October 2010

Berlin, Ost: whose party is it?






























What I described as retro-chic would be better called Osti-chic. It carries that somewhat questionable association, like Red Army chic or Soviet chic. Because today we visited two of the Sunday markets where the consistency of this style was readily apparent. In the clothes. The furniture. Some of it even old bureaucratic East German fittings, desks, chairs. In the light fittings. The bakerlite objects. The ceramics. The bric-a-brac. All having that slightly muted quality of coming from a somewhat sheltered Communist place. Nothing too bright and showy. But not necessarily built to last either. Loved. Or lovingly restored. Like the definitive statement of this area: the bicycle. To which a whole store nearby off the market is devoted. With rubber innertubes rolled with their two-part valves sold separately. Boxes of handles for handlebars. Bakerlite and rubber. The branding nostalgic. The branding a major element of the item. The bike.

The branding then not too unlike our postcapitalist present’s limited to a narrow spectrum of well-known. A mantra. A child’s catechism. An adolescent’s check-list. And like the present-day – which above all this retro-style is in negative disavowal of- the Osti style returns a particular repressed as a general representation. In denial of its past. That is that provenance from a culture of repression, of political repression. The postcapitalist product, comparably, eliding if not hiding its provenance from countries where the freedoms enjoyed in the ‘West’ do not obtain. And labour is cheap.

Labour was cheap in the old East. Now the things left behind have this odd aura. It pervades the markets. Like a distinct colour, office beige, Stasi off-white.

On the way to Mauerpark we come across the cobbles set to show where the Wall once stood. On the corner of Berg and Bernauer Str.n, a place the map calls a Dokumentations Zentrum Berliner Mauer. There is a placard here with a series of photographs, one of which presents the famous defection of an East German soldier, who chooses, rather than policing the Wall as building commences, to climb over the barbed wire. Who chose. Who chooses. To leave. It’s a sad picture somehow. Not just for what you can imagine about his context. He is young in the picture. So he must’ve had a family, parents who might have supported what was surely an impulsive decision, but would regardless have missed him. Perhaps it was not impulsive. Perhaps he had time to say goodbye. The night before. Keeping all through the morning mum about what he planned to do. Joking with his comrades as usual. Perhaps more forcefully than usual. Laughing a little more heartily at their jokes than was necessary. Then when on duty, his heart invisible in his serge jacket, anticipating the opportunity to step over the line.

He could have been shot. Ought strictly speaking to have been shot. By the same comrades he’d so recently been joking with. Or an over-seer, a superior.

It’s sad in the way the absence of the Wall is sad. I mean its brute physical presence. Which the immaterial sense that it was there really tells us nothing about. Sad like Charlotte Rampling’s relationship long after the war with Dirk Bogarde in The Night Porter. A Stockholm syndrome recalled. A tragedy we can celebrate the end of but having been a place where once we resided find we cannot now defect from. The hope of the soldier is invisible like his heart. Perhaps he was not hopeful. Just acting on impulse after all.

Mauerpark is packed with people. Tourists we are told. But tourists acting like spies, undercover as representatives of a generation. Individuals, in other words.

We eat Currywurst. And sit in the grass outside the market, in the No-man’s Land that was an empty strip running between East and West before 1989, a buffer zone, full of rabbits. It was where Hitler’s bunker was located, No-man’s Land. Not here at Mauerpark, but as a distinct zone. Full of rabbits. You used to be able to buy postcards of rabbits running around between the Walls. Happy opportunists.

Hippies here now. And a drunk raconteur called Fred who regales me with his adventures in NZ. He has a blanket on the grass with some original vinyls on it for sale. Lou Reed. Bowie. Maybe Elvis. I don’t see Elvis but he kisses his fingers telling me how he scored some mint copies of Elvis records.

Coffee at German Coffee Heroes, which has Flat White on its menu, the drink popular in NZ and Australia. The coffee’s well-made. The roast tastes good. Although the milk is a little too full-bodied, a bit too full-milk-powder tasting, overpowering the coffee.

We tram and walk down to Museum Island, in the Spree, the river that before 1989 used to act as an equal barrier to the Wall, its watery extension, a No-man’s Land, on the banks of which there was always a new bloom of crosses, to mark the shootings, that used to occur at night, of night-swimmers, would-be escapees. Museuminsel is all new despite the museum part of it comprising a collection of some of the oldest buildings in Berlin. The Dom. The Pergamon, I used to visit back in 1983. The Bode. The Neues and Altes. And it’s an awesome collection. Missing, so those ardent for its restoration might tell you, the Schloss.

Where the DDR’s central command once stood is a grass platform, crossed by a series of boardwalks, beside the Spree. It has been gone only several years. It is spooky. The graffiti doesn’t talk about it. It was an awful building. A bureaucratic horror. The justification for the initial stage of its demolition had been that it was full of asbestos. It was gutted. Then much later razed. Erased. Next door is where they are rebuilding the Schloss.

It is very strange thinking. Later we see the monument to the book burning in 1933 outside the Staatsoper. Empty shelves. The blanks asking to be filled but never again to be filled. Of history. But a represented blank. An emptiness brought to visibility and worked into the fabric of the city. Like that across the road. The monument to the victims of politics. With its secular pieta. Another empty volume there. And throughout Berlin I guess we will come across emptinesses. The art of contemporary monument-making being one of representing the blank, missing, saying the unsayable? Was geschehen ist.

I miss the emptiness however that is not monumentalised here. The not here that nobody seems to want to be here. Or to make appear. Bring back a Prussian Schloss? Crazy. Is the desire to rebuild motivated by aesthetics? If it is then we have passed through the minimalist phase of monument construction to something the Nazis would understand, the glorious past.

At night we go and see experimental dance, a short show, in a small studio venue. Contact improv based. Suffers from the good intention of wanting to produce experimental dance. Movements that start out well end in recuperation, prettified, dance-ified. There is a section which seemed to me to satirise German techno in which a man on his hands and knees facing a mic on a chair, its lead going to a small speaker on the floor pointed at the audience, grunts. Rhythmically. Could be sexual. But reaching no climax. Grunt grunt grunt grunt. Grunt grunt grunt. Grunt grunt. The programme said something silly about it being a manifestation of human evil. It went on too long to be funny. Marred not by repetition but by rhythmic regularity. Bring that beat back.

Indian takeaways for dinner.

