The Italian Digression – Part 2: Treviso to Lago di Barrea

Bastardo – at Treviso market below the old city walls,  May 2019

 

Disappointed to be leaving Treviso without a whole round of Bastardo clutched to our hearts, we took the train back to Venice to await the Bologna connection.

Walking from Venezia Santa Lucia to face the Grand Canal, again we had to explain to the children, why gondolas are for tourists; that one half-hour trip would cost two weeks of our food budget. This time the sense of the city as a theatrical cut-out, a virtual-reality, had notably diminished. In numerous back alleys and courtyards, legions of houses gracefully rot. Only in Piazza San Marco does reality become questionable.  When did this famous central area, at least away from the lagoon, cease to be real? Or does it become real in the middle of the night when no one is looking? It looks real in the mystery thriller, Venetian Bird (1953)[i] – but that was filmed in black and white. It looks real in Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die (1972)[ii], Roeg’s nightmare, Don’t Look Now (1973)[iii] and briefly in Antonioni’s compelling yet discouragingly remote, Identification of a Woman (1982)[iv], but all these later films are wintry. Indeed, Antonioni’s twelve-minute sojourn in Venice, takes the precaution of voyaging out onto the shifting waters of the open lagoon, described as “beautiful but sad”; after which, by contrast, it switches to the interior of a posh hotel – places not renowned for their grip on reality.[v]

Maybe the present often seems unreal or thin by comparison with the past because we haven’t had time to absorb it? Perhaps it’s the adrenalin, the surge wave of the present, which distracts people into the idea that they can seize it – when what they mean is surf the moment, as people used to ‘surf the net’? Without time to reflect, without time for the present to mature, it barely exists at all. The timeless state, meanwhile . . . that’s something quite different. Transcending both the present and everyday reality, perhaps that’s what some people actually experience when they feel they’ve done no more than ‘seize the moment?’ Perhaps the timeless moment, is what makes certain memories and events stand out?

So, could a torture of tourists inadvertently caught in an inevitable languid frenzy, cause a wave of unreality? What is reality anyway? Mesmerized by a materialist world so encompassing that its cracks and edges don’t show, have we got into the habit of reversing the terms? No longer recognising the multi-national brand of literal escapism around us, (one which has become the ambition of many daily lives), we name its farce, reality. With this ‘reality’ we destroy the world and all the better ‘unreal’ dreams we might have had. The terms have lost their bearings. Meanwhile the Big Grab keeps silent about its increasing number of victims, both environmental and personal[vi].

                                                *          *          *          *

Unbeknown to us, a storm had already begun raging further south, battering the Adriatic coast with winds racing in from the east and bringing heavy rain. So far, we were only at its edge, but as our train crossed the vast plain of the Po valley, from Padova through Antonioni’s home town of Ferrara, the skies gradually darkened around the girder bridges and flatlands where dykes and embankments habitually restrain the Po and its tributaries.

At Bologna, the famed punctuality of Italian trains (for which a certain infamous tyrant still seems to take credit) began to completely fall apart. Connections failed to arrive, whilst others overdue for departure, tarried for no manifest reason. Announcements now were only in Italian, and too fast for us to fully grasp. Eventually our train did set off. We were lucky. Only later, were we to discover, that although arriving four and half hours late, our train was the last to get through to Ancona from Bologna that day. Flooding had washed out a bridge somewhere ahead, and the diversionary route being single track for long sections, was clogged with other diverted trains.

At the time however, having traversed six carriages to find a window paint-free enough to see out of, the main thing I was abstractly thinking about was: Why is graffiti so unoriginal? Everywhere you go by train, it looks like the same person or army of persons – joyful, angry or indifferent, it’s hard to tell – perpetrated it. Politics or protest in any clear social sense, rarely comes into it. This was as true of our journey through Venice de Mestre, all down the Adriatic coast, ultimately to Pescara a few days later, as it had been of London, Paris and Milan, and proved to be of Rome, Perugia and Florence. Often, especially in Italy, this clone-artist severely attacks the trains as well. Compared to the wildly inconsistent varieties of rubbish which comprise much of the contemporary art world, this stuff is rigid in its consistency – and usually admirable only for the impossible, daredevil nature of its locations. Presumably that’s the point: a glorified I WAS ERE?  Two fingers to the rules of fences and danger. With all that adrenalin from instincts alert to any sudden threat, surfing the vanishing moment, what time is there for more than repeated gestures? By contrast, the more respected formulaic drivellers[vii], do their drivelling in nice safe studios.

