Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.
– sam keen
I like the word ‘indolence’. It makes my laziness seem classy.
– bernard williams
As much as I’d like to call my partner in amore my designated “native companion” [the one with all the emic inside knowledge one consults when one doesn’t wish to end up in the multi-cultural stewing pot], the most i can honestly call her is the assignated “linguistic companion”, the one that helps me not to make a total fudge of everyday communicative tasks, such as ordering a simple tramezzino. The destinations? Isola Elba and Firenze.
The first was an asymmetrical compromise between her stated wish of frying times on an Italian spiaggia and my half-hearted wish to either check out Ferrante’s stomping grounds [which, if you’ve so much as read the first 100 pages of the tetralogy is an urge that rises from the very pits of your literary guts] or pass a sweltering week in SPQR [one has to admit that a sojourn in the Godmother of cities in the middle of july is a very hard proposition to defend if one isn’t a southern sudanese type, or the like]. Despite my metropolitan leanings, I was enticed by the possibility of an island. The second destination, Firenze, was as consensual as coitus. The Moms had been harping since the birth of our brood of siblings about the many unrivalled, supernal beauties of the city of flowers [and super narrow streets and, not least, Medici].
So then chronologically.
Just an hour out of Lucerne we came across a strange irony, though i’m not even quite sure which word to properly apply: instead of entering the newly constructed 700 gazillion Francs supertunnel [longest of the world, national pride showpiece], we gently curved up and over its opening and onto the old [now ancient] tracks up into the Alps, namely Goeschenen, thence Airolo. After having been treated all year long to a media and advertising extravaganza about this Helvetic construction masterpiece, which it took over two decades to….bore! [and who advertises a public transport tunnel anyway?!], instead of bloody using it, we just left it by the railside as the grey-red Trenitalia climbed its usual serpentine tracks into the mountains.
The ChangeOver in Milano Centrale adequately echoed the latest issue of “The Spiegel”: Ferien der Angst [Vacation of Fear]. To be honest, yours truly generally comes down on the anxious side, however, I haven’t quite fell off the neurotic cliff with this whole the Summer of Terrorism thing. However, Nomhle was fairly hopping on a hot wire when we arrived in Milano, darting her azzuro-marroni irises left and right in search of every- and anybody w a beard and/or a suspiciously unattended suitcase. So we decided to dash over to the connecting platform, the trouble being that M. C is a full-stop station [or whatever] and that TrenItalia does this thing where they don’t announce a train’s platform until, like, 5 minutes before its departure. So as to better get in the country’s spirit of mad last-minute dashes, one may assume. Anyway, we sidled through the station crab-like.
In Monza, as we cruised through slowly, nearly flaunting a vacational lassitude, in this city of Senna’s departure stood a naked concrete high-riser, unfinished and emboldened by scaffolding, defying the need to accommodate human shapes.
Already by the time we got to Piombino, on the Italian West Coast, the weather was agreeably sweltering. The local train was not a beauty but not nearly as beat-up as I had imagined it. The seats being some hard blue material, hard on the eyes, that is intended to minimize all the fun in vandalism by way of an anti-spectacular canvas.
A nice guy in his 50s helped us find the correct jetty for the traghetti [ferry]. His Italian was quite followable, even for a beginner and he sprinkled it liberally with “cazzo”, again, it seemed, to make sure we understood where we’d arrived. He even informed us about the wind conditions on the island and what they meant to beaches and the seaside. Then, in a mood of camaraderie, I pulled out the EU card and the man was off and racing, his Italian soaring to C2 altitudes, laced with working-class venom. It was both incomprehensible and beautiful.
The ferry was straight out of “A supposedly Fun Thing…”, with a sleek 1980/90s modernist look [edgy, sharp angled], slanted backwards like a blade to cut apart air and water, in white, yellow and blue. For a little while I wondered why it was so phenomenally huge but once it docked into port it spewed forth a vile stream of cars and campers. Many of them hailing from our motherland. Many others of Oranje provenience [a people constantly in search of locales where sandwiches are not the exclusive staple food]. It jetted across the Isthmus in a sprinterly 30 minutes, making the Mediterranean seem like another concrete road. This was a remote yelp from what I had imagined the crossing to be [influenced by a trip to Robben Island]: wave- and wind-tossed on a small barge, with the stomach’s contents remaining put being somewhat iffy.
The only thing that threatened one’s gastrointestinal buonessere [well-being] on the behemothal barge were the numberless TV screens, which presented an undifferentiated medley of extremely old-school food- and beverage advertisements. One of them, I shit you not beloved reader, was a Coca Cola advertisement from the 1940s [at the latest] presented with not even a smidgen of irony in sight. The hand holding aloft the Coke bottle had probably only just returned from duty on the Western Front; the missing rest of the body having been taken out by an on-target Kraut grenade.
