A Very Black Day

Sleeping fitfully I wake and check my iPad.  By about 4 a.m. it is clear to me that things have gone badly and we will end up with a vote to leave the EU.  When the last votes are in there is something north of 1 million votes in it.  It feels like a catastrophe and a very deep sadness for so much that could be lost.  I monitor Facebook, I post and I comment.  It allows me to share my feelings and deep regret.

The day must be got on with.  The Tailles go into Loano with shopping bags.  They bring back some prawns which Francois tosses into a pan with garlic and oil, then we cook hard-boiled eggs and make a salad.  Sleep-deprived I am falling asleep over my coffee so I retreat to my bunk and, bathed in sweat, I sleep for three and a half hours.  Waking, the heat is still intense and I wonder why we sailed all those miles to suffer………… for Fefe does not enjoy this heat either.  But then, today I am feeling very negative.

A drink in the Capitainerie is proposed and this is a good move.  There is air-conditioning – why we were not alerted before?!  There we have an Aperol Spritz and, as is the custom here, a plate of canapes is included in the price.  After we walk into Loano and make a little circuit of the town closest to the marina.  I spent a minute or two in a round church whose opulence is distasteful to me and the small Oratorio is even more vulgar in its ornate, heavily gilded decorations and artefacts.  My jaded mood seems to colour everything.  I am aware that I am bad company but am so preoccupied with the shock and pessimism that have followed the vote to Leave.

We find ourselves at Vittorino’s again and order our supper.  Back at the boat Fefe and I sit down with her book and pen and she writes up her vocabulary and idioms from recent days.   And then to bed.

A Passage to Loano

It is EU referendum day and ‘Till’ is going to make a long passage east into Italian waters.    I am unsure whether I will have an internet connection so I email the kids and ask them to text me key bits of information as the results come through, some time after midnight.

After a provisioning dash ashore we set sail.  Once ‘au large’ the sea presents its beautiful ‘oily’ surface and the heat will build up during the day. blogIMG_4585 (2) blogIMG_4587 (2) We are sailing parallel to the Alpes Maritimes coast and it is not long before we reach Monaco.  blogIMG_4576 (2)Called by some ‘the most luxurious prison in the world’ it is 150Ha (≡ Hyde Park) of large apartment blocks, tunnels and underground parking, little squares with 3 or 4 olive trees, a stadium, an impressive Oceanographic Museum, a heliport on the coast and the Palace on the Hill.  Called also Little Manhattan because the dominating apartment blocks resemble skyscrapers, this whole nestles between the two ports of Fontvieille and Cap d’Ail.  There are beaches protected by netting to keep the jellyfish out.

After being underway for the morning our thoughts turn to lunch.  blogIMG_4592 (2)We will need to stop the engine and drift gently.  We do this off the coast of Menton.  Cue a swim – which is wonderfully refreshing and after we have a second go of my spaghetti Bolognese to stoke our own engines.  Unfortunately when we flick the switch to start the boat’s engine nothing happens 😦  There follows ten anxious minutes whilst the captain and his crew stare into the boat’s bowels.  They cannot find anything wrong so they replace the deck and try again.  The engine sparks into life and I stop wondering which nation’s coastguard will be summoned to our rescue!

We are now looking landwards to a change in the urbanscape.  It is Ligurian and the buildings are plainer and there are complexes of greenhouses amidst the coastal settlements.  I imagine tomatoes.  Beyond San Remo which is a bit like Cannes to my eyes, we pass a beautiful city on a hill, Imperia.  It is early evening when we tip up at the marina in Loano.  The marina complex is lavish and Fefe says she is sure it was built with Mafia money.  However funded the facilities are excellent and I take a very welcome shower before we go ashore to eat.

We fetch up at Vittorino’s, a restaurant Francois and Fefe remember from previous visits.  We eat a delicious meal then wander back to the boat.  I turn on my iPad as the polls will shortly be closing in the UK.  I stay up long enough to be rattled by the first results from Newcastle and Sunderland.  The ghastliness of it all will unfold overnight.

