06 April 2007


In the summer of 1992, with a threadbare rucksack, a crumpled Interail pass that approached its expiry date, not to mention insufficient funds (as a result of squandering Swiss francs on cheap liquor with a member of the Austrian medical profession, who later relieved me of the burden of my virgin innocence… but that’s another story) to cover anything more than the most meagre of provisions (one can survive on water and fresh baguette; pirates, take note) one made a first visit to the birthplace of the Renaissance.

It was not quite love at first sight. One has fond memories of gelati, but little else.

Arriving in Venice, one recalls being tossed backwards and forwards in a sea of camera-wielding tourists; cafes charged exorbitant prices, particularly if their private quintet happened to be performing a piece as you sat out on the terrace, waiting for winged vermin to descend. Next stop was Rome: returning from a packed day of sightseeing, distressed and disgusted by the tasteless extravagance on display inside St Peter’s Basilica, one paid the price of neglecting to check linen at a penzione; trailing black hairs and smudged fingerprints from the last occupant awaited… somehow, one managed to sleep. Continuing to Florence, unpleasant at the best of times but insufferable on a hot, humid sweltering afternoon, when even Florentine flies seem desperate to escape from over-crowded streets and a sewer-river under a ramshackle, tourist-ridden bridge, where one was unable to afford the admission for Michelangelo’s David… can you imagine my distress, gentle reader?

Suffice to say that almost a decade passed before my second visit to Italy (accompanied by a charming gay gentleman of Italian extraction with whom one had a flingette) which was much more agreeable. Together we flew to Naples (with Go Airlines... a decent budget airline; how one mourns their passing) and having eaten our fill of pizza we spent a couple of weeks exploring the ancient ruins at Pompei, the splendid beaches of the Amalfi coast, the romantic hilltown of Ravello where one of my favourite authors, Ms V Woolf, used to vacation… wonderful food, wonderful weather, all quite, quite wonderful!

But despite all of that, it was not until my third trip to Italy that my love affair began in earnest.

Stepping back further still, gentle reader, in my student days one lodged at a residence with two little girls- Lilliputian, they were- from the sun-drenched shores of Sicily. Suffice to say that even my words cannot begin to do justice to the meals produced in their kitchen; for several years, one awoke salivating at the mouth, plagued by a recurring dream that involved a particular sauce, made to a traditional family recipe handed down from one Italian mama to another (it was made using four cheeses, nothing more; the secret lay in how to correctly proportion those ingredients) And don't get me started on the subject of Sicilian pastries…

So it was that in 2003, still desperately in love (with one another, obviously) X and I spent three weeks backpacking around that wonderful island. Pleasure beyond all imagining, gentle reader… the ruins at Siracuse, the Renaissance churches in Noto, the temples of Agrigento, the hilltown of Enna, with breathtaking mosaic floortiles at the ruins of a Roman villa nearby… not to mention the Aeolian islands; sulphuric mudbaths on Vulcano, ascending the volcano on Stromboli. While there, one celebrated a birthday (for unlike X, one does still celebrate those... and one doesn't lie about ones age!) and for once he surprised me with a gift... a Sicilian cookery book. Given that we lived together at the time, one suspects he may have had reasons of his own for offering that particular gift, but since our passions coincided, it was gratefully received and it remains one of my most treasured possessions... and the most memorable gift he ever gave me (gonorrhoea doesn't count)

Two further trips to Italy followed, but that holiday was to remain unmatched; the romantic town of Bergamo, surprisingly picturesque, unexpectedly delivered the best meal I’ve ever eaten (fresh gnocci in a creamy cheese sauce, with fresh basil) on a weekend trip, which preceded a not-so-fabulous trip the following year. As anticipated, X and I found rugged and unkempt landscapes on Sardinia; as forewarned, we encountered plenty of stodgy food; both of those we were prepared to endure, but unhappily we were also cursed by miserable weather for the duration of our visit.

