At the place where we have just been on holiday there was this geezer who walked along the beach every single day and shouted ‘bomboloni!’ The kids looked at us, mystifyed; looking for an explanation, looking for truth…looking for answers, dammit! Unfortunately my new found language skills (ha!) and my wife’s perfect French had a whiff of chocolate teapotness about them and the full extent of our Italian lingo frailties were laid bare: putting o onto the end of every word just ain’t gonna cut the mozzarella. We just sounded like ex-Bill actors trying to be goodfellas.
Strangely, my normal day-to-day behaviour of hand waving and pointing gave me a bit of an edge in the communication stakes and my ability to sniff out an Italian with a lingaphone tape’s worth of English was becoming the stuff of legend. We managed not to starve, offend anyone or inadvertantly kill anyone so I figured we did okay. I must admit it was a distinctly disconcerting experience having absolutely no language skills at all and coming back to The Hive and using French felt positively…easy.
We went to a place south of Livorno (I had no idea where that was) near Piombino (again, could be Mars) and the TomTom was like a religious relic to us; because of it’s power we would have followed it to the gates of hell itself. We brought a map of Italy, but that was merely an amusing concertina picture book that the kids occasionally looked at (‘Daddy? What’s this?’ asks son, ‘It’s a map, it tells us where to go,’ I say. ‘But Daddy, that nice lady tells you where to go…TURN LEFT DADDY! She says TURN LEFT!!’).
My parents occasionally organised holidays to far flung destinations where the food was strange and the people didn’t speak English: places like Ireland and Northern Scotland. My father would always plan to do the journey in a one’er, lashing himself to the wheel after memorising the route for days with strict instructions to my mother to keep the tea coming thick and fast or we might not make it.
After leaving at the obligatory 4am departure we would stop for food in the most bizarre way (I have not met anyone with a similar experience). My brother and I would press our faces against the windows of our Dad’s Granada, after peeling the flesh of our legs from the plastic-covered vinyl seats, and wistfully watch the Little Chefs skim past…dreaming of crinkle-cut chips and ice-cream sundaes. We would then stop on the hard-shoulder (I am not sure that this is strictly legal) and my dad would flip out this orange picnic table and two fold-up picnic chairs (we had to take turns!) and my mum would whip out a camping stove and cook – to the accompanying thunder of traffic – a full Irish breakfast; with toast. We would then consume this hastily prepared feast quickly (we were on a tight schedule, remember) and be careful not to choke on a bit of black pudding as an Eddie Stobart 18 wheeler passed within four foot of my Mum doing the washing up. In-bloody-sane.
Back to the now: our kids were, on the whole, very good – but then again, they should’ve been; a succession of freshly prepared drinks and snacks handed back to them (sometimes directly into their mouths lest they miss a minute of The Princess and the Frog), comfy seats, seatback DVD players, audio books: generally being treated like captains of industry in Virgin Upper Class.
The journey was stunning. We wound our way up the Alps, through the Mont Blanc tunnel and then back down the mountains and then towards the dusty heat of Tuscany. Coming back it was like a scene from Lord of the Rings – the contrast was extreme; cricket infested olive groves and old Italian women shuffling along in the heat and then a couple of hundred kilometres later you climb through pine forests into soaring mountains and everything gets all Sound of Music again.
Lastly, for you bullet addicts, some observations about Italy:
- Italians love kids The Italians – even the grumpy ones – love children. If they see a cute kid, they will stop what they’re doing and ruffle the child’s hair and try and engage them in conversation. The result of this is that Italian kids are quite shy as they so used to being pestered by well meaning adults that they try and avoid them. Our kids are used to being largely ignored and so the novelty of talking to adults – even when no one understood anything that was said – was quite exciting for them.
- Italians love food They’ve got to, haven’t they? The quality of the food that can be bought at a supermarket is exceptional – the finest ham, the best fruit and vegetables I have tasted in a long time and wonderful, affordable wine. I must admit that you’d struggle to make anything that wasn’t Italian though – but with that kind of food, would you eat anything else?
- Italians worry less Our kids were the only children on the beach with sun-suits. We slathered them with factor 50 and put hats on them and the Italians looked at them like they were aliens from another world. All the Italian children lazed around with their miniature dick-sticker pants on, brown as leather, frolicking in the surf without armbands…they were probably half drunk as well. It made me question whether we worry too much about this kind of thing, because although the kids were all brown I only saw one kid with sunburn. If that kind of weather hit Eastbourne the burns unit would be full by teatime.
- Italians drive like shit I thought the Swiss were bad, but the Italians drive with such a lack of awareness of their own, frail mortality that you think that their all suicidal…or Swedish. It’s no wonder they haven’t won a motor racing trophy in a generation – they can barely keep a 1000cc Fiat within a lane of a three lane motorway, let alone keep a precision racing car on the track at Monza. Tailgating? Did I mention tailgaiting? They drive so close, at such high speeds, that you can see their grinning, impish faces imploring you to dab the brake and end their dreary lives of good food, cheap wine, fantastic art and renaissance architecture.
n.b: Oh, and a bomboloni is a donut…not donuto or donutio as we thought. We’re so cultured.
n.n.b: The picture is of our poor car after the drive. You think the outside is bad? The inside was a sandy mush of cola bottles, salami sandwiches and wierd vanilla cake thingys that look great out of the packet but after being kneeded by a two year old end up looking like puppy poo.