sailed and jogged around appropriately enough by the prettiest of people. Even their politicians look like models!

baltic beautiful buildings stockholm3Baltic boats stockholm 2 Baltic good looking MP &waterwayBaltic good looking MPs

 

And if you imagine, as I did, that the Vasa Museum housing a fully restored 17th century ship, or a building called the Rock Church in Helsinki would be a bit ho-hum, think again, they’re both splendid.

Baltic VasaBaltic church in rock 2 better

 

I can also recommend a boat ride along the charming canals of Copenhagen. You’ll join lots of hardy Danish families out picnicking on their unique floating tables, dangling their bare feet in the freezing water!

Mermaid 2 Baltic Canals Copenhagen

St Petersburg is a must, and if you’re as fortunate as we were, you’ll score as your guide the droll Tolstoian Anatoly whose cultured and witty commentary made all the other guides sound like a speak your weight machine. He also knows which souvenir shops give away the best vodka, and is prepared to offer his own version of Russian history. With a sad shake of his head he declared that the assassination of Czar Alexander 11, in whose memory his son built the wonderful Church on the Spilled Blood, lost Russia her chance of being a constitutional monarchy like Denmark, or even Britain.

Baltic Spilled blood 3Spilled blood inside 3

 

 

 

 

 

The truly remarkable Summer Palace speaks for itself: white and gold and grand, with huge delft fireplaces in every room, each more splendidly ornamented, until we reach the stunning Amber Room.

Baltic Delft fireplace 3Baltic amber_room_

 

And The Hermitage with its wonderful art and beautiful objets is on a scale that defeats the day-tourist, and needs more time.

Balticamazing ceiling hermitagebaltic hermitage ceiling

Baltic leonardo hermitageBaltic picasso hermitage

 

 

And as for the gardens! A glance through the windows of both palaces offers stunning vistas and avenues on all sides.

Baltic Gardens Cathpal Baltic garden 2 hermitage

 

A night at the ballet completed our Russian experience, but like a Tolstoy novel, it’s so vast and complex we feel as if we’re still on the introduction. Baltic Bob at the ballet Baltic Bob & Ang winter palace square

All in all it was a really great trip, and if you want to take advantage of our distilled vodka, sorry, wisdom read on:

  • If you can hold your nerve, and wait until the last minute to book, you will often get crazy reductions. We didn’t, but in future we’ll be ready if an interesting cheapie comes up.
  • If you’re like us, and don’t mind gawking from the bus and seeing the greatest hits, book the shore trips. But if you do your homework, you can often just walk around yourself. It’s not in the brochures, but they frequently put on a free bus.
  • While we’re on homework, cruising is a bit like school, with lists and reminders and announcements over the loudspeaker for the latecomers. But it’s very pleasant and efficient, and unlike school, there’s vodka. So, (pun alert) just go with the flow.
  • Choose a smaller ship. The MV Marco Polo holds a mere 800 passengers and according to the seasoned cruisers, is very friendly. One snooty couple did complain there were no chocolates on the pillow! Just bring your own chocolates.baltic big and little ship cropchocolate
  • Probably don’t read the essay on cruising by David Foster Wallace in his darkly witty collection entitled: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
  • You will see a bucket-load of stuff in a short time…not always what you expected, but so much the better for that.
  • Did I mention the vodka…cranberry or cherry flavour, you choose.

*Famous beginning of Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities customised to fit my sentence (sorry, Charles)

What Would Bruno Do? Reflections from Rural France

angie and bob summer of 2012 049Bruno book

For quite a few of the last twenty years, we have had the incredible good fortune to be invited to my brother’s house in a village in the Charente region. While it’s been a long and happy time for us, those years are a mere blip in the life of the house that has been there long enough to sell potatoes out of what is now the living room window to pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, if the cockleshells on the wall of the neighbouring Prevote are to be believed. That part is at least 400 years old, and welcomes us, hot and weary, into its cool interior, courtesy of foot-thick walls, with air-conditioning provided by local stone and an understanding of the climate.

2014_0528AGangie and bob summer of 2012 039

The “new” part, was added in about 1906, and the result is a rambling collection of rooms and spaces, each with shuttered windows that look out on to tranquil green vistas that feel completely undisturbed by anything remotely modern.

