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 well, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, crowded steps of the Duomo. I think Spoleto’s been scratched but we’ll probably go to Assisi tomorrow.
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.
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. Madame, si vous voulez, je peux la prendre. Then the mother asked were we English. A pigeon went on to shit on the bare shoulder of one of their girls. The father 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.
9th August, Saturday
Rest day: Roberto is banging today, towards 5 pm. 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. At the other end, I caught some of a guy playing the Godfather theme on a concertina.
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.
At half seven, I discovered my mother had been at her room door so much (a genuinely faulty knob) that the (elder, peroxide, I think) blonde rang from reception to see was she all right. 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!”
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.