We had been relieved at Bologna to discover that at last we had a train with proper slide-down windows. Hot in shorts and T-shirts we were looking forward to the rush of air. Unfortunately, the windows were a boon we could not take advantage of, for all the Italians aboard were in coats, hats and mufflers. To them it felt like winter, this storm wind freezing rather than cooling.  

At Imola[viii] after another long hesitation behind a queue of trains, we trundled off cross-country to take in, unexpectedly, Ravenna. Had we known how long we would sit in this station, packed with delayed trains doubling-up at every platform, we could happily have gone off and explored the city.

Rushing up and down the aisle trying to answer questions and defuse declamations, our despairing but cheerful guard was wearing out both his arms and his eyebrows. Demands assailed him from every direction, mostly in Italian and simple enough for us to understand, but also there were Austrians speaking German, passengers enunciating in BBC, others exclaiming in American, as well as a language sounding east European. Before long, K joined the general questioning.

“Will we make our connection?” she asked, in her much-better-than-mine Italian, holding out our tickets.

“Not a hope!” was the cheerful but apologetic answer.

“Cosa sta succedendo?” (What’s going on?) demanded another passenger further along the carriage.

Suddenly, the guard popped up on the platform, his crest of white hair reminiscent of a cross between mad professor and mother hen. Lots of windows were slid open, irate passengers forgetting they were cold. I leaned out to avoid anxiety and enjoy the show.

“Will our train go in the next half an hour?” Shouted someone hesitating in a train doorway. To this the guard did an exaggerated shrug and held out his arms in surrender.

“Within the hour?”  To which the arms were held wider still:

“Potrebbe essere un’ora, potrebbe essere una settimana!” (could be an hour, could be a week) he added, indicating with exaggerated gestures that we could shoot him if we wished. Fortunately, everyone just laughed, somebody jeering something suspiciously like “You should’ve been on stage!”

With, by this time, reports of serious flooding coming in from both sides of the Apennines, filtering through to us via other passengers, it was obvious that Trenitalia[ix] were hardly to blame.

Adriatic storm from the now reckless train   13th May 2019

With Antonioni’s birthplace at Ferrera, Pier Paulo Pasolini’s at Bologna and now Fellini’s[x] as we met the storm-tossed coast at Rimini, we might have been doing a whirlwind homage to significant Italian film directors. Whirlwind was appropriate in more ways than one, for at this point, the train itself became impatient to get on, bursting into a fit of speed just where, for mile after mile, the rails run immediately behind the beach. This impulsive acceleration into potentially amphibious terrain, felt exultantly reckless. Bridging swollen rivers surging into the Adriatic surf, we kept our fingers crossed and felt the twisted water inside. All around, it looked as though the grey of the storm would soon engulf entire sections of land. Seaside cafes had been abandoned, campsites and their traditional pine trees imperilled, umbrellas and deckchairs swept away . . .


North of Ancona   13th May 2019 

 

At Fiumesino a huge oil refinery, breaking miles of straight beach, looked equally vulnerable, before it blocked our view of the tempestuous sea.

The twinkling lights of Ancona, under a headland, signal the end of the more vulnerable coastline of flat beach. At the station, now dark, our connection had long gone. We were directed to another that would do: “Binario tre.”

Hurrying to platform 3, a train looked ready to depart. But the available information was inconclusive. Hustling down the train, where the flaps between carriages are liable to slap in your face or knock children off their feet, we tried to find someone official-looking. Frantically, we settled for a cheerful passenger. “Roma,” they smiled. Quickly we all jumped off, anxious as to whether we were saving ourselves or forsaking our last train. It turned out that for some bizarre reason, Ancona station has two sets of platforms with the same numbers. One is for traffic heading west, the other for the coastal routes.