2014_0528AJwell 3

The room I like best looks out to an old well, the roof of a small chateau, and a grassy area where I have no trouble imagining Emma Bovary pacing back and forth waiting for her lover.

Over the years it has accommodated any number of people, and holds many memories of family holidays, with all the cousins packed into the large room overlooking the wisteria-shaded terrace. This is the heart of the place, a large table around which everyone gathers for the morning croissants, the lunchtime cheeses and pates and tomato and basil vinaigrette, and dinners involving much scrubbing of moules and drinking of rose.2014_0505ACangie and bob summer of 2012 018

Lolling about in deckchairs, chatting and napping and reading, is also pretty much obligatory. And there’s always added pleasure to be had from reading a book about the place you’re in, (if you ever find yourself chugging up the Yangtze, you really need a copy of Simon Winchester’s River at the Centre of the World for the full experience.*) But life came perilously close to being art for us this summer as, between the duck pate, the locally sourced nettle soup and the quails’ eggs,

2014_0525AABob and spinach

we all voraciously consumed Martin Walker’s brilliant books about Bruno, Chief of Police whose “hood” is the small town of St Denis in the Perigord region, so  alluringly recreated for the reader. Bruno uses his local knowledge, his deep love of the region and its people, and his all round gorgeous Frenchness to solve all manner of crimes, and we got so carried away with it all, we liked to imagine we were following in Bruno’s footsteps.

So we were all trying to emulate Bruno and tap into the timeless rhythms of French village life. The morning walk for the baguette and croissants took us past the high – walled chateau inherited and shared by eighteen cousins whose presence is indicated only by the pock of tennis balls and the odd glimpse of wide green lawns that made us long to be invited in.

church 2wall with flowers

Then we pass the church – Romanesque tinkered about by some nineteenth century renovations, but still the place of weddings and funerals and remembrance plaques for the boys from the village who died in two wars.

We stay close to the narrow verge as cars go past the large, beautifully kept cemetery,

cemetarysunflowers

the organic garden co-op, the small shop that opens when it feels like it, Bettina the hairdresser, and the bistro on the corner. Then we turn down a narrow lane, to where the slow river opens out for swimming and boating, and in the surrounding fields bright yellow sunflowers turn with the daily movement of the sun.

Just as for Bruno in his beloved St Denis, the cycles of landscape, history, family, religion, and of course, food, thread their way through the life of this village, where people are deeply embedded from birth to death. And it is this sense of permanence that the orphan Bruno has embraced in Martin Walker’s novels. As well as solving crimes, Bruno shows us how to make a home, and become part of a community. And we’d like to do the same. All right, we weren’t decorated for conspicuous gallantry in Bosnia, but we do help old people across the road (does that count if it’s each other?) We don’t have post-traumatic flashbacks, only post-indulgence indigestion, but in a Bruno-esque rejection of the new-fangled we don’t have a telly either. We too scour the pages of Soud–Ouest for a reliable commentary on all things Charentaise, and I like to think our French is about as good as his English.

And surely we’re on the same page (pun…sorry) as Bruno in lots of other ways. His Vezere river winds through to the Dordogne past chateaux, under bridges and out into wild countryside, ours slowly wends though the Charente Maritime from Angouleme past dignified Saintes, with its imperial Roman arch, and functioning amphitheatre,angie and bob summer of 2012 012Arch of Germanicus

on its way to the Atlantic at Rochefort. Like St Denis, our town has the requisite overstaffed Mairie, Gauloises-tolerant cafes and misshapen, but delicious asparagus at the weekly market.

2014_0503AA

SONY DSC

They have their caves, we have our remarkable Lapidiales sculpture park, sponsored by the commune that esteems art and culture just as they do in St Denis. We can almost match him chateau for chateau and we too have a charming Scottish neighbour whose dinner invitations are much prized. Our croissants are as curly, our baguettes as crisp, and while we’re not blessed with truffles, our small sweet moules brought in daily from the mouth of the river and bought by the shovelful, take some beating. He has his unique vineyards, we have the Charente Pineau and a little way up river, a town called Cognac is known to produce a rather quaffable drop. He has his local history, we have the life-size dummy in the foyer of the Mairie dressed in mediaeval clothes to commemorate the battle of Taillebourg. In 1242 it was a pivotal strategic triumph for Louis 1X, and now the lovely town just over the river from us is home to the Auberge des Glycines, whose current strategic triumph is individual soufflés drizzled with Grand Marnier, enacted on the terrace overlooking the Charente.

taillebourg

Bruno would approve!

