My life

I was eager to learn Italian and took lessons with a black-clad widow living in the Sixieme. Presently her teaching was supplemented by an Italian who picked me up in the Luxembourg gardens. His name was Alfio – “like Alph, the sacred river in “Kubla Khan”” – he explained. He was years older than me, very handsome, told me that he had been a Partisan, and did his best to seduce me. I liked him, but when I agreed to visit his flat things got out of hand and he kept shouting “Take off your knickers.” His English was excellent but I was not going to obey his orders and I made my escape. My progress in Italian stalled.

Claire Tomalin – My Life.

A fascinating read of a type of life open to middle class girls in post war Britain where you were expected to simultaneously have four children, be knowledgeable yet relaxed about your husband’s infidelities, gain an Oxbridge degree and be content typing letters for the odd Conservative MP or gossip column. Well written, not bitter but rather sad. Also worth reading for a mention of a scrambled egg party, luxury when rationing ended!

Harriet would have dined out on that name for a week

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Katy MacScott (@katymacscott) walked from Holland to Istanbul last year in memory of her late friend Harriet, with hops on trains to keep time, as she didn’t have as much time as Patrick Leigh Fermor did on his original journey. Now she is posting memories of her encounters on Instagram, and I particularly loved her encounters with feisty pensioners in Holland. On the first day she encountered Map and Henkel:

Map – a derivative of Margaret – approached me with a pot of jam, as I sat on a bench in the rain, in the village of Zuillichem. When she offered me a cup of coffee by the fire, I didn’t have to be asked twice…Her husband, Henkel, returned from his errands and they proceeded to tell me, in halting English, about their travels. They were now in their late 80s, but had travelled all over the Middle East in their retirement.

Henkel revealed that like many Dutch children he was sent to England after the war to recover from years of malnutrition. After another hot meal, Map and Henkel passed Katy on to a local photographer Cor de Cock (“Harriet would have dined out on that name for a week”) and eventually to Jet, a former piano teacher, with a “wicked bark” of a laugh:

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She confessed that she’d put away her wine and cigarettes before I arrived, because she thought that someone doing a trip like mine would have ‘high morals’. I quickly put her straight and we enjoyed these vices for the rest of the evening.

Over asparagus risotto and radishes Jet and Katy discussed the audio books for the blind that Jet narrates, Jet garden, Chekhov and Harry Mulisch, and her brother’s paintings.

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Achille Castiglione

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An Italian designer who would have been 100 in February, his studio in Milan is one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen.

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He collected objects endlessly, getting a sense of how they worked, of how they could be stretched or improved and what the most practical next steps would be.

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All photos April 2018.

Overheard at home and abroad

“I’d like to show you my scar tonight, but I can’t get it out in public.”

“I think I’m going to have a parrot in my house?

Harrod’s?

A parrot. One that talks back to you.

What?”

“It could be an absolute disaster. It’s brilliant.” (In the same conversation)

“I might change; we’re going out V VIP tonight.”

“I’m not going to lie, he’s still got the ring and the child. He’s 20. He’s definitely dating though – it’s paying for his rent cos he’s got a touch.”

“Anyway, long story short, they bought a train ticket.”

“Anyone can drink that – it’s just like milkshake. It sits well on the stomach. And I was so sick, I threw up in the street outside and then I went in and hadn’t more.”

“And then it happened again, and we were at Warren Street AGAIN.”

“It was like you had to whisper a code word in a fridge or something.”

“He’s an idiot – he bet like a hundred grand on a horse or something. You can lose money that way.” (Yes, yes you can.)

“You’re being very selfish now making mummy eat the chocolate croissant when you know she doesn’t like chocolate.”

“No one expects the dog to get married.”

“You’re going to really enjoy that photo when you’re older.”

“… and then it turned out that he just wanted to move to a little town in the middle of nowhere and be a taxidermist.”

 

That time when…

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You’re bringing a strong turban game, but some doubter is giving you the side eye

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you’re having the mother of all essay crises

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The alarm clock is going and you just can’t get up

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you pratfall and people just laugh and point

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you be feeling the rain even though you’re a lion

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you be a badass rap star even though you’re an angel too.

All photos Genoa 2018.