It was fortunate that our ‘superhost’ Andrea, at the next airbnb was so super. He’d waited for two trains at Porto Recanati, hours earlier. With no mobile phone (never owned such a thing) and my partner’s iPad (won in a competition and used for booking references and so on) lacking signal, there was no way we could inform him of our delay. Cue the undying helpfulness of Italians and the flamboyantly friendly staff of a gelateria/bar near the station, who found dairy-free sorbet for the children and beer for us while kindly phoning Andrea on their landline. Despite the lateness of the hour, Andrea never hesitated to come to our aid, only seeming relieved that we’d not been washed out to sea.

Levitating Mermaid, Marcelli   14th May 2019

The following day, opening the roller shutters and venturing onto the fourth-floor balcony of our empty apartment block, the Adriatic still looked grumpy. But there are few things more fascinating than holiday places out of season – seasons which appear far more defined in Italy. So we set off to explore the unnaturally arranged streets of uninhabited villas, cul-de-sacs and holiday towers which in a few weeks would be “sovraffollato” (overcrowded or heaving with people).

Short on provisions, we took the blustery beach road in search of a cheap supermarket and after many diversions and mistakes discovered a ‘Si’ at the back of Sirolo. I’ve since discovered that this walk (carrying heavy shopping on the way back), without including the lost dead-ends, numerous redirections and return diversion via Sirolo’s fine, high esplanade was over 12 kilometres. No wonder the children were tired!

Loreto – in K’s words was “90% basilica and 10% religious shops.”

Another night had passed but although the sea was still rough and the wind high, sun had transformed the world. Andrea, coming from his home somewhere south of Ancona had offered to drive us to Loreto to see “the best basilica in the Universe.” That may not have been exactly what he meant, but as his English was better than our Italian, we accepted his proud assertion, marvelling at the view of miles of the surrounding Marche province from the hilltop where he left us. Into the dazzling morning light, coaches stopped to disgorge tourists in the oval carriage sweep nearby.

Mounted on steel legs under the walls of the basilica, a decommissioned jet plane is frozen in flight; which leads me to another puzzle of information arising from our communications with Andrea – one which like Riddley Walker[xi], we now struggled to piece together. Andrea’s implication appeared to be, that the black Madonna of Loreto, was the Patron Saint of flying. Presumably her appointment was posthumous – unless respected flying carpet sects vanished off the radar, back in the mists of history? Could you really have a Patron Saint of jet fighters or bombing? A Patron Saint of war? Such a ludicrous conclusion surely couldn’t be correct. Yet, aspects of the ‘true’ story later discovered, while devoid of the hypocrisy inherent in having a Patron Saint of jet fighters, are even more ostentatiously surreal. Apparently, the basilica enshrines the house which some Catholics believe was once home to the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. Because of this, Angelic beings flying from Nazareth to Tersatto, deliberately routed themselves over Loreto – which, glancing at a map, didn’t involve too big a detour . . .

In colder fact, the Blessed Virgin Mary was retrospectively designated ‘Patroness of air passengers and auspicious travel’ by Pope Benedict XV in 1920[xii]. Not long after this, the original statue of the Madonna, sooted black from centuries of lamp smoke, was consumed in a fire. A replacement, carved from cedar wood sourced from the Vatican gardens, was granted a ‘canonical coronation’ in 1922.

Apocalypse Numana  15th May 2019

That afternoon, leaving K with our daughters on the beach, with the onshore wind still very strong even as the sun took precedence, I went for a long walk, north along the beach towards Sirolo, “Pearl of the Adriatic”. Beyond Numana, the white cliffs were dazzling and the superlative beach deserted.