And our gendarmes are just as handsome, and their uniforms so chic they put Les Plods to shame.

RECRUTEMENT GENDARMERIE

But sadly when it came to our brush with the criminal underworld, we let you down Bruno. We were so befuddled to find the house had been burgled that we forgot all your sound advice and picked up the glove dropped by the gate! We contaminated the crime scene! No wonder the dashing Sergeant Barre sighed deeply, peeled off his gloves, and gazed at us with Gallic disdain. “ ‘Ave you not been reading your Bruno books?” he exclaimed. Well, I made that up, but I’m sure that’s what he was thinking.

Pardonne-nous Bruno. Nous sommes desole!

*The River at the Centre of the World: A journey up the Yangtze  by Simon Winchester

**Bruno, Chief of Police First in the series of the Bruno Courreges books by Martin Walker. (Beware, they’re addictive)

Apologies for lack of accents for the French words. I haven’t figured out how to do them.

We can never go to the house without feeling the loss of our sister-in-law Moyra and niece Hannah, sadly no longer with us. May they rest in peace.

Italia: terra di bellezza

roof gardens rome

The tinny clang of a church bell is the only sound to be heard, besides the occasional bird twittering and the distant roar of a motorcycle. We sit on our sundrenched terrace in utter calm. Where are we? Some beach-side idyll? Not a bit of it, we are slap bang in the centre of Rome…that renownedly crazy, noisy city. But if you are lucky enough to get above it all, (or in our case to have a friend and fellow-traveller who doggedly pursued Luciana through the labyrinthine processes of European booking to secure her apartment for six glorious days) you too might find yourself on one of the thousands of rooftop gardens patch-worked throughout the city.

view from terrace 3

All around us are the tips of spires and domes and towers. The washing machine doesn’t work, but who cares, the window next to it looks out to an ancient and beautiful church cupola. It’s the first of many contradictions to be found in Italy – the place where beauty holds sway and exerts its charm on everything. (Not sure how we made it through…the beauty police must have been on lunch.)

If you then saunter out into the Roman evening, prepare to fall in love.

our street 4 crop

The people move around at an elegant pace, in clothes that have been put together with careless care, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. The city breathes with them as they thread their ways through winding streets that suddenly open out to squares or wide corners on which might stand a large stone church or a green cloister, waiting with the patience of centuries for pilgrims to enter the cool interior.

Rome building 2 crop

cloister 3 crop

Or maybe you will come upon a gracious café-fringed piazza with yet another of Bernini’s remarkable fountains to astonish you with its muscular beauty.

bob and ang navona

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually you will find yourself at the famous Spanish Steps that sweep down to a large cobbled square. It’s milling with people jostling cheerfully, in an atmosphere of such anticipation that the thrusting of roses at every juncture can be amiably refused.

spanish steps allx4 crop

The shops by this time are lit up: Dior, Versace, Dolce and Gabanna…displaying maybe one slender figure in a striking fall of fabric, and some other contrivance, such as a huge flower – window artworks that make the street a back-lit shining gallery of beautiful things.

dior window

Being surrounded by such beauty takes the breath, but also enables us to share a sense of pride that creatures of our own species have the vision, the audacity and the artistry to create such beautiful towering elegance. And the locals live amid it in such ease – something we will notice everywhere we go in Italy.

Apartments abut the surrounds of the colosseum and overlook the ancient forum.

Forum 6 living near

Rome  next to collos

In one window pink balloons and flowers announce the birth of a baby girl, telling us these are not just monuments to the dead, but a continuing history.

smoking near keats house

Next to the petunia-laden balcony of the house where Keats died, a young man leans out of a window smoking and staring at the crowds on the Spanish Steps, (Alone and palely loitering?) We can imagine that two hundred years ago, a young man at the same window might have turned his face to ask how that poor frail English lad is doing.

post office crop

And what about that fine building with the gracious inner courtyard filled with early summer foliage? That’s the post office! This beauty is not to be admired from a distance, but to be lived in.

