Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 25 January 2015
Mise has been talking of holidays in the Algarve, Southern Portugal, and I compared my experience of lying next to an open sewer on a beach for a week, to her idyllic, sun-drenched, laughter-filled, halcyon days in the midst of picturesque, ochre-coloured villas surrounded by Mediterranean flowers. How many different worlds it is possible to inhabit at the same time.
In the middle of January, most Northern Hemispherical people start to dream and plan of escaping, and we are no exception. For a while, H.I. has been hankering after a particular area of Sicily made famous by de Lampedusa's 'The Leopard', but I have been having misgivings to do with what I suspect to be the actual reality of the place, which is quite unusual for me.
I think that - aside from de Lampedusa - the Italian detective series, 'Montalbano', has coloured her vision of the place, but when I watched the opening titles and credits rolling up over her shoulder the other day, I couldn't help noticing that Napoli seems to consist of a low mountain which has absolutely no space left to place another white-washed hovel on it, and - from the air - it looks as though its factories spread right down to the water's edge as well. The street scenes also make it clear that it would be even easier to get lost here than Venice, and it would be pointless to ask for a room with a view, unless you wanted an uninterrupted view of you nearest neighbour - your very near neighbour.
Good holidays always entail quite a lot of hard work, and are usually only appreciated as being good once you get home and start looking at the photos. The only exception to this was our trip to Havana, which was unremittingly good right from the moment we arrived - at two in the morning, to be served our first Moquito by a man high up in the Sevilla hotel.
I suppose that, by the time we arrived, they had already kicked out the hoards of gangsters and sent them over to Miami, but although you don't hear too much from the Mafia these days, I think that their spiritual home is still based in Sicily.
There was a spate of handbag-snatching from the backs of Lambrettas a few years ago, but this was low-life stuff and was unlikely to end up in finding a horse's head in your bed when you got back to the hotel. True gangsters tend to view tourists as civilians and therefore an almost legitimate source of income, so we have little to fear from them when on holiday. I am sure the handbag-snatchers were harshly dealt with by the Mob because they were damaging trade.
I spent quite a while in Hamburg, living in a friend's flat on the Reeperbahn some years ago. Hamburg is known for its gangsters - clubs, sex tourism, etc. - and the Reeperbahn is one mile long and has clubs and bars either side of the whole stretch. The mobster's territory is divided right down the middle - the middle of the road.
Every morning I would go for breakfast in a little, English-style cafe and be served by elderly women in ordinary clothing - it was an early morning oasis from the 24/7 sex clubs which surrounded it.
There was always a handful of gangsters sitting around when I went there, and after a while they got to know me and bid me 'good morning' every day. You could spot a gangster in Hamburg because they were all about 6' 3", very beefy, had long tash moustaches, gruff voices and huge mastiff dogs always in tow.
After a week or so of visiting this place, I was told that there had been a little dispute amongst them a few days before, and one lot of them had crossed the street, went into the cafe and shot some of the others dead before going back over the road.
The old ladies just cleared up and carried on as normal.
It is everywhere. Over the road from here is a Turkish restaurant. One night I noticed a middle-aged man who was reverentially being served food and drink by all of the waiters, and he accepted it without a word, not paying for anything.
"Who is that?" I asked a waiter. "You don't want to know who he is," was the answer.
I have a good Chinese friend who just happens to be a Triad member - you are born into it, apparently. He took me out for a Chinese/Thai meal one night, and nothing was spared in food and drink for the 4 of us. I went to pay, and he said, "What are you doing? We don't pay."