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leaving Venice, some ads, arriving Berlin








Little time to bid goodbye to Venezia this morning, our itinerary requiring that we take a bus boat to Piazzale Roma, thence a bus bus to the airport, to check in with Air Berlin for an 11:30 flight to … Berlin. Check-in time stated as 9:00, so arising at dawn, when only the tourists and the market stall-holders are up, rolling luggage through the narrow cobbled alleys, through tunnels, under overhangs, through campi and piazzi. Everything altering in its perspective relative to the angle of approach so that even quite familiar parts of Venice become suddenly unfamiliar, wrong turnings made, doublings back and re-orientation according to the nearest canal, in this instance the Grand.

The airport mad in the particularly Italian way of maximising confusion through multiplying queues … and folding them around bollarded labyrinths. Of course, no check-in for Air Berlin available until 9:30. Enough time for a bite, excellent panino con prosciutto di Parma e bocconcini, formaggio, called a VIP, and Q. a cotelleta – chicken schnitzel in a bun. Some confusion over the latte in bicchiero, because “white” as requested came back as – what else but – a glass of milk. An odd flashback of panic over dispensing with coins, then the realisation striking that we would be remaining in Europe – a land of one currency.

The check-in queues by this time had made it impossible to cross the concourse, although the valiant kept on trying, parents ferrying first luggage then children from place to place in relay, several coach-loads of the superannuated waiting like sheep in the run, as stubborn as sheep when it came to trying to move through them, like sheep too nervously sniffing the breeze for any whiff of news, but uncomprehending, unembarrassed by incomprehension, patient and anxious, at the British Airways counter; a handful, if you have very large hands, of fat German women travelling as a party, five of them, a hand with five chubby fingers; a queue for destination Dublin; confused light-travellers trying to negotiate the Lufthansa self-check-in machines; the whole melee presided over by a giant scoreboard of arrivals and departures with equally giant ads on either side of it advertising Intimissimi, bras, above, in fact, the longest queue of all, security.

Our check-in finally lit up and no sooner lit up than queued in front of at 9:45. Although barely functioning. Still, we were through by just after ten, and relieved of larger luggage shuffling along with the rest, including some very obnoxious Northern English queue-jumpers braying that they’d got away with it, into the security gates, where I was frisked because I hadn’t taken off my belt. And out into… paradise.

Space and air and light. Justified by shopping. The largest part of the terminal over two floors with windows out over the tarmac. Boasting even a Ferrari shop. And a deli where they offered to vacuum your cheese or salami or olives – pack, I assume. But even in this commercial heaven after the hell before the maddening nature of Italian systems: a chocolate counter, unattended; can I buy some chocolate? There’s a girl. But she isn’t here. I know. That’s why I’m asking you. No. I can only do this. Work the tills. Ask that girl over there.

I do. She says, There’s a girl. I know there’s a girl. How do we buy chocolate? You can only buy it off the table. Not from the counter. Why not? There’s a girl. But you’re a girl. No. No. I stack the shelves. There’s a girl!

Now Berlin. Now. And the temperature drops further, having over our stay in Venice fallen from 25 degrees to 17, with the rain, now 13. The Berliners complain about not having had a summer. Maybe a week when it was far too hot. In the mid to late thirties. Then rain. Now wintery grey.

For some reason the shift is enormous this time. The weather no doubt adding to it. And the fact that we are staying with friends. As I write this, the morning after our arrival, I am looking out into the hof, the courtyard, of a typical apartment building, typical to the new old East Berlin. We are not in tourist-land any more.

The street culture suddenly different. Despite being told that the area attracts many tourists and short-term visitors, there is a degree of uniformity to the people, just in the little circuit we take around the neighbourhood, the sort of people, borne of an acclimatisation. The people and place sitting comfortably together. The broad tree-lined streets and low-rise buildings where people live. On the ground floors clothes shops. Lots of down-dressing retro-chic. Cafes and restaurants and bars. The occasional theatre. Broken by parks, set up, in a further accommodation or fitness to the people here, local, for children. For parents with children. Contoured soft ‘hills’ to roll over. Roundabouts with sand underneath. Bars to climb. Permanent miniature football fields. On the hard. But netted around.

This area we are in has the highest of childbirth in Europe. But acknowledges it. Has evolved to suit the lifestyles of young families.

Perhaps it is this aspect that makes for such a shift of perspective in arriving here after Italy. There there is no question that the city exists for itself. Rome, the people were stage-managers. Cinque Terre, they were on display in an environment rendered increasingly alien by tourism. Venice, again, they were in the service of the city’s major industry. Engineers of tourism. While in Hong Kong, what the lives of ordinary people consisted in was almost impossible to imagine.

If there is any aspect that is forced about the city evolving to suit the needs of its inhabitants it probably lies therein that this evolution takes place at all, that it is historically sanctioned, by a city made malleable in its fabric by a history commemorated but not necessarily preserved, not being wanted to be. An evolution in alliance with a certain uneasiness about the place the city’s past ought to take in its present. Whereby its future is secure, however. An overeagerness to embrace the present as a result.

There is also the relation to observe between the city and the advertisement.

We visited a supermarket on flirt night. Techno and a reception committee handing out cocktail vouchers to singles with flashing heart badges to advertise availability? or the urgent imminence of flirtation? a desperate ploy, to enter into the spirit of which demanded, at least as far as its promoters were concerned, that we not be in a family group. Ten years too late for this part of Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg. They passed over us with their love hearts and free offers. Hilarious.

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Venice of the Doges & billboards

















Buzzed in the night by mozzies, we woke late to rain, pedestrians with umbrellas in the muted Venetian light, the sounds softened by rain, the umbrellas and wet-weather gear a peremptory affectation, given the interval between rain-drops, their density and the degree of penetration gained into the narrow chasms between buildings. In other words, we could venture out and not get wet, while everybody else looked paranoid. Large people wrapped up in cellophane coats as if escaped from dry-cleaners.

We were bound for Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. An austere façade greeted us. St. Mark’s Basilica without its marble weeds. A soaring medieval brick edifice. Late medieval, fourteenth century. With a Campanile and convent in back, an inaccessible cloister. And pay-to-enter.

The air sucked out of the lungs on stepping out into the extraordinary volume of the Church. Like an inside runway. And its monuments.

Next to the Canova monument I remember, the completely unedifying edifice of the monument to the Doge, four gigantic moors in pristine white knickerbockers and shirts, like Southern black slaves, supporting the catafalque with tasseled pillows on their shoulders. Over a green exit sign. And Death, doubled, popping up, skeletal and scary and other grotesqueries making one wonder if he was pleased, the Doge.

Arches of the nave and transept spanned by guiding wooden beams, horizontal, the height being so great they do not detract from the vista. A question of proportion. Of what you can get away with architecturally before it looks forced, over-engineered, or too ethereal.

