In which things don’t go according to plan

Well, further to my post a day or so ago, F won’t be joining me at Mantova, after all.

The reason I won’t give but it’s all very sad and, although I still plan on going, it will put a bit of a dampner on things, even for me. He leaves tonight and I’m not sure (nor is he) when, exactly, he will be back, since he’s off to Spain next week for work.

Sometimes life is a bit of a bitch, really, isn’t it’

Mantova Festivaletturatura

Here it is, starting tomorrow, the sign that the warmer weather (what there was of it this year) is about to go away in a final flourish of summer.

Mantova’s (Mantua) literary festival is the signal for me that the holiday period is almost over and it’s a soft, gentle way to slip into Autumn.

But, the BIG news this year, is that F is coming! I am so happy about that. I am hopeful that we can get to stay 2 days because that would be nice. But even if it’s one single day, it will be good. I get to show him off. He’s coming even though he has to fly out early on Monday morning, so this is a bit of a sacrifice for him. Or, maybe a peace offering following an “incident” during the holiday?

In any event, I want to make the most of it.

As I read, so too, I hear

I read this a few moments ago –

And I could hear her reading it on stage, all those years ago. Truly awesome.

And, remember, she read it with spaces.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Thank you for having been here.

We were going to dinner.

But this wasn’t just any old dinner. This was an “after the event” dinner. The event where, because of V, we were sitting on the very front row.

The event itself was indescribable. Really! The power of the words and the power of the voice stunned me. The voice so rich and deep and warm. One that felt more like a really comfy sofa that you just sank into until you couldn’t see anything – her voice covering all other sounds with its tones and undulations and silences.

Yes, silences. For each sound was measured and weighed against the lack of sound. Each word made richer and more meaningful by the lack of a word that followed. Each sentence punctuated by silence in just the perfect way to highlight that, what you had just heard was “stand alone”, was worthy of your paying attention.

Oh I could have sat there all night, listening to her speak. Her words or, to be frank, any words she spoke (although hers were always better).

And then we had dinner. We drove to this big hotel that was a former country house – big and grand in a beautiful setting under Welsh hills.

We sat at a large table. I, next to the American First Minister to the Court of St James’s wife. But she was almost opposite me and to the left. I really can’t tell you much about the dinner (although I do have a story about the woman next to me – but not for this post) since I was trying to listen to the main lady of the dinner. To me, more than the Queen – it was a lady of power and strength beyond any other.

After the dinner, we retired to another room for drinks. The lady “held court”, everyone being introduced to her – there were singing of songs, reading of words and, of course, the beauty of her presence and voice.

I was in awe. I was also scared. This was someone to whom I really felt inferior.

Eventually, just before we were about to leave, we made our way to her to speak to her. To thank her for the dinner which she had “hosted” and for her words and for being her.

“Oh,” she said, “I’ve been so wanting to meet you two. You look so interesting.”

At which point, with her words said with that voice seeming to have ripped into my body and squeezed my heart, I lost all sense and reason and reverted back a two-year-old child. Nothing sensible came out of my mouth.

Oh, she understood but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to say something wonderful or, at the very minimum, nice. But my brain had stopped working and, anyway, was no longer connected in a meaningful way to my mouth.

I deeply regret not having gone to her earlier; not being able to say something coherent; not being anything other than a right prat.

However, I won’t ever forget her nor the power of her words with that voice nor the fact that I touched her nor that she spoke to me, nor that I was in the presence of such greatness.

So, it is with sadness that I learn she has passed away.

RIP Maya Angelou.

And, thank you again for having been here and having done everything you did.

Reading for summer weekends and holiday

So, I mentioned I had got some books for my summer reading and I thought I’d tell you what they are. To be honest, they’re a little, shall we say, diverse.

