Saturday, October 13, 2007


A quick diary of my trip back to the UK:

Let’s start with arriving at Catania on Wednesday 3rd: I always get off the bus at the airport as it’s easier to find a taxi there than at the town stop when you are laden with luggage. “50 €”, declared the driver when we arrived at my hotel. “That”, I informed him, “seems a lot to me. I live here and I know what the prices should be.” “Oh, 30 €, then”, said he, apologetically, then shook my hand but still looked as if he was expecting a tip. What he got was a lecture about not judging by appearances: “I may be pale and blonde but I am neither unfluent in Italian nor stupid”, said I and with that I swept off. Hopefully he’ll be more careful next time! Silly man – had he asked for 30 or even 40 € in the first place I’d have given him 10 more, as I was in a benign, holiday mood. Then a wander around Catania, a city which has always treated me kindly, in the evening and back for a wonderful meal in the hotel restaurant: You see it above, beginning with an orange salad flavoured with fennel, dressed with olive oil and garnished with anchovies and toast. No, I still don’t eat fish and could have ordered it without, but I wanted to see how they would use the anchovies. This is such a simple idea and so easy to copy. I don’t normally care for fennel, though it is much beloved of the Sicilians, often, in season, taking the place of fruit at the end of a meal, for it does clear the palate. I do like it like this, though. As a second course I partook of veal scaloppine served with a mushroom sauce and finally treated myself to this semifreddo of almonds. I seem to be known at the hotel now, so got my liqueur and coffee free, which sort of made up for the naughty taxi driver! One thing that struck me was that I see the same maître d'hôtel and other waiting staff there year after year; there doesn’t seem , in hotels at any rate here, to be the quick staff turnover that we have in Britain.

Next day at the airport you could, as ever, immediately tell who was British, for the women wore clothes of understated elegance – every one of them dressed at least partly in beige – whilst the men seemed ill at ease in the lighter apparel of late summer. And however well turned out, British women don’t “walk tall", telling the world they know they look good in the way that Italian women do. I also noticed the impatience of the British, strutting around as if we still ruled the waves and some even turning quite nasty when told that an airport shop would not open before 8 am. A couple of years ago that would have annoyed me too but now I look on with amusement and pazienza. Help! I might be acquiring the latter!! There is a smart new terminal at Catania: it lacks places to sit before you go through security and there is no bookshop after the x-ray machine but otherwise it is a much better place to wait in than the old one, apart from the facts that the bar has nothing remotely recognisable to a Brit, American or even a Frenchman as breakfast fare and they have started to charge for trolleys. Why?! If the busiest airports in the world can survive without introducing such a fee, I don’t see the necessity at Fontanarossa. Where do they think anyone is going to take the unwieldy things?

The flight was on time and I got my Cardiff bus but, with the Laurel and Hardy of National Express driving, although we left Gatwick on time, we were 45 minutes late out of Heathrow, for Messrs L & H weren’t very good at checking who had reservations and who was on standby. Bring back the dragon hostesses, who were “jobsworths” as far as what hand baggage you took on board but who would have sorted this in an instant! Then we hit the traffic so it was 7pm before I could text my friend Christabelle, with whom I was to stay, with the magic word, “bridge!” [meaning crossing into Wales] and I was an hour late getting to her – and a gin and tonic. [You can see Chris and me in picture 9.]

The first thing I noticed in Britain was how much closer to you the clouds seem and the second was the tapestry of green. Yes, I cried! And I also cried at the majesty of Caerphilly Castle [near Christabelle’s house] and I unashamedly offer you a photo of it in the middle of a blog about Sicily.

On Friday I walked around Cardiff, took a photo of an English breakfast for Raffaele the hairdresser, who doesn’t believe my description of one, and neither, come to think of it, does Gina, who, although she has spent plenty of time in the UK, asked me the day before I left if we ate “fresh green” beans in the morning. John Dickie is correct when he writes, in Delizia, that "the very notion of frying anything so early in the day is enough to make most Italian stomachs turn". Then I met a friend who, arriving in her car, asked, “Where do you want to go?” “Tesco!” said I.

