Italy #2: Tuscany June 2013

Italy #2: Tuscany June 2013

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14th June, Friday

Viareggio. The apartment is fine. I checked out the whole passegiata after dark. I walked down to the marina. No good bars were found.

16th June, Sunday

White jeeps and beagles: they are two things I notice. This evening, after coming back from the church on the far side of the wood, my mother described the pineta as an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of place.

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17th June, Monday

The heat was intense in Lucca. I fell for the buccellato bullshit (€18 for two grande loaves).

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We stopped at a café beside the Puccini house. She’d mentioned leaving (the house) first but I wonder if working there with constant piped music in the background would lead to hatred of the maestro. A German sat down with a Middle Eastern guy and the latter’s (elder) kid (the other slept in the vehicle). I thought it was some sort of nouveau riche thing. When we said we’d flown from Cork, the German knew about Ryanair but then he said he was only the driver and the others were off a cruise ship at La Spezia. The Arab’s American wife had f*cked off – shopping – but he and his kid were kind. The boy offered some Pringles to my mother. The man said, “What about him?” He meant me.

18th June, Tuesday

I went down the stairs only to meet an elderly Italian couple who couldn’t open the door of their apartment. The man had been to Belfast in the 1970s. They gave me a bottle of their own red (Chianti) after I succeeded. My father later spilled a pan of oil on the kitchen floor but at least the steaks and onions had already been removed. I went to bed not long after ten. It’s too hot and tomorrow my mother and I will go to Pisa. I gave the second buccellato loaf to the couple downstairs and they gave me bottle of spumante for my parents’ fiftieth anniversary. Their own will come in October.

I’d been down to the Principino seafront restaurant across from the Principe di Piemonte hotel, on Paolo’s recommendation (“medio”). On the terrazza to the left of the pool in there, I spoke to a guy dressed all in black and told him the circumstances but his food suggestions weren’t helped by the fact that I wouldn’t know much about seafood, even in English. My mother had already seen the sandwich board outside with the fixed-price menu so when I got back I suggested we do that after all and if there was anything they didn’t like they could just move it onto my plate. As my father said, we’ll only be out the once.

19th June, Wednesday

Sparrow nests above my room window are noisy, most annoyingly in the morning. Plus I must do something about my bed. First day, my mother took one of my pillows for my father. I’ve put a couple of towels under the remaining one but I must try again for the sake of my neck.

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Pisa went well, even in the fierce heat. The sun reflecting on the white marble paving outside the Duomo was blinding, especially in combination with the sweat in my eyes. Now in bed my head is radiating. We still have to bring my father back for a look.

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21st June, Friday

At ten past four the first bird started up but at least the nest over my window is empty. I’d had a knot in my innards from one o’clock. Something I ate after not thinking enough about my order (mixed fish grill = tuna and peppers and… what?). After I’d had a little over three hours’ sleep my mother knocked on my door at 09.15. I knew she was psyched up to go to Florence so I went.

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Unlike the ticket guy at Santa Maria Novella (church) the woman at the Medici chapels wanted “documenti” to prove my mother qualified for a concession. Then there was a security check like in the airport but it may have been worth it to see the sinister Capella dei Principi, fit for dark lords of this or that. Harry Potter? Around the corner there’s a market and the throng really started. The city was swarming, especially with Americans. I wouldn’t be gone on the barn-like entrance end to San Lorenzo or even the body of the Duomo (the Baptistery is a dirty blot) but the typical ochre elsewhere (e.g. Orsanmichele) is very beautiful. She didn’t think the day was quite as hot as the others.

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22nd June, Saturday

Torre del Lago: one stop down the line to Pisa and then we walked a km straight to the lake. The hills beyond the lake have been gouged for stone. The Puccini villa was closed to the public for the late afternoon and we could hear a recital of Madame Butterfly going on inside (piano and soprano).

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I still felt the odd twinge, like my right kidney got a punch. What was it?