Margaret Atwood – Cat’s Eye – never seen this one before so, obviously, never read it. Very much looking forward to this one.
Terry Brooks – The Sword of Shannara. I’ve read one of the Disc World books a long time ago and it was good but I never really “got into” the series.
Harlan Coben – The Innocent. I was recommended one of his books years ago at the Hay Festival. And it was a good recommendation. So I thought I’d try this one.
Charles Dickens – Bleak House. Probably not one that springs to mind as a “beach book” but he writes very good stories and I haven’t read Dickens since school. Worth a try.
John Mortimer – Summer’s Lease. I know he’s a good writer but I’ve never read him. This one is set in Tuscany so it seems fitting.
Stephen King – Under the Dome. Haven’t read any King for years and years. This is certainly a “beach book”.
Yann Martel – Life of Pi. Loved by Piero anyway ;-) Just not this copy (I hope).
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall. May not be considered a “beach book” by many. But it’s the one I really want to read of all of them.

So, there you go. Hopefully, they’ll keep me going all summer.

Mantova Festivaletteratura

Note: I wrote part of this on the train, on my way to the Mantova Festivaletteratura. 6th September. The rest is from memory.

It’s 8.15. I’m on the train. I have butterflies in my stomach, partly because I am always like this when using public transport and partly because, since last night, I have been quite excited about going to the Festival.

It is far too early to be up on a holiday but I decided, this year, to take the train rather than drive. It means I don’t have to worry about drinking, the traffic, parking, etc. But also, I think, it is much cheaper, even if I am travelling 1st class against motorway tolls and petrol.

So I sit in leather seats, in comfort, with room to move around and can relax.

As I write, we have left, exactly on time. The rail service, here, is really very good. And 1st class is worth the 5€ extra.

The countryside is not really beautiful, to me. We are in the Lombardy plain, there are no hills. The flat fields to either side are full of ready-to-harvest rice – which plants look similar to sweet corn (maize to Americans, maiz to Italians), like dead stalks rather than food, or just-harvested fields with the few inches of dried stalks left.

Occasionally we pass buildings. Old, abandoned buildings – except they aren’t really abandoned. There are telltale signs – window shutters open, a car parked outside, washing hanging from the window.

Or small villages or towns, clustered houses which end abruptly to fields of sweet corn or rice or hay.

We pass through a station called Pizzaghettone (or something like that) and then, immediately over the river Po, I assume, the other side of which is a small village – which reminds me of Crespi d’Adda – a factory (still operating) with purpose-built houses and blocks of flats nearby. I must check it out sometime.

There are points on the line where the rail is single track. the train slows and passes through wooded areas. It looks so beautiful as the early morning sunlight shines through so it is not gloomy. We could be anywhere.

We arrive, on time.

This is, in fact, the first time I have come to Mantova by train and, if I am on my own, it is certainly something to consider next time.

I walk from the station through to the centre and the Festival office. I arrive at the square near to Piazza del Erbe. There is a café there that sells some special Mantovan pastry. I stop and sit at a table. In any case, I need coffee. It is hot and perfect.

The waitress comes and I try to get what I want but, either they have run out or they don’t sell it any more. I have coffee with a doughnut. It’s not brilliant but it’s OK.

I walk round to the office. It’s the first day of the festival but there are plenty of people around. I go into the office. They have changed things around a bit. I look for Marella but can’t see her. I see Sara and the guy from Sweden or Norway or somewhere of whom, to my disgust, I can never remember his name. He’s such a nice guy too. But I am crap with names. Sara explains that Marella is not feeling well. I am disappointed because I usually spend 10 minutes chatting to her and it’s always a nice start. However, Sara sorts me out, including which events to see. I have all day and only three events so plenty of time for sitting, relaxing, drinking and eating.

So, I leave the busy office, not wanting to be a burden, knowing, having worked at the Hay Festival, that you really don’t want people just hanging about. There is work to do, after all.

I make my way up to Piazza Sordello and one of the outside cafés. I sit and, even if it is about 11 a.m., I will have a beer :-)

Except the waiter ignores me. And I read about my first event. I check the time – it starts in less than 15 minutes. I abandon my idea of a beer and get up and walk towards the location. As I near the place, I pass another cafée and decide that I will have that beer after all.

