Magazine article The Spectator

Onanist Heaven

Magazine article The Spectator

Onanist Heaven

Article excerpt

NO ONE back home has ever heard of the Romagna where I live. 'It's between Bologna and Florence,' I say. 'It's like Tuscany without the British.'

If I remain, as I usually do, in my Apennine village, I am spared the sound of English families discussing the weather at the next table and drunk Germans singing in the dead of night. I have seen a few Germans and the odd lost-looking Brit on the coast during the tourist season, but nothing like the numbers who seethe in and out of Tuscany every year.

The little piazza becomes the village's communal front-room in summer. There is a fountain in the middle shaded by four plum trees where the old men sit and play cards and blaspheme when the priest isn't around. 'Dio Rospo!' they shout - Toad God. The fountain, in the shape of a bunch of grapes, doesn't gush or spout mains water like those aggressive city ones, but just trickles mountain water down soothingly. There is a bunch of grapes on the village coat of arms as well. If the old men speak to me, they call me Inglese, which is the truth, after all.

Things are a bit different on the coast, I must admit, not least because of the nudist beach near Rimini, where sometimes, in summer, you can find me reading a book, stark naked. Now, writing this in the dead of winter, looking out of my window at snow-covered mountains and feeling the cold in the bones of my feet, it is difficult to remember quite why I ever go to the nudist beach. I don't particularly like taking my clothes off in public and, like any normal person, would not be seen dead wandering around naked in the piazza in my village.

The only conclusion I can come to is that it has something to do with the name: Lido di Dante - Dante's Beach. The poet, banished from Florence, wandered there, it is said, and found inspiration. More recently, Fellini was born in Rimini and set Amarcord, one of his best films there. Amarcord, in case you didn't know, means 'I remember' in Romagnol dialect. But poor Fellini has only a park, not a beach, named after him.

Rimini is a pretty weird place. There's the beach and the umbrellas - millions of them - and then a hedge with signs on it saying 'Beware rat poison'. Then there's the road and the hotels, and after that the railway - continuing into the distance as far as the eye can see. In the midst of all this is a pub called the Rose and Crown. It is the only English pub I know of; the rest are all Irish, but even the Rose and Crown sells Irish beer. …

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