Final book?

The weekend was spent in Carrara as F had had the extra week’s holiday and kept the dogs with him.

And, I managed to finish The Buried Giant. Good book and interesting story – but not the WOW! book.

And I have, at home, so many books still unread.

I would say that, overall, it was a disappointing book summer. I should have stuck with my usual – the short list of the Bailey’s Prize For Fiction. Next year, I won’t forget.

And the weekend almost signals the end of the “summer”. The forecast is OK for next weekend, at the moment, but it’s no guarantee. Then there’s Mantova in two weekends. OK, so if the weather holds up there arre still a couple of weekends left in September, so we’ll see.

F certainly wants to go down and would really like to go down next weekend as he wants to talk to his brother about buying up his share of the house. He doesn’t talk to me about it very much but he’s quite keen to buy him out and then he can do what he wants to the house. He includes me (as in: we’ll be able to do this; we may have to wait to do this) but I can’t really be too involved. Things are different than before.

Again, he suggests that next year we’ll do more day trips.

But, that’s next year. And this year? Well, it might not be the final book if the weather holds up, I suppose.

An unexpected happening

An unexpected happening

It should have been nice but he just wouldn’t talk about what I wanted to hear about. Instead he’s boring me to death with photos of restaurants that I’ll probably never go to and castles and churches and stuff.

What I wanted to hear about was his feelings about how it went. His relationship with M, his relationship with M’s parents, etc. But he was reticent (which makes me think that there’s more to it, of course.)

So I was bored (a bit – it’s not fair to say it was terrible – anyway, we were having a few pints which is always a good thing and he had only come back from his holidays a few hours before and he is really into the photography thing so it’s fair enough.)

We were at Bar Blanco, just across the piazza near our flat. It is one of the few bars open at the moment (most open next week when everyone is back.) It’s renowned as a place that gay people go to. It’s not a “gay bar” as such but a lot of gay people go there – mainly the younger, hipper ones.

I noticed a guy stood up near our table. He had the most dreadful shorts on. Or they looked dreadful on him anyway. He was reasonably tall, slim body, a half-grown hipster-style beard and he was probably in his mid-thirties. These details I noticed later. The only details I did notice were these dreadful shorts. I am unable to explain to you why they were so dreadful. They looked like “little boy” shorts being worn by a grown man.

I went to interrupt the photo show by telling A that this guy had the most dreadful shorts on when I saw the guy looking at me.

The next thing and he was flouncing behind A (so directly in front of me), between the tables, then round behind me and back to where he started. And, out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he was staring at me. He was actually hitting on me!

Of course, I told A, adding “unless he’s hitting on you?” It was my little joke. I then added “but that’s unlikely.” A responded that he hoped he wasn’t but, secretly, maybe, he was a bit jealous? ;-)

Anyway, although I wasn’t (am not) interested as I have F, it gave me something of a thrill and some delight that, at my very advanced age, a guy of under 40 should actually be hitting on me!

Soon afterwards, we left. A walked me to my flat even though his car, blocked in by a Ferrari, was parked right by the pub. Afterwards, I wondered if A was going back to see if it was really him that the guy was hitting on (not really …….. maybe?)

Portovenere photos

So, we had the day in Portovenere, which was truly lovely.

And, as there were three of us, many photos were taken. I give you some of the best:

As we were walking towards the harbour after just parking the car, A2 took this one of us.

The view of the town across the harbour.  F and I

Lovely, isn’t it.

After breakfast, we walked up towards the church (the one in the background):

We're walking up here to go to a beach

I thought we were going to see the church but not so, it turns out. Just before the church is a wall with a “window” and archway. Through the archway and this is where we’re going:

Not what I'd call a beach at all!

So, in my view, not really a beach but just rocks. Still, a pretty cove and the water was lovely – completely clear. We stayed there for a few hours. Here we are, sunbathing on the rocks:

Sunbathing at Poets' Cove

We leave and A2 decides she wants a picture or two of me sitting in the “window”, overlooking the cove we’ve just been at:

She has an eye for capturing a good photo (but then she did Art College with F)

After that, we walked into town for lunch overlooking the harbour but one last picture before we leave the church is of me overlooking the harbour:

Behind me is the harbour

And, then, we obviously stopped taking pictures, which is a shame because it’s a very pretty town.

