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Friday, 30 April 2010

Una camicia viola e il dramma borsa trasporto: Un viaggio epico

27.04.10 – Some of you will already be aware of my recent travel related predicament. I refer to the volcanic activity in Iceland, the eruption that brought the world to a standstill. I was happily enjoying a week’s break in Abruzzo, Italy. It was Thursday evening, 15 April, and I had just entered Ghiottonies’ pizzeria, in Piane d’Archi when I had a text from my friend, Brenda telling me she’d be late for dinner due to the volcano erupting. My first thought was, oh my goodness is it Vesuvius, or maybe Etna? Well suffice to say, you all know what happened next, travel plans all over the world were thrown into disarray by the volume of ash belching from Eyjafjallajökull. Like everyone else away from home and without instant access to the internet, I relied on second-hand information. One minute people back home were telling me, that the airlines would be back to normal by the day I should fly home, the other folk; in Italy told me it could be weeks before I could fly home.
Now I don’t want to make light of other people’s struggles to get home. Everyone had his or her own reasons for not wanting to be detained. Children had to get back for school: May is an important month in the school calendar. Others just couldn’t afford to lose out on wages. I know people who have literally taken trains, no planes and automobiles to traverse Europe in a bid to reach blighty. One friend spent over one thousand pounds in train fares, hotel bills, ferry and taxi fares, in his need to get home. Me. Well I turn up as normal at Pescara airport for my Monday 19 April flight. “Sorry, no planes,” the pretty Italian girl behind the protective glass tells me. (I think, I bet you’re glad of your see through cage now love). The short queue I’m in marvel at an Italian musician who cannot understand why he can’t fly to London for a gig. He pleads, swears, cries and eventually prays, but no luck, even God can’t rearrange short haul flights, perhaps he’d have been better off asking for something more achievable: Peace in Afghanistan? The upshot is we’re offered 27 April from Rome or 2 May from Pescara. We take Rome and wander off into the Chieti countryside for another eight days. We spend the sunny days house hunting and sightseeing, but that’s another blog completely. Oh by the way for those of you with no grasp of the Italian language, this edition is entitled: A purple shirt and the carrier bag drama: An epic journey. An account of our journey back home from Italy, and of course a look at which songs the trusty iPod shuffles. So on the day of our departure, we rise at 07.30; tidy up the lovely house we’ve been staying in. Simple Minds are playing, their cover version of the Siouxsie and the Banshee’s classic, Christine. At 08.30, after breakfast, and feeding Tutti, a small feral tabby cat that has adopted us we leave in the rented Panda for Aeroporto Internazionale d’Abruzzo, or as we call it Pescara airport. We slowly slide down the vertical, skinny street that is via castello. (Castle Street), pass through Archi, and snake our way down the hillside. Apart from witnessing a blue transit van squeal into an ear splitting skid, avoiding the car in front that has stopped for no apparent reason, the journey to the airport is peaceful. It takes me several minutes to find the autobus ticket machine, I purchase two tickets, turn around only to see number thirty-eight; our bus disappearing out of the car park. The S-word is offered to the wind, and I look at the timetable. The next bus is 10.40; our seat on the coach to Rome is booked for 11.00, I start to worry, will we make it in time? Luck is on our side, another thirty-eight appears at 10.30, we board and the driver’s impatience, our ally, takes us into town ten minutes earlier. 11.00, on the second, the coach rumbles into life. It has to be said that, on the surface, Italy may appear unfocused, but its public transport services are terrific; the UK transport minister should pop over for a sample, maybe it will rid us back home of the lazy, money grubbing services we have. (But I digress). I settle into my seat on the upper deck, book is on the seat beside me and iPod earbuds are inserted. We pull away from Pescara Termini as Welcome to the Pleasure Dome, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood begins, the epic thirteen minute track, escorting me away from Abruzzo with some scouse brogue. The sun has burnt away the mist and the small villages up in the hills bask in the warmth as we coast by. The silver machine we are in travels from the back of the leg, caressing the calf of lady Italia. We make a brief stop to collect a handful of other travellers, and as Linkin Park burst