Friday 26 October 2018

Tuesday 6 June 2017

The Six Day War

50 years ago today

JERUSALEM. June 6, 1967:  "Go and buy up all the bottles of brandy you can find," the editor told the head messenger.
   That was the first indication that the war was beginning.
    Tension had been building for weeks, but anticipation is one thing, the crack and thud of artillery fire is more concrete.
    A lowly proofreader in the bowels of the newspaper office in the centre of Jerusalem lives off rumours and hurriedly set galleys.
    The need to query something in the copy lets me escape to the newsroom. Ted Lurie, the editor is out of his office, listening, talking, taking decisions about deployment of his diminished staff.
    It's then I hear the immortal words. "Nissim, go out and buy all
the brandy you can find in any shops still open".
      This lesson in coolness under fire, thinking ahead and focussing on the essentials served me well subsequently when reporting from war zones.
    Always try to think where will be your next food. Brandy or beer might be in the equation too.
      Middle East wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters could all be taken in your stride if you remembered Lurie's Law: Plan ahead, lay in provisions.
       Oh yes. and do keep your head down when the bullets are flying and the shells whizzing overhead.
       Remember your job is to report the news, not to be the news.

David Lennon

Wednesday 24 May 2017

CAPRI - Travel Hopefully

Capri notes 

Conca del Sogno,  Recommone:

Our trip to Capri yesterday recalled the (old) saying “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive”. (*)

We were picked up from Conca in a  small dingy at 9 and gently put-putted out of tiny Recommone cove around the headland into Marina del Cantone bay.

Arrived at the short pier moments after a 20-seater boat had pulled alongside and tourists began boarding. Some manoeuvring by boat and dinghy and we were able to step up onto the jetty. We were quickly bundled on board as our boat reversed and resolutely headed away from the jetty.

     The passengers had split into three groups: four sitting up front, a family of four in the small cabin and the rest of us in the back, three young Irish lasses in shorts and goose pimples, a young couple very much into themselves and Vicky and me. 

    Captain Pepe, actually "the chap driving the boat" would be a more accurate description, spoke to each group explaining that we would tour abound the Isle of Capri first and dock at about 11. 

Pepe kept up an enthusiastic narrative along the way, pointing out the three little islands behind us originally summer home of the famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev. On our right as we skirted the mainland the grey stone forts built along the Amalfi coast in the 16th century to guard against  Saracen raiders.

   As Pepe pointed out more sights, it became clear we would be better sitting in the front. The Swiss German foursome happily squeezed up to let us sit beside them. 

    As we ploughed along towards the east end of Capri, the loquacious captain drew our attention to the Roman Emperor Tiberius former summer home Villa Jovis perched on the highest point of the island, which would have made it easier to defend. 

One of the distinctive features of Capri are the grottoes, caves carved into the rock by the sea.  There are many, the Blue Grotto being the most famous.  

First we are treated to the aptly named Meraviggliosa (Marvellous) grotto. Inside are stalagmites and stalactites and the water is pure, translucent and strikingly blue too. 

Next was Grotta Bianca (white) whose name was not reflected in its colour but was remarkable for its orderly queue of boats waiting to peek inside. Orderly that is until one big boy with "Blue Grotto Tours €18" emblazoned on its side barged straight in on the left. Fortunately it was in such a rush that a quick peek and then it pushed off having ticked that box. 

    Once inside we were able to marvel at the red amoeba attached to the inside of the cave at and below sea level. Again dramatically blue water. Two primary colours. 

     Skimming past another grotto or two our attention is drawn to a rust-red coloured building wedged in to and on top of a craggy peak directly above the sea. "Villa Malaparte named after the Italian author who built it.”

  Three "famous" faraglioni in the Bay of Naples, are next on the menu.  Scopolo (or Fuori), 106 m was used as a lighthouse in ancient times while the middle rock  Mezzo, has a big hole in the middle.

 "We call it King Kong because if you look it is shaped like a gorilla,” says Pepe.  As we steered through and looked up someone commented: "looks like a female". 

     By now we were into the bay of Marina Piccola where luxury villas compete with posh hotels and restaurants to catch our attention. This is also the place where Gracie Fields built her villa above La Canzone del Mare beach club, pool and restaurant which attracted the rich and famous from the world of 1950s and 60s showbiz.  (Add names).  