I sit outside and order. I have 10 minutes. It’s enough time.

As I drink my beer, a ‘minder’ comes with two people. Americans. Since the couple have a minder, he or she must be an author or, at least, speaker. I look at him but don’t have any idea who he is. The minder is obviously bored with them or cannot find things to say. She checks her phone. I contemplate the idea of talking to him (for his partner has gone across the street to take photos) but don’t. After all, I don’t actually know who he is and just because I speak almost the same language, doesn’t mean I have to speak to him. Indeed, just because you’re gay doesn’t mean I will like you – in fact, I don’t really have many gay friends – I find I have little in common.

I suddenly realise I am going to be late and finish my beer, pay at the counter and go to the event. It is called Translation Slam. It may have been wonderful if it had been an English author but, unfortunately, the author was Spanish – so although I understood some of the Italian, the whole thing was quite difficult to follow.

After this, it was time for lunch. Lunch, of course, had to be Griffone Bianco (see link on right). I wandered up to Piazza Erbe. I could see some of the old buildings fenced off – the earthquake near Modena affected Mantova too – but none of them seemed to have fallen down – just a few bricks or slates having fallen to the ground.

As I walked up to the restaurant, I saw Peter, sitting on his own. I went to say hello and he invited me to join him, even if he was already on desert. I had a very pleasant lunch time and we chatted and ate and drank (although he only drank water) and it took about two and a half hours.

The next event was just after 3. Steven Greenblatt. It was OK and, obviously, all his bits were in English which helps a lot :-)

On my way back to the office, I passed a shop which sold belts (amongst other things) and called in and bought a belt which I had needed for ages. Then I went to the office to enquire about Marella. Apparently she was going to come in later. But then I was off to my next event. It was Peter interviewing Aiden chambers – so all in English (with translations for the Italian audience. Mr Chmabers did seem quite a crazy guy (in what he thought) but it was interesting none the less.

During the event, Marella texted me to ask how it was going, were there many people, etc. There were a lot of people – almost full and I thought it went very well – the audience seemed to appreciate it.

Then, as Marella was now in the office, I went down to see her. Whilst waiting for her, Peter arrived and she grabbed him to ask if he would go to dinner with some important people of the Festival. Then she asked if I could come too. Is said I could for about half an hour as I had to catch a train. She said that was fine.

We got a taxi and ended up at the ‘staff canteen’. Mantova has an enormous number of volunteers – mostly kids from schools and universities and the one thing that Mantova does well is look after them. They have a huge canteen serving food all day and evening. I found it amusing that we were going to dinner there – what with such important people in Mantova!

We followed Marella into the ‘authors & special people’ dining room – away from the hordes of kids (thank goodness). There were about 10 very large, round tables, with tableclothes on. We were introduced to these people (a couple – the woman of which I had seen at Peter’s gig). Then we got food from where they were serving and sat down.

Considering these people had really wanted Peter to come, they hardly spoke to him which both Peter and I found quite strange. In fact, the guy spoke more to me – about the dogs, as it happens.

And, finally, Marella and I got a few moments to talk when I promised to try and bring F (and, maybe, the dogs) there next year. Well, he’s met Lola now and likes both her and G, so I’m on a roll right now!

Of course, because the time was short, I completely forgot to ask about Marella’s daughter – which I felt terrible about afterwards.

I left quite soon and walked to the station. I arrived with a few minutes to spare and got on the train. It left on time but, unfortunately, there was a delay on the way back (another train in front had some problems) and so I didn’t get into Milan until 11.30.

But, I thought as I caught the tram back – here (as opposed to Hay), I can wear my sandals all day and night – and that makes everything so much more pleasant.

However, I had a super day and was so glad that Marella (even though slightly sickly) was able to come. I’m sure that, without her (sorry Sara), the festival wouldn’t actually be quite the same at all.

So, next year, I have to try and persuade F to take a day off and come – even if it is his busy time of year.

