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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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Jean Italy 2013 076

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.

John Italy 2013 001

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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Jean Italy 2013 170

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.

John Italy 2013 173

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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John Italy 2013 035

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