23rd June, Sunday

Just after five o’clock today I was out on the balcony, on my own in the apartment, when I felt my chair move and then saw the clothes rack hopping in front of me. I didn’t realize what it was but mentioned it to my father when he came back. He said he’d experienced something similar a couple of days ago, while lying in bed, but thought he might have been dreaming. It turns out there was a 5.2 tremor on Friday, with its epicentre near Carrara, but my mother and I hadn’t felt it because we’d been on the train (12.33pm). (Today’s aftershock may have been 4.7.) He said that in his one the wardrobe had made a racket for a few seconds.

24th June, Monday

Florence: the bus tour didn’t take an hour. It tore around a shortened route (minus Santa Croce) faster than that but at least it was over before the deluge.

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My father asked for chips and the rain started during a quarter-pounder meal in the McDonalds beside SMN, where my mother produced a baby Bacardi and put it into the Coke. Then she revealed my father had expressed a wish to see the Duomo. They donned macs my mother had brought with her and I got the umbrella, which was f*cked, so she bought two more (one good) on the street but the piazza was a pond under thunder and lightning and the authorities had shut the door. By the time we made it back to the station the elements had eased off.

I wasn’t going to chance not validating the tickets again but I still couldn’t find a machine on the platform. I asked two inspectors talking at the far end and one of them waved me away with an instruction that included “schermo” and “binario” but where was the schermo on the binario? That was what I wanted to know. It turned out to be at the entrance to the platform. I’d missed it in the crowd. The same guy showed up on the train (Germanic eyes and a short beard). His first move was to eject an African hawker (“Scende da quà”) before he came to us. After punching the tickets he gave a sinister smile as he politely said “Grazie” but then my mother told me to ask him if there was a toilet because she was feeling a bit sick.

25th June, Tuesday

In Carrara: at the station I made the mistake of not asking a bus driver the story (there were no taxis). We tried to walk to the old town but I flagged down a bus two thirds of the way. I think he had no tickets left (“Finiti biglietti”). Apart from one guy looking at a map, we might have been the only tourists. Getting back went a bit smoother, once we found a bus stop and a bus finally came. The area reminded my mother of America: wide roads, palm trees and mountains in the background.

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26th June, Wednesday

At the Campo in Pisa my father turned his baseball cap back to front and held the tower up with his stick. “Eighty-two-year-old rapper saves world heritage monument” will be the Facebook caption. A British choir was putting on a show in the Duomo. Later he got a few leaning mugs for his friends. Back at the station he wanted more chips. He’d noticed the McDonalds.

27th June, Thursday

In the evening through the wood I went down to Via Leonardo da Vinci to photograph the colours of the oleander trees for my mother.

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28th June, Friday

I’d woken before half six, an hour earlier than planned, but we were still busy for a couple of hours. Elena came with her husband who quickly reminded her to give back the €100 deposit. They took one set of keys and told us to pull the door out after us. Our taxi driver to Pisa looked like Jeff Lynne with a shaved head. The boarding gates were the scene of a throng and somebody (Ryanair staff) twisted the sign around at the last minute, reversing the poles of the priority and ordinary ‘queues’. Our flight was full.

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Hungary #3: Lake Balaton

Hungary #3: Lake Balaton

2009

7th April, Tuesday

Tired on the drive to Dublin, I missed the M50 exit near Palmerstown so I was up and down the road for a quarter of an hour before getting onto the right one. On the plane I threw my bag into a largely empty bin and a dickhead dad on the other side of the aisle, and in a row in front (the very first row), got awkward.

“Hey, watch the suit! Tsk!”

As he removed his property, the conversation developed.

“How was I to know it was your suit?”
“Because it’s a suit bag.”
“So, do you want your name on the bin altogether?”

He turned away and backed off. Thereafter he had a steward stashing his precious suit in various places, including the front toilet. His wife looked Romanian (she had a Dublin accent) – I later heard him say he went to Romania a lot – and his two kids ordered a feast from the trolley. There’s always one.