into Lying From You, three more bodies join the fifteen upstairs already. As we pull away from the small quadrangle of bus stops, the man on the seat behind ends a call on his mobile. Tiziano Ferro replaces Linkin Park with, Assurdo Pensare, from his third album. All Mia Età, and we see our first blue sign with the white letters, R. O. M. A. The green of Italy’s heart spreads out before this band of stranieri as they, unaware of each other share an experience. Outside my headphones the trip is silent. I pause the music and listen. No one speaks, occasionally the rustle of a broadsheet being turned crackles. The gentle drone of the engine calms, it’s humming every now and then disturbed by the thump of the wheels as they contact the joins between bridge sections. I never tire of looking at little red roofed houses, as they scramble up one side of a hill only to tumble down the other. Each one we pass has its own personality: its own appeal as it defiantly ignores seismic activity and clings to its green, tree covered host. I lazily watch a tractor navigate a bend, a small black dog running alongside. It’s now 12.33, an hour and half into our trip and the landscape has become rugged and wild. High up on a ridge perches a jangle of buildings, even in the remotest of regions, life has a foothold, precarious though that may be. At times the autostrada becomes a huge flat concrete bridge, a thick grey artery high up, its’ shape covering the valley below with a shadow river. We begin to climb a little and the silver beast labours. Turning on the iPod once again, Alesha Dixon sings Turn It Up, a track from Fired Up, her little known debut solo album. The rhythm bounces around in my head, as infectious as a norovirus on a hospital ward. Two seats in front of me on my right sits a podgy Italian, dressed in grey jogging bottoms and a purple T-shirt. Now it needs to be pointed out that, plum, violet, lilac and any colour in the purple spectrum, has been in vogue with the young Italian male since the summer of 2009. Our twenty something sat away from me has a television screen above him, and all his movements are mirrored in the blank screen. I watch him as he takes a packet of tissues from his man-bag. Deftly he shakes one from folded to open with a quick flick of his chunky wrist. With his left hand he pulls the waist of his joggers away from his body and with the right hand, and tissue he gives both of his you know what’s a quick wipe. The tissue re-emerges from the fleecy cavern and he gives it a quick sniff, before balling it and dropping it onto the vacant seat beside him. Just then the skies turn leaden. As if on cue, Bauhaus clatter through the iPod with their live rendition of Double Dare, from the bonus 80’s vinyl disk, Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape, which came with their third album; The Sky’s Gone Out. How apt that the mood turns sombre, and rain replaces the sunshine for we’ve just passed the green sign with the bold red diagonal slash across it, indicating we’ve now left Abruzzo and entered Lazio. I ponder, not really hearing the music, how long it will be before I am back again. Purple Shirt once again catches my attention; he puts on his pink and blue trainers again. I have watched him take them off and put them back on again three times. I notice that they are plastic, and wonder if they are not conducive to casual wearing on a stuffy coach. I smile, guessing that beneath the laces, there could be an athlete’s foot convention going on. I itch just thinking about it. A few more kilometres on and the sun graces us with its presence once more, the mood lifts as Britney sings Sometimes. - You know you’ve made it when you only need one name. Kylie. Sting. Popeye? Once again the landscape has changed, and flat plains roll out to the right with wooded hills to the left. La Roux, In For the Kill changes places with Ms Spears, and purple shirt takes off his trainers once more. He rises from his seat; his jogging bottoms have sagged and now resemble the full nappy of a toddler as he waddles down the aisle. He chats to a man briefly then returns to his seat, plugs buds into his ears, fiddles with his phone cum music player then puts his trainers on once more.
I Mean To Shine, from Streisand’s, Barbra Joan Streisand album plays as we begin to merge with the chaos that is the roads around the capital city. Vines are replaced by graffiti. Hillsides by looming apartment blocks and pylons replace the majestic olive. We scoot past what is a sad collection of ramshackle, thrown up buildings, walls of old pallets and roofs of tin, held together with nylon rope and plastic sheeting. It looks like a shantytown, but is in fact ingenuity, rustic sheds built next to individual squares of cultivated land, similar to the allotments of England.