I Frari just a great big Gothic church. Super-size-me Gothic. Not high Gothic. More modest. With the weird accretions the Gothic is good at absorbing, nonetheless. Not then for its involution of line. For its shed-like work-a-day simplicity on which the elaborations of the Baroque – of the seventeenth century, as evidenced here – do not press so hard as to break, aesthetically.

I was struck by the monument to Monteverdi. And, in the side room, the Giovanni Berlini, with its great facial indexes. And the Doge Dandolo catafalque, fourteenth century.

Somebody struck up on the organ from the choir stand in the middle of the transept. It saw us round the rest. Noting the simple wooden coffin of the priest of the church, the only one, halfway up the wall in the armpit of the cross, right, facing the altar.

And of course, as before, the modernity of the work. The spookiness of the place. Both that and the number of artists commemorated, as a class. Titian. Not so striking as Canova’s pyramid, with its door-to-death ajar, as if a return were imminent.

We circumnavigated the Frari taking in the lived-in-ness of the area, poked our heads into the Scuolo di Rocco, kitsch, and headed out for the Academia Bridge to cross to the Doge’s Palace. We stopped at an exhibition of Hubble Telescope images over the way from the Institute of Science, Literature and the Arts. Exited after, from the cosmic timelines, slightly disconcerted to be in Venice but having had a free toilet stop, always a plus.

In Campo San Barnaba we came to a flea market. Sorely tempted by a mint Zorki 4, clear Jupiter 8 lens, with a jammed shutter, the stall owner priced at 100 Euros. Interesting the degree to which the analogue photographic culture still prevails here. Made to appear all the more appealing for the lack of immediate digital communication with back home, or web, that snap-snapping in digital format would want to count as one of its assets. Not in Italia, where the cost of internet use for the itinerant precludes the benefit presupposed by our choice in bringing only that format.

As you will notice if you venture into these over-long writings. They were intended as daily, or so, updates, but have backed up because of the lack of easy access to the web. For which I apologise. But again find culturally interesting.

Why set off from New Zealand thinking digital is the way to go? When for immediacy of contact via image postcard is still more practical?

The Doge’s Palace, or building, more simply was expensive to enter. But full of treasures. Silk textures of wall-coverings. Ceiling decorations of a young Veronese. Tintoretto, ever-present here. The armoury extensive. The weight given to the Ten (Council of Ten – CX) pervasive, in the nasty way anti-terrorist measures have become just something we live with, like, you know.

Like the Basilica, the palazzo worked at a human scale, even with the vast room where Tintoretto’s son, Dominico, had completed his father’s work in describing paradise on an exorbitant scale, wave after wave of sainted personages, separated by froths of clouds, crashes of symbolism, Venetian and Christian, spouts of allegory.

The prison cells were we are told traditionally lined with larch wood, organised around a central courtyard, after the construction of the new prison, connected by the Bridge of Sighs with the Organs of Justice. Pointing to a quite paranoiac society in terms of its readiness to incarcerate. Possibly not. But the prisons, and systems of institutional – architectural – intimidation, are extensive. Almost Byzantinely so.

A note needs to be posted over these notings that the view from the Bridge of Sighs suffered from the an extreme form of the blinkering that now occurs in the Piazza di San Marco. On either side of that that view, supports of billboards. Looking out from the bridge – a left-to-right of pure blue – blue ganzfeld. And when we were on the loggia of San Marco’s Basilica, what was it? Moet? Some luxury product wanting to be identified with the space. Immemorable for perhaps having been upstaged by that other defining attitude of our time, restoration, the hardware of keeping the Campanile afloat, erect, solid? I don’t know. But a decent-sized cordon around works. Edifyingly unedifying works both: advertisements for companies who will pay for placement in the historic environs; for works which will support the traffic attendant on such places.

Such odd trade-offs. Made more evident for that the Italian state does not seem to see fit to put money into what is a mere tourist attraction?

And I would define my use of the concept of postmodernity here as the tendency to VANISH INTO ITS OWN FORM or REPRESENTATION of experiential or phenomenal AFFECTS. Which touristic sites obviously do. And advertising placards clearly exacerbate. Or maintain in negative disavowal.

Hence there is no irony about the presence of the giant billboards in St. Mark’s Square. They are only anathema.

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Venezia & Peggy’s place



































Our pleasure in arrival in Venice soured by an accommodation of a modesty verging on meanness, a flight of stairs up from the foyer, properly floor one-and-a-half, with low heavily timbered ceiling, as if an overcautious builder had decided to throw several trees at it, just to be sure, the room barely big enough for us and the mosquitoes, the windows hardly large enough to make a hasty exit lest the borer-ridden beams – did I mention that? – above fall down; our joy in the city eclipsed by the mass psyche of mass tourism, here as extreme as anywhere, not the racist displeasure at stupid Americans sharing our airspace, being in earshot, as before, but the tidal – appropriately – pull of tourism towards the destinations, into the churches, the squares, an ooze in which one can’t help but be caught up, sucked in, dragging us one way, until we don’t know whether we are fighting it or going with the flow, and then the other: we left our cell in the city as early as we could, running a bathroom relay against the falling odds of diminishing amounts of hot water coming through, and anyway lacking the perquisites for a healthy matinal regime. No tea. Nothing to munch on but the sheer roughage of dry muesli. So went down to the market.

But while I remember, let me transcribe the notices affixed just inside the front door:

REGULATION OF

THIS IS TO CUSTOMERS THAT APARTMENT IS PART OF A APARTMENT BUILDING AND THAT MUST BE FOLLOWED THE RULES THAT MUST BE RESPECTED BY ALL:DON’T MAKE NOISE EVERYTHING ‘THAT CAN THE TO DISTURB QUIET APARTMENT BUILDING.
ENTRANCE IN ADDITION TO RAISE EXIT CASES ON THE STAIRS FOR DAMAGES TO AVOID STEPS AND ACCOMPANYING THE CLOSING UP THE MAIN ENTRANCE WITHOUT TO BANG
FAILURE IN RESPECT OF RULES AND MEASURES BE TAKEN ANY DAMAGE TO LOCAL AND/OR THE ITEMS TO BE PAID BY THE CUSTOMER.

And:

ATTENTION
IS ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITED PUT OUT OF THR DOOR
RUBBISH BAGS OR OTHER ANY THIGH.
RECOMMENDS OF THE ACCOMPANYING MAIN ENTRANCE
WITHOUT IT TO BANG.

And found the market good. Showed barely any thigh.