     We continue around the south of Capri passing more grottoes and lots of Puntas with wonderful names like Ventroso,  Marmolat and culminating at the lighthouse of Punta Carena. There we turn northwards along the west coast of the island, and wondering when we will reach the most famous grotto of all,  the Blue Grotto.

     Captain Pepe begins to prepare us for the bad news. "There are so many boats that queueing can take over an hour." Adding, "You have to transfer to a little rowing boat and they charge €14 per person."

    We round Punta  dell'Arcera with its regulation famous Villa, this one called Damecuta,  and there they are, the cluster of waiting boats outside what seems like the smallest grotto entrance we have seen all morning. Floating between them are several row boats sucking down four passengers from the larger boats to take into the famous grotto. 

   "Shall we wait or go on, we can wait if you want, but it will be an hour," says Pepe in a tone that says its up to you, while his words are formed to dissuade. The girls are unsure. Clearly they would like to see the grotto, but can feel the pressure of the rest of us saying its okay to go on.

     They chatter among themselves and finally the blonde in blue says, okay lets go and the other two concur. Why? I ask the non-blonde, “because she (the blonde in blue), is kind of our decision taker,” I am told. 

    I couldn't quite make out what language the girls had been using so I asked "What language are you speaking to each other?" A stare of  incomprehension, like she is wondering if I am serious and then she says “ English”, in what I now recognised as a broad Dublin accent. 

   Loud put-putting noise of engine, wind whipping away words, slapping of waves in the hull, are they the excuse for missing it?

       Meeting my fellow country-women opens the floodgates for ‘How are ye’.  They live in Putney in London but two are from Dublin and the blonde in blue is from Ashford in Wicklow, “Its between Bray and Arklow,” she explains when I ask her where it is.

         Having achieved his goal of getting us to forgo the Blue Grotto, Pepe motors off at a good clip to bring us to Marina Grande, the main port, or as the map says, Porto Commercial and Porto Touristico.  Docking beside a big black luxurious super-yacht he says we should be back by 4.45.

     In high spirits the girls gape at the huge super yacht and the blonde in blue can't resist having a picture taken beside the huge black symbol of unimaginable wealth. 

       Heading towards the centre of the harbour we are immersed in masses of people all wandering and wondering. Some jump into the Capri’s famous open-backed taxis, others, like us, head for the public transport to get up to Capri Town and Anacapri.

          The queue for the Funicolare, seems long so plough on to the bus stop, where we join the back of another queue, which we soon realise is actually an incredibly slow queue because the buses are small and only hold 12 seating and possibly another 10 or so crammed in standing. 

          After 15-20 minutes of non-movement and incessant chatter from a Scottish woman who lives in America and has opinions on everything, we decide to head back for the Funicular. Good move it turns out because what seemed like a big queue doesn't reflect the fact that the funicular can take 75 at a time! Good to know. 

        Getting off the funicular at Piazza Umberto see the fantastic views but realise that we still have a way to go to our target of Villa San Michele which has been recommended as a must-see by a friend.  

            Bus problem is same as at sea level, to little and too few. So now its talk to the taxi drivers.  “€20 to Anacapri and the Villa”. Turns out that is a flat rate, so if we can persuade  another couple to join us… Vicky talks to couple in the bus queue and convinces them that they can use their already purchased bus tickets on the way back. 

                The ride up the winding mountain road is spectacular as we take hairpin bends in a car that seems too long for these narrow roads. Being in an open car adds to the feeling of delight in the ride. 

            Anacapri and the villa are no less crowded than Capri below. We walk to the Villa on a narrow path lined with fancy shops and crowds of German-speaking tourists. The villa is a restoration of  a Roman villa by a German doctor, hence the crowds of Germans.  We decide against paying a stiff fee and opt instead for the views down to the coast from the path which skirts the villa. 

           Time to eat but where? So many cafes and restaurants and no way of knowing which are good. A lady in the villa had told us there is a good pizza place beside the church, but we cant find the church. just as well perhaps  because we pass by a take-away pizza place and the smells are so good we pop inside. 

       There we find a little counter where we can eat what turns out to be the best pizza ever, or so it tastes.

