Monday, January 3, 2011

75. Isle of Ischia

The transportation arrangements so far had been very good and so I was rather confused when, on disembarking from the ferry, I was set upon by about six taxi drivers all trying to play tug of war with my suitcase, while assuring me that they were my driver. Their little go-carts with fabric tops did not look like tour operator vehicles. The official driver eventually came to my rescue and drove me to the hotel set high up on a cliff top. The woman who welcomed me spoke very little English, but showed me to my room. It was one up from a broom cupboard. The single bed was pushed up against a wall, behind the door. There was not enough space to open my suitcase on the floor, and there ware barely enough room to walk to the miniature shower, nor to open the single door which led to the “balcony” which boasted one pot of dead geraniums. Complaining is not something I do with much confidence, but ten days in this box was not acceptable. I found the lady in charge and with much miming and gesticulations, indicated that I was far from happy with the accommodation. As we were now “out of season” they offered me a spacious, double bedroom with a veranda large enough to take a plastic chair, which I gladly accepted, at no extra charge. Unlike most hotels there was no coffee and tea making equipment in the rooms, all beverages had to be paid for, especially the bottled water! Strange, when you think of it, in big hotels one can collect ice from ice making machines located in the passages. Is this made with bottled water? If not, then one must assume that the water is fit to drink.
After unpacking I strolled through the hotel and out on to a roof garden. A swimming pool sparkled in the sunshine but the wind was much too cold for swimming. I had my second encounter with a large, scruffy mountain dog. I don’t think the poor thing ever got the chance to climb a mountain. I found a sheltered corner and read until dinner time 1930 hours. There were twenty four guests in the dining room, none of whom spoke English. The tour operator did not know her products, because Ischia is a favourite island among Germans and Italians and the Don Pedro entertains very few English visitors. Once more I felt isolated and thought of the coach load of jolly holiday makers at the airport who were probably even now laughing and drinking in some jolly beach front hotel.

I was prepared to eat spaghetti, I like spaghetti served with some delicious sauce. It is as well I liked spaghetti! Of the cuisine, I will say no more. Of the guests, we all smiled a lot. Walking through the little town I thought to try a little non spaghetti dish. I pointed at something on the menu and was brought a plate of chips. From then on I found it safer to buy food I could see and indicate, like chocolate cake and ice cream.

The little harbour lay about three miles down a steep hill from the hotel and about six miles back uphill, or so it seemed, but it was a constant source of entertainment and interest, there was so much to watch. Observing people manoeuvring their vehicles on and off ferries is always good for a laugh. The expressions on the faces of the drivers suggests that they all expect to land in the water, and the relief when they find themselves and their cars on dry land is a joy to see. The narrow side streets sheltering novelty shops, boutiques and jewellers could have been in any sea side town anywhere on the Mediterranean. The bus companies offered day tickets that enable passengers to ascend and alight as often as they wish for the day, which is very convenient for the visitor, but I did not work this out until my last day. It was disappointing that I could not visit the castle and convent, but I had to fit in my obligatory three days sick in bed, without which no holiday of mine is complete! Access to the Castle and the convent, situated on a little promontory, is via a bridge. Ischia has a very long and violent history with the ruling powers constantly changing. The Castle had many dungeons and still housed ancient instruments of torture. Just my idea of fun!

In the grounds of the convent there is a bench where deceased nuns would be seated to be eaten by crows, or whatever, until only the skeleton was left. I cannot say whether or not they were still wearing their habits, but I would hope so. And on the subject of death, the deceased inhabitants of Ischia are buried for only six years, after which their remains are exhumed, 'condensed' and placed in caskets to be removed elsewhere. The island is too rocky and too small to allow room for cemeteries. The same applies in Tenerife where the remains of the deceased are placed in small, long boxes which are then fitted into a wall with name plates, rather like rows of private safes in a bank vault. Much tidier than graves with fallen, moss covered tombstones and dead potted plants. The practical, but catholically unacceptable, solution is cremation.

Peaceful, natural death intrigues me. The first time I saw someone die I was sitting in a hospital ward with my sister, Maureen, holding the hand of her dying husband. The nurse pronounced him dead and made a note of the time on the chart that hung over the end of his bed. As we stood up to leave I looked at my sister and asked “Is that it, then?” What did I expect? Not a chorus of angels, or a bright light carrying his soul away to another plain, but something. Just, “Goodbye George, sorry I won’t see you tomorrow!” Well, at least it prepared me for Tom’s departure. One of Tom’s funny comments, which he used to say in his mock cockney accent was, “What’s it awl abaat I asks yer? What’s it awl abaat”. Yes, indeed, Tom. What is it all about?

The home of the late Sir William Walton is on Ischia. The gardens, called Garden Mortella, which took twenty years to complete, were carved out of a quarry and are extraordinary. One must climb quite high up to see the layout to advantage. Displayed in the gift shop were some delightful tea pots, a nice gift of Italian pottery to take back to Jeni for her collection. I turned the pot over and saw Made in China. Thanks a lot, but no thanks! Sir William probably wrote more patriotic music than any other composer, and in the museum at Mortella one can watch a movie in which he talks about his life. Lady Walton, a rather exotic Argentinean, was still alive at the time of my visit and used to walk in the gardens and talk to the visitors. She died in March 2010. The house, gardens, museum and small concert hall are part of a music foundation of which Prince Charles is a Patron but, in spite of all Mortella’s Britishness, the teapot was made in China.

On my last morning at Don Pedro, I helped myself to some cereal and bread and jam from the dining room and was outside waiting for the taxi by 0730 hrs. At the docks I decided to travel in style on the hydrofoil, and sat below deck in a comfortable arm chair. Naples Airport was a disaster zone. Too many all inclusive holidays end on a Friday and there were only two counters open to deal with everyone. At least two hundred people stood in the security check queue before me and I was carrying my handbag, glasses, shawl, boarding pass and passport. I refuse to carry cabin luggage on board. My innocent granny image must have slipped because, as I finally went through the check point, I was told to take my shoes off and go back through the x-ray machine bit. This I did, but in the confusion of trying to find somewhere to sit to put my shoes back on, I lost my glasses. I did not realise they were gone until after I had gone through passport control and there was no way I would fight my way back through that rabble.

Hundreds of women in the departure lounge and only three toilets available! I will say one thing for the Italians; their boarding system is to be commended. Passengers are called forward by seat booking number so that those seated at the rear go first until those nearest the pilot get on last. That really does make boarding more orderly. “This will definitely be my last holiday” I muttered to myself. If romantic Italy could not produce the younger lover predicted for me, I might as well return home to my two faithful ninety two year old admirers.

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