I’m staying in what might be termed overflow accommodation on a parallel street (Kút utca) to where the hotel actually is, above Margit körút in Buda, but the room is fine. This is actually a (small) apartment.

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8th April, Wednesday

I’ve been round to the hotel for the breakfast this morning and I paid up too. It’s warm here. The sun is shining but last night it felt balmy as I walked over to Pest. The breeze on the bridge over this huge river wasn’t cold at all.

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Out of Budapest by noon, to look at holiday properties around Lake Balaton, we drove south-west and then down along the north shore of the lake, stopping first at Balatonfüred.

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From there we continued along the shore until we reached the hilly peninsula that juts out into the lake at Tihány.

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We had lunch below the crest of the great lake view beside the abbey (apatság) at Tihány and then we got the boat. The hazy lake was a light, smoothie green, at least from the ferry we were on, crossing from north to south.

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The temperature got up to 25°C and my face is just a bit burnt. On the south shore we looked at properties in Balatonszemes before heading back to Budapest on the motorway.

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9th April, Thursday

If the Biblical explanation of the origin of languages at the Tower of Babel has always carried the association of a great morning commotion, then hotel breakfast rooms in Europe suggest a different reaction: the cautious, discreet murmuring and whispering of many tongues as people woke up, had some food and drink and made no more noise than the odd bang of utensil against utensil, as they got their heads together in unfamiliar circumstances.

I didn’t order anything from the trolley on the plane – the guy in the Tory shirt in front of me (Irish, of course) was shaking his (reclined) seat so much he would have dumped anything on my table into my lap. He did calm down after he got his grub but before the end of the flight he was blocking the aisle with the newspaper he’d got. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty so I said nothing.

 

France #2 – Cannes, Antibes, 2011

France #2 – Cannes, Antibes, 2011

14th May, Saturday

The flight descended to Nice over pale red roofs looking more washed-out than baked. Palm trees were new to me the previous time, in May 1998. When I got here I couldn’t contact M. N’s text messages then guided me to the accommodation and I left my bag at reception before heading off to Morrison’s, the pub I hadn’t managed to find by the night The General won a big prize in the festival, in 1998. While I was there, a text from S. told me he’d probably passed out in the apartment because that was what he’d done to him, last year.

Half past one, Irish time. When I gave his name at reception the black lad found it on a sheet and brought it and me (with my bag) upstairs. He unlocked the door and looked in and around it, to the left. Then his head re-emerged. Il dort (‘He sleeps’). M. is snoring in there now, on and off, fully dressed. I looked for any food, snacks, but there’s only a small bottle of Power’s whiskey. The Irish Film Board party was on earlier. This is bullshit.

15th May, Sunday

1 pm on the balcony. He burst into my room at 5.15 this morning. “I found you!” he exclaimed. It turned out he’d walked away from wherever he was. White wine was involved. They had kept refilling his glass. Jim McDaid, our former Cabinet minister, gave that explanation for driving the wrong way down a motorway. Anyway, he, not Jim, had collapsed here at ten.

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A little bottle of Stella is €11 in the bar of the Carlton. We went in there after picking up my badge and stopping off at the Irish Pavilion. From there we managed to find La Pharmacie du Festival, which then enabled M. to have three small beers in the Quay’s pub. I suggested dining on the way back to base.

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I knew he wouldn’t stir later but I too slept for a couple of hours. Then I showered again and headed off by ten.

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I climbed Le Suquet and took some photos of the night view; I got some ice cream on the side of the street below; and I went to Morrison’s. There I met an English director called Alan. He looked like he’d had a long day in his suit but I had three pints with him before he’d had enough, finally.

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I didn’t stay too long after him but on the way home via the Quay’s I stopped in McDonald’s where a French boy called Thomas, with sunglasses (on) and some kind of movie or video camera under his arm put his talk on me, as my father would say. He was on something, I’d say. The queue was going nowhere so when some big beard came in and started talking to him I left. The Quay’s was boring and when a Limerick group formed nearby I didn’t want to listen.

