Wednesday, 3 August 2011

So if the skies stay dark we may live on in comets and stars

Last night we visited a town in the mountains called Atri. It’s stunningly beautiful and filled to the brim with piazzas and ancient buildings, all of which have astonishing views over the alluvial plain which stretches down to the coast.

We went to a sort of festival. Each of the towns in the neighbourhood has an event once a year, where everyone heads onto the streets for singing, dancing and homemade grub.

I think we were all hoping that Atri’s fiesta would take place on the ancient streets around the old town square, and were fairly disappointed to find it in the car-park of a 1960s concrete hospital. It was, nevertheless, an eye-opening experience. As you enter the area, you go to a little man in a wooden hut, who gives you tokens for various types of food. A pasta dish is 5 euros, for example, and a salad is 2. You then walk along a line, trade in your tokens, and are served by various ladies from the village, who pile up your plastic plate with heaps of spaghetti, none of which, of course, are vegetarian. I think I ended up with a plate of tomatoes and a portion of chips. The food here is generally brilliant for vegetarians, but they do insist on flinging bits of old carcass at it!

You eat your food at trestle tables whilst a terrible bands plays oom-pah music on a stage. The singer was particularly awful. You could have reversed a lorry through her vibrato. The poor dear sounded like she was being fuelled by a series of bellows. To make matters worse, she looked like a 50 year old baby doll with blond ringlets and over-sized shoes. The Chuckle Brothers seemed to be accompanying her on accordion and keyboard. It was all highly parochial, and I loved every second.

We made our excuses and headed for the Old Town, listening to ABBA very loudly on the car stereo as we travelled. We sat in a lovely-looking restaurant outside the town’s theatre, and started to play game of cards. What we didn’t realise was that playing cards – or any form of gambling, in fact – requires a permit in Italy, so within seconds, the manager of the establishment had come over to ask us to stop what we were doing, which seemed absolute madness nd made me feel like a common criminal.

The lifestyle here is wonderful, however. At midnight there were still small children sitting with their parents in various cafes, and everything feels incredibly safe. There’s an antiques stall on one of the oldest streets, which is entirely al fresco. At the end of the evening, they simply cover over what they’re selling with a piece of tarpaulin, attached with a bit of gaffa tape in the corners. Anyone could come along and steel it... but they don’t.

On the way home, we stopped and looked over a wall at the top of the town. By day it's apparently one of the greatest views in the area. By night, it's a sea of tiny little white and orange lights shining like stars in an ink black sky. I found the experience inexplicably, yet overwhelmingly moving.

350 years ago, Pepys was up with the lark, and riding away from Ware in the driving rain. He travelled most of the way to Cambridge with a “letter-carrier” and arrived in the city feeling tired and wet. His horse was particularly exhausted. He dined with two of his cousins at Trinity Hall before heading to the Rose pub, where he stayed til late, drinking and laughing. He slept the night in a village outside Cambridge called Impington, and was given the best chamber in the house, which obviously pleased him greatly.

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