THE GREEN DIARY :                                MIDSUMMER MADNESS

Poggia Pigio

We kicked off Midsummer with a week in Sicily where Friends Jane and Edward had arranged a wonderful villa, Poggia Pigio just under Pollina, on the top of a mountain along a hair-raising road, looking towards the sea in the north and Castelbuono in the south. Really the middle of nowhere, from our point of view; delightfully isolated and perfect for

R & R after an exhausting two months decorating the house! Friends Ian McD and Marianne Velmans made us six in this enormous, very comfortable villa with a pool of course, a welcome necessity.

Finale was our local town, down the terrifying mountain about twenty minutes away with supermarkets, butchers and other exciting comestibles to aid the considerable talents of all our cooks! Only one lunch away from home the whole week, otherwise a stream of haute cuisine, a tricolour of much wine, not to mention gin, gushed forth as the bottle banks got ever fuller! Perfect.

Cefalú was our nearest bigger venture; we had our away day lunch there. A beautiful if somewhat crowded little town founded by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC.

Terrifying moments

I’ve been to Sicily a number of times and had a few terrifying moments there. Two of these feature guns. On one visit Tony and I were driving from Palermo to Agrigento. It was a Sunday and on our way we stopped off in Corleone to look at a small market and have a coffee.

Everyone was dressed in black – except us. We were both wearing dinky little shorts and colourful shirts, clearly tourists as we swept into the main square in our little red Fiat hire. Straight into an atmosphere you could cut with a knife.

It was creepy, almost sinister. As we entered the café the room fell totally silent and all eyes gazed in our direction. Never have we drunk coffees so fast; we paid and retreated to the car to resume the drive.

The road winds up the escarpment to the plateau along the SS118, very isolated; here are still the remnants of the vast Latifundium, empty spaces where the landed estates run by the Romans with their slaves fed the needs of Empire.

Not a soul in sight. I have changed down into second and am traversing the steep, winding road which passes through the spectacular mountainous landscape; Tony is half asleep with the map on his lap. Suddenly without any warning, a man jumps off the embankment out of the maquis, lands on the bonnet of the car wielding a sawn-off shotgun.

It was terrifying. I do not know what he wanted or what he might do but we both shrieked and I accelerated up the hill, knocking him off the bonnet onto the road – and didn’t stop.

He dwindled in the rear-view mirror; I saw him get up, shouting and gesticulating with his gun. Soon a bend in the steep road hid him from view and we stopped to look at the damage: an enormous dent in the bonnet. We managed to press this out and spent the rest of the holiday looking over our shoulders for bandits and/or carabanieri . We eventually, in great trepidation, handed the car back to Avis at Catania Airport fully expecting to be arrested on hit-and-run charges.

On another visit to Sicily with Friend Loïs and Godson Guy aged 12 or 14 I think, again in a hire car, we were driving from Palermo on a sunny Sunday, to Cefalú, for a day at the beach and a visit to the spectacular Cathedral there, built by Roger II in 1131 after the Norman conquest.

There was a lot of traffic. It’s about an hour’s drive along the coast road. There was a wide, three-laned boulevard leading to a Tollgate; here these lanes squeezed to two, we are inching forward and polite merging is indicated – at least in England!

But this is Sicily where testosterone runs all motorcars and I am in the middle lane. The man on my left is absolutely not giving way and I am being dangerously squeezed.

His wife is in the passenger seat. He starts to shout across her at me.

I have nowhere to go.

He leans across his wife, opens the glove compartment and produces an enormous revolver which he waves across his wife, through the window, in my face.

I am electrified.

The wife starts to shout at her husband and pushes his hand up and away. The husband stalls his car and an opening comes up ahead of me which I shoot into, sweating.

There are two other gun stories, one in Libya and the other in a Greek restaurant along the Harrow Road near Westbourne Park. How prosaic is that? But it could have ended in tragedy since ordnance was let off.

Friends Dave Lucas, Sue Samson, Tony and I are eating a great meal at Dave’s local “Greek” the name of which escapes me.

We are sitting towards the back.

At the front, in the window, as part of the décor, is a table set with napery, cutlery and a bottle of Moët in an ice bucket designed to attract passing custom.

All very civilised and calm.

Suddenly a car comes screaming down the road, a man leans out of the window and fires off a pistol, shooting up the restaurant, the Threshers Off Licence next door and another shop down the road.

Two bullets penetrate the “Greek”. Both through the plate glass. The first bullet decapitates the top of the champagne bottle which explodes in a spectacular spray of foam; the second penetrates the floor boards literally inches from Tony’s leg.

Later, after the police arrived and the blue tape closed us in, the bullet sticking out of the floorboard could easily be identified as 9mm Parabellum. So, a Glock? A Luger? Who knows? And what was it all for?

We never found out.

One of the questions the cops asked us was, “Do you know anyone who might want you dead?”!

So, Friends, guns. You never know do you?

One more?

Rather tame this time: In Tripoli during a short window of cooperation between Colonel Gadaffi and the West during the Blair years. I was employed by Martin Randall to play Julius Caesar in a redacted, 90 minute version of the play of that name with a professional ensemble specially staged at Leptis Magna where there is a two thousand seat, ruined theatre by the seaside.