16th May, Monday

This morning I climbed Le Suquet again for some daylight shots. Then I got the hill from La Croisette.

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Later we went to Antibes. From there the Alps were snowy, far to the east. On the train down there a uniformed little conductress let us on last before she gave the all-clear to proceed. Her peaked cap was nearly bigger than herself but when I got a rear view of her grey pants I told M. that an arse like that wouldn’t be seen on CIE (Irish Rail).

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The Felix au Port in the vieux port in Antibes is now the Felix Café. After a ritual stop there in honour of Graham Greene we walked around and did some shopping. He got some dried lavender, as ordered by N., plus a couple of sailor tops for the baby. We sat down again at the Hop Store for another beer. At the nearest table, a beautiful girl was doing all the talking, holding court like an actress, but for a gorgeous chatterbox she looked humane. “J’étais folle, j’étais folle,” (‘I was mad, I was mad’) was the end of one story. She wasn’t skinny like a model either. She was normal for one so lovely. She had dark skin, short dark hair, white teeth: she looked French but with no hauteur. She wouldn’t have passed for any other Mediterranean nationality. She was at a low table, we were at a high one, and several times she glanced up at me looking down at her. Then M. looked down to see what a pigeon was doing under my feet. It was sucking water from the grooves of a metal insert in the flagstone (a manhole). Then another pigeon opportunistically started to ride it. M. started to laugh. When the nearby beauty was leaving, her parting words to those left at the table were “Bonne soirée!” Her mannerisms reminded me of an Irish girl more than a French one.

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17th May, Tuesday

Lying in bed before noon. We didn’t do much last night. We had dinner in the Babord half of the Babord Tribord, down by the boats, and then had one drink on the grass at the Grand. My flight home isn’t until ten tonight.

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We went swimming at the beach nearby but later I didn’t enjoy the swarm in the hot sun down by the Palais, where the red carpet was being used for something and the CRS were blowing whistles, trying to manage both the pedestrian and the motor traffic. At night the monkey suits mill around the Palais.

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I got another one euro ticket back to the airport later but, though I said, “Terminal un, monsieur, s’il vous plaît” to the guy when I boarded and he looked at me and said “Devant”, I thought he meant immediately devant. In other words, I thought the airport was the bus terminus. It wasn’t. The guy pulled up near the airport on the route nationale but said nothing. He closed the bus doors again and I stayed on for long enough to incur a half hour on foot, back the way. I wasn’t going to pay more than one euro over this f*cker. Before I disembarked, I told him I was a foreigner and it would have been kind, a little shout, but he said “Je peux pas le faire pour tout le monde” (‘I can’t do it for everybody’). So, when he opened the door, I dropped the diplomatic language with, “Merci beaucoup, con!

Hungary #2, Danube Bend

Hungary #2, Danube Bend

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2012

Sunday morning, the twenty-fourth of June, in a rented apartment near the Budapest Opera, I was waiting for a lift to go and see the Danube Bend, a Duna kanyar. I’d left an empty Beckett’s bar early the night before to be as fresh as I could for this, in the circumstances. The manager was standing outside. He said it was demoralising. In effect, the pub had seen its best days before the Crash. That and the fact that numerous Hungarian dentists had set up shop in Ireland meant the Irish weren’t coming any more. The foreign students in the city kept the pub going during the school year but the summer was a dead loss.

Budapest (esp. with a sore throat) was hot but at least at night it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Under the weather, and not in a self-inflicted way, I’d got a bit lost after leaving Beckett’s Thursday night and trying to find Jack Doyle’s, for a last one. A pretty but forlorn-looking young hooker called out to me on Rákoczi út (“Where you go?”) but I waved her away. I might have said, “Hol van a gengszter veled?” (‘Where is the gangster with you?’) but I was already lost enough by that stage.