         Back in the main square  the inevitable and unmoving queue for the bus to go back to the funicular.  I get chatting to a man beside a stall. "You must be local, you are wearing warm clothes, unlike us tourists." After chatting a while he tells me there is another bus stop, "100 metres back" where we have a better chance of getting on a bus.

       Local knowledge proves invaluable as we are soon on a jam-packed bus that doesn't even pull over at the main square queue.  

       Then it us gelata time in the Piazzata. Slightly unpleasant if understandable sign says "ice cream purchased at the  counter will be charged double if consumed at a table".

      We consume it on a bench in the square with a great view over the sea and who should appear but the three girls who have "spent our time eating and drinking wine".  The blonde in blue insists on taking our photo despite our protestations that it's not necessary. Not bad snaps as it turns out. 

(*) It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. True contentment derives from the doing of something, not its end point. Anticipation is often more exciting than the event itself. The saying was coined in 1881 by the Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). ...

TRIESTE - Joyce and Maximilian

 TRIESTE.   20-23 May, 2017

James Joyce lived here, as did the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.  So did we briefly. 
   Great location on a generous bay at the top of the Adriatic Sea, living it's own life and not overrun by tourists.
   That's not to say that we did not wake up one morning to find ourselves staring at a giant cruise ship parked 50 metres from our hotel window. But it was gone by early afternoon leaving barely an eddy of tourism in its wake.
   Two things you need to know about Trieste, the Joyce museum is tiny, Maximilian's castle is spectacular. 
   Once the great seaport for the Austrian-Hungarian empire trading with all the world and boasting 45 brothels and crime-ridden back streets, Trieste is now bourgeois respectability itself. 
    Hard to imagine Joyce staying ten years in modern Trieste, so no surprise that his return after WWI was brief. The city that had fertilised his imagination for Ulysses had lost its status, its raison d'etre with the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian empire.
     But what a fertile literary decade he had here. Producing The Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Exiles and of course meeting local literary great Italo Svevo, the model for Leopold Bloom the protagonist of Ulysses, many of whose chapters were penned here. 
     Trieste's liberal attitude towards minority groups, including the Jews, had allowed Svevo's and other Jewish families to flourish economically. Many employed Joyce as an English tutor. 
It was that tutor-student relationship between the unpublished young Irishman and the unsuccessfully published older Italian that brought mutual benefit to both. Joyce praised Svevo's work and Svevo provided Joyce with the knowledge about Judaism and the Jews to render his Bloom authentic.
    Encouraged by Professor ‘Zoiss', Svevo wrote “The Confessions of Zeno”, which Joyce, now living in Paris in the early 1920s, forced the international literary establishment, and Italy, to recognise as a comic masterpiece. 

    No such happy ending for Maximilian who designed and built the beautiful Castle Miramare just outside Trieste. The younger brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef,  Maximilian unfortunately allowed himself to be persuaded by Napoleon III to become Emperor of Mexico. 
     Despite big brother Franz Josef saying don't do it, Maximilian saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a great Hapsburg ruler. His beautiful wife Charlotte, daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium, encouraged him.
     Big mistake. Three years after being proclaimed Emperor of Mexico, the well-intentioned but politically naive and militarily inept Maximilian was facing a Mexican firing squad. Little wonder that Charlotte went mad with grief and regret.

   We have no regrets about visiting modern Trieste. There are memories of the city’s interesting past everywhere, but after bombastic Venice this is an unassuming place. 
   Some say Trieste is the town that time forgot. I say, not really, perhaps it is the town that forgot time and just is.




Ask the question: "Where are the best ciches (snacks) with aperitivos?" and with luck you will find yourself at six in the evening outside Pizzicheria de Miccoli on via Citta near the Duomo. 

     This is a traditional old food shop selling every imaginable type of ham, wild boar and sausages, plus all the local cheeses. You push in through the curtain of multi coloured soft covered ropes, ask for a glass of wine in Italian and bushy-bearded Antonio explains in good English that he only sells bottles or half bottles.
     He takes our Chianti outside and puts a bread board on a barrel and says he will bring some meats and cheese "on the house".  Which he does, plus a white paper bag with slices of bread and a big white napkin.
    At the same time he is chatting with every local who goes by and clearly he is a beloved Sienna character. Antonio makes much of his generous stomach, patting his white-aproned girth and laughs with two passing guys who are slimmer, "because you eat MacDonalds".
    Delicious slices of two types of ham and two generous pieces of cheese plus fresh pesto to dip plus slices of ham and cheese Torta Rustica  - all for the €9.90 price of a half bottle of chianti.  
     Only drawback is you have to stand in the street, but then, as all the world goes by and cast you envious glances,  you know this is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing. 
      Oh yes, Siena also has an impressive sloping central piazza where they hold the Palio, a horse race every summer, a Duomo with great frescoes and even better floors  and a town hall with historic paintings  and featuring huge frescoes depicting "Good government and Bad government".  
    Now off to Venice
   More later
 Ciao c