So much beauty makes it easy to forget the inequities that built organisations like the Roman Empire or the Catholic Church, and enabled them to acquire the wealth to commission these most awe-inspiring edifices.

vatican

Massive basilicas are filled with ornate gold and precious marbles and gemstones and covered with magnificent paintings and frescos.

colosseum 2

The huge colosseum and capitol, forum and temples are of such scale and grandeur they force the viewer to look up in wonder and forget how many thousands of slaves have been subsumed into the demands of empire, whole lives lived only to serve the massive symbols of power.

Arch forum rome crop

And even today the splendid shining rows of shops, offering the world’s most beautiful and expensive attire, light up a huddled beggar on the street, or a group of vendors with their fake designer gear spread out on a sheet or hanging off their arms. But we are so caught up in the wonder of this great city that we brush the thoughts aside with the proffered roses. No different from big cities everywhere, but Italy casts a spell that enables us to ignore the ugly side of what might otherwise be just a tired and well-worn tourist trail.

The Vatican is a good place to start.

vatican view 3

vatican 27

vatican 26 shepherd

We are so overawed by that exquisite little city-state where are gathered the world’s most beautiful objects in the name of Christianity, that we might overlook the fact that it’s staffed by the grumpiest and least obliging group of people even invented. A bored little wave of the hand passes for a direction, and good luck getting a coffee, let alone a smile from the café staff, who must have passed out top of that class where they train parking inspectors and people on the end of the phone when you’re trying to get your internet/phone bill/tax return or pretty much anything else sorted. Not sure what happened to all that beauty, but it hasn’t yet entered the souls of the staff.

And the trains are fabulous – cheap, efficient and easy to find on the Trenitalia website. But if you haven’t mastered the electronic ticket machine, or if it’s broken, be prepared to queue for a long time at a bank of windows which reveal a couple of earnest workers dealing with the great unwashed, while three or four of their colleagues in the background chat, drink coke and walk around with bits of paper. Their main skill appears to be avoiding eye contact with the frantic folk outside, especially when the old lady near the front of the queue goes into paroxysms of despair as she watches her train pull out of the station. And don’t get stuck in the lift with a big pile of luggage and expect the fellow in uniform to care. His shrug of unconcern could be seen from Mount Vesuvius.

And as for stunning Cinque Terre…the cute little trains run so smoothly and it’s so picturesque you don’t notice being jostled and relieved of all your money.

train cinque T

view 1 ct

And to add insult to injury be serenaded all the way out by a tuneless accordion player, who looks affronted that you didn’t drop some Euros into his hat. Sorry mate, no Euros left.

But do we care? Absolutely not. In Italy all is forgiven, because of the utter beauty of the place: the food,

Fish Soup

the wine, the weather and the charm of everyone not in an official uniform. But most of all it’s because of the language. It’s impossible to say/do something ugly in Italian, as old Joe Green (that’s Giuseppe Verdi to you) can attest, because it’s all music. Even the most mundane of objects sounds alluring. Consegna dei Bagali…now, that’s a name I’d consider for my daughter. Never mind that she’d be mercilessly teased when someone realises it means Bag Drop. And on our way to Milan we encountered a Treno Sciopero…what a fine name for a boy. We don’t care that it means we were delayed for a day because it’s a Train Strike. Got something difficult to say? Do it in Italian: Togliere la spazzatura sounds so much more enticing than: take out the rubbish, and as for Abbiamo perso tutti i bagagli. Lost all my baggage have you? Well, never mind, I’m too busy listening to you say: Mi scusi ho appena rotto vento. That’s: Excuse me, I just farted. Actually that one will need no translation!

And if you have some lovely things to say, you’ll never hear them more sweetly sounded than when the Italian celebrant joined our daughter and her new hubby in santo matrimonio.

Si and Thea and celebrant crop

Posso presentare la sposa et lo sposi. Ciao!