James Miller


Friday, February 29, 2008

The Backstreets of Naples


Was it Peter Sarstedt, who wrote the Backstreets of Naples, with the line, "Where did you go to my lovely?"? (Should that sentence have a double question mark? My father would have known.) I've been singing the song and asking that question of myself and about Celia as I've been wandering those backstreets, in what is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.

The streets may be dirty, graffiti-strewn, covered in rubbish and blighted by parked cars, but they are alive. And at the moment that is important to me.

Call me boring, but I've just seen two working Heidelbergs. So now we know what happens to them! One I suspect was older than me!

But the shops are more interesting in a way than Florence or Venice as they sell different things, that may or may not be aimed at tourists like me. I have bought a few little presents of paper and clips, that I thought simple and sweet. They also fit into my limited luggage space!

In the middle of it all is the Duomo, which is magnificent in a light marble, with all of the usual art. But why oh why, do they have electric candles where you put money in a slot and a light goes on. Now that is really tacky and not worthy of the rest of the cathedral.

But I also bought a cappucino for a euro in a little cafe in those back streets. It was delicious.

Lost in Naples


Not this time as the city seems to really have maps everywhere and there is also a Metro, which I'm not sure was here, when Celia and I visited about twenty years ago.

We came in a different style, as I was still flying myself about in DD, which was a Cessna 340A. I seem to remember we did Southend to Naples in one hop and it took about six hours of flying and that was at altitude; legal in France and illegal in Italy. But then Italy can be rather relaxed about some rules.

We eventually stayed in the Hotel Excelsior on the front, which was highly noisy in those days, as cars raced up and down all night.

I say eventually, as that was when we really got lost, trying to find the centre of Naples in a hire car. We ended up miles away, very tired and on the point of divorce. Well possibly not, but then she would be the first to admit that she could be a bit volatile. So could I!

We moved on to the Amalfi coast and I have no idea where we stayed, but I do remember we came home early, as Secret Freedom was going to run in possibly the Cherry Hinton at Newmarket.

But then we had the most monumental job getting fuel for the plane at Naples Airport and as they wouldn't let us go high, we ended up having to refuel at Cannes.

In some ways I don't regret not having a plane, as it may have brought some wonderful moments, but I did get a lot of rubbish from ground staff and air traffic controllers. It must be a lot worse now.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Tie from Celia


To Celia, Ferragamo was the best.

So I bought a tie there for myself from her, as possibly a last present. But knowing her, she may have something up her sleeve.

Candles for Celia


I wasn't religious although I'd sung in a church choir. Celia hadn't been either for mnay years although she'd been a Sunday School teacher and we'd been married in the same church where Elvis had his memorial service in the UK. Incidentally, Elvis died on my birthday in 1977. Was it that long ago?

But I've lit a few candles for Celia this holiday, as it's helped.

We're strange being aren't we?

Proceeding Along


My legs are tired after the go-karting on Sunday and then three days of continuous walking around first Venice in the cold and now Florence in the not so cold.

I actually proceed in cities, as I want to take it all in.

One of the ushers at our wedding all of those years ago, was a Police Constable and he told me what proceeding was. It's a slow pace, that takes you effortless up the street from place to place, whilst you observe what is going on. Think the titles on the Bill, where the two policeman walk in step to the music.

I think it was the late great Kenneth Williams, who in a comedy sketch as a policeman, said that he was proceeding up the High Street in a northerly direction. He then added that this was difficult because the High Street ran east to west.

But that is what I have been doing. Just wandering and observing without a guide book and in Venice I didn't bother with a map. There are always signs to the Rialto, St. Marks, the Vaporetti or other familiar places, so you can't get lost. And there aren't any nasties in plastic macs, such as haunted Julie Christie in Don't Look Now!

You spot things and smile. Perhaps, you had a nice meal there or perhaps Celia bought some clothes or shoes there. Florence it was always shoes or handbags! But they are always good memories.

Or if they weren't they were funny ones! Perhaps a meal that was so awful, it was good. But I can't remember any of the latter in Venice, although I did get glutened once.

As I proceed I graze. Typically, this will be a cappacino, a water or some ham, tomato, melon or other tasty snack. They are so much tastier here. And so less formal. And always I can be sure of the gluten.

Celia and I used to do this grazing too.

We also used to comment on what people were wearing. Not that in Florence and Venice, it wasn't nearly awlays complimentary. Our family phrase, was "Mutton dressed as mutton", which we both thought terribly obvious and could never understand why it never turned up in comedy except once on Allo, Allo, years after we'd started to use it. Perhaps, I should send it to Nigel Rees on Quote Unquote.

