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Showing posts from September, 2013

A sentimental break

It’s the night before the move, and I’ve just taken a last stroll around the Radcliffe Camera. Hardly anyone there, but a party of Spanish bankers calling affectionately at each other. Oxford is soaked in nostalgia, and my dose has arrived early. I'm not going far, nor am I going to move to a radically different environment. I swap bogs for fens. I’m looking through Brideshead to find the words to salute Oxford, especially in this week of low mists and unseasonably wintry light.

There aren’t any, I suppose.

Trains, planes, and automobiles

We had underestimated the journey. The train to Gatwick was fine; the plane to Pisa was fine. A. watched out the window for nearly two hours, fascinated by the wings, and the clouds, and our view of the Alps. Our bags came off the conveyer belt first; we ordered our Panini and cafĂ© in Italian with ease, and we ate outside, beaming with our luck, watching Pisans slowly cycle by in khaki shorts and neck bling. But this was where the streak of luck ended, or at least, became chronically uncertain. I had, in a rush of enthusiasm, volunteered to drive us to the rural place we’d rented for ten days. There was no other mode of transportation. To save money, we rented a manual car. I’d earned my license on a manual car ten years ago, but haven’t practiced since, though I drove an automatic for nearly as long. It couldn’t be that difficult, I told myself. There’d be a baptism by fire, and then we’d sail onto the other side. This was woefully wilful idealism.

We got our rental car by the skin of…

Questions of Travel

I’m stuck in something of a conundrum. I’ve realised that writing about Italy – Tuscany in particular – leads otherwise capable writers into committing themselves to the most self-satisfied, plummy language. There are other places in the world in which this becomes equally tempting: India occasionally, rural England, Burgundy, Provence, New England, the Pacific Northwest, one’s own garden, etc. But Italy is particularly bad. It is difficult, when writing about Italy, to avoid harping on upon the vivaciousness of the Italian tomato, or the quirkiness of the stray Italian who happens upon your path. This is problematic. It may be a pleasure for the writer to descant on la dolce vita, but the reader suspects there is degree of the writer’s self-romancing, suspects she has read it before somewhere (or everywhere) else. Such writing does no favours to anyone. It comes to no realisation. It smacks of privilege (and a lack of the imagination). It is best kept for the self to feed over. It is…
The sun has risen in some kind of send-off, and the journey to Florence (or, rather, just outside Florence) is about to begin. I'm accompanied by Dante's Inferno and a dictionary, three of Nabokov's early novels, the diary of Cesar Pavese, and a book to review. A sketch-book, two notebooks, a diary, and my language books. One packs too much, but one always wants the luxury of choice. Wish us buon viaggio...