Notes from Venice and Pictures from an Exhibition, and others………

In October we went to Venice to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  We had a pleasant flight with Easy Jet then had to wait a long time for a water taxi to take across from the airport to the Vaporetto stop for our rented apartment.  This we found easily although we had something of a pantomime with the keys to the main and apartment doors.  Just before the alley leading to our building we had found that a restaurant along the Fondamento beneath our building would serve us some dinner at 11 p.m.   So I waited for the appointed table and we decided to offload the large bag before eating.  After several minutes Nick returned with the bag to say the key would not work in the main door so, I nipped back and found that it would.  He then went back only to return and say that there were two flats on the top floor and the key would match neither door.  I nipped back and returned to say that indeed there was only one flat on the top floor and the keyhole looked good.  He returned and discovered he had been trying to access no.2533A instead of no. 2533………..  That first meal we ate in Venice was a treat of a mixed fish platter washed down with Prosecco.  We repeated the experience later in the week.

Most days we just walked.  We planned a route before leaving the apartment, taking in various galleries, museums and buildings of note such as the Campanile.  When the bells were tolled just above our heads in the tower it was such an alarming noise that I only just managed to hang onto my iPad which I was holding outside the large-meshed safety grill in order to take pictures.  During the week we crossed and recrossed the Rialto Bridge and the bridge adjacent to the Railway Station as we explored different quarters of the city.  We loved the Natural History Museum with its artistic and highly visually appealing displays in traditional cabinets.  There were no electronic interactive exhibits or gadgets of any kind.

One day we took a Vaporetto to the Lido which was something of a damp squib as we had hoped to walk to the beach, which in the event we never did find.  Another day we went to Murano, the island in the Venice lagoon which is renowned for its Glassmaking.  So many shops offer a range of glass products ranging from the miniature glass animals to huge and gorgeous chandeliers, and from the gaudy and tacky to the stylish and exquisitely tasteful.  We looked in many shops and were finally tempted by a very pretty glass cuttlefish which now resides in St Vaast.  This was to be our anniversary present in place of a gondolier ride down the Grande Canale for which Nick had no appetite.

We ate some wonderful meals, the most memorable of which was Taglioni con scampi et fragole.  This I must recreate back home.  The combination of scampi and strawberries is amazingly good because it is such an unlikely combination.

Each day we returned to the apartment at the end of the afternoon to download emails by hijacking a local broadband connection.  Such intervals were sporadic and short-lived.  We spent time on the sofa and I read my way through Wolf Hall then started another title on my Kindle.  We ate out each evening except the last when we picked up some delicious savouries to share before packing for an early start.

I think there is nothing I could say about the magic of Venice that has not been said before.  We enjoyed our week utterly and took photos galore.  Here are some of them:

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Feasts for the Eyes: Renaissance and Modern

We’ve got two full days to spend in Venice.  Luckily we are with friends who’ve been here before.  After breakfast, we take a vaporetto across to St Marks Square and cut up through some of the narrow streets and alleyways.  We are making our way north across the city to the Grand Canal frontage by the Rialto Bridge.

As with most cities which become tourist centres of the first order there is a mix of low-end trinket stores and middle-market-to-upscale boutiques lining the principal Mercerie running north between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.  More expensive clothing and gift boutiques can be window-shopped on the Calle Larga XXII Marzo which runs west of Piazza San Marco to the Accademia.