And a great many bangs to the buck. Chillies in arrangements like bouquets. An embarrassment of riches in the pescheria for people who come from an island. As if we live at home gastronomically deprived. Giant scallops. Clams. Cockles. An eel pointed out to the fishmonger by a lady customer slithering away to freedom, well, trying to find a drain to squeeze through, snaking on the ground, fat as a baby’s wrist. Crabs, both deep and shallow, spiderlike and platelike. Whole salmon. Tuna. Sardines. Marlin. Sole, small ones. Fishy-looking fish of standard and exceptional size. And ugly squishy fish with bits of wood holding their jaws open. Like members of parliament. Then the soft fish who are tentacled. Octopi. Squid associated with their ink more than their flesh. Black and viscous. Other baby squid, miniatures of the giants, with long mitres like trainee bishops. Scampi, clawed and pincered or just tails. Prawns. Shrimp in boxes alive, millions of transparent bodies, with hair-like antennae, crawling legs, steering legs, as if dreaming they are running, all writhing.

Fruit: yes. Veges: fungi, three main varieties, none familiar. Yellow mushrooms, like from the woods; mushrooms with the look of having been dusted with cinnamon; and fungi proper, big meaty things. Melons. Rock melon. The one we bought a gratiti? Sweet, syrupy, as if fermented. Dripping on the stoop where we stopped below the Rialto bridge. And ate our bakery fare too, chocolate almond pastries, pizzetta.

Watching the water-trucks jockey for space laden with whatever the city needs, canal cowboys, shouting over the throb and chug of their engines at each other, throttles on full front, full back; stuff stacked on the level decks rather than stowed in the holds, steered from the back, with giant rudders, and off-loaded on pneumatic-tyred trolleys, deck to deck to shore, if necessary, there being a tacit agreement that if your boat is closer to the quai then I can board it and use it to cross to shore like a pontoon. So we saw a thick-armed captain load his hand-trolley on his neighbour’s deck, while the neighbour and a mate were lugging onboard their boat a sculptural group of pelicans done in bronze, the former having to cross behind, the latter in front, without a word either way.

And the gondolas, one group exceptional for splitting the gentlemen from the ladies, who, from the gentlemen’s gondola were serenaded by a beefy accordion player and mouthy friend, the ladies chatting among themselves, sipping bubbles probably expensive and looking ostentatiously unimpressed. Not like the scary facelift women-of-certain-ages-wishing-to-render-said-ages-ambiguous and ending up with cheekbones like predatory animals, lips coloured-in, stretched up to the ears, again, like cats pretending they possess lips. But a sight.

Arriving at St. Mark’s we joined the already lengthening queue to enter the basilica. Russians let us in then ushered us in in front of them. The door requested we lose the backpack with decorous politeness, permitting that we be let in to the front on our return from baggage check. Which proved hard to find. The guy who swapped the pack for the token was writing manuscript. That was nice.

The basilica of St. Mark snaked through by the throng on mats to protect the tessellated floor was as Byzantine and wonderfully eclectic in style as I remembered. And also notably disparate in scale: going from the massive architectural forms of its construction, covered in gold mosaic, to statues no bigger than your shin – somehow human scale and for that less appreciably ‘sacred’ than St. Peter’s – our last monolithic basilica stop. Less fear-of-God-instilling I suppose. And throughout the experience of being there one is being reminded of how much the Venetians stole. Even to stealing the remains of St. Mark from Alexandria in the tenth century, when the first basilica was built. To house booty.

As it grew and changed, more booty added; from the Fourth Crusade, the famous Roman quadrivium of horses arriving, dated to the second century BC. And the Pala D’Oro itself – the Golden Rood or screen – partially thieved, a shining gold panel set with precious stones and miniatures in oil. A thing that used to be shown on festive occasions, processed.

Ascended to the Loggia and Museum at extra cost. Where the construction methods especially as regards the thoroughgoing mosaicking of the interior of the Basilica were laid bare. And the incorporation of mosaic at all must be counted in among those elements of the inheritance from Byzantium, of techniques and physical appurtenances to the Basilica, to Venice, bearing witness to the city’s debt to and re-casting of Byzantium in Christian form. To the glory of both Venice and Constantinople conquered. To the greater glory of …

Mosaic being a decorative form of classical provenance which flourished in Islamic cultures, eventually coming from there? But in terms of being more decorative than representational more readily associated with the Eastern than the Western Church. Its technical aspect being remarkable on two counts: one, that it required a hierarchy of editors or directors, placing the stones, applying a mortar to set them, then adding a second more rigid mortar to ensure their rigidity; two, that the stones were applied from the back of the image, the front having a support against which they were pressed, to give them uniform prominence, make a smooth surface, in other words.

The museum showed also exceptional examples of mosaic work, in some of which the stones were rice-grain thin, to make skin tones, the faces’ expressions near in representational power to oil-painting. Fine work attributed to the last major mosaicist whose name I did not record.

I did write down the name of the master tapestry artist, Giovanni Zen, one example of whose work was entitled, ‘The triumphal train of an emperor who, on a wagon drawn by white horses, is crowned by a figure of winged victory,’ displayed in the banquet room at the rear of the Basilica adjoining the Doge’s Palace. A room of classical proportion, with an impressive painted ceiling, in which also: the oil-painted cover panels, front and rear, of the Pala D’Oro, beautifully expressive works, incorporating compelling oddities, like the myth of Venice itself. Boats featured. And a panel showing St. Mark in the background with Doge and Pope celebrating in the foreground. St. Mark sort of popping up like an undead.

Instead of visiting the Doge’s Palace we instead crossed the Grand Canal to Giudecca by gondola, gondole traghetti, ferry gondola, displaying all sorts of temperamental oddities, as if the office of being a ferry were below that of being a gondolier. Shows of temperament reflected in the clientele. The French man ahead of us spent the entirety of the time waiting to be ferried and that during the ferrying complaining to his wife who did they think they were? Were they not simply a kind of glorified taxi? While she attempted to calm him down.

Next stop the Peggy Guggenheim Collezione. Giudecca proved immediately to have a calming affect, if not on the French man. A land of canal boulevards and gardens and art galleries and home it would appear to the more artistic of the denizens of Venice attracted by the Biennale. The staff at Peggy’s house – which it was – and is her final resting place – along with a plaque commemorative of her many little dogs, her children – seemed to be recruited from among the American emigre community and in the main spoke English as a first language. Which raises the question of the degree to which Peggy has been incorporated into the official Venetian sense of identity. Or possibly the degree to which that sense is purely expedient on circumstance or beneficial in the wider sense of helping the city keep current. Or a matter of commercial expediency.

Regardless, entering the sculpture garden was like entering an enchanted place of contemplation … in proportion to the way entering the Basilica was not. For a start there was nature. But there was also nature with a neon sign that read, If the form vanishes its root is eternal. (Mario Merz, 1982-9) There was Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree, on which one was simply invited to hang a wish. An English couple, the man explaining that he was exploring the idea that the context of art was now a more appropriate arena for this kind of secular prayer.