Without you.

It’s quiet. I open the door and I’m greeted by silence.

I feel free. I don’t have to rush. I can take my time. It’s great.

I don’t speak to anyone. There is too much silence. I rattle around in the place and it’s suddenly huge.

I can relax. When I come back from going out, I can just go to bed.

I am lonely. Even if we do our usual call. He is there, with them and I am here, alone.

It’s conflicting. It’s only for one week. He’s taking an extra week’s holiday as, after that, he’ll start going away a lot. So the dogs have stayed with him. So I am in Milan on my own which is both wonderful and awful. It is really nice not to have to rush to take the dogs out when I come home and, in the evening, when I’m tired and just want to go to bed.

But I miss them. I miss the fact that there’s always someone (thing) that’s so pleased to see me, someone who wants attention, someone that I have to look after. It’s very rare (in fact, it’s always been very rare) that I’m at home, on my own, without the dogs. In fact, I can’t remember a time since ….. well, probably some time in the UK, so at least over 10 years.

I’m trying to make the most of it – next week will be back to normal.

But, in the end, I miss not having them there, being in the bloody way, always wanting something.

I don’t think I could live without dogs.

And, so I give you this:

Yes, I know it’s not really relevant but it is a wonderful song, isn’t it?

The holiday – beaches, food, drink and a day-trip to Portovenere

Well, if you’ve been following, most of my holiday posts have been about the books I was reading (am still reading).

But that wasn’t really the whole story. I mean, we did things other than me sitting on the beach and reading.

I picked Best Mate (BM) up from the airport on the Thursday evening. We spent the night in Milan and then drove down to Carrara the next day. F had already gone down with the dogs.

We spent the weekend together and then F came back to Milan on Sunday afternoon as he was working.

Time with BM was great. She did spend a lot of time sleeping, especially on the beach, but that was OK and expected.

One night we went to Sarzzana (unfortunately the antique fair that fills the narrow streets wasn’t up and running until the following week) and had a lovely time (apart from the worst pizza in the world – see previous post).

Another night was Carrara itself. But, apart from going to the beach and eating, that was about it. It was relaxing and lovely. The following Friday, we drove back to Milan, leaving the dogs in Carrara. We made a stop to see F who was working in Fidenza Village (one of those outlet villages where they have a shop) as he was on his way down to Carrara to stay with the dogs. The next morning, early, I took BM to the airport and then drove straight from there back to Carrara.

Most of the time we spent on the beach (during the day) apart from a couple of days when the weather was bad and one particular day (last Saturday) when one of F’s friends, A2, drove us to Portovenere.

Apart from the time with BM, this was truly the highlight of the holiday. Portovenere is a small town on the Ligurian coast. It is typically Italian, the harbour lined by houses painted in the reds, yellows and oranges one would expect in Italy. We left early (around 8 a.m.) so that we would get there early enough to find parking.

We (well, A2) drove to La Spezia, a large harbour town that receives cruise ships (there were 2 docked) and from there we followed the twisting road around the coast to the town of Portovenere.

We parked the car and then walked onto the harbour to find somewhere to have breakfast.

After that we strolled up towards the church, sited seemingly precariously on top of the headland overlooking the straits between that and the island opposite the harbour. But, instead of going to the church, we cut off just before and went through an archway onto some rocks in a small cove. Now, here’s the thing about Portovenere. It does have a couple of very small beaches located within the harbour but, like much of Liguria, so I’m led to believe, most of the bathing takes place off rocks. The advantage this has is that the sea is not “polluted” by drawing up sand into the water.