Saturday brought the highlight of my trip and the real reason why I went at all: the annual Cheltenham Literary Festival. I had to get up at 5am in order to get there in time for the midday lecture I had booked as there was railway engineering work between Gloucester and Cheltenham causing delays. Here the true genius of the British is revealed : stage a prestigious event and then ensure maximum difficulty for the travelling public in getting to it. The talk was by Germaine Greer - I hear you groaning now, James! – and as mornings and I don’t get on I was not a happy bunny, until she spoke, that is. I can honestly say she is the best speaker I have ever heard, on any subject, anywhere and it was well worth the effort to attend. She has written a book on Mrs Shakespeare, to whom she believes history has been unfair. After that, I wandered around elegant Cheltenham, bought a few more books in the tents and had lunch in an Italian – of course! – restaurant. This was pleasant and reasonably priced for Britain, but I wondered why an Italian establishment listed pasta dishes under antipasti, unless it was to discourage the British from ordering them as a main course, which they never are in Italy. Then a rush back to Christabelle’s for dinner with friends there.

Sunday and I met a former teaching colleague for coffee – I am finding that I can no longer take the British “long” coffee or brodo [broth] as a friend here calls it – lunch and a shopping expedition. I was shocked to learn that so many of the people I worked with in one particular school have forms of cancer, have had breakdowns or are otherwise ill. I can only suppose that the stress of such a situation catches one up and I truly feel for all of them. How lovely it was, later, to read the papers as papers and not as online editions! The very process is so different.

Monday was the big day when I at last met Liz and Shirl [photos 6 and 7] and some of the details are already on our lunch blog [and it was clever Shirl who put the link to that in my sidebar!] I am going to post there again tomorrow. We got on famously, as I knew we would and I had a lovely time. Kind Shirl gave me the “make-up” fridge magnet which you see above, a little book of “friendship” quotations [in the last picture] and some chocs which I can’t show you – guess why?! I don’t know why but I navigated [with clear instructions from Shirl’s husband, Pete] Liz to Shirl’s place in Bristol, then got her lost back in Cardiff on the way to Penarth where I was to meet Christabelle and my former neighbours for supper! Sorry, Liz! This couple have just adopted a dear little girl of two and here’s a secret : I’m scared of 2-year-olds and the like, because I haven’t had children and was not used to little ones in my own family, so I don’t know what you’re supposed to say or do around them! Give me a hall of unruly teenagers, however, and I’d be fine. However, this little girl is especially delightful and has already learnt to say “Cheers – together!” so she is being well taught. My friends cooked me this stunning shepherd’s pie and had crumbled a little of the Sicilian oregano I had brought them into it. Just what I needed!

British early dining - although not as early as American evening meals – was a shock to my system throughout the trip, though. Here it is not unusual to dine as late as 10 or even 11pm and certainly no one would think of it before 9. That suits me, with my “owl’s blood” as my Dad used to call it.

On Tuesday I met my friend Jo the artist for a leisurely lunch in Cardiff and afterwards we wandered around Borders, where, the Dodos will be pleased to learn, Jo asked me, “Now, what book can I buy you for Xmas?” and I pointed to theirs. I’ve been wanting it for a while and I’m sure it will cheer up my winter. Jo had also brought me some more "Welsh" fridge magnets and you will see that they have joined the conglomeration on the door above. [That’s the best photo I could take – sorry.] In Borders I also bought an inflatable daffodil – how did I live without one for so long, I wonder? – and, as you see, I got my “Klippits” from Lakeland!

And suddenly that was the end, for I was travelling back to London for an overnight hotel stay on the Wednesday. [I can no longer do the midnight coach plus a 1200 mile flight plus a further 2 hours to get to Modica in one go.] I have to say the loo at Cardiff Bus Station remains disgusting: people grumble about the facilities here but, although some of the contraptions may lack a seat, they are not dirty. At Gatwick I noted, anew, the impatience of the British: “Huh! You wait around for 2 hours and then you have to spend 20 minutes walking to the gate”, huffed one of my compatriots when boarding was announced. I thought: “You are obviously fit and on holiday; you are going to a lovely place; what’s the matter with you?”

In Cardiff I even passed the man’s house several times on my way to and from from London and en route to other places: it doesn’t hurt any more and I’m not even sure I could pick out which one it is in the row now. It’s just a memory. "Forgive yourself", said Shirl on Monday and I rather think I will. I also managed to walk by what was my own house – or the building society’s – and it seemed somewhat forlorn. I could have coped with that better had the present occupier made some alterations to the outside!

