Monday, April 20, 2015

Chris Cameron's piece in the Globe

Chris Cameron, once a writing student and now a friend and sometime editor of mine, has a beautiful piece in today's Globe. He wrote it for class, refined it for our So True reading series, and rewrote it once again for the Globe. A great piece of writing. Don't miss it.

And for another dose of delight, the marvellous John Oliver has produced a video about the end of the world:

Nice is nice.

Monday. I took a sleeping pill last night, had a very full sleep and feel human today. A day of train travel with a heaving stomach would not have been fun.

Instead this is a new kind of pleasure – a slow-moving Italian train heading northwest, and I’m sitting on the left side, of course, the Mediterranean side, as we follow the sea from Riomaggiore all along the coast of Italy to Ventimiglia, at the border with France. Seaside towns, palm trees, resort hotels, tall pink, cream or yellow buildings with dark green shutters. Wisteria, hanging in huge purples bunches; cacti, oleander, lemon, orange, redbud trees, and always churches, and, sparkling just beyond, sometimes only a few metres away, the sea. 

I have the car nearly to myself. A few towns back, a group of Americans got on, and the woman scrabbled in her bag and discovered her phone and money had been stolen as she got on the train. “A bunch of kids were pushing me,” she said, “there were two young girls must have managed to open my bag and help themselves.” She went to look for them but not surprisingly, they'd disappeared. “Oh well,” she said. “They didn’t get my cards.”

A cautionary tale. Everywhere I go in transit, since the terrifying experience of leaving my handbag on the train in Montpellier, I’m always counting, “One two three.” My suitcase, my backpack, my purse. Keep them close. Plus there is a 20 euro bill in my pants pocket. That time in Montpellier I was left without even 50 cents to go to the bathroom. The one and only time in my life I’ve thanked the lord for Mcdonalds.

Of course it is a perfect sunny day. Poor BK and I had poor weather in Cinque Terre, cold, grey and wet, but we made the best of it – it wasn’t raining much, and we piled on layers and went out anyway. I will miss Brucie, but the two of us are such independent and solitary souls that though we fit so well together, we’re also happy on our own. What’s really marvellous is that we are neurotic in the same way – both of us thinking ahead nervously, anticipating difficulties, getting to stations very early, avoiding any possible stress – and yet stress hits. 

Now he’s headed back to Firenze, tomorrow off to Venice for the day, then later to see a Piero della Francesca exhibit somewhere, and other day trips – an amazing man, making a life for himself every year in Italy, working hard – he has a teacher in New York with whom he Skypes weekly – to teach himself Italian. Such a fine appreciation for great art, which he teaches me. Luckily, there’s stuff I know that he doesn’t, so we balance, like when we’re listening to music in a restaurant and he says, Who’s that? And I say, That’s Chris Martin of Coldplay.

He is a warm, kind, funny man and I will miss him. But another treat’s in store – one of my oldest and dearest friends, Lynn, whom I’ve known since 1967, and her husband Denis. Three days with them. And I can do laundry. At last. 

Later: I'm in a wonderful little hotel in Nice, once patronized by Chekhov which is why I chose it, and Lenin. In the little lounge where they put books left by guests, there are lots of books in Russian. A painless day of travel, except in Ventimiglia where I got a ticket to go on to Nice, dragged my bag in the subterranean passage to the train with ten minutes to spare, settled in and then realized I had not stamped the ticket as you are required to do. Had to drag my bag back down the passage and up to the station, stamp, and haul it back. Just made it in time. I hate that stamping business. Stress! 

Arrived in Nice, asked a nice man at the station where my street was - rue Gounod - he accessed Google maps on his iPhone and pointed it out. A five minute walk and here I am, a lovely little room with a kettle. Made a cup of blessed tea and went down to ask some questions. SADNESS: I am walking distance from the Chagall Museum, which I wanted to see tomorrow, but it turns out that every museum in Nice is closed on Tuesday. Every single museum. Oh well, I said to the clerk. I guess it's the beach for me. 
There's a market, she said, and made my day.