There were fewer people. There was lack of popular appeal. Why? Mass tourism has still not come to terms with modern art? Surely it has in the case of Picasso. And the self-publicists of modernity.

Another sense: the religion of tourism against which the art is still a rebellion, an admonition against. Complicated by the fact that the Futurists feature so heavily in the collections.

I suspect that the connection between that which allows tourism – its technological side, or craft – and tourism itself constitutes a case history in itself: one where means delivering tourists to their destination ought to be deemed aesthetic, as media?

The highlight of the garden for me was the Giacometti, ‘Femme debout “Leoni”‘ (1947); it had its companion piece inside in ‘Femme qui marche’ (1936). Besides the Francis Bacon ‘Study of a Chimpanzee’ – which anyway looked more like baboon on a packing-case lost in a fuchsia sea – the other surprise was Max Ernst’s ‘The Antipope,’ (1941-2) – much better in the flesh than any reproduction. Much. And exciting to see Duchamp’s Valise, with mini versions of his oeuvre.

Lots of Ernst. De Chiricos. Miros with a real pathos and depth to them. A really great Rene Magritte. Pollocks. (The shop was selling Pollocked slippers.) And altogether a religious experience.

And walking back out into Venice was exhilarating. As if something had been added to being in simply a famous town. At a tourist destination.

Perhaps it’s the role of art in the city. Perhaps not.

But on the way back to our apartment thinking about how the gallery becomes a church and the church a mere gallery, we encountered something inbetween, San Stefano’s, featuring in a side room, three enormous Tintorettos. One an unusual last supper, with Jesus seated at the head of the table. Another notable canvas showed a particularly lurid slaughter of the innocents, dead blue babies, babies being wrested from their mothers’ arms, against a background of classical ruins. The ceiling of the nave impossibly high and constructed of decorative wooden ribs accentuating its height and length.

The difference between San Stefano’s and Peggy’s was not necessarily the quality of the art, it also consisted in the reverence with which the works were treated, hung, lit. San Stefano’s didn’t do its aesthetic attributes any favours in this regard. As if the art was itself a side issue.

I had to go to the supermarket, Coop. This on a brand of water: L’acqua chi elimina l’acqua.

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Manarola … Venezia
















Leaving Manarola difficult in the brilliant sunshine, our airy and light-filled ‘typical’ Ligurian house – missed in retrospect. We explore a little more of the town before setting out, finding at its limit where the streams from the surrounding hillsides come together to cascade under it and they would’ve worked a waterwheel once, the wheel taken out for repair, the millstones kept, but broken. And entering the church above Manarola with its separate belltower or campanile sometimes over-actively chiming twenty times in a row. The church another wonderfully ascending piece of architecture, its bones dating back to the twelfth century, icons preserved from its medieval past, as well as a gigantic baptismal font.

The bigliateria at La Spezia were surprisingly helpful. We only had to pay for one lot of reservations, on the highspeed train from Firenze S. M. Novella to Venezia S. Lucia. The first two stretches took an hour each, La Spezia to Pisa, Pisa to Firenze. We’d come prepared with the best calzone in the world from Manarola. The third took two hours, the first hour or so of which seemed to take place beneath Italy, the train running through underground tunnels. Kusturica style. First class came with complimentary drinks and nibbles. We’d had to pay no more for first than for second, on top of our Eurail, although we were on a highspeed train going backwards, the ticket guy in La Spezia getting the last laugh.

As we headed north, the temperature seemed to rise, the air thickening, close. A haze, a particular sort of Italian industrial haze, around the lagoon when we encountered the bridge to the island, escaping Mestre. And out the on the front steps, a crowd, the sun beating down at 4:30 pm and the water a churning dull green; the noise of the water-taxis, water-buses, and other craft and the canals splashing up against their banks.

Not so many people when we reached our new neighbourhood in San Polo, disembarking from our water-bus, the mate doing his special docking knot with his black gloves on in one quiet and graceful movement, at San Sylvestro. And once at our place we
find we have floor one-and-a-half, the heavily timbered ceiling weighing on the single room, offset by mismatched furnishings, the TV on the fridge, a kitchen without forks, a dodgy hotwater system – limited to 10 litres per use – and a bathroom where you take your shower on the loo, which is just as well, because the loo isn’t the best, having a lid that won’t stay open. Inside, it is a case of one person moving at a time. And suggests to us that spend as much time out as we possibly can.

So pizza on the steps of San Sylvestro and gelato walking the labyrinthine streets. People everywhere, but the lively variety, many young and a surprising number Italian. Tomorrow the market down on the Rialto and San Marco and the Frari. If we survive a night at close quarters in this maddening space, the shutters solid, the windows small, the air not moving.

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Vernazza, Monterosso, Riomaggiore e la Via dell’Amore



























Every statement I make herein should be subject to revision. And so, having today visited both Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, my overall impression of the Cinque Terre has changed. In regard to how old it is. The name was in use before the fifteenth century. And in regard to what effect tourism is having on it. In reality, it is an extension of the Italian Riviera, part of the Liguria region; without the intervention of the European Union in, I think, 1995, parts of it would have become inaccessible – having been closed in the 1980s – and potentially left to fall into the sea.

Unless the state becomes a benefactor of the region, unlikely, then tourism does seem to be necessary for its sustainability, both cultural and natural. Why it might be evil was yesterday written all over the faces of the locals in Corniglia, the smallest of the coastal towns: there was nowhere to sit in the public spaces not already occupied by an outsider; they are under occupation, in the most literal sense of there being no space.

I would add that not only is every statement herein subject to revision, there are also the errors that will pass through revision without being corrected. Errors of every kind, perhaps. Errors even of English.

Why write then, or our travels, or at all? Not to be too flip, but for the reason that nobody knows what writing is, and because tomorrow the opportunity to write this now will have been lost.

Today we had reconfirmed the devastation wrought on the American psyche by belief in the power of communication and the strength in the senses of identity national and selfish. A racist comment to make? I apologise. But not to retract. Passing a group of American tourists you can find out who has their period, what state their quads are in or ought to be, who doesn’t call enough – Carl, I’m talking about you! -, what use a top-secret job at the top of the corporate ladder makes of white noise. In short, sshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! In short, too much. You are privileged – yes perhaps we can concede a little and be generous – to learn about frames of reference, let into worlds of gym-class and personal hygiene, while a world that the American tourist doesn’t seem to be aware of unfolds around them. They remain wonderfully oblivious, un-enfolded.