We chug along Via Tiburtina, cars nose to tail like mechanical elephants, the Metro comes into view and, yes you’ve guessed it; Purple Shirt takes off his trainers. We arrive at the terminal only to discover that you cannot get a bus to Ciampino airport from here, so we drag ourselves across the road to the Metro, we pay a Euro and travel four stops in a crowded carriage. My nose is just inches away from the scruffy beard of a student. The doors open and we all spill out onto the platform, a seething mass of bodies all heading off in the same direction, like shuffling beast. The oppressiveness of the underground fades as we emerge above ground, and the beast dissolves. Opposite me stands the main Termini. I walk across the road, side stepping the men trying to stuff a leaflet into every passer bys hand: advertising for a shoe shop. I head off for a small ticket office, when a taxi driver asks me if I want a taxi? I’m about to say no, when he asks where I’m going to, I tell him aeorporto Ciampino, and again, before I can say anything else he tells me I can go in his cab for sixty euro. Besides him another driver shouts to me saying he can do it for fifty five, another offers fifty. I say, “Bugger off, sixty euro, I can get the bus for six euro around the corner on via Marsala.” They understood the 'six euro' and the 'bus from via Marasla' bit but the 'bugger off' left them perplexed. The bus to the airport staggers through narrow streets, its horn sounding angrily at anyone who dares to prevent its movement. A pedestrian steps out without looking and we all lurch forward as the driver hits the brake. Our driver opens his side window and remonstrates the jaywalking tourist. We’re then thrown backwards as the bus pulls away rapidly. Our driver starts to chat inanely to a woman passenger on the front left hand seat; she’s not in least bit interested. I switch the iPod on and Asia open with The Last To Know, the drivers voice now blocked by multi-tracked vocals and overlong guitar riffs. Morrissey croons, November Spawned a Monster as Rome slips by and the rain comes again. It’s now 16:00, seven and a half hours since we left the house at Piane d’Archi. I get a text from my ex-wife; she asks if my flight is still on. As I’m not sure I don’t reply saying yes, fate is not there for tempting today. As Mozzer does his thing I begin to wonder if our driver has had his hand permanently welded to the horn. Other drivers misdemeanours are subjected to long blaring blasts, a car with its wheels a mere millimetre over the white lines is subjected to a hard staccato of honks. Cars here change lanes with such vigour, and more often than not, no indicators flash a warning. We reach the airport after fifty-six minutes of horn sounding, sudden braking and erratic acceleration. The threat of an imminent headache dulls my brain, and I say to myself “Thank heavens for Kylie,” as Your Disco Needs You escorts me off the bus and into the departures building of the airport, for a five and half hour wait. Considering that we are in a place that relies on accurate timekeeping to function at its best, I notice that there are no clocks to be seen anywhere. I don’t wear a watch, relying on my mobile phone for a timepiece. And as I sit down in the aluminium coloured seat, the battery dies, leaving nothing to do but, people watch. A family of four arrive with two suitcases; a piece of hand luggage each and two well stuffed carrier bags. The girl on check-in explains that they are allowed one piece of hand luggage only per person. An argument begins to swell, just a trickle of dissatisfaction at first until it becomes a torrent of gesticulation and expletives. People stop whatever they are doing to watch the red faced man with the windmill arms. He walks away from the desk in search of someone else to berate, leaving his wife to stand guard over the carrier bags. Every thirty seconds, she glances over at the girl on check-in and scowls. A few minutes later her husband returns waving a sheet of paper, I see that it’s his boarding pass: With Ryanair you can check in online and print off your own boarding pass in advance of flying. He shows his wife the section on the paper that states you are only allowed one piece of hand luggage, and then promptly blames her for not telling him. I wander over to check-in and enquire if there are any spaces on the earlier flight, and if so could we be bumped up onto that one? No such luck, I’m told all flights are fully booked. The carrier bag drama continues, the wife now blames her son. He booked the flights on the internet and printed off the information, so he should have told them about the restrictions on cabin baggage.
Enviously we sit and watch other people arrive, check in and depart. A young Chinese youth joins the queue in front of me going to Stansted. I hate everyone in this queue as they’ll be back in the UK long before I’ve boarded my plane. The Chinese youth is wearing low-rise jeans; crotch down to his knees and a ‘I ♥ Roma’ T-shirt. Every time he stoops down to rummage in his suitcase, we’re subjected to a flash of his Pierre Cardin underpants. His friend has two carrier bags with her – we sit back and wait for her to reach the desk, eager for carrier bag drama phase two. The girl on the desk says something to her and the bags are hastily crammed into a small case on wheels. How disappointing no drama. Meanwhile drama number one continues. The family have taken the bulging carrier bags to the shrink wrap station and had them wrapped up, they now resemble two green coloured cubes, and easily fit into the frame for testing if your bags the right size to take on board. With an aura of defeat, the two sons each carry a cube through the departure gates. The check-in girl smiles over at them, but her eyes flash, ‘losers’. A couple sit down on the seats next to me, there’s an odd atmosphere hanging over