The visit was tinged with sadness not only because of the former colleague situation I have mentioned, but because there is one friend who is not well and who has deteriorated so much that I fear I will not see her again. Admittedly, parting is always difficult, for who knows what the future holds for any of us? But it was a little harder to leave my father’s land this time.

However, it seems that in Britain, if al-Qaeda doesn’t get you, bedbugs on the London underground will, so on the whole I am glad to be back, with Simi, on my other island. I have returned to a temperature of 25 C but the women have decided it is autumn, apparel – wise, and I am glad of that. There just comes a moment when I want to don my blacks, shoes rather than sandals and tights! “Welcome home!” my kind neighbour who always brings me packs of mineral water when he visits the supermarket shouted from his balcony last night. “Do you need any water?” And at lunch time yesterday I was given a very big box of torroncini as a ben tornata present by the manager of the Altro Posto. Most importantly, Simi is here: I got into the apartment at 7.30 pm on Thursday, unpacked a bit, but then found myself wandering around sighing, “I want my baby!” until she arrived, as beautiful and as full of energy and wagginess as ever, at 8pm with “Mr Enzo”. Then I knew I was home! Oh, yes – I cried when I landed upon the soil of the “land of lands”, too!


Lee said...

A great post, Welsh. Feeling nostalgic and sad visiting "home" is neither unexpected nor wrong. Special memories of times past and of the people who played a part in it will always tug at one's heartstrings.

I often get sad when recalling places I've lived and people I've known. It's all part of the tapestry of this life we live. :)

I'm sure Simi's welcome wiped away your questioning and feelings of sorrow. She would have been so happy to have you back. :)

PinkAcorn said...

re Taxi man- You go girl !!!
Sounds like a super trip.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, loyal Lee! You are absolutely right, on both counts: the sadness is, after all, because the memories are "special" and Simi wiped it all away! Will be over to your blog later . x

jmb said...

I'm glad to hear all about this and that you had a wonderful time. Lovely descriptions of everything you did.
Are you going to annoy James but interest me with a more detailed post on La Greer's talk? I hope so.
I'm sure you were sad to see some of those familiar places, but it seems to me two years is the magic turning point when the new place begins to be home. This was what I found when I came here.

I always thought we were going back to live in Australia. That we were just here for two years. I went back for a visit then and I came home to Canada. Mind you, if I am overseas I still say I am Australian but I live in Canada. I think partly it's to explain the accent which is definitely not Canadian.
Hope you are feeling better soon.

GP said...

Ah Welshcakes - we'd gladly have provided you a copy of the book for free (in fact we still will, just email your details to - especially as your quote is on the cover. Apologies for the cock-up - we did ask the publishers to get in touch with you, but it looks like they didn't follow up.

Apologies again

Unpremeditated Dodo

sally in norfolk said...

Lovely to read...

Ellee Seymour said...

I am so delighted you stuck up for yourself with the taxi driver. The only time I was ripped off in America during a months trip was by a New York taxi driver. The second time another one tried it, I was wise to him.

So glad you enjoyed GG and met your lovely blogging friends. I thought the special blog they made was wonderful and a real tribute for the special person you are. I'm glad you caught up with your old friends, though sorry to hear about your former teaching colleagues and the other friend who is very ill.

Did you have to pay for excess baggage on your return home with all your new books?

It's lovely coming home to familiarity, your neighbour offering to buy your mineral water.

And to sweet Simi, of course.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, pink! I should have taken his number. Thanks for your good wished, jmb. I might post about GG! Yes, I did feel I was coming "home" to Sicily. Thanks, UPM. I would love to have another copy of the book - thank you. No need to apologise! Thanks, Sally. Hi, ellee. First time it has happened to me in Sicily. The place where it is really scandalous is Prague though I was lucky there. Glad you like the "Happiness" blog - that was clever Shirl's idea! No, I didn't have to pay excess, I am glad to say! Coming home to Simi was the best part!

Liz Hinds said...

Did Raffaele like his rugby shirt?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Liz. Yes, he was delighted! I am hoping to ctach him in it for a photo.

Anonymous said...

It was a pleasure to be part of your UK whirlwind tour, WL. Realy sorry you've been laid low this past week. Well done for writing this much!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I confess I had to force myself, Shirl! We did have a great time, didn't we?


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