3 days in Piedmont/Lombardia – the things we did

We went on Saturday. We were late in the end, of course. We arrived at the Viavai Bed and Breakfast. We were shown to our rooms. The lady, Francesca was so sweet and the place was an absolute delight. I would definitely go there again. It’s about half an hour from Turin in the old part (read hill-top town) of Casalborgone.

For the afternoon, we went for a drive around the area, finishing at the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Vezzolano, which was rather a pleasant surprise.

I particularly like the frescoes and the frieze at the entrance (which, I hope, is pictured below – but not my picture). It’s worth a visit and will probably take you about an hour to walk round, at the most. But it is lovely.

We had a coffee at the coffee shop in the car park. It was just like one of those places in the UK at a castle or something – run by volunteers with home-made cakes and things. Except, here, was local wine. The guy serving looked like he was two steps away from his grave but he was very nice. One of the things I like about F is that he drinks cappuccino at any time of the day.

We sat outside on the wooden terrace. We had jackets but it was quite warm in the sun. We went back to the B&B and got ready to go out. Before we went, we had a little walk around lower CasalBorgone and upper Casalborgone. The upper part being the original medieval town and the lower part a later addition, as is normal here. But what a nice place. The lower part had the shops and the restaurants. Quite pretty. Not somewhere I’d stop if passing through but worth a look if you’re staying there. The upper town was medieval and, apart from houses, had nothing in the way of shops or restaurants – but pretty nonetheless. Then we got in the car to drive to the restaurant. The food part comes in another post.

The next day, F had thought it would be nice to go to the Chocolate Festival at a place called None, pronounced nonay and not nun.

F had looked at the site and said it had stalls along the streets.

We arrived and found it was true – there were stalls along the streets – selling all manner of items, as any normal market! The chocolate event was in one (not so big) marquee. And mostly it was full of shops from Turin and nearby towns selling, unsurprisingly, chocolate! We got to taste some and bought some things including, in my case, a couple of bottles of chocolate liqueur.

But we were a bit disappointed. I expected some exhibitions and some history of chocolate or something, rather than just stalls selling the stuff – however nice to eat they were.

Ah well, onwards and upwards. I had already said that I really wanted to go to Turin as I had only been there once (when I went to look at a flat for V when he went there for the Olympics) and, although it filled me with bitter-sweet memories (for his stay in Turin is what really started the end of V and I), I wanted to erase those and also see something of the city which, apart from a big square in the middle, I couldn’t really remember.

Driving in along the wide boulevards, it seemed more like Paris than northern Italy. It really looked quite an elegant place – and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

F had been there before (as part of work) so we parked right in the centre. We went, first, to a shop that he knows because the guys that run it are customers of his company. In fact, he was, until this year, responsible for the sales to them (they used to ask for him). We had a bit of a chat. They were very nice.

Then F wanted to go to the Museum of Cinema which is in the Mole Antonelliana – some tall tower thing that, apparently, is one of the main symbols of Turin. Sometimes I feel that I have learnt nothing whilst here, in Italy.

The queue for the trip to the tower and the museum was over 1-hour-wait long. But I noticed that there was another entrance which said Museum and there was nobody. I suggested that we ask the guy controlling how many people went through at a time. F didn’t seem to want to do it but I knew how much he wanted to go into the museum and so I went and asked.

Yes, we could go to the museum only and yes, we could use the other entrance and yes, there was no queue. Result!

I cannot adequately describe how wonderful this museum is. I would, in fact, recommend it to anyone coming to the northern part of Italy as a really good place to go – particularly if it is raining (which it wasn’t). Stunning, magical, interesting, exciting, informative and very, very interactive are some of the words that might help to describe the experience.

It lacks only one thing – a clear way of going round it so as not to miss anything. Lots of buttons to press to see how things work, lots of film clips (mostly dubbed into Italian) but truly wonderful. We spent a few hours there but I could go back and spend all day there. For an Italian Museum, it was truly the best I’ve seen.