Now, I still observe the ladies. Celia knows I will and told me as much to continue to do so a few weeks before she died. But it's slightly different, as whereas, we'd say that's a nice dress, coat or jumper and Celia would like something like it! Now I tend to think, I want one. And it isn't the clothes.

But then, she told me to move on.

I suppose for myself, it's female company I miss. Most of my friends seem to be women and many are widowed. Those that aren't are very happily married. But you can't have late night cuddles, giggles and jokes to end a day on a high note with someone on the phone.

But still watching the eye candy of an Italian city is some sort of compensation.

In any city, I always find one and Florence has been no exception. Every city has its Original Heidelberg, just like the ones my father had and I used to mind. These venerable machines were the lifeblood of the printing industry until about the 1960s, but like classic literature they refuse to die. The one I found was doing what they do best and continuing to print letterheads and postcards. They are also good at numbering, embosing, scoring and cutting things, which is one of the reasons they still exist. (I remember embarassing the curator and a load of German school-children in the Science Museum in Berlin, by expounding my thoughts and memories of the machines.)

I must go to Heidelberg. After all it is twinned with Cambridge.

This morning I had one of those surprises, that should be less so.

I wanted to go to Santa Croce, as it has the tomb of Galileo, but I was early, so I walked into the centre and passed a museum that I'd not visited before. It is the Museo del Bargello and has the usual art and history well laid out as most museums do in this part of Italy.

But they were cleaning Donatello's statue of David. This is perhaps lifesize and much smaller than the magnificent Michaelangelo, that stands in three places in the city.

But they weren't cleaning it in some hidden away laboratory, they had laid the status down in the gallery and doing it there with solvents and lasers.

Fascinating! Museums should do this more.

Finally, I got to Santa Croce, paid my respects and then wandered into an exhibition of prints by a famous Italian print maker. I didn't write down his name, as I was so excited to see his press.

Not just any proofing press, but one similar to my father's on which I used to print posters for him in the 1950s and 60s. Sadly, this one was undated and I was unable to be sure of the make or age, as no-one was around. But then, my father was proud of his, as it was dated something like 1780, which made it much older than nearly all you find either working or in museums.

Don't laugh, but many small printers have proofing presses that date to the middle eighteen hundreds. Now that was engineering.

I will continue my proceeding, grazing and observing. Perhaps down to Science Museum by the Arno, across the Ponte Vecchio and into the parks on the other side of the river. I'll return by Ferragamo and the duomo.

The Power of Adverts


I just found this company called LifeLite in the adverts to my blog.

I will check and report later.

No Passion at the Circus Maximus


Yesterday, Fiorentina played Livorno in Seria A and I went along for the experience.

You might think that football is football and to a certain extent the game is, but the trappings seem to vary very much from country to country.

For a start getting a ticket is not easy. So perhaps getting a ticket for Manchester United or Arsenal is difficult, but if you want to go to say Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Wigan or Leicester, it's usually a matter of turning up, putting the appropriate amount of hard-earned notes into the hand of a man with a turnstile lever and you're in.

Not so in Italy.

To get a ticket, I had to go to a bar nearby the stadium and present my passport, which was then photocopied and entered into the computer. Only then did I get a ticket, which was fully security and bar-coded. (I should say that to use the Internet in a cafe here, you have to produce an ID card or a passport. I'm not too pleased about that! One does have standards doesn't one!)

I turned up about half-an-hour before kick-off and passed a trail of chuck-wagons that were much more Italy than Portman Road. I suspect that even as a coeliac, I could have found something nice and tasty, like a plate of ham, cheese and tomatoes. There weren't many burgers and chips to be seen.

And then there was the security!

Lots of it and I needed my passport again. Although one guy who was supposed to search me gave up, when in my Ipswich Town hat, I pointed to the badge and said Inglesi, because I couldn't understand what he wanted me to do. So much for security.

The ground was extraordinary and hence my calling of it the Circus Maximus, as it was just the shape of a Roman chariot racetrack. I sat along one side, by the goal-line with all of the pitch to my right. The stand I was in, went perhaps seventy of so seats to my left. My view of the other end wasn't good, but what theirs was like I do not care to comtemplate.

At both ends were vast semi-circular bankings, with Fiorentina supporters to my left and Livorno's in the far distance at the right. I would estimate that the top of the banking at my left was about seventy metres from the goal-line.

So much for a good view! But at least the opposing supporters were well apart.

There was also a lot of different details in the preliminaries to the match. There were no mascots, a very formal handshake and it appeared that the toss had already been performed. Well! I never saw it.

As to the match itself, it wasn't as skillfull or as slow, as I had been led to expect. There were no announcements and the stadium despite showing large numbers of adverts didn't appear to have a clock.

Oh! And Fiorentina won one-nil. At least I saw the goal well, as it was scored at my end.

