It took a while before Sicily was sitting comfortably in the plan despite sounding so gorgeous, because I hadn’t quite factored in the winter weather and in my optimistic enthusiasm I thought I would simply keep heading east. Not quite so practical, as it turns out.
I’m now in Munich airport, between flights and still slightly dizzy from the twirling of last night’s Csángó dancing and maybe from getting up at 3.30 this morning (as well as feeling a bit feverish on account of 2 dreadful coffees), but in the lull between naps, my childhood has again floated itself up to consciousness and beamed ‘Italy’ at me and I am getting excited!
This is where my Grandfather comes in.
When my grannie became mysteriously incapacitated sometime before I was born, he employed 2 adorable and inseparable Italian live-in maids, Anna and Paola. They had arrived in England shortly after the war, seeking work. They were devoted to us, as we were to them and, like extended family, my brother and I were treated as though we were their own. My Father’s name was Ronald Masser, and so to avoid confusion with her mother- in-law, my mother became Meezeez-a- Rrraoulnald…. Mrs. Ronald!
Anna was a professional seamstress and with flying, deadly accurate needle, she could reproduce in an instant, anything she saw in the fashionable shop windows, for a fraction of the price. With a mouthful of pins and still talking vivaciously, she regularly took up sleeves and hems on my school uniform, as I was always drowned in surplus length!
Her younger sister Paola, was her equal in all things to do with the kitchen….and the complete opposite pole to Anna’s excitable nature, being very shy, gentle and quiet, although for Sunday roast lunches, the sauces began a new tradition! I have memories of delicious flafelleta, being shown how to do blanket stitch, how to knot thread with one hand and for some reason that remains a mystery, how to spend happy hours rolling coloured cotton wool balls to pop into large glass jars that sat on Granny’s dressing table!
In the big dining room, there was a bulge under the rust-coloured carpet and by pressing it with tiptoe (my little legs could barely reach) one could summon Anna or Paola, as a box on the wall in the pantry with candy-striped curtains for every room would flutter and ring and they would come trotting in with delight and pretended surprise. They played the game joyfully countless times over and then just as we were full of lunch, would tickle us mercilessly and play ‘sack-a-potaytos’ which involved one grasping the ankles at one end and at the other end, the wrists and then swinging us like the aforementioned sack! Of course this would make us helplessly over -excited and vex my mother!
After lunch, Grandpa, in his wing collars and tiny brass monkey tie-pin and full morning suit would either play Gilbert and Sullivan on his very special turntable, or sit at the piano and play Poulenc… the perpetuum mobile that sounds like a train, which he would pretend to be, (he had an amazing electric train set in a shed in the garden) or Marigold by Billy Mayerl; also some fairly dreadful compositions by his father, J T Masser!
I would sit in raptures beside him on the double piano bench/music cabinet and my little brother would sit under the piano twanging his sock suspenders.
Happy memories. So I feel full of smiles as I anticipate all that Italian warmth and all that gorgeous food!!!
Yesterday was a fantastic day of weather in Budapest. Gale force winds, a rainbow arching from the parliament buildings across the Danube to the beautiful twin-spired church on the Buda side, with all the gorgeous architecture brightly sunlit against the bruise – black sky. I walked up to the castle and had a prime view from there… as usual, when I have been about to leave, all sorts of treasures come to light at the 11th hour and then time runs out.
Thank you, Anna, Betti and Zsofi and your lovely families for making my stay in Hungary so fascinating and enjoyable. At this time of year, you made life just so much easier than it could have been.
And just a footnote, I am safe and well, more to the point, Sir G. is, now that we are in Catania! At 5.30 this morning I saw my precious bike being taken away by an uncharacteristically happy Hungarian baggage handler and at about 3.30 this afternoon, reclaimed him from two highly amused Italian men; I was so happy that I was almost shouting ‘carissimi’ at the bike and gabbling my thanks at them to see him so completely intact. Much handshaking, laughter and congratulations! It was definitely worth all that time of carefully thought-out and attentive packing, (thanks for the tips, Ben) but having seen how carefully he was taken out of the hold when we arrived in Catania, I think he also got very good treatment along the way.
Well done Lufthansa and Air Malta