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There was a major thunderstorm in the early hours but that was less of a bother than the sore throat. The next morning I met two girls I knew – they had lived in Ireland – for coffee at Corvin Negyed. That was a pleasant experience, as was asking two cops for directions on the way. Hungarian is the only unusual skill I have and even police officers are friendly when they witness a foreigner not make a dog’s dinner of it. Later I got tablets and went back to bed until the mid-afternoon.

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The first sniffle arrived on Saturday morning. It wasn’t just the noisy air-conditioning that had me awake at half past seven, Irish time. Before a bath later, I felt a bit stoned, naked in the apartment. It felt like I’d been there a long time. There’s a tickly cough now. Sleep more if you can. You’ve nothing else to do.

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Passing the afternoon with a river cruise turned out to be a good idea. I met a middle-aged American couple (Sam and Diana) while boarding the boat. They were some fun and I felt better after it, physically and therefore mentally. Originally from the Bahamas, Sam had enjoyed his time in the US National Guard, back in the days that were out of harm’s way, when it only meant getting to play cards and drive military vehicles.

On Sunday morning, after a Hungarian friend picked me up, we headed north out of the city with a couple of his kids on the back seat. First stop was the Roman ruins of Aquincum, before we got to Szentendre. He didn’t show me the picturesque town but instead headed for the folk museum or Skanzen, 4 km outside it. It’s a big site with village reconstructions from the country’s five regions. I didn’t get a kick out of the sun, which was still too high for the state of my head. A head cold is odd to feel in such heat.

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I took a photo of a guy asleep in a back room in one of the houses. That’s nice work if you can get it but most of the guides were old ladies, even at the house where this guy was at, on a bench by what looked like a lunch table.

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After that we continued to Visegrád where I got a short coughing fit before we bought ice cream cones.

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My nose was running up on the Vár, or castle, which offers a sensational view of the Danube and the wooded hills that mark both banks, up around the bend. The evening sunshine lit up the panorama. It was after five when we got there and though the man on the gate said it was zárva (closed), a bribe of 500 forints was enough to get us in.

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I still felt quite wrecked on the way back to Budapest but stopping for burgers started the comeback and then I had a few bottles of Carlsberg while watching the Italians make a show of England at soccer but not beat them until the penalties. Then I left Beckett’s, which had emptied swiftly after the match.

It was raining Monday morning as I made my way to a colleague’s office in Hattyu ház, opposite the Mammut shopping centre in Buda. He wanted to explore other possibilities once I told him the dental tourism thing was gone, in Ireland. I could only think of showing them tourist wonders like the Vár at Visegrád.

The rain had stopped briefly by the time I headed back to Pest (on a tram) to pick up my bag and hand back the key but it was heavy again when I got to Beckett’s to kill a few hours. I got something to eat there but a cold sweat on my neck led me to down a couple of hot whiskeys too. I didn’t fancy looking for an ATM in the rain but the manager then charged a fiver to change fifty euro into forints (business must be bad, I mused) so I slipped away and hailed a taxi. As the plane crossed over the Danube Bend I got a photo of the Vár from another angle.

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Mauthausen concentration camp

Mauthausen concentration camp

Austria, 28 December, 2015

The train from Linz to Mauthausen took only about twenty minutes. There were no taxis at the station and I did the 5k winding hike uphill to the camp. “This is some hike, man,” I said to myself before I realized that the phrase rhymed with Eichmann. When I got high enough away from the wet Danube fog, the sun lightened the soup but I still could see f*ck all except some of the road in front. I was even wondering was it just the murk or was it the effort of the climb too. I started wiping (steam?) off my glasses.

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Higher again, the sun was just beginning to burn off some of the fog in the afternoon. The Lager loomed, finally, as a long stone fort of no great height on top of the hill. A woman at the visitors’ centre – a concrete maze – told me it was closed and she unlocked a door to get me a brochure – so I wasn’t going to see the gas chamber – but she added I could walk around the exterior.

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Past the monuments, now the highest fog had cleared, there was a piece or two of metal building site fencing across the top of the path down to the Todesstiege (death stairs) and the quarry but it was possible to get around that with no trouble. This was the place I most wanted to see.