Everton are going to the Circus Maximus next week or the week after. I hope that Fiorentina play as sloppily as they did last night.

Fingers crossed for the Toffees.

Thinking of Goodison, Fratton Park, White Hart Lane and all those other stadia he designed and built, Engineering Archie will be turning in his grave at the awful design of the Circus Maximus.

Underestimating the Underwear


Well not really the underwear, as I reckon that as I'm by myself, I can make a pair of pants do two days.

But the socks.

I didn't bring enough white ones for my trainers. I guess I'll just have to get them washed or buy another pair.

But then I don't really have enough space in my backpack for a few more pairs.

Wash them myself? Moi!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is it Art?


I've just been round the Uffizi and have been struck, by how once you've seen one Death of a Saint or Christ on the Cross, you've seen them all. Or am I being a Philistine?

Now, when you see something, which is informative as well as being art, then that is different. I looked at the Canaletto of Venice for some minutes and compared it with my views of yesterday, as I returned to the Doges Palace on a vaparetto. The portraits are interesting too, as they put faces to history or give a another dimension to how people live.

And then there are the nudes!

Now, I sometimes wonder if a lot were painted for tittilation of those who commissioned them. Wasn't it Hancock who said something similar about this? He may have done, but only him and Kenneth Williams could pronounce bosoms in that way.

At least one was actually called Nuda.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Friends in Funny Places


Whether that is the right title for this piece, but I need to write down the story of last night, as it might be significant in my new life at the age of 60. I would hope to put it in my book on my travels.

Twice in my life, I've been alone in a city, perhaps feeling down, lonely and perhaps a little depressed and something extraordinarily positive has happened to lift my spirits. I should say that mild depression often goes with being a coeliac and especially if you are undiagnosed.

The first time, I was in a hotel in Baltimore. It was probably in about 1975 and I'd perhaps had a bit too much too drink and was getting a bit Bolshi. I couldn't have been that bad though, as I remembered the tale and especially the bit about a lady from that city who called herself a Baltimoron. Her words not mine. This American was going on about how they had won the Second World War and if there's anything that gets my goat it's that, as I can be a bit of a patriot, but I'm much more of a seeker after the truth. We didn't win it alone, but the war was won on a collective effort, where a large number of countries, races and creeds all played their part.

My premise was that the war was effectively won by the Battle of Britain. Does anybody other than me remember the French documentary on that battle, made perhaps for the 25th anniversary in 1965, where the French said we were selfish to call it that? They believed it should have been called the Battle of Europe, as if the RAF and their allies had lost, then everything would have been over for the continent.

So by winning the Battle of Britain, we held the line long enough for Hitler to make his mistake of attacking Russia and for the Japanese to bring America into the war at Pearl Harbor.

My father, who had been some sort of advisor to Beaverbrook in the War, had also told me that if we'd lost then the Americans would have washed their hands of Britain.

It was a forlorn argument against four or five Americans and I wasn't doing well, although I can usually keep my end up in that sort of contest.

And then there was the dramatic intervention, by an elderly man at the end of the bar. He looked very much like Colonel Sanders, with the certain sort of bearing that senior officers in the armed services often have. (They also clean their shoes better, than us riff-raff!) He introduced himself as a man, who had worked with Roosevelte before and in the early years of the war.

He just said that the Englishman is right and wished us all a good night.

I slept well and from that day on a lonely trip turned into a very happy one.

Now last night, I was cold, but thankfully not wet, and missing Celia terribly as I walked the streets. I was however looking forward to dinner in a fish restaurant by the Rialto Bridge. As I write this I've forgotten the name, but it was small with perhaps ten tables and lots of pictures of the owner, his father and grandfather on the walls. You know the type of restaurant.

As I sat down to drink a complimentary glass of prosecco, the familiar tones of John Lennon's harmonica quietly filled the room. It was Love Me Do. I thought for a moment, perhaps shed a small tear and then smiled. One by one the tunes came through.

They knew I was a celiachai and I had carpaccio or Saint Pietro followed by some exquisite tuna. The waitress, asked if I was OK with the music after I had told her the story seeing the Beatles in 1964 at Hammersmith, meeting Celia in Liverpool in 1968 and her death a few months ago. I said yes and more songs followed.

Included was We Can Work It Out and it may sound trite, but I must.

Perhaps about ten, I'd finished the meal and was expecting to go, but somehow I got invited by the waitress and her friends from University to talk and share a few drinks.

I shall always be grateful to those four students, as we talked through the problems of the world and tried to put things to rights. I'm too old to have much effect now, but they just might.

Just like I smile when I think of Baltimore, I shall now always remember those students in that restaurant in Venice.