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2. Arrival

First of all, thanks to all of you who have accepted my invitations to follow this journey. I hope I will entertain or inform or even both. If you are not finding it that interesting or if I am writing too much or too often, just unsubscribe.

As Canute with his waves, I was unable to stop clouds and a gossamer of rain when what I had imagined was bright and blue and crisp. My first waking in Sarzana was at very first light and to faint birdsong. Too early, but with my body-clock a bit wonky I made a coffee and went back to a bed so perfectly comfortable as to be quite irresistible for another two hours.

I had been given an overwhelming welcome last night by my hosts Alfredo and Grazia who exhibit every quality I love in the average Italian. Picked up with hugs at the railway station I was driven the easily-walkable distance to the gracious holiday apartment they made when their adult children flew the nest and left them with a house too big for two. On the kitchen table was a delicate plate of prosciutto, mozzarella, olives, pickled onions and artichoke, and half a baguette;


two minutes later Alfredo was back with a very non-standard bottle of home-made Vermentino – the local white wine. They liked me.

The trip had taken 42 hours door-to-door, of which 23 where actually airborne. A long journey but easy, hitch-free, and only mildly physically challenging. The biggest, delightful surprise of the flight was being corrected by my seat neighbour on my pronunciation of Sarzana. (I had used the lazy English “z” sound instead of the crisper Italian “dz” sound.) That in itself was not the surprise; the surprise was that my corrector was Maori, not Milanese !

So here I am in Sar(d)zana and I am so happy. Soon I will walk out and explore my immediate neighbourhood, about 1km from the town’s centre. I was already shown the local restaurant as we passed last night, but I will be looking for the local (coffee) bar and a grocery (which here also covers fruit & veg and wine. The apartment has a fully- equipped kitchen.) After 1pm I will go to the library and see if there are any historical groups or even a noted local historian of the town. Then I will try to check out the musical scene here. I know there is a chamber ensemble and a choir associated with the Cathedral and there used to be Concentus Sarzana, an SATB choir. That will be a good day’s work.

On my walk today I saw this – so bureaucratically Italian





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1. Here we go again

Soon – about one more day – the first steps of my 11th journey to my loved Italy will be taken. From the 11:24 Intercity from Lithgow Station until the 20:12 Regionale drops me at Sarzana Station takes 42 hours and 48 minutes not counting the initial and final walks. In the matter of flights, especially the 14 hour leg to Dubai, all I can say is that I ENDURE them but that the pains evaporate by the time I reach the Immigration Desk. I am here. I am in love again, even though I know I will be disappointed by this dysfunctional, chaotic but perfectly beautiful country.

I again go through the thoughts of why I am doing this. I feel vaguely guilty about the waste, the privilege, the sheer vanity of it all. Whom am I benefiting? What am I achieving? Will it make me stronger, better, wiser? I can’t answer any of those questions; just hope.

Mainly I hope for a decision – whether I can move on and finish the Helen Cochrane biography or whether it is time to hand it on to someone else. If it is to be me, I will need an injection of energy and enthusiasm and new confidence unavailable to me at home. Sarzana may provide this.

There will be happy reunions with friends and colleagues, hikes in the National Park nearby with its views over the Gulf, walks along the waterside from Lerici to San Terenzo and back, ambling aimlessly through the alleys and piazzas of Sarzana. All these are delicious and familiar pleasures. New for this trip, I hope to walk from Aulla to Massa, a 40km section of ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome (the setting for Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’) and which passes through Sarzana.

Above all, I hope to start writing again. These last two years I have had trouble writing a shopping list; an email is a major challenge; writing creatively has been impossible. I am banking on my accommodation being conducive – a home away from home but in this most beautiful little Italian city, charming and honest.

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