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I was the only one down there, where the fog was brightly waxing and waning. At the time it didn’t feel eerie. Oddly peaceful and even beautiful, by the black pond below the cliff, the site proved the birds did sing. I’d even heard a distant cock but the suffering that was inflicted there was and is just unimaginable.

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Forty nationalities were consigned to hell in that place. It was like the UN of concentration camps. There is even a monument to the Albanians. Of the 23,000 Spaniards who had fled to France in 1939 to escape from Franco only to end up at Mauthausen or one of its satellite camps, 16,000 were killed. All the first consignment of Dutch Jews sent here in 1942 were thrown off the quarry cliff that the SS nicknamed die Fallschirmspringer Wand, the Parachutists’ Wall. Many other prisoners saved the SS the trouble and just jumped.

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On the way back up the leafy Todesstiege I counted the 186 steps, stopping to straighten my legs on nos. 75, 100 & 130, though I wasn’t carrying any granite block. I took a look then around the back of the camp. Though the entrance is on the left-hand side, where I got a photo of the gravelly yard via the gap under the wooden gates of the entrance arch, the front is really the long side wall facing the road. Anyway, around the back there was no wall but a fence topped with barbed wire. The remaining huts could be seen across a wide open space drenched in sunshine. From there the descent into the fog gloomily took me back to Mauthausen village where I bought a shirt and some t-shirts in a C&A, thinking I hadn’t brought enough with me on the trip.

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Hungary #1: House of Terror, Budapest

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The Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan had a routine that discussed the standard 1-2-3 division of Irish school classes. For Tiernan, group (1) consisted of those who did arts degrees; group (2) numbered those who went on make money; and, as for group (3), well, that was just where the bus brought them.

A Hungarian friend once explained the very different streaming trinity that operated in schools in the Eastern Bloc:

(1) the children of Party apparatchiks;

(2) the children of actual workers;

(3) the children of those that the parents of group (1) employed to keep the parents of group (2) in line.

On 13 February 2008, I paid a visit to the House of Terror, the Terror Háza, on Andrássy út in Pest, where the tour started on the second floor with an animated map graphic showing the ebbs and flows of Hungary’s borders in the twentieth century. The lines moved to and fro to a rhythmic, ominous soundtrack that was soon echoed elsewhere by the “Hungaria” onscreen ranting of the widely supported Nazi puppet Szálasi, in a room lined by Arrow Cross uniforms. Even when the SS had fled, after the Russians had crossed the Danube upriver, the Arrow Cross continued to shoot any Jews they could find on the Buda side of the city.

The even more enthusiastic – Stalinist – puppet Rákosi appeared sinister in a more low-key way (he was like a bank manager, with a shaved head) but it was interesting to note that Kádár himself got a dose of the medicine there. Kádár tirelessly resisted the various forms of fascism that Hungary endured between 1920-45 but he sided with the Soviet invasion of 1956. In accepting a Soviet garrison of 200,000 in its aftermath, he was able to divert much Hungarian defence spending into welfare. Today he remains the much-missed Jáni Bácsi (‘Uncle Johnny’). His proved to be the most liberal state in the Eastern Bloc, even though the communists had destroyed all independent cultural and folk institutions, leaving a deeply cynical, atomised society. Kádár ruled (1956-88) at a time when Western loans, Eastern Bloc protectionism and some low-key private enterprise helped maintain a standard of living beyond the reach of most Hungarians since 1989. Life is a compromise, as he himself once said. His favourite book was said to be The Good Soldier Švejk.

Those dungeons were smelly and it wasn’t like a wine cellar – my companion, a dental patient, thought they might have added some audio (“screams”) down there but then added that it would surely have freaked out the many young girls we saw touring the place.

After all that, I suggested Beckett’s Irish bar, where soon we got talking to a familiar English face in the form of J., late of the French Foreign Legion and security contracting in Afghanistan. He told us that when the late bomb-maker Edward Teller, a Hungarian, was asked during an Internet Q&A session if he thought there were aliens on Earth, his answer was unequivocal.