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Lady in the Blue Wrap

Calypso beach, Poros, Greece                                                            1 August 2016

The Lady in the Blue Wrap

Watching the arrival of the tall, beautiful young blonde in the peach bikini complete with rhinestones and her short, fat, bald and bearded companion in the baggy blue shorts, my view is interrupted by the slowly moving elderly woman in a blue wrap who is aiming for the sun lounger directly in front of us. She stops and decides to put her stuff on it thus blocking my view of Miss Russia wriggling out of her cut off jeans.

Then the blonde and Svengali walk into the sea and as I watch them frolicking in the water it is clear that they are not father and daughter. Curiosity partly satisfied, I return to my novel. I have lost sight of the lady in the blue wrap.

A while later Vicky, dripping from her swim, suggests moving from our tree-shaded loungers up the beach to a couple on the water's edge, to catch the late sun. Turns out we are now next to the odd couple who are just coming out of the sea and are soon laughing and joking in a mixture of Russian and then some English. He is the dominant figure and she clearly adores him, despite his frog like appearance.

Suddenly we become aware of a commotion at the water's edge over to our left, at the end of the short beach. There is a person lying on the sand, and someone standing over her, bending down and then signalling that something is wrong.

Others rush over to see what is going on, and as they turn over the prone figure, I can see it is an elderly woman, and I see death on her face. I look away. I hope I am wrong. I hope the people pumping her chest and giving mouth to mouth resuscitation will succeed. But I know she is dead. I have seen that look before.

Earlier I had noticed that the sun lounger on which the lady in the blue wrap had a clear plastic beach bag lying neatly on top of a small pile of clothes. It struck me as unusual because most people just dump their stuff on the loungers. On recollecting the scene I realise there was no towel.

People are now crossing themselves. One girl being comforted by her boyfriend is crying as she walks away from the inert figure towards where we are sitting on the beach.

I cannot bear it. I get up and leave.  As I am walking up the steps towards the road, I have to move aside for a bald,  middle-aged man wearing a shirt, trousers and shoes more suited for work than the beach. He is carrying a tan leather bag that looks like a doctor's bag. He is not hurrying.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Farewell to Meribel

Monday, 28 April 2014

The last day: Meribel disappears; Select, Pack, Wrap; Heaven's tears; Friends and memories

Wake up to dense cloud almost down to the chalet. Looking out the fantastic panoramic window there is no view of Mont Vallon up the valley or anything apart from the next building. Meribel has already disappeared. 

Dash through the rain to La Maison Braissand, our boulangerie, to get a last croissant, deux pain au chocolate, un brioche et deux baguettes. Cast a longing glance at the colourful array of tempting tartes and cakes whose mountain-high prices have always made resisting temptation that much easier, well mostly.

Select, wrap, pack. Select, wrap, pack. Select, wrap, pack. Discard, eliminate, reconsider. Vacillate, hesitate, prevaricate. “Oh just take the teapot, and a duvet. And what about that kitchen knife?” Pack the boot, push stuff into every corner. “I want this mirror”. “Better wrap it in a towel.” Yes, that very old red towel I had hoped to leave behind!

Amit is a master of filling every space in the boot/trunk and fits everything in, even the hugely bulky curtains from the living-dining room. Suddenly we wonder if we should not have taken more.

With Vicky, Amit and Noah packed in between suitcases and assorted bags we bid a fond farewell to Meribel, windscreen wipers vigorously swiping away heaven’s tears.

After dropping the boys at the airport we head north from Geneva for the long run home back to London. As we speed through the lush green and yellow fields of Burgundy and Champagne-Ardenne towards Picardie we think back on all the family and friends who have shared the Chalet with us over the years.

The list is long, the memories even longer.