I could spend longer in Turin and, I’ve no doubt, we shall go again. Quite a beautiful city. The feel is different from Milan. Surprisingly (well, surprisingly for me as I always think of it as the Detroit of Italy) it was elegant, chic and beautiful. More so than Milan although another city that does not fit your stereotypical thought of an Italy city. Florence this ain’t. But, in it’s own terms, possibly more interesting. Maybe even more than Milan (and that’s saying something as I love Milan).

We went back to Vaivia and went for our meal (see, probably, next post).

Sunday dawned bright and clear (as Saturday had been). We left the B&B and decided to drive back slowly, avoiding the motorway. Our first destination was Casale Monferrato. We had no idea what it would be like but it meant that the navigator would avoid the motorway.

We stopped in Casale Monferrato. It was OK but nothing much. I’m sure there were things we might have missed but the day was nice and we sat outside for a coffee.

Our next destination was Vigevano in Lombardia. A colleague at work had told me it was nice – but that’s not why we went. We only went because it was on the way home.

We parked and walked towards the main square. We saw the facade of the church at the end of the sqaure. It looked nice but when we turned the corner it was like ….WOW!

It reminded me of St Marks’s Square in Venice …….. but more beautiful. On three sides were the most beautifully painted (I suppose) buildings, with arches underneath. The roof of the buildings dotted with chimeny pots, made of brick, of all shapes and sizes that made it seem as if it had come directly from some fantasy book town. We walked around the town a bit and through the castle grounds and through the arch under the tower, down the steps and back to the square. Stunning. Designed by Da Vinci, it is amazing. We went for lunch in the square – eating outside as it was still warm enough. It was all lovely. Considering this is only half an hour or so from Milan, it was as if we were in a different world.

And then home.

It was, all in all, a truly lovely weekend and lovely anniversary day yesterday.

Mantova Festivaletturatura

Mostly written on 9th September.

Mantova! I’m so happy to be back here.

Everyone says I look so happy. This is true – and not only for being back this year. Even last night, B said that I looked happy. It’s how life should be.

I’m sitting at Grifone Bianco, having lunch. The antipasto was a rather tasty Leek and Cheese Pie.

My Italian is still not that good and sometimes I confuse things. I thought I had chosen a veal pie for my secondo. What came was three, rather large balls of veal tartare. Luckily, I eat everything so it doesn’t phase me – other than it was slightly unexpected. It was, in fact, the most fantastic tartare I’ve ever had. After the meal was over (I was the last diner to leave), the woman behind the counter said that she was sorry she hadn’t recognised me before. It was nice that she had recognised me at all – it being a couple of years since I had last been there!

I only wish that F could be here with me. It’s warm and muggy; the sun hidden behind clouds – moisture hangs heavily in the air.

I got here much later than I had planned. I forgot to set the alarm and so we woke up at 9. 9, I tell you! I didn’t wake up that late when we were on holiday! I guess I needed the sleep. I guess that even more because I have developed a sty – and I’ve always believed they were a result of a lack of sleep. Or, maybe, that’s an old wives’ tale from my mother or grandmother. I don’t know any more. It’s what I believe anyway and so that makes it true, even if it isn’t.

I was asked about V both last night and when I arrived here. It’s to be expected, I suppose.

I’m ashamed to say that, last night, at least, I told all that I had heard. I gossiped with gusto. It was the first person I had done this with. It was the first person who I had seen since I had heard the gossip and who had known us as a couple.

I wanted to stop but I couldn’t. Today, on the other hand, I kept it simple and kept most of the information to myself. It’s better like that.

I asked about editing. I would give up my job and my English teaching if I could earn enough with that. Maybe this was the job I was actually destined for?

Anyway, it’s something I can do even if we move to the other side of the world – but that’s a different post. I’m afraid I don’t tell you everything, especially if it’s only an idea and more especially if it’s not even my idea but one that’s reliant on other people who I don’t really know very well – actually almost not at all!

It’s a late lunch I’m having, having only got here, to Mantova, at 1.30 and to the restaurant at about 2.30.

After lunch, I wander a bit. Mantova is one of those places that you really should visit. It’s a pretty town, surrounded by lakes. The problem with the lakes is that, when it’s really hot like this, it’s also humid – more, even, than Milan.

