a roll of film a month: september
Before October rolls into November, I thought I’d share my roll of film from September. Rather, three rolls of film, each snapped during our ten-day holiday in Italy, which feels like a million years ago.
There’s an October chill in the air, and when the rain falls, a taste of winter to come, so those ten days in September with a toddler and two grannies are all a blur now, but I’ll try my best to recapture the sun, the heat, the beauty. I should mention that the reason we went to Italy in the first place was to celebrate the end of mom’s chemo treatments (a sort of “fuck cancer” hurrah) and also her 60th birthday, which is next year, but if there’s one thing cancer has taught me it’s that it waits for no one and bucket list items are meant to be ticked off. The timing felt right. Italy has been on mom’s bucket list for over a decade and Joe and I wanted to help her tick “the big one” off, that thing you think is just a dream and might never happen. It’s a lot of pressure to help turn someone’s dream into reality (is reality ever as good as the dream? a discussion for another day) but Italy took care of itself. I mean, it’s Italy. You’d have to try really hard to screw it up. Pizza, gelato, sunshine, amazing architecture, art, rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves and cyprus trees pointing, finger-like, towards the Gods.
We landed in Naples late and had pizza at the airport, which was better than most slices you’d find in most restaurants back home. We then drove straight to our hotel and into our beds, Wren slumped over my shoulder, dead to the world (“You’re in Italy, little one,” I whispered). The next day, Pompei. I’d been there before but my mother, husband and mother-in-law hadn’t and it was at the top of mom’s list. Pushing a pram down roads that were built a squillion years ago was an interesting experience in and of itself. It’s amazing that you can stand in the exact spot as someone who once watched in horror while Vesuvius popped her top in 79 AD, burying the city under six metres of ash. How do you take that in? How do you take anything ancient in? They once were and now no longer are. Someday the same will be said of our civilisation.
That afternoon we drove up and up and up, then down and down and down winding roads to Ravello on the Amalfi coast. From Pompei’s beating sun to the coast’s chilly wear-a-raincoat kind of weather. We ended up sat, all four of us, at a table for one, sheltered from the rain under an awning, eating sweet cakes, sipping cappuccinos (to warm up) and wine because: Italy.
I think perhaps it’s time to pull a Tim Curry. You know that scene in Clue when he rattles off all the ways in which the suspects killed their victims? Yvette, the maid, with boobs spilling out of her French maid outfit two sizes too small, stabbed the cook in the kitchen and then Mr. Boddy with the candlestick in the study only to be strangled by Ms. Scarlett in the billiard room with the rope, who also killed the cop in the library with the lead pipe and shot the singing telegraph at the front door. If I don’t condense this post, I may be here forever and forever I do not have. I’m lucky if I have 30 minutes before the little one wakes up.
That night, cheese and lemon ravioli and fireworks and chilled red wine (which you might think, as I did, “Chilled red wine, surely not” and to that I would say yes, very much yes, especially when it comes out of its own oak barrel at the front of the restaurant). Next morning, a swim in the Mediterranean then a very long drive up to Florence with a quick stop for a flock of sheep crossing the road and a pit stop at a secluded waterfall so that my polar bear of a husband could swim. We sang Old MacDonald to Wren a good chunk of the way, using every single animal sound on the planet. Did you know that there were whales on Old MacDonald’s farm? We got lost late that night, which was all a bit stressful, but eventually, we found our lovely villa down a dusty winding road.
The rest of the trip was spent either by the pool or in the pool, sipping Negroni or white wine or G&Ts, everyone sprawled around the farm in lawn chairs and hammocks. Each morning we woke and said hello to the hens and the goats and the baby goats and the grey cat and then we’d decide what to do with our day. On one of the hottest days we visited an ancient amphitheatre in Fiesole where we not only had one cone with two scoops of gelato, but two cones. Yasssss!