Yes. There are ten million of them. And they all live in Hungary.”

Italy #1: Tuscany and Umbria 2014

Italy #1: Tuscany and Umbria 2014

2014

4th August, Monday

Departure was delayed for over an hour but we landed in Pisa at ten to five. Getting to the station and on a train to Empoli was easy, as was changing trains, but the second was a hot one (no air-conditioning). The line we took into Siena was shrouded in trees. Around nine we dined successfully, with a nice house white (a bare bottle), in a wide nook with wall statuary nearby (Ristorante Vitti). Then we went down to the Campo, after stopping off at the Loggia Mercanzia. The book mentioned a scallop shape but the one photo of the Campo gives no idea of the hollow that’s in it or the size of it.

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5th August, Tuesday

Going into buildings is of less interest to me than the exteriors. By 12.30 we got finished with that. The Madonna and Child part of the Maestà in the Duccio room of the Museo dell’Opera is like a class photo, with all the heads, and it was a good job we abandoned waiting for the Panorama del Facciatone. A French child (girl) emerged in tears, scared of heights, as I deduced from checking the book. As for lunch, I chose Osteria Cice for the aroma out of it and again we weren’t disappointed with food (main & dessert) or wine.

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Siena is an extraordinary place, roof over roof, all the reddish brown (i.e. sienna) bricks like medieval Lego, maybe. Tonight I mistakenly looked for a third good place to eat and dragged my mother around for nearly half an hour – there were still some banking suits out and about – before we went back to Ristorante Vitti. I was down at (if not quite in) Saint Catherine’s hangout at six when she sent a text (“Come back”) from San Domenico. There was thunder and a darkening sky with at least one distant flash. The rain didn’t last long, back at the hotel.

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6th August, Wednesday

We had to wait two hours for a train but getting to Orvieto took a little less than that. Up we went on the funicular and I took the luggage as we marched up Via Cavour in the heat. The Valentino is a nice hotel. We got air-conditioned rooms with a view, though not over the edge.

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In Italy you could spend your life with a crick in your neck, looking up at church ceilings and other lofty positions. In the Duomo in Orvieto my mother spotted The Preaching of the Anti-Christ (“I thought it was Our Lord at first”) before I came across it in the Rough Guide, which has a lot more numbers in the key than in the actual diagram (I filled some in). In the background the original men in black seem to be rampaging around the temple.

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After that I brought her down to the vertiginous wall near San Giovenale but went back there on my own later to make a video that captured the drop. On one of the narrow, stony, shady lanes a guy passed whistling Baker Street very melodically. His day was done.

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7th August, Thursday

Round Lake Trasimene, we got to Perugia by three. Johnny in Knoxville. The lift is needed to get up to reception (third floor off a narrow, sloping, side street). After another shower I slept for an hour and then we went out to eat and walk about a bit. The old city is high up, as we realised from various angles.

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We had a good meal with a bottle of Grechetto at Merlin’s in Via Fani beside the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, where we were the first to sit down, and then sat on the warm steps of the Duomo (where we weren’t). I think Spoleto’s been scratched but we’ll probably go to Assisi tomorrow.

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8th August, Friday

Assisi: it was hot on that holy hill (I didn’t try to take Rocca Maggiore) and we had a long wait for our lunch in La Lanterna (too much breezy air-conditioning there, for my mother). I’d sleep now only for the nearby angle grinder. Maybe the f*cker has stopped. Yes, he can. Roberto the Builder. It was probably for the worst this evening that my mother thought she had locked herself into her bathroom while I was getting her a spare shower cap from mine (and in my room delayed a little to figure out where we might go). She just didn’t put enough effort into turning the door knob and instead resorted to banging on the door “with a can” for a while. She said ten minutes but it was probably two or three. Today she wandered off inside the St. Francis Basilica too. St. Clare’s was quieter.