We found a place to lay our towels on the flatter rocks and went swimming. The water was warm and so, so clear. It almost didn’t feel like the sea at all. But, although I can swim, I’m not what you would call a confident swimmer. Plus, I have a real problem with getting water in my eyes, even normal tap water. If water gets in my eyes, I just cannot open them again until I can dry my lids. As a result of this, I don’t like going out of my depth. And this was not gradually sloping sand but rocks so, one minute OK, the next not. I didn’t stay long, to be honest – it was just a little bit scary for me. And, yet, beautiful to swim in.

We lay on the rocks, the sun breaching the walls behind us. The cove became packed and, about 11 or so when we decided to move, people couldn’t wait to take over our place on the rocks.

We went up to next to the church where we could look out from the top of what looked like an old fort (or, maybe the roof of the church?) Then we walked back through the town. F wanted to buy some pesto since he loves it. He chose a shop with the idea that we would come back later. It was really quaint. Narrow streets, as you would expect with a small harbour town built on the hillside. We reached the square from where we had started in the morning and then walked along the harbour to pick somewhere for lunch. Lunch was simple but nice. By the time we had finished lunch the place was really packed. That afternoon they were closing off the channel (by the church) to water traffic and allowing people to swim across the channel. Every space on the rocks was taken, people (mainly young adults) waiting for the signal that the channel was open.

But F and A2 weren’t so keen on staying. To be honest, I’d have like to see it start but, at the end of the day, I had enjoyed the day so much, I wasn’t going to let a little thing make it bad.

So, we walked back into the town and got the pesto and then walked to the car and came home. All day the sun shone and I have to say it was one of the nicest days I’ve had for a long time.

F realised that I had enjoyed it. “Next year, we’ll go for days out like this,” he said. “Maybe a couple of times a week.”

I told him that I’d like that even if it was only a couple of times during the holiday.

I’ll try and put some pictures up tomorrow of Portovenere.

3 restaurants and a funeral (or really, really bad pizzeria)

Well, over the three weeks of holiday, there were, notably, 4 new restaurants. 3 excellent and 1 which served the most dire pizza that I’ve ever tasted – and that includes all those not in Italy!

But, first, lets cheer ourselves up with the good ones.

The first was in Carrara, called Il ReBacco just off the central square. A bit expensive but the food was very good. But, when it came to the sweet I chose, well, it was to die for. It was a chocolate mouse but so divine. Best Mate, who was with me, really liked it. If I had known how much, I would have given her mine and had her cheesecake. After all, she doesn’t come that often and I can always go back there!

And I would go back – if only for the chocolate mouse!

We had an antipasto, main course, wine and water and, of course, dessert – it came out around €50 per head. We ate outside as the weather was so good so I don’t actually know what it was like to eat inside but, from the entrance, it looked nice.

The second was in a place called Partaccia which is the next “village” to F’s “village”, so really close and easy to get to. We were taken there by T, the local vet who also has a place on the beach near us. Since her son is a chef who has moved to London, the talk between us, on the beach is often about food and restaurants. And so, she suggested going to a couple of places. Agilulfo Osteria was the first place she took us to. This is in the middle of a holiday area but this restaurant, just off the main road is anything but some kind of seaside food joint. It wouldn’t be amiss in the middle of some of the trendiest areas in Milan. With prices to match, of course.

The food and the presentation were divine. I should have had the Agnello di Zeri but I didn’t because I thought we were going to eat it later in the week. Actually, I can’t remember what I had, sorry. However, the place was pretty, the tables arranged into some sort of constructed court.

My only criticism would be the portion size. It was OK as I wasn’t hungry (for the whole time of my holiday) but, if I had been hungry, it might have left me needing more. But the quality made up for the quantity, for sure.

Thirdly, again with T, we went to Castagnetola and a real trattoria – Trattoria Da Emma. This couldn’t be further from Agilulfo Osteria if it tried. This is “home” cooking from Emma herself a lady who looks like someone’s grandma. This is NOT expensive but the food is wonderful. We had gnocchi fritti to start with – lightly fried squares of pastry which expand (like Yorkshire Puddings) so, when you cut into them, they create a kind of envelope. We filled this with some delicious prosciutto and eat it with your hands. I had the pasta with beans and everyone else had the ravioli (tordelli, here) which I also tried and it was all delicious. F had the Fritto Misto – deep fried fish (sardines, prawns, squid, etc.) whilst I had a pork chop. We also had chips which were, quite obviously, hand made – like everything else.