In Florence: the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio and lunch at a lovely trattoria in Piazza Santo Spirito and limoncello and a stroll through Boboli Gardens to take a photo of mom by a sculpture of Bacchus, the God of Wine (four generations of Lambert’s have now had their picture taken in front of that jolly naked fat man) and gelato (of course) in Piazza della Passera, followed by an early evening swim to cool down from the city’s sweltering heat.
Joe and I had a date night midweek, once Wren finally settled into her surroundings. We’d chosen a restaurant in Fiesole and as we neared it, we were diverted by the polizia and ended up all the way in Florence, circled back, finally got to the restaurant (by now nearing 9pm) only to find that it was CLOSED on Wednesdays. So we drove around Fiesole and nearly got diverted again but the police officer took pity on us poor, lost foreigners and that, my friends, is how we ended up driving right through the finish line of a late-night bicycle race, hundreds of Italians looking at us, wondering who the hell we were and what the hell we were doing there. Lucky for us, we found a parking spot as well as a little restaurant that we’d spotted a day earlier, with a courtyard and checkered table cloths. By the time we sat down, we were starving! We placed our order and then saw the waiter bring a T-bone the size of Jupiter to a nearby table. Our jaws dropped, there was drool, we called him over, cancelled our order and said we want THAT instead. My friend Cinzia had told us about the bistecca alla fiorentina and boy, to this day, that might have been one of the best steaks and I’ve ever had.
Our best day trip had to be Lucca. I’d been before, years and years ago, another lifetime ago, before the husband and the move to England and the baby. But at the time, it was one of the last places I’d visited on my six-week trip and I’d seen so many other Italian towns that they were all starting to merge into one. This time, what I noticed most, were the bicycles (I have this thing for bicycles). People of all walks of life on bicycles — men carrying tins of paint and long-reach paint rollers and women in power suits and heels and old men with shopping bags, people cycling with umbrellas and dogs in baskets. It pissed rain for about an hour so we split up and each did our own thing (mom spent the entire hour in a ceramic shop; I do believe it was the best hour of her life) and by the time we met up again the sun had come out and we all felt like we were standing under a broiler, which meant…. you guessed it, more gelato. Before lunch! And then more swimming and more hammock time at the villa and more wine and more Negroni and more cooking from Italian cookbooks using Google Translate and more al fresco dining by candlelight.
On the last day, a long drive through rain and national forests to the airport in Bologna. By this time, my daughter who’d been such a trooper of a traveller, was done. Done with travelling. Done with gelato and pizza and, dare I say it, cheese. She fell asleep on the plane. The sky turned pink then orange then deep purple. It was dark and cold by the time we landed in England and though I knew I’d miss waking up to the hint of sfumato in the hills outside our villa (from the Italian language, derived from “fumo” (smoke, fume), translated into English means soft, vague or blurred, the way tones and colours shade gradually into one another), we were so happy to lay our heads on our own pillows that night… with that amazing feeling that comes from checking something off a bucket list, even if that bucket list is not your own.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you’ve been dreaming of visiting Italy and you finally get a chance to do it and you’re overwhelmed by all the things you want to see and don’t quite know where to start and maybe you want to get off the beaten path and away from the tourists a bit, then boy, do I ever have the solution for you. My dear friend Cinzia creates customised, one-of-a-kind Italian travel guides that are full of amazing information and suggestions and I’m sure we would have gotten a dozen parking tickets if it hadn’t been for her advice and may have skipped Lucca altogether (which would have been an error) and I never would have ordered the best steak of my life or eaten the most amazing gelato and probably wouldn’t have ventured into Piazza Santo Spirito, which would have been a shame. I wholeheartedly recommend her guides. I’m sure this has happened to you before: you’re travelling, you suddenly get hungry, you start looking at menus outside of restaurants, you can’t make up your mind, you get hungrier (and crankier) and you end up choosing something at random, usually a touristy spot, only to feel disappointed. If you don’t want that to happen to you (I don’t want that to happen to you, lovely people), get in touch with Cinzia. She’ll give you the local scoop. Everyone loves a good local scoop.
Wren waking. Signing out. Arrivederci amici.