Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Itaca


I am sitting on Itaca beach staring out across the Adriatic which is the bluest of blue. The sand is white, like lunar dust, a light, cooling breeze is rustling the aqua marine fronds on the palmer above us. I fall asleep, wake up, read, go for a swim, fall asleep again... and so the cycle continues. It’s incredibly hot. I must try not to burn.

I’m here in Italy with Julie, Nathan and two American chaps who are both knitwear designers. I am the only non-knitter in the group, and a lot of bespoke clothing is being created around me. The sight of three men knitting is raising eyebrows with the locals; so much that I’ve seen people secretly filming us on iPhones. Earlier, one woman shouted over at Julie and asked if we were all on a craft course.

The journey here yesterday with Ryan Air was close to unbearable, reminding me somewhat of an experience I once had on a rail replacement bus between Northampton and Stevenage. Ryan Air staff are obviously underpaid because their conduct is absolutely awful; from the guys at the boarding gate barking instructions at passengers and making people who don’t speak good English cram their hand luggage into little metal boxes to prove they’re the prerequisite dimensions for the hold, through to the air hostesses looking haunted and bored and sick and tired of the treatment they get from passengers who are sick and tired of feeling like they’re being herded onto a cattle truck. Obviously there’s a vicious cycle in operation here, which only Ryan Air bosses can break.

Take, for example, the new extortionate luggage charges of £70 for a 20kg bag. To avoid these stealth charges, everyone takes the biggest piece of hand luggage they can find instead, which means the hold is empty and there’s no room in the overhead lockers for all the luggage which has been brought on board. Air stewardesses were actually piling up the bags they couldn’t find a place for on empty seats, which makes me wonder what would happen on a capacity flight.

Yes, we’re all aware that flying with Ryan Air is cheap, and to an extent that we have to put up with the no frills experience... Cheap doesn’t mean staff members should be rude, however, or look permanently stressed and put upon. I seriously worry if these people would know what to do in a crisis. If they’re not trained to be polite to customers, and told to break health and safety guidelines by sticking random pieces of luggage all over the plane’s fuselage, would they know how to get us all out safely if there was an accident? Is Ryan Air making cutbacks which actually compromise its passengers’ safety?
 
We were invited to a very special occasion tonight by the couple who run the beach which we’ve been sitting on all day. They’re good friends of Julie’s, and by proxy, we were invited to one of those wonderful Italian meals where everyone sits at a long table eating themselves to death. 20 of us sat down for food; all Italian but our little group. We had pasta dishes, every kind of fruit imaginable, cheeses, fancy cakes... and the wine, limoncello and champagne flowed all night. We sang Yiddish folk songs, Italian folk songs, English folk songs, Abba songs, songs from the shows, light opera... The waves continued to crash onto the beach behind us, the stars were brighter than I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely magical.

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