Smugly we look down on them? Having our half dozen words of Italian, which most locals reject as unintelligible anyway? No. Want to get away from them, speaking English having become a terrible liability where wherever one is that they are one hears too much.

The other factual revision I should make is that Cinque Terre is, is in, a National Park, Parco Nazionale della Cinque Terre, and so has that special relationship with regional and national government, somewhat retarded, but it would be a crying shame to ignore it, and good press internationally to be seen to support it. Just not too much.

We went by rail to Vernazza, our visit there having been the last time foreshortened by rain. This time we were greeted with stalls selling fish and bulk cleaning products and clothing and flowers, a half-pie market. The foot traffic was denser than before. More Australians, more Americans.

We walked down through the town to the water, the marina, full of the same kind of boats as Manarola, fishing dinghies, with a sandy beach, and a couple trying to launch their sailing dinghy off of it. We saw some jellyfish, some as large as dinner-plates, brown, and dragging themselves through the water and smaller grey ones, moving sideways, comet-like, slowly. Despite them, people were swimming. The sun was shining. It was a cloudless day.

We looked into San Margherita, a beautiful medieval church rising out of the water, Roman arches in the knave, Gothic in the aisles, columns of sections of rough-hewn rock stacked supporting a wood-beam roof. And windows out towards the sea. Later we heard mass echoing down from the church as we ate Pizza di Margherita. The saint is depicted standing on a dragon.

We set out on the track to Monterosso del Mare, rising above Vernazza to the cemetery, the dead again getting the best views, through perfect pottagers, terraced with everything you could possibly want in a garden, figs, grapes, tomatoes, herbs, all within reach of the kitchen, basil, oregano, rosemary, savoury, sage I didn’t see, but I’m sure it was there, higher and higher we climbed up to the top of the seaward ridge flanking the valley, and crossing it, came to more steps and more steps and more steps. The path for this section was narrower in places than any we’d used and where there were other walkers there were also bottlenecks, stoppages, waiting for the way forward to clear.

The demographic appeared to include chiefly retired couples, when it was not young adventure-seekers. Perhaps it was evenly split between the rowdy and the sedate and those you found it hard to believe had negotiated the track at all, but the impression gained was that there was a larger proportion of the latter. Which made the going slow at times. While the presence of Americans made you want to run the whole way and not stop until you were well out of earshot of them.

It was however pleasant to meet up again with two men we’d first met on the train from Rome, both from Washington, both with a cousin in the Armed Forces stationed north of Venice. One older and heavier than the other. Brothers? They tested the rule about Americans being worth avoiding but not so as to break it.

By the time we reached Monterosso we were in a swelter. And came down to the beach to see rows of umbrellas and sunbeds. A pay-to-use beach. But approaching from this direction, the first beach we came to, difficult to spot if coming from any other, was free. We got as far as the town, swiftly doubled back and jumped in the sea. Sand. And cool. Relief.

I had a ridiculous conversation with two Russian kids, one of whom proudly informed me her patronymic was Alexandrovna. When I told her my name she sang Simeon Simeonovich, Simeon…

Visited the Genoese style church, bicolour, black white horizontal stripes, again a light and airy ascending vault, with Baroque additions around the sacristy, well-done but sort of tacked on. Wonderful statuary and one oil of note, to the right of the alter, in a Mannerist style.

Out and to the right, another chapel, this time Baroque in total. Much of it dating from the seventeenth century. In a bad state of disrepair. But really striking for that. Articulated around seven circles, so organised for vertical space, short and tall.

More Marguerite pizza and insalata Caprese in the town with fresh chewy real mozzarella. Up the hill at the edge of the town construction underway for more accommodation. As the guide puts it, the predominant industry in Monterosso has changed from those traditional to tourism. By train back to Manarola.

Superb self-catering again. Fresh pesto and pasta, griglio, tuna and egg and bocconcini salad.

And running to catch the train to Riomaggiore by 7:36 to make the walk back from the last or first of the Cinque Terre: the Via dell’Amore. We took a wrong turning from the station and through a tunnel with a great mosaic up into a steep medieval street, on either side the five-storey-or-so Ligurian house, after house. Paint peeling off. Different shades of ochre, yellow, beige. Or rose, red, crimson.

I asked someone. Visit during the day, he said. Too late now to enjoy. And we were told to go back the way we’d come through the station.

Everywhere along the Via dell’Amore, which is fully paved, protected from the cliff by a metal fence, and sometimes overhung by the cliff, sometimes by the steel netting to stop rock falls, padlocks cinched on to anything at all. Onto each other in chains. Like bragging about conquests: deals cinched in probably Chinese steel. And in one passage, a passage, open to the west, past sunset now, a chalky red smudged along the horizon, graffiti on graffiti on murals on bombs with tags on top. Ti amo. Ti adoro. Pledges and poems, crass and crazy and nothing if not in profusion. Profligate professions of love. Because called for by the tag-line of the path? Of course! Why not? Per che no? No smell of pee. Warmth and the drama of great planes of stone slantwise hitting the sea, confused, folding and enfolding.

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Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza









































This morning the minimart, Coop, for alimentary necessities, that is, self-catering, was open, thankfully. Last night when we went past it had been shut. It had been Sunday. Dominica.

The peaches looked delicious. I asked the lady in charge if the price was per kilo. As has happened repeatedly, her reply in Italian to a direct question was incomprehensible. The brush-off. She said something I heard as, Where have you been living? On the moon? Which could’ve meant anything. Yes, the peaches’ price is per kilo. No, don’t be a lunatic, we’d be giving them away at that price.

My stomach was doing strange things so I settled for bio-yoghurt with blueberries, produced locally, hoping to settle it.

We breakfasted and headed out on the path to Corniglia, the next of the Cinque Terre towns up the coast, supposed to be an hour’s walk. It was early enough that the path, one of the many sentieri, pathways, connecting the towns up and down the coast, had not yet filled with tourists, grimly well-equipped Germans, loud Americans having conversations about things with absolutely no connection to where in the world they were, Spanish, Israelis, over-adventurous Aussies, for whom the whole thing could be written off as an afternoon stroll, in other words, people we did come across later on the track but thankfully not all at once.

The path between Manarola and Corniglia clings to a splintering slope of schist stone, precipitously at times, and therefore, to cater for the numbers using it, concreted for long stretches. But nevertheless possessing that characteristic of Italian public works of being in disrepair, wobbly, spasmodic, sections brilliant, sudden holes, and the remnants of past jobs done on the path left to one side, or the other. For example, a swing bridge on rusted pylons and bolts and then not too much further along, past a man digging postholes for the inconsistently reliable rail, a replacement for the bridge, seemingly awaiting its turn to be installed, in the fullness of time, and rusting like the one in use meanwhile.