them. I assume they’re English as they have an argument, in a hushed, introverted way. Until he silently walks away – the slowest storming off I’ve ever seen. There’s a further instalment in the carrier bag drama. The man and one of his sons re-appear with a uniformed officer. The shrink-wrapped cube has been unwrapped and returned as it contains items prohibited from being taken into the aeroplane cabin – Liquids. In this case several cans of lager. More windmill impressions take place and the officer explains if the man wants to take the lager with him, he will have to pay to have it loaded into the hold. Defeated, the man pays once more to have the bag wrapped in the green coloured plastic, then strolls to the check-in and pays the girl the fare for having the bag taken on board. It has to be said, she does have a smug look on her face, as she advised him to do this right at the start. Another family of four check in, the mother and daughter walk off towards passport control leaving the father and his son. The boy is about four years old, his father hands him a small rucksack and tells him to put it on. The boy looks at it for a while, confusion spreading over his little face. He then steps into the shoulder straps, his father look on, no offer of assistance. The boy steps out and then steps beck into the straps backward, and holding the sack into the small of his back shuffles off behind his father. Suddenly, it’s all go. A Japanese couple arrive and try to check in only to be told they’re a day too early. Carrier bag drama three unfolds at desk number twenty-five. A woman on the Glasgow flight is arguing, ‘she cannae see why she cannae take it on board’. Arms wave in defiance once more and the girl on the desk gives her a well rehearsed wan smile and shrugs her shoulders, as the traveller shoe horns the bag into her already bulging shoulder bag. Over at desk twenty-three the girl is trying her best to check in a rowdy group of Danish school children, they hoot and cheer as one of them does card tricks for his fellow students. Over at the pay-as-you-e mail station a man swears and hits the screen, proclaiming that the machine has stolen his money. Time ebbs away, the departures hall is relatively empty, just a handful of us remain, the girl with the Guatemalan passport reads a copy of Pride and Prejudice. The Italian with the jeans that have far too many patches sewn to them, idles against the wall drinking Coke out of the bottle. A man weighs his case and then opens it and weighs his shoes, determining which pair are the heaviest, the lighter ones travel inside. My case weighs six grams over the allowed weight, and I’ve decided if challenged I’ll blame it on the hunk of Parmesan cheese I have stashed inside. At last our flight flashes on the screen and check-in opens. We are through passport control with haste, eager to see another room after so long in the waiting area. I purchase us a large beer each and grab a bottle of gin from duty free just as they start to close up for the day. At the gate we all fall into whatever space is available, the lucky ones have seats, myself the floor. Opposite me is an ample breasted woman; she is struggling to squeeze her legs into flight socks. She leans over and with each heave of the sock her breasts threaten to escape the baggy necked t-shirt she is wearing. I smile remembering a friend who also has large breasts referring to hers as looking like a bag of puppies when she runs. Shuffle, and Wild Cherry dish up a funky beat with, I Feel Sanctified. I bob along to the beat, enjoying my personal performance. People glance across at me sat on the grey tiles, having a mini freak out all of my own. Times come to board the plane, and we all file through the gate. A customs official chooses to stop me and has a fiddle about in my bag, satisfied I’m not carrying anything I shouldn’t he smiles and says have a good flight. Earlier I was told all flights were full – so how come ours has less than fifty percent of the seats occupied? The plane begins to taxi and a baby a few seats away starts to screech. Today just gets better. Earphones go in at the earliest opportunity and The Primitive help to drown out the screaming baby with, Lead Me Astray; I’m now tired and could happily squeeze the life out of it. What was it Lord Capulet said about Juliet when she was wailing? ‘A wretched puling fool, a whining mammet’ – so apt. Oh Mr Shakespeare, you had a way with words.
We have been pre-warned by the captain, that it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Fifty minutes in, and as Dusty Springfield sings, This Girl’s In Love With You, we hit the first bout of turbulence. The plane rides the air and it feels like we’re bouncing down a shepherd track in the hills of L’Aquila. The vibrating plane makes the teeth chatter, and soon it feels like we’re sitting inside something you could purchase from any branch of Ann Summers. The captain once again comes over the PA and apologises and tells us we have another twenty minutes of this to come, ironically the song on my iPod changes to, Something’s Not Right Here, by OneRepublic. Hopefully this isn’t a portent; at least I’m glad I didn’t order a hot drink now. As the song fades out so does the turbulence and for the remainder of the flight we travel peacefully. The drive home is a blur of M11, M25, M1 M6 and A34, finally pulling up in my drive at 4.05 UK time. The key in the door wakes the dogs and as we enter two over excited Jack Russell’s bark, realising we’re back home. Dad has left a note saying there’s milk in the fridge. I pour myself a gin only to discover we’ve no tonic, David says Tesco is open twenty-four hours, my response is after twenty hours and five minutes of travel today there’s no way I’m travelling another inch. I’ll tell you now, Gin and cream soda does not work.

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