Conveniently forgetting all my Italian to ignore signs which implied the beach was private, I continued to where No Entry symbols fenced off an area of cliff falls. I would have been tempted to continue, if it hadn’t been obvious that the sea met the base of the cliffs a few hundred yards on. Turning back, I encountered, a piece of Italian art that bettered even the levitating Mermaid of the afternoon before. Criticised back home for not seeing the Fra Angelicos in Florence (by a friend who shall remain camouflaged behind his conference of voices), little did he know what an alternative I’d have to offer! At least it can be said of Fra Blockhead, that he painted in a good cause:

‘Recycle it’, by the eternal Italian master:  Fra Blockhead      

Taking a steep path up the cliffs, I found myself in the exclusive, sub-tropical paradise of an out-of-season hotel. Exclusive paths wound here and there with exclusively alluring views of the sea. An exclusive swimming pool lay waiting refreshingly amongst exclusive pines. Yet despite my partial anxiety at having strayed somewhere forbidden, the various workers I saw in the distance only waved in friendly fashion. Surely, they couldn’t mistake my tramp-chic for that of an exclusive early guest? Maybe they thought I’d escaped from somewhere and should be humoured? Quickly passing the back of the hotel with its empty, exclusive balconies, I ascended through the last of the exclusive grounds to find an exclusive gate barring my way out. In the end I had no choice but to quickly climb this barrier and hasten away, hoping the video surveillance warning was an empty threat.

On the unexclusive side of the gates, Sirolo  15th May 2019.

 

Once I’d escaped and found that a group of carabinieri gravely chatting in a nearby square, were not waiting for me, I greatly enjoyed the rest of that walk – down to the white beach again and then inland, past a mysterious villa and eventually back through the suburbs of Marcelli. A later, evening walk, blurs into the whole drifting afternoon and everything in-between has slipped from memory . . .

Night Apartment blocks, Marcelli 15th May 2019.

 

16th May.

With the morning sunlight relaxed in the pine branches around us and down upon the quiet streets below, Andrea arrived in plenty of time to fulfil his generous offer to drive us back to Porto Recanati. With a change at San Benedetto del Tronto, two trains advanced us to Pescara. In Pescara it was very hot, and the Hertz car rentals office, nowhere near where maps claimed. Asking directions many times, we trailed a long dusty walk through areas stiff with cars and thundering lorries; areas where no-one goes on foot except a few suicidal locals. Finally, parched and sticky with heat, we tracked Hertz to an incongruous apartment block situated beyond a light-industrial wasteground and several uncontrollable roundabouts. We didn’t want to use a car at all, but in her careful research beforehand, K discovered that few affordable places in the central mountainous region, lay within children’s walking distance of stations. I was hoping the Fiat Panda supposedly booked, would be old and rusty – a car no-one would mind getting bumped and scraped in the lucky-dodgem road system. Instead, we were presented with a shiny black Fiat 500 – just off the production line by the look of it. It was slick and nippy but had huge blind-spots on either side of the windscreen. In the old days – and still with our 60s Triumph, the side metal by the windscreen is about an inch wide. With this car it was about eight inches each side! An effing juggernaut could disappear into these blind-spots! Being used to rust, wind-down windows, no seat-belts and best of all, no roof, I was seriously disappointed – not to mention disadvantaged, since with modern Fiat 500’s you can’t stick your head out of the sun-roof even as a passenger [xiii], let alone while driving. The ‘sun-roof’ in fact, is just a round-cornered opaque oblong, waiting to grow leaky . . . but I get ahead of myself.

[Here, following yet another note, I’d like to add a quick note about notes – which are probably more necessary to Digressions, than they were to (for example) Eliot and Pound’s, The Wasteland (1922)[xiv]. Rather than a novelty, here they’re a buffer-stop to endless expansion. Once relegated to the notes, there’s nowhere else for distracting sentences and information to go[xv]].

