Thursday, 12 July 2018

Cue Canned Heat “On The Road Again”

This is going to be long, and is retrospective (we're back).

Airports are fascinating, repellent, exciting, horrid places.

I love the airport.

I loathe the airport.

So many people, so much happening, so much hope and anticipation.

So many people treated like cosseted cattle, to be herded, fed and amused while in transit.

There’s a large rotating screen above us in Gatwick North terminal, showing luridly coloured adverts for Wagamama (the egg, oozing jaundiced-yellow goo when it’s cut open is stomach churning, although the frying bacon looks good). A boring picture of a black Tom Ford perfume bottle on a hot-pink background,  picture of a ‘sexy’ girl in a pilot-style dress for the TV program Love Island (available through ITV Hub that I first misread as pornhub) a topless bloke in a car wearing sunglasses for RayBan (he’s pulling a duckface, rather than being cool). The only ad that actually looked good was for the GoPro travel camera showing well crafted shots of fascinating places and people having good times.

There’s a black family sat across from us. She’s gone off (shopping?) and the father and son are passing the time together while they wait for a flight. A slim girl in the distance wearing thin trousers and displaying an unfeasibly wobbly bottom walks across the concourse. Everywhere are people pulling bags, people in shorts, wearing tee shirts, sun tops and shorts. There’s a queue to buy raffle tickes to win a sports car that’s on display in the middle of the floor. There are women in Islamic dress, covered from head to toe, guys in uniform or wearing dayglo vests to show workman status, young people, old people, smart people scruffy people.

There’s a temptation to take pictures, but I’m here to travel and not feeling creative that way.

High up on the mezzanine there are restaurants and bars, feeding the heaving thronging masses: Pret, You sushi, Wagamama, Jamie Oliver, while down below is all the nominally duty-free merchandise.

It’s an unreal world of fake materialism to make people feel good & buy stuff, while dealing with the need to move people through. In some ways it reminds me of trips to Houston, especially visiting the mall at Webster with any and everything available to purchase or staying at the Residence Inn at Clearlake, where it was like living in someone’s luxury home, but never yours.

A few years back we saw a film with Tom Hanks, where his character was stuck in an airport for an extended period, not able to either fly away nor to enter the country in which the film was based. I wonder what it would be like to live in that environment, suspended between worlds and trapped in a marketing dream.

And yet I love travelling.

There’s an anticipation when you’re in the airport, an excitement for what’s coming, seeing new places, meeting new people, visiting lands only seen in photos or film, eating foods that aren’t available at home. I have a slight sense of shame in that, jaded traveller that I am, there’s no longer the same level of excitement when the plane takes off, and I often almost fall asleep in the first 20min onboard.

Having easily walked and waited through in the usual way, the plane we’re on is an Easyjet operated job, from Gatwick to Ancona on the eastern coast of Italy. It’s not exactly luxurious (there’s barely space to write on a small laptop) but it’s so much less uncomfy than they used to be. While you do have to pay to book seats, at least that’s stopped the scrum to be at the front of the queue to board. 2 rows in front of us there’s a couple wearing pointy multicoloured party hats. I have no idea why, but there’s lots of ‘heads close together’ so I guess they’re pleased to be where they are. ;-)

At the airport we should be collecting a car for the drive up to Lisciano near the Sibillini mountains. There’s a minor amount of trepidation when settling into driving in another country for the first few minutes, not least because of learning to drive on the ‘other’ side, and also because road rules and signs vary from place to place. In Spain a couple of years back it appeared as if there were areas of major road with 40kph limits, just because the signage was unfamiliar to us. So in Italy motorway signs are green and normal signs blue – the opposite of the UK.

And then there’s the challenge of changing gear with the door handle. :-p

This trip is a holiday, but it’s also work. We’re visiting the Marche region of Italy so that I can take pictures of a neighbours house and the area around it. They wanted photos that give a sense of depth and perspective to the area, and, I hope, I can provide that. This area is also close to the region hit hard by earthquakes last year (January 2017) with several villages being effectively destroyed. I’m hoping to capture some of that in a sympathetic, rather than voyeuristic way.

I’ve heard the fields around Castellucio can be full of wild flowers at this time of year. Yup, anticipation is running strongly right now.

And here we are.

Having written that, it’s hard to think what to say next, exactly, since the day has been full of new things.

Getting off the plane at Ancona airport was like walking into a cool sauna, with the temperature around 29 Celsius and very high humidity, giving the gentle breeze a soft feeling on my skin. We tropical-walked to the terminal from the plane, grateful for the cool air inside, despite the pleasure of being in the open a moment ago.

Passport control was OK, ditto luggage collection, collecting the hire car etc. We got in and drove out of the airport.

And didn’t have a clue where to go.

Place names of road signs didn’t help, and although we knew we needed the A14, we did not want to go to Bologna, which was the one option offered. Pulling into a petrol station off the main road, I discovered that although my phone was happy to make calls, it resolutely refused a data connection, declaring I had exceeded an arbitrary internal limit. More later.

Oh toss.

Fortunately Chris’s WinPho DID manage a data connection and satnav, but without providing any kind of map or visual route, and in just under an interesting 2 hours later (we got stuck behind what appeared to be a travelling circus doing about 20kph on a steep bendy section) we found ourselves at the house, up in the mountains.

Our friends had bought the place in 2003, only to have their first builder knock it down (not in their plan) and then gradually rebuild it over the next 5 years or so. When they acquired it the place was in a terrible state, and they’ve done an amazing job. It’s not been lived in much recently, and although pretty damp from being closed up & natural high humidity + being partly into a hillside, wasn’t at all bad.

The house is sited 2km down a dirt road that had us questioning whether we’d understood the instructions at first, and considering the size of the drop on one side, we were glad not to meet anything coming the opposite way.

Having unpacked & explored a little we were driven by hunger to re-visit the nearest town and poke holes in our personal comfort.


Great language. We don’t speak it. Prego.

So after a brief wander round the town we found the Bar Tuxedo open and serving food. On the principle that they want to sell us food & drink, and a willing attitude and cheerful demeanour go a long way, we asked for menus, ordered pasta and pizza plus drinks & sat outside to wait. It wasn’t too difficult really, but it’s just a bit of a challenge when you can’t communicate easily.

Every country has its own smell. This part of Italy smells of pine trees, incense, vegetation and ancient buildings. It pervades the place we’re staying, the air in the town and the countryside around abouts. It smells of old churches and pine-fringed beaches, of building sites and quarries. It’s a good smell, but characteristic, just like Stockholm smelling of chipped flints on the first occasion I visited.

So we got our food.

Carbonara was more yellow than expected, but tasted good, rather like roasted meats. Chris’s pizza was less pleasing, because it was basically Margharita instead of the buffalo mozzarella and tuna she had ordered. coffees came & went and then we paid.

A quick after-dark wander round the town told us there were lots of interesting parts to the old quarter, plus some new buildings built onto the river including the town hall that were a real carbuncle – a brutalist blot on the landscape that couldn’t be more out of keeping with the town if it was made from glass and chrome. But it was fronted by the town hall façade. We also found a low-flying stag beetle, which we carefully avoided (if you’ve never seen the nippers on one then you won’t understand).

And then finally back again.

We were followed out of town by a car that kept with us all the way up through the hills, turning off twice onto small roads. In the end I found a gap & pulled over to let them past just before turning down the track to this place. They paused behind us & then went past. I have no idea what that was about, if anything more than coincidence.

Now (11.20pm local time) is probably a good time to turn in.

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