A smell in the air, which Q. later identified with precision as pee in a swimming-pool. An aromatic weed. Convolvulus. Mellow. Clematis. Various other creepers. Some succulent like sprawling geranium. Berries on vines, inedible, colourful. Skinks making audible retreat through the crepitant foliage. And spread out against the sharding splintering cliff-face rolls of retaining wire, chicken wire, occasionally attached to pylons, wrapping the coastline against the likelihood of it all crumbling away.

The towns, as the brochure puts it, is connected via an intense network of pathways. Given its age, one wonders how many times landslides have taken paths with them, and what work went into maintaining them in their ‘intensity,’ that now has been surpassed by a kind of afterlife of the area. Well, yes and no – to afterlife. Manarola is a fishing village. Corniglia has more of an agricultural bias from what we saw. Vernazza, bigger, combines the two. But the opening up of the region to mass tourism has obviously altered an economy reliant on footpaths to bring goods from place to place. Unless, of course, you count tourists as ‘goods.’

We come bearing benefits and at a cost. The benefit being that we are prepared to pay for access to the National Park, for accommodation in the area, and like pennies from heaven cause capital to trickle-down through the different aspects of the infrastructure, first and foremost to local entrepreneurial activity, the food and drink business being a primary benefactor. The cost comes in the accommodation the region has to make in letting the tourism industry in.

This is further complicated in the case of the Cinque Terre by green politics. The region advertises itself as eco-friendly and sustainable. Today. Its authority for so doing – of course rubberstamped by local government – derives from an historic self-sufficiency in the area that led its inhabitants to develop sustainable systems for agriculture on seaside schist slopes and water provision, including irrigation. The paradox is that Cinque Terre ceases to be an advertisement for traditional sustainable technologies as soon as the advertisement has the effect of attracting numbers of people from outside who come with demands that minimally have to be met. Of course, Italy is quite good at meeting the demands of visitors minimally.

The message of the Cinque Terre comes undone in the telling. It’s worrying to see, even when one is among them, the masses surge sweating and thirsty and hungry and tired into Corniglia’s narrow streets and alleys, occupying steps, piazzas, benches, taking the water from the central public faucet, putting it in their bottles, blithely crossing frontyards, back stoops, while the locals try to get used to their roles as stage-managers for the experience the tourists are having, and make the best of it, or as scenery for their trips, local colour.

It goes without saying that the best of it is not the best for a fragile environment, an obviously fragile environment. In, interestingly, predominantly the cultural sense. Because what is left still of the way of living in these steep coastal towns makes a very strong case for its protection. Not just its sustenance. Or preservation.

The brochure puts the exceptional achievement in a difficult environment of this culture down to what it calls ‘man action.’ Terracing, sustained enrichment of soils, careful irrigation practices. As a result, there are grapes, olives, tomatoes, zucchini, in profusion, of excellent quality. Supplemented with fish from outside the marine reserve, off the coast. That the former is a man-made resource makes its sustainability more complicated according to what is driving the economy.

If it is to be tourism, even eco-tourism, or especially so, given the historic accident that the area’s self-advertising, branding, sets out to exploit in the first place, then I can’t see the resource remaining sustainable for long. As for the pulling of fish out of the sea, the boats of Manarola are in use, but I doubt it is economic necessity compelling their continuing use.

What will survive of the boats is their design, of deeper draught than dinghies, with an upright bowsprit, and a flat tail fin to aid stability. The idea of the Cinque Terre has already usurped the reality.

Except when it comes to the beauty of the place seen sort of divested of the interests of the people. As if depopulated minute by minute. Another contender for what one might call its postmodernity, its disappearance into its own self-advertisement. A vestigial history serving only to authorise the advertising slogan.

Am I saying I would rather know about the success of the Cinque Terre towns with coastal survival than visit and destroy their chances of continuing success?

Tourism is not a necessary evil, definitely. However, I am pointing to the error in the conflation of natural and cultural ‘sustainability.’ And the obviously self-destructive notion that inviting thousands of tourists to a region with a unique economic, social and cultural system – as a network of towns – is a way of teaching the lesson of that system. It is rather a way to replace that system with another one entirely different. Tourism is not grafted on top or overlaid. It is introduced to the veins, directly, like heroin, maybe preserving the outside shell of the body for a while. For a while.

Corniglia had a more medieval flavour to it than Manarola. But surpassed the latter in the excellence of its terraced gardens. In both the cemetery claims some of the choicest land, high up, with views out to sea.

The path to Vernazza was more rugged. Less of it was concreted, more of it simply rough stone set down in random patterns, worn by constant foot-traffic to the sheen of onyx, sometimes, with a brown stone, like brown pounamu. And dusty and hard uphills. Attenuated sections of steps, steps. For which the zig-zag up the hill to Corniglia had been meagre preparation.

Half-way along there was the second of the failed enterprises we saw along the track, a series of semi-deserted buildings, through the arches of which we passed under the extreme blue eye shadowed gaze of the Madonna.

A section of descents by rough stairs, as lengthy as the preceding ascents, gave notice that we were getting near to Vernazza. Its fortifications were more obvious than the other two towns we’d seen. A circular stone tower loomed over the track and at its seaward end there appeared to be a castle.

We didn’t get long to explore before the rain came down, bringing the shopkeepers to their doors, some to cover or remove wares that might be damaged, others to see the rain. As if it didn’t happen very often.

Americans in a fit of Schadenfreude laughed at the people running for cover. They, like us, were under an umbrella at a Gelateria.

We decided to train home. It was anyway covered in the cost of our Cinque Terre tickets. And so did a lot of other people.

The platform was full. And inevitably the train was delayed. By fifteen minutes.

Back in Manarola we swam in the deep clear water of the pool beneath our window, the fish hardly perturbed, noticing also spiny sea urchins near to where we were standing on a ledge in the water. Beautiful.

We ate bocconcini and tuna salad with lettuce and tomato, and for the obligatory pasta course tried the regional pasta sheet, which you cut into squares before boiling, and had it with fresh basil pesto made just up the road.