Back at Pescara, hot dusty city on the Adriatic coast: At Hertz, somebody’s grandmother was covering for lunch and trying to charge us what we’d already paid. While I just smiled and tried to look trustworthy in the background, K persisted in long politely disputatious conversation. Put-upon grandmother became more and more flustered, yet was also distracted by the children, anxious beside me. Stopping to grin and smile at them now and then, mostly she exclaimed and pointed and examined screen and documents. Then, luckily, it all blew over. Elvira Hertz-lady Cardinale, finally agreed and rather than the escalating trouble we feared, suddenly she was hugging and kissing us all and waving goodbye instead. Waving back we headed for the nearest uncontrollable roundabout. I was on the wrong side with the gearstick in a funny place, baffling modern controls and two massive blind-spots. Sweltering inside the car, trying to get the windows to open and the fan to blow cold, we escaped one whirlpool only to enter another circle of purgatory. Back and forth we were shunted, unable to escape the city centre. Nipping in and out of gaps, accidentally jumping traffic lights, desperately we searched for any exit. Numerous traffic jams thwarted our every impulsive direction. Eventually we just took the clearest looking road. “We can worry about the right direction later,” I asserted brashly, feigning temporary relief.

Going west or west-ish for a while, it felt like we were onto a winner, but then by mistake we got sucked into the diminishing spiral of the hill city, Chieti – an astonishing U-Turn[xvi] sort of place on an endless recurring slope, with trams, an unfathomable one-way system and again, no way out. Eventually, in frustration, I squeezed into a quiet parking spot that had passed for the third time and got out, ceasing to drive just before I was forced to adopt the general, cheerful, traffic aggression; just before I was tempted to start ramming other, bigger, cars around us.

Walking back to the hill’s edge, I stopped to gaze over a high fence, to breathe in the air and sense freedom. Beyond warehouse roofs with grassy gaps between, there were unbelievable views from the high bedlam in which we were fated to circulate for the remainder of our days. The vast landscape distance, offering air and freedom . . . eventually gave me some pragmatic determination. One day I might return. But for now, we must escape. Taking two photographs of the view as a kind of monument to folly – so near and yet so far – I abandoned my view of the massive sunny plain below and the mountain ridges in the distance, filled as they seemed to be with hope and truth and justice!

Breaking the spell, finding a chink in the circular enchantment, we found a way out of Chieti: the road to Guardiagrele.

Soon, followed Casoli; the SS84 to Palena; another to Roccoraso; the SS17 and SS83 to Alfedena . . . 

So, the tension lessened . . . and even though the number of potholes and dangerous bends increased, there were splendidly freer sections between: more relaxing sections of fast-flying, almost empty roads, with tunnels and curving, sweeping bridges under skies now looking thundery inland.

How well I remember the incredible mountain roads to Barrea that followed as well as the vicious vegetation aiming to sand the Fiat flat and cost us more than our deposit . . .

At last we reached the lake near where we’d booked a house for two nights. But somehow, we overshot to Villetta Barrea and had to reverse our course, keeping watch for the bears warned of on signs: “Speed Kills Bears”. Abruzzo National Park is the last refuge of the Marsican brown bear, and the road we traversed twice is named in its honour: the Strada Statale 83 Marsicana. We told the children that these bears were little and cuddly. In fact, the males can stand six feet tall. We didn’t even mention the wolves[xvii]. Needless to say, we didn’t see either – though we did see a huge stag by the side of the road. It took me by surprise so much as we slow-motioned past, that I assumed it was stuffed – a kind of national park advertising gimmick.

Despite it being the end of a long day, I’m glad to say that I didn’t runover any edible creatures of any kind – dismaying a friend back in Inghilterra, who was looking forward to well-matured venison for his tea[xviii].

Tea, just the word brings back the endless postponement of that fifth element – for tea is relatively hard to find in Italy and our tea-bags were already low. Generally, I switched to coffee, since every house we stayed in had two, three or even four of those ancient, multifaceted, Moka coffee makers[xix] in different sizes. Cupboards opened upon their family groups: Father, Mother and Baby Bear. I can’t believe I didn’t take a single group portrait.

This travelling day got off lightly photograph-wise – at least until evening and our lamplit meandering strolls up and down the steep-stepped streets and alleys of Barrea, overlooking the lake and the dam . . . 

 

Sunburst over Lake Barrea, from our bedroom    16th May 2019

 

 

Lawrence Freiesleben, France, Italy and Cumbria, July-September 2019

lwf@hawkvalley.co.uk

 

Footnotes

[i] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044378/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1 

[ii] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068367/  Unfortunately the English-language version of Who Saw Her Die is marred by the dubbing, especially of George Lazenby and daughter. Personally, I’d prefer Italian with subtitles (even if, as with most Italian films, the Italian is also dubbed). As with opera, many flaws and absurdities are concealed by the relative mystery of a less familiar language.