Venice is uniquely famous for local crafts that have been produced here for centuries and are hard to get elsewhere: the glassware from Murano, the lace from Burano, and the famous Carnevale masks made of papier-mâché which are offered in numerous botteghe.
As it starts to rain we decide to shelter and take coffee.  A canalside restaurant is willing to give us a table outside under the awning even though we are not taking lunch.  We sit and watch the water traffic: a gondola bearing a bride and groom complete with their photographer, and a bit later, another gondola bearing a coffin.  We linger over a second cup of coffee then trickle our way back along to an alley where we had spotted a small trattoria.
It looks less formal than a restaurant with a simple board rather than a printed menu, casual but busy service and modestly priced primo and secondi plates served from large bowls on the counter and in the window.  There is one table for 4 remaining and we have the impression that our lunching companions are regular clientele at their lunch hour.
After lunch we walk west, through the area of emporia.  There is a shop selling ornate silver- and pewter-ware and a one selling Italian majolica pottery, closed for lunch, but which I’d hope to refind on a return visit.
Crossing a small bridge we arrive at the Accademia.  The guide book tells us that there are 500 years of Venetian art exhibited here and that the finest works in the collection are housed in rooms 3, 4 and 5.  Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian and Tintoretto: the roll-call of painters is illustrious.  There are a number of paintings of the holy mother and child and the one I particularly like is Bellini’s Madonna degli Alberelli.
It’s all too much to take in and appreciate in an afternoon and as I walk around I pick up some of the printed commentaries which are intended to elucidate the paintings.  But I can’t help feeling it would be lovely to be accompanied by a knowledgeable companion, like my niece Briony, to really gain an insight into the themes and meanings of the pictures, and techniques employed by the artists to create their great masterpieces.

Crossing the Adriatic

On the morrow there are customs formalities because we are leaving Croatia, bound for Venice.   We all go ashore to present our passports and Carolyn and I buy some bread and dried figs.  These are pale and dry, quite different (and rather nicer in my view) from the dark, greasy looking figs you buy in packets at the supermarket.

I am busying in my cabin when I hear the engine start up and we are very soon heading for open water.  A queasy wave runs through me and I need to go up on deck.  It’s not a brilliant day weatherwise and although the swell is not as severe as that experienced earlier in the passage, the combination of that and the wind direction in relation to the course on which we are set creates an unpleasant motion.  It’s a 7-hour crossing that we face so I adopt a belt and braces approach, swallowing 2 Stugeron and wearing my wrist bands.  I tuck myself up under the dodger with a warm jacket, my sunhat pulled firmly down and snooze with the warm sun on my bare legs.

Come lunch-time I am ready for a cuppa soup and a salad roll then go below for a sleep.  They wake me when we enter the Canal of Chioggia but it takes me a good while to pull myself round.  I feel somewhat drugged (and blame the sickness pills).  We have entered the Venice lagoon at its southern end and Chioggia, which is close to Padua on the Po River Delta and situated on a two small islands (900x200m), is at this southern entrance.  The two islands are separated by the ‘main drag’, the Canale Vena.  We are about 25 km south of Venice (50 km by road); causeways connect Choggia to the mainland. The population is around 25,000.

Once we are tied up to the quay there is time for Bucks Fizz in the cockpit and I am beginning to rally round.  We then face a walk into Choggia to seek out a restaurant called El Gato (the Cat) which specialises in fish.  It turns out to be rather pricey but this is our shout to treat the Derricks.  Sadly when I have my platter of grilled seafood placed before me I find I have no appetite for it and a general feeling of unwellness.  Fortunately my companions help me out but we have to leave the restaurant abruptly, to the consternation of the staff, none of whom speaks English, and therefore believe that we are not happy.  Despite an attempt at miming the problem we end up leaving some perplexed Italians behind.

Carolyn takes my temperature and we find it is a bit elevated and I’ve no idea whether this is an effect of the sun, although I was never fully out in it, or a virus.  I’m better the next day and before we head for Venice we go ashore again to explore Chioggia a bit more and visit the Museum (unfortunately closed that day) which houses archaeological finds and describes the works that are being carried out to save the settlements in the Venice lagoon from flooding.

Chioggia retains its traditional role as a fishing and port city, with tourism now also an important part of the local economy.  Chioggia is a miniature version of Venice although not quite so illustrious.  But it gives us a taste of a town which arose from marshland and whose principal thoroughfares are waterways.  After lunch on board we start the passage north to Venice itself.