Then Isola Elba, Portoferraio. Another horrid belch of cars, immediately infiltrating the pot-holed arteries of the isle. The island is small but not nearly as tiny as we’d miscalculated [e.g. we’d be able to cycle across it in a good day]. The cabdriver took us across the many arid, brush-choked ridges and ravines to the southern coast of Elba [Marina di Campo]. Our holiday house was a nice white country thing for 4 parties, maybe 500 meters land inwards from the beach. That first day we went down into village along the dried out river-bed, crossing a tiny bridge while trying not to get struck by passing cars and motorcycles, to rent two high-end mountainbikes at low-end prices. The handle-bars were wide like bullhorns, lending a very enjoyable sense of ultra-control; plus the gear-stuff was, surprisingly, at XT level.
The next day we took on the intermediate challenge of pedalling up the winding road to the next “mountain” village, where awaited: absolutely nothing. A calm little Inn where a bumbling teen served up a lovely Spritz. We tried to reach the next spiaggia by bike trail with the intention of staying isoaltitudinous for a while. There was an abandoned soccer pitch on the outcrop of a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean from on high, the field only dust with remainders of brown lawn sticking out, goals in shambles, suggesting that the last match had been played many decades ago. And that the village’s soccer youth is not particularly high up on Isola Elba’s budgetary list.
Eventually we ran into an interesting figure: an elderly man only in black shorts and black sandals, made exclusively from sinew and roast-brown skin. He’d become a bit lost much as we had and heavily advised against continuing down the steep trail we were engaged on. So we backtracked along with him. The guy had tracked up with nothing, no backpack, no shirt, no handy, no wallet, nothing to drink. His key statement “La mia moglie si in cazera da mati quando ritornero” [My wife’ll be mad when I come back home]. He’d been on his way for over two hours but he wanted to make San Pierro di Campo before returning. As soon as the terrain became intermediately steep, to my astonishment, he fell into a long-loped run which just about matched our measly pace on the mountainbikes [we were a bit spent, in our defense]. Our ways split and he jogged out of sight. We made down the hillside only for a short while before dismounting our rides, Umde unhappily behind me. The trail had shrivelled to a tiny bushpath bordered on either side by all the world’s thorny vegetation. She made mention of snakes. The sand and the dust deposited on the rocks made it seem like one was constantly one false step away from braining the back of one’s skull. Eventually and still in good time, we made it to the Spiaggia, where sun-blessed happiness patiently had awaited us. The ride home offered a spectacular view from a steep-plunging cliffside road onto the dazzling blue-diamond sparkle of the Mediterranean. The road back was downhill free flight.
In the course of the week we tried a number of beaches, none of them farther than we could reach with a decent bike-ride and without a sun-stroke. The one called Fonza intrigued mostly by its approach. You left the village by the hindside [at the far end of the massive, central beach where people seemed to top out on sunshine like human dollops of spam], crossed a little bridge and rode towards the camping grounds. This would maybe be a good place to digress into the vastly amusing paradoxes of camping but let’sn’t. The campers were parked in a low pine copse, well-girdled in by a tall fence wrapped in a green windscreen, a bit like turning a chunk of nature into a compartmentalized [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] pseudo-living room. With a fir-needle carpet, mind you. We parked our bikes thereabouts, anxious of theft, which many folks had already waggled their indexes at us about.
And up the hill it went, oh-so-very-steeply, on a wide dust road, the dustiest yet, across the adjoining ridges past the showboaty gates of Don C. K. [letters hugely welded into the estate’s frontgate], then down down down to Fonza beach. Where middle-aged women welcomed us with killer-dagger-stares. As well as Australian teens. Our brine dabblings were always very brief affairs between Nomhle seeing it in functional terms of not going up in flames and myself being of extremely limited swimmerly competence. When I caught my first inadvertent gulp of seawater, I instantly, viscerally understood the term “brine” and all its salty associations.
Seccheto was probably the best. We did a fair share of swimming and diving. Lots of reading on ascetic rock too. And I got to observe a mildly complex beach tableau: a young woman arguing with a rod-fishing guy who I assumed to be the father of the boys snorkeling around; though it was actually about him fishing with hooks while the kids were out there in harm’s way. Except that these french kids were, as far as beach-life goes, also armed to the gills: they had harpoons! And had been diving around for a speerable catch for who-knows-how-long. Meanwhile a skateboardy guy in coral-reef-sneakers had been observing the kids irritatedly and I imagined that he was just about to read them the riot act. Instead he put on a lifesuit, lowered himself into the waters and put on a more desperately incompetent show of non-swimmanship than I could ever hope to perform. Meanwhile a chubby pre-teen Italian girl was pacing the large rocks to an unknown end, mayhap in search of nettable animal life in the little tidepools. Eventually one of the frog-eater kids harpooned a much-too-small red fish, proudly capering across the rockscape with it hanging limply from the tricorn. I could fairly see the irritation fuming off of the local beach goers at this grave breach of pescatory etiquette.
In the stones’ crevices, it turned out, there were indeed sidling crabs. The curly haired french kid, buoyed by the catch, went on to snorkel for what seemed like ever. It was a lovely day on the rocks. Then that view again!
One day was for Portoferraio with the idea of giving culture its due. After all it is, unfairly, known as Napoleon’s Island. The thing is….