While Who Saw Her Die isn’t quite in the Don’t Look Now league, it has some magnificent Venetian sequences in tenebrous winter light, and surely had a strong visual influence on the later, far more respected film? 

[iii] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069995/ 

[iv] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084116/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1 

[v] One interesting exchange in a fascinating, though lesser film, by Antonioni, takes place in this Venetian hotel’s aloof space and runs thus:

                Ida:                        “You Italian directors seem to be paid to be angry at the world.”

                Niccolò:                  “And laugh at it too.”

                Ida:                        “Which is just another way of resisting it.” 

[vi] Only this morning, I was reading a film review by Nikki Baughan in Sight and Sound, of Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s film: A Woman Captured, a 2017 documentary about contemporary slavery in Hungary that was also reviewed in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jun/09/a-woman-captured-review-modern-slavery-documentary 

[vii] see Part 1 of this Digression: http://internationaltimes.it/the-italian-digression-part-1/ 

[viii] An unfortunate name for the location of a famous motor-racing track given that I assume I am not alone (?) in thinking of immolation by word association . . . not that I know anything about motor-racing other than impressions derived from films such as 1971’s Le Mans with Steve McQueen and Checkpoint of 1956 – the latter set in Florence and northern Italy and featuring Stanley Baker as a memorable meanie. 

[ix] https://www.trenitalia.com/ 

[x] Despite the brilliance of many sections of his films, I can never quite get along with Fellini – the clown/circus/pomp obsession being hard to take. Aspects of this, bafflingly infect quite a few other significant filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and even Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.

[xi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riddley_Walker 

[xii]  For a fuller story see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_della_Santa_Casa 

[xiii] A friend had the loan of an original Fiat 500 in the 1970’s and drove us all around Aylesbury with me sticking out of the roof. This, although it may not have been a common sight, would not have surprised anyone then, ten years before seat-belts became compulsory (in all but pre-1966 classic cars) in January 1983. 

[xiv]  The Wasteland without Ezra Pound would be like Citizen Kane without Gregg Toland or Michael Powell without Emeric Pressburger. 

[xv] If I’d been in the right place at the right time, been fashionable or had the right connections, perhaps I could’ve left the notes to someone else and gone back to the old farm?*SEE BELOW Alternatively, if I’d been less awkward or more ethereal, I need never have bothered to speak or write at all?

* THE OLD FARM: (Note on a note). Perhaps for my own fascination or just for the hell of it, this note on a note about notes – [like the flashbacks within flashbacks structure of the insufficiently-known Noir, The Locket (1946) which briefly features the legendary Bob Mitchum, implausibly but intriguingly cast as unstable artist, Norman Clyde] – tries to unearth that sense of the enigma we must all have behind our own curtains, the individual wishing of our interior psychology. As when Sherlock Holmes disappoints Watson or others, by revealing the routes of his deductions, so the semi-solving of our own feelings can make them appear obvious all along. Yet not quite; the old farm is archetypal, yet also, self-consciously, a joke. A hope but also a lost fantasy. Whatever it seems to be, it’s always something else too.

Rather than the factories of nowadays that expanded like a plague in the late twentieth century, this old farm is small and rundown and has its origins all over the place – real and fictional. It’s Orlando the marmalade cat’s farm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_(fictional_cat) http://collecting20thcruralculture.blogspot.com/2009/09/orlando-marmalade-cat.html  yet also the real farm “I used to go to, long ago / Out of town, beyond a rise” of 4mm to the Foot. It’s the farms in Ministry of Information films such as Winter on the Farm or 1943’s Crown of the Year: http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/90 the passing farm (big for its day) in Night Mail (1936) http://internationaltimes.it/night-mail-1936-an-appreciation/ and A Midsummer Day’s Work (1939). https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184733/ It’s the North Devon farm of 1980 and 81 where I used to get warm milk straight from the cow, untainted by homogenisation. It’s all the old farms we passed as kids or helped out during holidays or at weekends. It’s even, somehow, the Mid-Atlantic farm of Bernie Taupin & Elton John’s, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, with its mythical animals and strange practices https://gumbyandfidge.com/2013/12/18/hunting-the-horny-back-toad/ – a track I was fond of at 14, and which perhaps carried something over from the Wizard of Oz – another thing that’s weirdly fascinating in memory , even though I think I hate it.