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Roma a Manarola







I ought to add, after the fact, that the question of Rome’s postmodernity only arises in the light of the Berlusconi effect. Part of which, a major contributing part, has been and is his reliance on the media by way of a controlling influence if not always outright ownership of the media to create his agenda. The entrepreneur who drove us in his van from the airport into Rome said boo Berlusconi. The other feedline into there being a postmodernity of Rome is the virtuality of its history as brought to life in digital dramatisations and scenic overlays. As if every entrepreneur involved in the Rome experience – of millions – is his own stage-manager hiding behind the veil of the city’s history, not, like those touristic through-backs, having to wear tunics and sandals like centurions, only having to conjure up the cloud of history, magic dust, fairy dust, before the eyes to blow it in the eyes of visitors. Less guides to the city than puppeteers of a visualisable therefore generalisable representation of the past. I suppose it’s odd – I’m sure I’ve been overusing that word – that it is Imperial Rome which is conjured, in parallel with Peter’s Rome and, not apparently but with a little digging definitely sub rosa filtered through, the Rome of the Risorgimento and following. Afterall, what is the story of Peter’s Rome but the history of global dominance through the Church? a repeat in difference of global dominance through the figure of the Emperor? repeating after a kind a global dominance refracted into the present that is in Rome its own virtuality, or, more simply, simply one making it a place of power.

This morning we were leaving Rome, sadly, having not accomplished half of the things we’d wanted to. But with the strong impression that that half or so were better left to the customers who measure their satisfaction in sites visited, boxes ticked, tasks achieved. And for that, I was sad. Since we had made the right call to leave the ridiculous queue into the Sistine to go via Metropolitana to Villa Borghese – and hired a ridiculous rickshaw, or risco, pronunciation closely related, and gone round in circles in the park; and we had, the day before, made the right decision not to enter the Forum, Q. sick, the sun beating down, and the expense seemingly unmerited: that we hadn’t managed to soak in what Rome was about, stop and consider that the compulsion to get to this place and that place might be a syndrome brought on by the city. Even though we’d sat and listened it had been hard to hear Rome’s heart beat.

Of course, there is the fashion, famous Italian style, of facere una bella figura. And there is the official disdain for questions even if the office in question is one that involves information. As in the Tourist Office where the two women would rather have been chatting to one another, where the official position precedes function: that is, an information officer is someone who possesses information not someone who gives information. We struck this a lot today.

The rockstar at Tourist Information at Termini whose office boasted a big sign stating that no train information would be dispensed, as if there were a Train Information office. There wasn’t. And later, the same thing at La Spezia Centrale, a Tourist Information official who told me that for train information I would have to join a queue running out the door of the extremely hard to find bigliateria. Going back to the rockstar, we asked where we could get our Eurail tickets franked, which is what you’re supposed to do the first time you use them. He pointed, over there! Where?

Where? We walked all over the station looking for the right queue to join, adding our numbers for a time to one belonging to a travel agent, before finding a zig-zagging colossus of a line running through one of those seatbelt cordon mazes into a line of at least ten desks only two of which were occupied. For Trenitalia.

Our initial plan had been to dump our bags at the station and check some of the sights left untouched. Entering the line to Italian trains that dream left us. 9:30 we arrived at Termini. By twelve we’d only just found our train, had our tickets franked and grabbed a bite to eat. A very good bite. At Autogrill, a sort of railway food buffet with an emphasis on the fresh and flavoursome and with free olive oil and vinegar at the tables. By then then, we’d been sucked in to paying an extra fee on top of our Eurail passes of 10 Euro per person because, is how the man behind the desk put it, the non-reserved seats had already sold out. How do non-reserved seats sell out? apart from by changing the nature of their being, their ontological status, from non-reserved to reservable?

When we got to it the train was good, 1st class went with our severely reduced options as the official for Trenitalia in his grudging – facere cruddo figura – style. Two American gentlemen (I know) gave up their monopoly over a four seater block so that we could sit together and we hurtled on the Express in airconditioned comfort for three hours and fifty minutes. It went like 3.5.

We passed four power stations, all with red and white-striped tall chimney stacks and the landscape was largely unchanging, olive trees pruned into fluffy Vs, buffalo grass, tilled fields, fields full of sunflowers all dead, swarms of birds rising from them, seaside towns the universal practical arrangement in stacks of seaside apartments, or condos. Then Pisa really marked a border. A beautiful view of the buildings descending directly into the river there. The hills came and finally we descended at La Spezia.

The Trenitalia queue in Rome had been an ordeal. Now we had unhelpful – just because I am full of help means I need to be helpful? – Cinqueterre advice; we had running down the platform to catch a train that first shunted one way, then the other and at last gave up. We had Chinese whispers running up and down the spooked tourist community: first it was – over to platform 2 from platform 1 ASAP;then platform 7 had something going for it; meanwhile the Tourist Information informing me of no Train Information; finally the conductor overhead telling a young woman travelling that the train to Manarola was due to depart from binario 6 at 5:05 pm. We scooted down and up and under to come out there. And nabbed the sweaty aircon-less thing, thinking twice about taking seats, perched in one of those inbetween areas, where some very pleasant La Spezians helped us to get off at the right station. Riomaggiore. Then Manarola.

By now we were over an hour late to meet up with the key man or woman for our apartment and hadn’t been able to ring ahead. Not our fault we were later told. Anxiously through the tunnel, picking the brightly coloured multi-storey blocks perched on the hillside above, excitedly, but not too, lest disappointment, out into a funny little square where the locals were holding a party; consulting the directions again, down through the fishing village, its orientation predominantly vertical, like a miniature Hong Kong, fishing boats on either side of the main walkway down to the sea, small dinghy types, with upright bowsprits, like the forebears of gondolas. At the moment I spotted the sign we saw Giacomo coming down the cobbled slope to meet us. You’re psychic, I said, explaining I’d been unable to phone ahead to say we were delayed.

He opened the door into a smallish room with a spiral staircase at one end, told us to leave our luggage there on the ground floor, in the kitchen and follow him upstairs. Where he showed us the single bedroom. Bathroom. TV. Balcony. Then up another flight to the double, again with balcony. Both balconies having unimpeded views out to sea, westward. Magic. Totally paradisaical. Down below, a swimming hole.

We visited it before dinner. The water pellucid. Fish nibbling my toes as I sat afraid to launch out into the void, the deep and clear. Fish everywhere visible. Big fish. A little afraid of jellyfish, we retreated this time, to see what the locals would do with the strange transparent worms – perhaps fish eggs? – floating below the surface of the water. It was so late by the time we got to it nobody else was in the water. Apart from some thrill-seekers jumping in on the surfy side to impress a girl.

Dined well on pizza and calzone and a wine called Scogio, locally produced, very: from La Spezia. The agriculture of this area is astounding. As is the hydroculture. Terraces rise up behind the multi-coloured domiciliary towers against the steep slopes of the hills. The water runs down. We see the waterwheel and where once it turned a millstone for powdering wheat.

The sun sinks in plain dazed sight. The moon rises up a quarter of the sky, turns yellow, then cheese, then nicotine-stained, then deep pustulous yellow, then blood. And proceeds to sink before our eyes, winking out at last, the sky swept with stars.

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