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Anyway, we’re not going anywhere tomorrow and tonight we found a decent restaurant called Da Peppone on the far side of the Duomo. Spaghetti carbonara (& more Grechetto) did me fine and a pork chop (& chips) was something she would eat off the menu but I couldn’t really relax, looking at her and wondering was she half-dead or what. She came back to life after we sat on some steps on Corso Vannucci (she had an ice cream cone) and we got talking to a French couple from Lyon, with two young daughters. She told me to offer to take a picture of all four and then the mother (Catherine) asked were we English. A pigeon went on to shit on the bare shoulder of one of the girls. The father (Thierry) and I later exchanged email addresses and by the time we separated it was almost ten and I had to rush back to get our keys before they closed the door and made it un po’ awkward to get in. It took a few minutes to find my mother again outside but when I got her upstairs she was only bothered by not being able to get another bottle of water at reception. But she had enough.

9th August, Saturday

Rest day: Roberto is banging today, towards 5pm. By noon or so we had Perugia done. An open window on the weird Via Ritorta had a woman calling a guy a “fascista” but, if ever a street gave a feeling of being down a well, that was it. Later I had to go back and video it.

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A note on the blonde at reception today (whom I’d already briefly seen at our first breakfast, in a black dress, smiling when I passed her the milk for other guests): she’s someone to put most in the ha’penny place but also probably a demon if crossed. I don’t think she liked me when I accidentally pulled my mother’s finger when reaching for the other key, earlier, to hand it in with mine. Anyway, who cares, she’s a receptionist with Italian pop buzzing on the radio somewhere behind the counter. My mother is relieved at not having to go anywhere today. “A whirlwind out of this world” was a description I saw in a text to M., sent yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll stop in Florence for half the day.

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At half seven, I discovered my mother had been at her room door so much (faulty knob) that the (elder, peroxide, I think) blonde rang from reception to see was she all right. At the desk I explained to the babe that it wasn’t my fault as I’d told her to text if there was any problem. After the evening meal we were sitting on the warm cathedral steps again. From Giardini Carducci, Assisi looks closer in the dark than it did in the light, looking east. By ten my mother quietly wanted to retire.

10th August, Sunday

Fiddlers Cross [a short film, co-scripted] won first prize for Best Screenplay in Rhode Island. My mother and I had boarded a train to Pisa in Santa Maria Novella in Florence when D. rang briefly with the news. I’d just been giving out about a young f*cker in shades and a baseball cap who had taken up three seats with three cases (“Uomo gentile! Tre valigie sui tre posti!”). His two buddies removed theirs but we got seated behind him upon a cooling suggestion from at least three Italian women nearby. Later I enjoyed seeing him bang his head off the overhead rack, blinded by his cap and shades. I don’t think he was even Italian, just some twat from Portugal or Brazil. My head and torso were melting after the hot Florentine afternoon; like an anthill it was, apart from the relaxing couple of Bacardi & Cokes (a fiver each) at an Irish pub called The Fiddler’s Elbow on Piazza SMN. I wasn’t the only person showing some exasperation in Florence today. A tall American father was pulling his little son along past the Duomo and the kid was singing something (repetitive, I guess) and the American dad said, “For Christ’s sake will you knock it off!”

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The hotel here in Pisa is more like a hostel and we had to cross the river to find a place to eat; somewhere that looked better than it tasted, at least where my plate was concerned. I was just demoralised, having to walk that far and for some sh*t (prawns) too but what was I thinking? My mother was a bit happier with her (tough) steak choice (with homemade… crisps!) after I’d wondered would she ever find something on the menu. We’re tired of Italy now and this time Pisa looks or feels more like CW’s verdict (“a dump”). She even slipped off a step near the hotel on the way back but thanks be to Jesus neither she nor her camera broke anything. Even if I sleep a few hours, this last leg always seemed like it would be a chore.

11th August, Monday

Up very early to get out of the kip, we were still stuck with a plane an hour late so again we were spared the Ryanair fanfare on landing in Cork, where the pilot must have fancied he was doing it on an aircraft carrier.