But perhaps this old farm needn’t even be a farm? It could just be a house with a rambling garden, a house that used to be a smallholding? Altogether then, this place cannot be pinned down. It’s too far beyond a rural fantasy, glowing from the vale of nostalgia. Or is it? 

[xv] If I’d been in the right place at the right time, been fashionable or had the right connections, perhaps I could’ve left the notes to someone else and gone back to the old farm?*SEE BELOW Alternatively, if I’d been less awkward or more ethereal, I need never have bothered to speak or write at all?

* THE OLD FARM: (Note on a note). Perhaps for my own fascination or just for the hell of it, this note on a note about notes – [like the flashbacks within flashbacks structure of the insufficiently-known Noir, The Locket (1946) which briefly features the legendary Bob Mitchum, implausibly but intriguingly cast as unstable artist, Norman Clyde] – tries to unearth that sense of the enigma we must all have behind our own curtains, the individual wishing of our interior psychology. As when Sherlock Holmes disappoints Watson or others, by revealing the routes of his deductions, so the semi-solving of our own feelings can make them appear obvious all along. Yet not quite; the old farm is archetypal, yet also, self-consciously, a joke. A hope but also a lost fantasy. Whatever it seems to be, it’s always something else too.

Rather than the factories of nowadays that expanded like a plague in the late twentieth century, this old farm is small and rundown and has its origins all over the place – real and fictional. It’s Orlando the marmalade cat’s farm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_(fictional_cat) http://collecting20thcruralculture.blogspot.com/2009/09/orlando-marmalade-cat.html  yet also the real farm “I used to go to, long ago / Out of town, beyond a rise” of 4mm to the Foot. It’s the farms in Ministry of Information films such as Winter on the Farm or 1943’s Crown of the Year: http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/90 the passing farm (big for its day) in Night Mail (1936) http://internationaltimes.it/night-mail-1936-an-appreciation/ and A Midsummer Day’s Work (1939). https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184733/ It’s the North Devon farm of 1980 and 81 where I used to get warm milk straight from the cow, untainted by homogenisation. It’s all the old farms we passed as kids or helped out during holidays or at weekends. It’s even, somehow, the Mid-Atlantic farm of Bernie Taupin & Elton John’s, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, with its mythical animals and strange practices https://gumbyandfidge.com/2013/12/18/hunting-the-horny-back-toad/ – a track I was fond of at 14, and which perhaps carried something over from the Wizard of Oz – another thing that’s weirdly fascinating in memory , even though I think I hate it.

But perhaps this old farm needn’t even be a farm? It could just be a house with a rambling garden, a house that used to be a smallholding? Altogether then, this place cannot be pinned down. It’s too far beyond a rural fantasy, glowing from the vale of nostalgia. Or is it?

[xvi] The 1997 film: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120399/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1 

[xvii] The bears are supposed to be very gentle, the wolves completely elusive, but [from a letter]: “I don’t think that would have washed with our paranoid daughters, and if I saw a six-foot bear ambling, albeit in a friendly way, towards me, I’d climb a tree or run . . . but I’m sure they’re much better at both. Moral of the story: Never go out without a bike or flying carpet to hand.”

[xviii] [From another letter]: “Sorry Fratello, no bear or stag heads to mount in the cloisters . . . nor venison neither. Except for the days when we had a car, even wine was too heavy to carry. Got some nice cheeses though and got very fit (if not much lighter). Lorenzo – Hermit of Abruzzo.”

[xix] Illustration: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moka_pot  Or: https://www.wired.com/2014/08/bialetti-moka-express/


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