I go to a talk with Tim Parks, a writer who has lived in Italy (somewhere in or close to Milan, from what I understand) since the early eighties. He speaks Italian very well. I understand a lot. I even understand some of his jokes. This is good, really. It’s during his event that I realise that Mantova is more humid than Milan. He seems a funny guy and enjoys his time on stage. I leave when the questions from the audience start as I have to get back.

I take my leave of the staff. I wish I were able to stay. Maybe I can organise it for next year as this one has been too hectic.

But I’m so happy that I came. If you get the chance you should go to the Festivaletteratura. The atmosphere is great and the weather is (usually) very good. For me it’s another of those things that extends the summer.

To next year! And thanks to M and S and all the other staff who always make me feel so welcome.

From hot and sunny Carrara to the Chicago rain.

“I hate being in love”

“I always fall in love. I can’t stop it and I hate it”

“I fall in love and then I fall out of love. I’ve had enough of it”, the American girl behind me whined. I wanted to say something. I thought of turning round and saying “That’s life”, but I didn’t.

The morning was on the beach. The temperature was, probably, in the 30s (°C, of course). We had lunch, courtesy of F’s sister at which, because his sister and niece are both taking English lessons, there was an impromptu lesson.

Then we left. I could have stayed there all day but we had Chicago later.

It wasn’t supposed to rain. The forecast said no rain. Everyone’s forecast said no rain. The clouds in the distance were laden with rain. And the lightening, as always, was great to see – as a backdrop, of course. I don’t want it coming any closer. But it did. The spots of rain were large. Wearing sandals, a shirt and some linen trousers didn’t keep me dry.

On the plus side, it stopped the mosquitoes which, until then, had been on a feasting orgy and the smell of Autan was all around. I hate the smell of Autan and try my best never to use it. My thinking is that, if it’s potent enough to ward off mosquitoes, it can’t possibly be good for your skin. A couple of nibbles by the zanzare can’t be as bad. And, anyway, even the people who liberally spray themselves, seem to get bitten just the same.

There was another plus side. With the onset of the rain, many people started to get up and leave or, at least, try to find some shelter. Leaving a number (quite a sizeable number) who headed to the front. The front, for sometime, protected us from the rain but in the end it got us too.

I never did festivals. When you’re young, you can do this ‘staying in the rain’ for hours whilst you watch your favourite band. Firstly, this is NOT my favourite band and secondly, I only know a few of their songs and only one that I can sing along to. However, what was I to do? Everyone in my group was at the front and so, I followed.

To be honest, even without knowing all the songs (I knew about 5), the band were brilliant. Not only were they good but they obviously enjoyed themselves which makes a whole lot of difference. The trombone player was incredible – not only for his playing but also for his energy and enjoyment.

Once again, it was Milano Jazzin Festival and Chicago were great. It was worth the money and the rain to see them.

Anyone who had a heart ….. wouldn’t want to miss this

One of the girls, N, who was with us had said, apparently, that she didn’t know who he was.

She meant, of course, she didn’t know his songs. But everyone knows a few of his songs, even if you don’t think you do.

And, so as this 83-year-old man shuffled on stage last night at the Milano Jazzin’ Festival, although I knew that I knew many of his songs I was blown away by both him, his playing, his songs (I knew all except a couple of them) and the atmosphere which was much like a party.

It was fun.

It’s difficult to pick just one song since there are so many of them. As it is, I shall pick two.

The first, although first sung by Dionne Warwick, was a hit in the UK by Cilla Black and so Cilla and this song always go together for me:

The second is a song that I don’t know that well but it’s sung by Elvis Costello – God Give Me Strength (although, obviously, not last night):

Burt sung some of the songs and he can be forgiven for not having the perfectly strong voice of a young man.

His contribution to the world of music is immeasurable and I am so happy that I’ve been to see him since you don’t know if he’ll ever be back in Milan. Although, if he is, I really want to be there :-)