Martin Randall specialises in cultural tours. A truly brilliant tour operator, very high end, on this occasion a cruise visiting Roman remains along the North African Coast from Tunis through to Crete stopping in such places as Sabratha, ancient Carthage among several, and including Leptis Magna.

We joined the cruise after rehearsing for two weeks in London. Tony was able to come too which was nice. We rehearsed during the days leading up to arriving in Tripoli.

At Sabratha Martin Randall flew a Baroque Ensemble and singers out from Holland to perform Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas – just for one night.

So with us, for one performance only, can you believe, in the theatre ruins at Leptis Magna, Julius Caesar.

Just imagine the arranging? The bribes? The connivances and the intricacies involved in getting all this on the road, once actually in Libya? With different, warring factions within Gadaffi’s government – some didn’t want us, others did. It depended on which son was prevailing. Anyway for a while we were in but we had to have a series of minders from dockside to vomitorium. “Our Man In Tripoli” drove us in a protected minivan. I was sitting in the passenger seat. As we left the dock area he leaned across me to the glove compartment where there was an enormous and I mean enormous wodge of cash, $ollars, €uros and £ounds and an even more enormous Glock which he put between his knees for the journey to the ruins. Payoffs were made all the way down the line but the gun, thank heavens, was never used.

What an experience.

Back to Cefalú – on all of my visits there, guns or no guns, the Cathedral is the most beautiful building, Sicilian Romanesque; it’s presbytarium adorned by Byzantine craftsmen with mosaics quite as brilliant as the ones in Monreale, another Norman marvel in the hills above Palermo.

The exquisite Cathedral at Monreale.

In 2019 Friends Judith (Krummeck), Douglas, Tony and I hatched a plan to meet in Southampton and cross the pond to New York in one or other Cunard liner, it didn’t really matter which. Investigations were made and we were to have embarked the Queen Mary 2 in June 2020.

But along came Covid and that was the end of that – we thought. Cunard were extremely helpful, refunds were made and best wishes for another plan were expressed all round.

It all came together and now we are on our way in some considerable splendour, the four of us, to NYC where we will spend a day or two before they go home to Baltimore and we head north to Cape Cod where we will rendezvous with daughter Sarah and son-in-law Ivan who will be driving down from Ottawa to be with us for a week.

We boarded yesterday, the 23rd June. There was a terrible moment when it looked as though Tony would have to stay behind. Though he had a valid ESTA, he had forgotten that his newly issued passport and the numbers on the documents did not match.

Pandemonium.

Judith, Douglas and I board and Tony said he’d catch us up.
The hours go by and no online approval is forthcoming on an emergency application. Cunard are adamant – no valid ESTA, no boarding!
I am already planning an airfare for him to join us in NYC at the end of the week and having a minor nervous breakdown!

Stress levels are through the roof! But at last the site pinged and permission was granted, so we are all set.

“Phew!” as they say on Wordle.

12 Replies to “THE GREEN DIARY :                                MIDSUMMER MADNESS”

  1. Never a dull moment, darling, but you wouldn’t want to be bored would you, dearest Peter? Here’s to the rest being splendid in every way. Much love to you both. XXOO Bonnie

  2. Hah! Montelbano sono. Attenzioni Pedro – Sicilia pericolosa!
    Excellent read – much enjoyed by Joy and self.
    Have a good trip on Cunard and let us know of your further adventures!

  3. We boarded yesterday, the 23rd June. There was a terrible moment when it looked as though Tony would have to stay behind. Though he had a valid ESTA, he had forgotten that his newly issued passport and the numbers on the documents did not match.

    You must have shat yourselves! I’m glad it all worked out okay.

  4. Omg, the gun stories were really scary but such a happy ending on Ship…looks so luxurious enjoy every moment of that and the holiday x. Xxx

    1. I too, many years ago, made the fatal wardrobe error of sporting a rather fetching matching floral shirt and shorts ensemble specifically for keeping cool during a heatwave in Sicily with a hot sirocco blowing ! I ventured forth from my hotel and headed into Palermo to be greeted ,like you, with icy glares that sent me slinking back to change into more suitable attire!!
      The incident with the sawn off shot gun sounds absolutely terrifying . I only suffered a few minor eruptions from Mt. Etna 🐦‍🔥⚡

  5. What adventures. I would love to go back to Sicily. I have been twice, once with my parents but my Dad was ill and ailing, so we were restricted in what we could do. The second time was a day trip from Malta, which was short but fun. I really want to go to Agrigento.

  6. Gosh what another good saga … I once drove through Corleone, completely ignorant of its reputation and I remember being very impressed by the beautiful wrought-iron balconies and thinking it was all a bit much for such a little hillside town … no guns were pointed at me however!!
    and while I am here cara Pedro … HAPPY BIRTHDAY for Sunday and enjoy your passage across the pond … looks luverly xxxx

  7. Just read your diary. Thank you. You made me laugh for the first time today. You write very entertainly, Peter, & the story of the man leaping onto the bonnet of your car made us howl with mirth. Yes, I was reading it to Mali.. Terrifying for you, of course. We hope your Cunard adventure is peaceful in comparison. Sending fond love to you both. xx

  8. Fascinating read Pedro. Val and I were in Vancouver a be little while ago and our room overlooked the cruise ship terminal. We woke up to see the Queen right underneath us. Enjoy your trip. Hobart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *