Sunday, 1 May 2016

Arrivederci Italia (Ligurian Bangla)

Thursday 28th April, 2016.

Well it has to happen, we do have to start edging homewards. Our last stop in Italy, Porto Mauricio, is an old hill-top town by the sea that has been quietly acquired as suburb of Imperia.

In the last post I referred to how most of the venerable towns of Riviera have been swamped by modern development, and here is a good example. To the west villa development covers the forested hills, on the coast the railway and Via Aurelia skirt the old bastions like an iron and asphalt moat, inland the motorway crosses the valley on tall stilts.

 Porto Mauricio - a lovely old town overlooking the sea.
with the motorway running across the hinterland,

The railway following the shoreline

and modern developments covering the coastal plain.
 Yet wandering through Porto Mauricio's old streets and surveying the chalk blue sea from the arcades above the town's old walls, it remains delightful, and unlike the tourist traps of the Cinque Terre, relatively unfrequented. It is an irony: because the villages of the Cinque Terre happen to be situated in a scrap of undeveloped, protected coastline they are overrun with tourists; Porto Mauicio is enveloped by sprawl, consequently, as tourists we had its quiet old streets and empty arcades to ourselves.

Someone's dream villa at the turn of the 20th Century
narrow lanes

The old ramparts have been turned into pop-up flower and herb gardens

Hardly anyone about, and those that were looked very relaxed,

The colours are gorgeous
the Baroque pile magnificent,

and the old arcades overlooking the sea filled with a pale light, sometimes grey, sometimes yellow.

I wish them every happiness!

Laura phones her mum.

Perhaps it was Mina and Gerry's wedding - a  slap up do among the parking bays - very Italian.
Our stay here will remain memorable for another reason. As the name suggests, Camping Wijnstok was established by Dutch owners, though owned by an Italian family now. It is managed by a Bangladeshi who is one of the more colourful characters we have come across on our travels. He is insistent on finding guests exactly the right sized pitch for each vehicle and conducts new arrivals around the site giving precise instructions about everything. Special care is given to the correct operation of the showers, as he said, "Many stupid people try to put to token in wrong slot to break the machinery." We paid careful attention, keen not to be become one of the stupid people on the occasion of our morning shower. In the event, I did achieve utter stupidity the next morning. My shower meter operating skills proved nothing less than masterful, but as my allotted four minutes dribbled to an end I realised as I stood there, naked, shivery and dripping wet, I had overlooked to bring a towel.

Camping Wijnstok 
Rafiq prowls the campsite day long, clipping here, tidying there, stopping for a chat with the long term visitors who own the shack-extended caravans which pass for Italian statics. I think he enjoyed practising his English, and we provided a perfect opportunity. So, by instalment as he wandered by trundling clippings or carrying refuse sacks we learned something of his life story. He had worked in Europe for nine years, first in Cyprus and then in Liguria. He was fluent in Greek, Italian and English, and proudly demonstrated his ability to read as well as speak Greek. The thought of mastering Bengali script, the Greek and Latin alphabets, as well as four languages seemed quite an achievement. He explained he spent eight months in Italy and four, during the winter, back in Bangladesh to see his wife. Mixed up in all of this we were treated to Rafiqs's musings on Brexit, Greek generosity, how money can't bring you joy, his boss, the British in India. corruption in Bangladeshi politics, the perils of flying Air Bangladesh (who would?), the effectiveness of physical assault as means of encouraging efficiency among Bangladeshi bank tellers, the complexity of the country's constitution and his theory that all governments were 'sheet'. In the end we took to having coffee indoors.

For some reason I was late doing the washing-up, the night was warm. stars twinkling between the trees, and the occasional owl hoot competed with the SS1 traffic roar and yelping local guard dogs. Rafiqs's camping chalet was across the way. The window was open and animated Bangla boomed across the site from his hifi. As I dutifully scoured and scrubbed I reflected on the music, the jangling tabla and wailing strings gave it great energy and intensity, but the melody consisted of descending cadences, mournful modal scales. The song seemed bright and melancholic simultaneously. I passed the open window, Rashiq joined in the chorus, he had a fine tenor voice, his head was thrown back slightly; he had closed his eyes, jigging on the spot with small steps. iIn the garish fluorescent light, in the tiny cabin, there was something deeply affecting about this, a solitary Bengali, dancing alone, dreaming of home. 

It was an odd multicultural conclusion to our time in Italy, but appropriate. We have travelled these past months against a background of the influx of migrants becoming Europe's biggest issue. It's easy enough to form an opinion when it is neatly packaged and labelled by the news - refugees = deserving; economic migrants = unwelcome. Faced with an individual case this presents  more searching questions. Perhaps it has always been the privilege of the privileged to depend on the impoverished to trim the hedges and carry the garbage, while at the same time resenting their presence. As I wended my way past the shiny motorhomes, all from Northern Europe, I was struck by the discomforting thought that simply being of a left-leaning disposition and espousing laudable liberal values makes you no less privileged than the most vocal nationalist. Regarded from from standpoint of the dislocated and the dispossessed, it is your economic advantage not opinion or ideology that confers the presumptions of privilege.


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