Each time I go to Italy I am full of overly high expectations. I imagine fantastic weather, stunning landscapes and architecture, friendly, excited, gesticulating people who welcome you into their homes as if you are a skinny long-lost cousin who needs feeding up, food that makes your taste buds pop with pleasure, the best coffee in the universe. And each time I go to Italy, Italy meets my expectations. I am never EVER disappointed, which is a lot to say for a country. This time we drove right down to the south; to the tip of the heel of the boot. “Puglia” in italian, “Les Pouilles” in French, god knows what in English as I doubt any members of the UK have yet made it down that far. It is a poor region of Italy, not yet hit by major tourism, and it remains wild and beautiful. Even the beachside “kiosks” selling ice-creams and Campari are charming in their thrown-together simplicity.
Now I think of it, I should probably delete the last four lines so that our secret remains a secret. But to hell with it, there are only about five of you out there reading my stuff and I know who YOU are. So I know none of you are crazy enough to drive that far. And there are no direct planes from where YOU live. So I doubt you’ll be swelling the teeny tourist numbers in the next few years. And seeing as you’re all English, to your ears “Puglia” sounds like the name of a small, female, snouty-nose dog dressed in pink knickerbockers. Which would put anyone off from going anywhere near it. Unless you’re a small, male, snouty-nose dog. Which you’re not. At least, four out of five of you aren’t. Anyway, back to Italy – it was fantastic. I was going to write “it was a fantastic holiday” but going anywhere with an 8 month old baby and a 4 year old boy going through an existential crisis cannot technically be called a holiday. However, despite this fact, I loved my two weeks down there, sleeping in a big marble-floored room with a high star-shaped ceiling, swimming down by the rocks every morning, hanging out on the beach in the evenings with friends, taking cool showers in the garden to wash the sea-salt off, eating fresh figs, melon, italian ham and cheese and fried peppers, not to mention the pasta and seafood and that magical coffee. We carried seven kilos of the stuff back home in the back of the car to sup back at home … ah … which reminds me – NEVER EVER EVER DRIVE 1700km with two kids.
Never ever EVER.
Especially when one of them has just started crawling and decrees LOUD AND CLEAR AND IN A SCREAMING FASHION that the last thing she wants to do is to sit for hours in a car. “Well of course not”, you are thinking to yourselves, “how ridiculous to even imagine driving half that distance with small ones strapped into car seats? Not in our wildest nightmares. ” But we – L’Homme and I (NB: I will soon be changing his pseudonym to Fatty-Boy in the vague hope it might help kick him out of his current bulimic phase of gluttony, not that he ever reads this …) – are more stupid than the rest of you and we naively thought that 3 days of solid driving would be fine, all squished into the car with some chocolate and apple juice. Two hours into the journey we realised our mistake. I spent my time juggling baby, breasts, biscuits, phone and Disney DVDs and balancing a computer, all this in a web of twisted seatbelts, stuffed toys, nappies and tissues. Tears were shed in streams. Mostly mine. By the end of the second day we arrived at our friends’ home in the region of the “Marches” and threw ouselves at their feet, begging them to let us stay an extra day to recover from the artery-bursting stress of the journey, nurse our psychological wounds and to prepare ourselves for the last day of driving. And on the way back we did the same, ending up driving throughout the night as at least the children were safely and silently asleep. But now we need a holiday to recover. Next year we will be flying to wherever we go, or else we’ll be holidaying in the neighbouring village “Les Crottes” (translation: “The Poos”) which requires just a ten minute drive and no psychiatric help when we get home.