Monday, July 06, 2015

Living the dream, kind of

© Simon Poulter 2015

It is hot. Very hot. Past-the-point-of-caring-about-continuously-sweating hot.

I have taken leave of my senses, and taken leave from Paris, where it is also stupidly hot, to come to Tuscany. Where it is hot. Sorry if I've already told you, but it's possible that, in the second it has taken me to think about this next sentence, I have suffered acute heat stroke, or even an actual stroke, and am now rendered unable to remember what I typed less than a minute ago.

So, you may be interested to know that it is ridiculously hot. Officially, though, it is not as hot as it was in Paris last Wednesday when the temperature reached 38 degrees in new money. But despite the Yahoo! digital weather vane informing me that it is currently a mere 32 degrees, the ravine of perspiration cascading South down my spine and into the unknown lends me to think that it is actually hotter here than the apparently hotter Paris. I've been lied to. In fact I would complain, but I really can't be arsed. It is that hot.

I have a weird relationship with Italy. I love it, its people, its culture, its history, its art, its food [obvs], its wine, much of its football, some of its cars but few of its motorists, none of its politics, and I'm saying nothing about "those friends of ours" and what they do to blight ordinary lives in too many places.

As a rule I try and avoid coming to Italy when it is so hot you can't wiggle your big toe without needing another shower and change of clothes. But then sometimes you can't avoid it, and even when you do your utmost to dodge the warm season, human impact on the climate means that if you're visiting in October, when it should be autumnal, it is still feral hot.

Of course, I am being utterly useless and, indeed, utterly British. Lucca - where I will be for the next three days - is like any other urbanity on the Italian peninsular, populated by people who are clearly genetically disposed to coping with the temperature.

© Simon Poulter 2015
Lucca is also a stunningly beautiful, medieval walled town, with a labyrinth of narrow streets, and in its interior, charming, shaded restaurants where the wine is exquisitely chilled and accompanied by agua minerale frizzante so refreshing it looks like sparkling jewels in the glass. Yeah, try not getting poetic over a glass of bubbly water when you're here.

There are other clear signs you're in Italy. The heat, clearly (have I mentioned that yet?), but also the usual abundance of callow youths going about their business on motorini, and the veritable jukebox of ringtones that people seem to load up their phones with.

Italy has given the world great innovations - from inventing the ambulance to discovering heart disease - and yet somewhere in the midst of this creative gene pool is an incurable need to communicate and organise how communications must be received. Italians love their mobile phones, and on the evidence of my lunch today, no social encounter between two people seems complete without both of them nattering away on mobiles to other, vacant parties while sat in front of each other.

And there is the crux of Italian life: the noise, the expression, the engagement. Brits might consider a Saturday night out at their local trattoria the pinnacle of their weekly social calendar, but then spend it in silence prodding away at their iPhones, or Candy Crush or whatever it is we do to avoid eye contact and conversation.

But, strangely, when Brits come to Tuscany, they make a lot of noise. But that's only because they are invariably middle-aged investment bankers from Hampstead who've driven down in the family Jag - straw Panama on the back parcel shelf, of course - to spend a couple of weeks in Chiantishire barking haughtily at the offspring, almost exclusively named Toby and Arabella.

If you come here for peace and quiet for your holiday, forget it. Amongst the locals, even a simple Monday lunch is a riot of noise and hand-waving. And I love that. As all Italophiles know, that's where the beating heart of Italy lies. It's not in the food, or the art in the Uffizi, but in the disorder and wonderful chaos of Italy, that thigh-length boot of paradoxes and contradictions, cultural highs and socio-economic lows, Da Vinci and Berlusconi, and coffee that smacks you in the throat.

Oh, and summer heat. Searing summer heat. My God, it's hot here...

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