Such a lovely place and such nice food. We had the table just before the entrance, in a small corner, under grape vines. It made it all very special. Worth the trip. Apparently, apart from the gnocchi fritti and the tordelli, the other dish “not to be missed” are the deep fried sardines. If they have them, you can have a plate of those instead of what F had.

Unfortunately, the title of “worst pizza, probably in the world” goes to a restaurant/pizzeria that I don’t know the name of. I will try and hunt out the receipt to get the name of it. I didn’t pick up a card as it was really so dreadful. The base was soggy and they used so much oil that there was hardly any taste except that. This was a place in Sarzzana. It’s in the Piazza Matteoletti, right at the top end, where it narrows, on the right hand side. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. The waitress was lovely and we thought (Best Mate and I) that it would be good as there was a queue of people waiting – it was so full – but either we were unlucky with our choice or these people were just visitors who knew nothing!

And it is proof that you really can get crappy pizza in Italy. Avoid this place like the plague!

The short stories win

The Mistletoe Bride was good. A selection of short ghost stories and one play, the stories were interesting and well-written. It almost matched Stone Matress.

I finished it the day before yesterday. Yesterday we went to Portovenere – but, like posts about some restaurants, I shall tell you about that when I’m in front of a proper keyboard – so no reading yesterday.

This morning I’ve started The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

But it seems the books I enjoyed most this summer were the books of short stories, which I wouldn’t have expected.

Well, at least I have the winner of the Worst Book!

A “Sunday Times bestseller” is highlighted at the bottom. “A wildly funny novel” is prominent elsewhere.

But did they apply this to the wrong book? For this was neither wildly nor funny in any sense. It will be the very top of my list to give away to a Jumble sale.

A story of the old wealth and upper classes divisions in the UK, it seemed to try to sway me that all was ok with the typical English social games. Neither that nor the lack of sympathy for any of the characters went to make this a “must read” book. Indeed, I would further add that I won’t read anything by the author again.

That was Snobs and now onto the second Kate Mosse book for this summer – The Mistletoe Bride – a selection of short stories by her.

The Detectives

Well it seems that is the theme this year.

When I was a kid I had and read all the “Mystery” books by Enid Blyton. I loved them. Then, as I got older, Agatha Christie and, I guess, I was pretty sated with detective books by then.

And that hasn’t really changed. But, by pure chance, this year’s summer books seems to be mostly “detective”.

Alchemy was a couple of stories rolled into one. It was ok but the connection between the stories seemed quite weak to me. Not the “special” book for the summer.

Then, over the last 36 hours there’s been The Risk Of Darkness by Susan Hill. She is very “readable” but it’s not a “wow” book.

And now to Snobs by Julian Fellowes. A book I’ve had for ages and ages (second hand, I’m sure) and it doesn’t really appeal but I’m determined to get it out of the way.

Wish me luck!

One old and two new (well, new to me)

Well, as I suspected, I had read Fatal Voyage before. It was ok but, if I’m honest, really not worth the second read. But it is annoying in that I could have been reading something new!

So, onto new. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. Now I understand he’s popular as he’s certainly been at Hay but I’m not really sure why. Ok, so it was a readable book but I kept thinking it was a cheap version of an Agatha Christie novel. With AC you get clues (even if they’re not usable clues) but with this story you didn’t much. Plus the “detective” seemed, in the main, bloody useless and only solved the case by accident. Still, light enough and easy to read.

And then on to Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Another bloody detective! However this was thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve looked it up and there are more Maisie Dobbs novels and I just might be persuaded to read another.

Just one thing – for a book set in England between the wars, the spelling of the American “theater” instead of the English “theatre” really angered me. Especially as she had gone to all the trouble of spelling Cockney English correctly!

And now to Alchemy by Maureen Duffy. At least I’m getting through them at a decent rate now and I have a stack of them (finished) to take back home in a week’s time!