I walked along the Promenade des Anglais, such a splendid avenue, had a bite to eat outside near the hotel - my stomach completely restored - and here I am.
One of the cream puff hotels on this huge avenue
I happened on an event on the Promenade- a red carpet with cameramen and these two as hostesses ...
cadaverous, criminally thin young women wearing almost nothing -
 thin young men allowed to wear clothes and flat shoes.
Stick legs in very high shoes.
 It was the pilot for a new TV show, apparently: semi-naked women starving to death and tottering in sky-high shoes with callow skinny young men. Sounds fab. Can't wait to see it.
The casino, or one of them.
The view from my restaurant table. I had a salade nicoise, of course - and two glasses of wine. Of course.

I am barely aware of news as I float about, but I did hear the terrible story of another immigrant tragedy off the coast of Italy. In every city here there are crowds of Africans who seem to have no means of support except selling bits of stuff - and yet they're desperate to get to the west. What can be done?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

our last supper

We went! I got out of bed and put on all my layers of clothes, because despite the sun, it was a chilly evening - going down to zero degrees in the night. We were perched outside right over the water, watching the sunset. A beautiful end to a beautiful week. Bruce got a two for one deal, because I could hardly eat any of my dinner. Couldn't even photograph it - pasta with shrimps and zucchini. But his was amazing, and he liked mine too.

A record - we ordered a quarter litre of wine and didn't finish it. That has never happened to me in the history of my life. Shocking.

I'll be back to my old self tomorrow. And alone. How I shall miss my dear compagnero. But not alone for long - tomorrow I get an Italian train to Ventimiglia and then a French train to Nice - I'll be able to speak fluently, at last. Get to the hotel about 8 p.m. Have the morning to explore Nice - I assume a walk on the Promenade des Anglais - then a 2 p.m. train to Avignon, getting in at 5, where my friend Denis will meet me and drive to Gordes, one of loveliest villages in France and where he and one of my oldest friends, Lynn, have lived for many years. Lynn says she'll be waiting with aperitif and dinner - two of my favourite words. I hope to be able to enjoy both by Tuesday. Wednesday we may drive to the Alps to visit a mutual friend and stay at Denis's family chalet, and who knows what, until Saturday when I get the train to Paris for my last night. Sunday HOME.

Only three more beds before I leave. By this time next week,  I will be in my own bed. At least, that's the plan. I've learned to say that.
                                                          click to enlarge

last day with Bruce, boat trip, sick

I'm sick - got slammed in the night with a stomach bug, not nice. However - it's my last day with Bruce and we had planned a boat trip along the coast, so I thought I could manage that, and I did. He was very kind to the feeble old lady who accompanied him. And it was not actually raining, with a little sun every so often. The trip, despite everything, was glorious.

The boat stops at all the 5 little towns until it gets to Porto Venere, a much larger and less picturesque town at the end, where we all got another boat for a trip around some islands - not too interesting, but the sun was almost out and the air was wonderful. Then a great fish lunch right on the water which unfortunately, tragically, I could not share. And then back. BK knew I was really sick because I had no interest in food or shopping - a true test. I'm now in bed. He has taken the train back to Manarola, which we'd planned to visit before I lost my sea legs.

I hope I'm well soon because I've planned to take Bruce to a spectacular place for dinner, to thank him for everything. If not - next time. Get well, silly stomach. Right now, I am extremely glad to be in bed, moving only my fingers.
Click to enlarge.
Vernazza this morning
Corniglia, where we walked to our first day 
Manarola, which we'd intended to visit together and Bruce is now. I'll have to come back, that's all.

Boat trip part two

Hope you can see the houses and farms clinging to the mountainside - unimaginable to live there
Il Bruce
Porto Venere, where the boat stopped for us to load another the other boat, for a tour around 3 islands
Old castles and amazing rock formations
 And of course, everywhere, churches, even in the least likely places. And virgins on buoys in the water.
Bruce's wonderful lunch of the freshest fish soup in a fantastic fish restaurant on the waterfront
 I took a few bites of the plainest pasta imaginable. So sad. What a waste!
This is the place BK and I are meant to dine tonight if my stomach settles - on that balcony, right on the water, watching the sunset.