Been a long time

It is my great pleasure to report that I am writing this on the roof terrace of an apartment building in southern Italy. It is nearly five years since my last real holiday, and that was in the same place. The weather is beautiful, the water at the beach this morning was warm and shallow up to fifty metres out from the sandy shoreline. This morning for breakfast we ate fresh bread with olive oil, various types of salami, mortadella, Parma ham, tomatoes of the kind it is impossible to find in England, ie ones that taste of tomato, fresh peaches, succulent and sweet, and figs with a texture and taste it is impossible for me to describe.

Already, the past years of torment are fading. The stress melted away as I floated on my back in the sea. Sipping the delicious coffee at the beach cafe I felt recharged.

My children are with me, they all remember being here on our last visit. My wife, their mother, was with us then, the dramas that precipitated the split were yet to occur, although the low-level arguments that were a constant feature of our marriage continued in this delightful environment. We could never agree on how things should be done, and her stubbornness prevented any consensus. She would pretend to agree then do things her way, the chaos that ensued from her lack of organisation didn’t prevent this happening every time. While away on holidays it made for difficult times. There is an element of the inevitable sadness about being here, but it seems correct that we are here anyway. Almost like a goodbye.

The flight from Luton was scheduled to depart at 6.10AM, in the end it didn’t get away until 6.45, but we were out of bed at 3.15 and in the taxi 30 minutes later. The kids were in varying stages of sleepiness and excitement, this trip has been booked for several months. The torture of the airport seemed worse than the last time I flew. Refusing the offer to pay more for ‘fast track’ check-in, I got time to see the truth of that lie. The non-payers are artificially held back in order to enhance the misery and convert them into payers next time they fly. In fact, all passengers could be processed in good time, but that would be to miss an opportunity to screw a few more quid out of them.

The departure gate is announced leaving just enough time to race there and feel the distress that maybe you’ll be late, and upon arrival at the gate you find that the ‘fast-track’ are there already. This is because the gate information is held back if you don’t pay to create the illusion that it is better to pay extra, and the information is given to the others before. There is no advantage, we all got on the same plane, they got on five minutes before. They had to stand up again to allow the later boarders to sit down, so that probably negated the satisfaction of being on board first. Well, I sincerely hope it did. The advertised cost of the flight was double by the time I’d paid extra for luggage and for seat reservation; the latter item being essential when traveling with children since they scrapped the policy of allowing families with children to board first, presumably because there’s no money in it for them. On one flight there weren’t two seats available next to each other, our youngest was three years old at the time. It took some serious words to get that sorted out. Fuck them, I hate airlines.

Our eventual destination is near Bari, on the south-east coast of Italy. There is a choice of two airports nearby, Bari or Brindisi, but flying to either cannot be done without a stop and plane-change. Hence my plan to fly to Naples, hire a car, and drive the few hours across country. Driving, for me, is far less painful than the double flying time, the plane change, the stressful possibility of luggage loss, all accompanied by the moans and whining of three children, seems like a no brainer. It is, until you factor in the waiting time at the hire car place at Naples airport, caused by the, you guessed it, ‘fast track’ priority customers. It wasn’t until I’d waited an hour, bribed the kids with ice cream, had a passive-aggressive argument with staff and several pissed off ‘slow-track’ customers, that it came to light that I’d paid the extra for priority service and hadn’t needed to wait at all. But, it was during the waiting time that I got to observe that it was the same tactic as the airlines employ to crank up the misery of having to wait while other people get sorted in a few minutes. All the non-priority customers took ages to get processed once they got their chance at the counter, no coincidence.

So, we got a free upgrade as apology for making us wait. This sounds like a good thing, but the upgrade car is shit, which begs the question…

Naples? Well, if anyone has read my review of the seafood restaurant I visited last time I was in the place will know my opinion of Naples. It does contain just about the best seafood restaurant I have ever experienced, but I despise Naples. It is a filthy place, the road system is terrible, the drivers are the worst I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, including Phnom Penh where there are no rules at all. So let’s not dwell on Naples, suffice it to say that despite having Google maps available, I took a number of wrong turns which added thirty minutes to our journey. A nightmarish road system populated by arseholes, enough said.

The drive was not bad at all. The road passes through the mountains, long, long climbs followed by terrifying, twisting descents. Trucks that travel in the middle of the road, not allowing anyone but the most daring to pass. Needless to say I passed them, a scary business in the underpowered Fiat shitbox that we were ‘upgraded’ to. Italian drivers have a certain reputation, which they richly deserve, in my experience. On many occasions I was tailgated by vans and small trucks when there was no opportunity for me to move over. No one could accuse me of being a slow driver, and yet I don’t drive fast enough for them. After passing they either cut in front or drift halfway across two lanes, causing much uncertainty and fear. You are left wondering what Italians make of the indicator lights that are still fitted as standard on all cars that I have seen here, they certainly don’t consider using them. In order to fit in, I have stopped using them too, it doesn’t do to show weakness in these situations.

Dinner on the first night was at Luna Rossa, a seafood restaurant in a small fishing town called Savelletri, a short distance along the coast from the town where we are staying. This was one of the reasons we came back here, it has been spoken of in hushed tones for the past five years, and it didn’t disappoint. Carpaccio of freshly caught local fish, crudo misto with local prawns, oysters, and squid, grilled king prawns which, unlike the king prawns in England, deserve the name, and a fritti misto of local fish caught that day. Accompanied by grilled potatoes and salad, the food was delicious, the service was excellent, friendly, and warmly welcoming. We still love Luna Rossa.

This little town is nice, not beautiful, just nice. We have been here three time and encountered only friendliness. There is a local butcher who has a chicken rotisserie outside his shop which has trays of potatoes at the bottom roasting in the chicken juices. The birds are seasoned with lemon and sage, it seems impossible that anything so simple can be so delicious, and I have often wondered if it was a trick of nostalgia, but they really are that nice. Today we went to the local beach, swam in the sea and lazed around on beach loungers until lunchtime, then ate chicken and potatoes using plastic forks and our fingers. More delicious than anything has the right to be.

This afternoon the children are happy, settled down and well fed. Taking the opportunity to write something, it is disappointing that I can’t convey in words how good it feels to be here. No one reading this will understand the satisfaction I am experiencing to have passed through the last eighteen months of my life and made it to here. To be alive, to have my children with me, to see a brighter future for us than at any time in the past few years. To be, just a little bit, happy?

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