Looking back, my fondest memories are of a fine pizzeria in Alghero (where street-signs are sponsored by the Catalan facistas) and a penzione where we stayed. It was run by a middle-aged widower ; a cultured woman, who had led an interesting life, her English and her Spanish impecable. She made us feel completely at ease in her home- that cannot be said of most establishments- and we were the only guests lodging in her beautiful apartment. During our stay, she confessed that loneliness was one of her reasons for taking guests; in the morning she occasionally joined us for breakfast, her presence welcome and thoroughly enjoyable.

Before leaving, on a particularly wet Sunday, we rented a motorcycle; with X holding on tight behind, squinting into the rain, we ventured along the coast to the lighthouse at Bosa, an old mill town, with a bitter wind driving at us throughout. On arrival, we stopped at a cafe on the deserted beach for much-needed refreshment; it had a fine open hearth fire, and we were reluctant to leave, but just before returning to our vehicle, the clouds parted for a fleeting moment and blessed us with a touch of summer warmth… only for a moment, but all the more magical in the bleakest of circumstances.

But I digress!

Gentle reader, you’ve been waiting to hear about my recent jaunts in Italia, haven’t you?

One does apologise for making you wait…


Shelly said...

Hi, I really enjoyed reading your blog. Was wondering if you
would like to add it to my directory?
Weblog index

Thanks, Shelly

Ms C Qrisp said...

N'er was flattery lost on poet's ear: a simple race, they waste their toil for the vain tribute of a smile

However, Ms Shelly (obviously no relation of Percy Bysshe, spelt with a second e) you ought to bear in mind that flattery needs to be pretty thick before anyone objects: having been 'loved', 'adored', and 'worshipped' by other readers who have left a calling card, suffice to say that 'really enjoyed' simply doesn't cut the mustard

So I'm afraid we won't be linking to your directory of plebian blogues; however, please feel at liberty to continue reading my own humble bloguettem, until you reach a more appropriate level of enthusiasm


Ms C Quisp

Cap'n Dyke said...

Well held, Me Delightful Ms. Qrisp!

I await with eager anticipation th'continuation o' yer travels an' travails. I also note that I must remember t'always carry water an' a fresh baguette in me valise at all times...

With kindest thoughts an' unfathomable admiration,

Th' Cap'n

TSP said...

Much as I look forward to hearing more about your most recent travels, I cannot wait for you to expound upon your first few trips to Italy.

Ms C Qrisp said...

Dearest Cap'n,
Gracious thanks for your unfathomable admiration, and of course your prefectly fathomable comment, insightful and greatly appreciated, as always.

Of course, you realise that if Ms Svetlana Ivanyshka had chosen to conceal her supply of recreational drugs in a fresh baguette, those hounds at Kiev airport would have been put off the scent. Another good reason to keep one in the valise at all times; worth bearing in mind that a block of gorgonzola will deter all but the most officious customs official

May that hint be of use in these troubled times, as your bounteous vessel sail through treacherous waters to the ever-more treacherous border controls on the shores currently mis-goverened by that usurperous scavenger, Bushie th'Shrimp

Ms C Qrisp said...

Alas, the past is a foreign country one does not intend to visit.

Having led a rich and fufilling life, you will no doubt appreciate one's dilemma; to spend the rest of my life writing about what has already happened would mean little time to live in the present, and less time to write about the present... already one struggles!

Gracious thanks for your comment, however; ephemeral appearance from your spectral self is always welcome on my humble bloguette

Ms C Quisp

Cap'n Dyke said...

Me Inestimable Ms. Qrisp, Th' Cap'n prefers a nice white cheddar for her valise as her brie tends t'run in th'heat when I be runnin' for me life or runnin' someone through.

However, I shall most certainly keep a nice wedge o'gorgonzola tucked t'th'side t'foil th'Royalists th'need presents itself.

As for th'Pimperor, he is naught but a pimple on th'ass o'what was once a fine place t'visit. Don't be soilin' yer thoughts with that villain.

Ms C Qrisp said...

Sound advice, Cap'n. One shall find other ways to soil one's thoughts.