Jim Haynes newsletters
|Newsletter No. 732|
|A trip to Milano and the South of Italy
March 8 to 13, 2015
Sunday, 8th: Cathy Monnet produces her magic chilli by special request from Seamas McSwiney. Cathy started the dinners with me way back in 1978 and she has been cooking off and on ever since. Always wonderful meals. We are 80 happy diners. Almost perfect weather. This means we are able to use the garden. The dessert is my favorite: vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. Many delightful guests from all corners of the planet. Very difficult to get everyone to leave, but finally they do. Michaela Daub helps me clean up a bit of the mess and then we say 'good night' and head for bed.
Monday, 9th: It is difficult to believe that
we were 80 people here for dinner last night. Cathy Monnet cooked a superb
chilli and there is none left, so it is just as well that I am off this
morning to Italy. Blood sugar level is OK in spite of the ice cream and
chocolate sauce. Insulin injected, shave, shower, shampoo, dress and pack.
Barbara Engrand, my pretty blonde nurse, passes and is happy with the
sugar level and tells me to be careful and to have a great trip. Taxi
is called and I am off leaving an atelier full of guests. Arrive in the
Gare de Lyon with plenty of time to spare. A lovely young woman assists
me with my small bag and I head for the departure spot. Departure is announced
and I walk and walk a long way. Suddenly encounter the same young woman
who assisted me earlier and she does it again. We find the correct carriage
and she loads my bag above my seat. Earlier I slipped her a nice tip.
This time I just thank her. The train pulls out of the station at 10:48.
Behind me is sweet Margoline. She is a student of Interior Design in Milano.
She lives in Paris. We talk about her studies and my Sunday dinners. Get
a text message on my phone that Paula Klein has attempted to contact me.
Try to call her back, but the line is engaged. We are rolling down through
the beautiful French countryside. We will arrive in Milano at 17h53. Go
for lunch. Select lasagna and tiramisu and a bottle of water. All for
17 Euros. My portable telephone rings and it is Paula. She wants her best
wishes passed to Sasha Stefanovic. I promise to do so. Then my telephone
rings again. This time it is Sasha. I pass Paula's warm wishes. Sasha
reports she will collect me from the station when I arrive. The more we
travel Eastward, the more it feels Swiss-like, with mountains tops covered
in snow. Another call. This time it is Maria Rankov. She is inviting me
to a theatre performance. Alas I must refuse. I will be in Italy all week.
Time flies. Marjolaine and I have a good talk. I discover her mother is
Polish. I tell her about my many trips to Poland. When we arrive, she
says that she will walk with me to the front of the station. Sasha calls
again and she reports that she will be in her car out in front waiting
for me. And we have arrived. The two of us make our way slowly to the
front of Garibaldi Station. Sasha sees us and comes to embrace me. I introduce
the two women, thank Marjolaine, say goodbye and walk to the car with
Sasha. We zoom across Milano to her apartment. I learn that her father,
Alek, is not in Milano. He has had to travel to Belgrade for an editorial
meeting. Damn. I wanted to spend some time with Alek, one of the principal
reasons for staying the night. We talk about Paula & her Alek, about
John Flattau, about Jesper and Takae, About Sasha's husband, Claudio,
and their son, Corso. We continue to pass through the streets of Milano
and I recognize things from previous visits. Soon we have arrived. She
lets me out in front while she goes to find a parking place. She tells
me to go upstairs and Corso is at home and will let me inside.
Tuesday, 10th: Awake at 7. Get up and perform
my medical chores. Damn. My blood sugar level is high. It is all the pasta
I ate last night. I probably should have just had salad. Wash, pack and
dress. All done by 8. The door bell rings and I am summoned. Time for
coffee. The apartment is alive with activities. Sasha has an important
meeting this morning. Corso is up and dressed and about to depart for
his school. Sasha makes coffee for us and delicious home made jam on nut
bread. Suddenly it is time to go. A taxi has been called for me. Say my
goodbyes and head out. Collect my things from Alek's apartment and down
the elevator I go. The taxi is there. We roll across Milano in the morning
sun shine. I thought I would be early, but I am not. I have to rush to
find the train to Roma and I make it with a few minutes to spare. Sit
across from an attractive woman with a low cut dress. We never speak,
but we smile to each other a lot. Three hours to Rome. Read all the way.
Am given the Wall Street Journal by a train attendant. We pull
into Rome about 2 pm and it is madness everywhere. I learn that I must
find platform 26 bis . And I walk and walk and walk. Finally arrive and
again with only a few minutes to spare. The diesel train is old-fashioned
and packed with people. I manage to find a seat and we are off to Cassino.
I sit opposite a couple who used to live in New York City. The fellow's
name is Tito but I have forgotten his wife's name. Next to me is a young
attractive woman. She also speaks English. I invite them all to a Sunday
dinner when they are next in Paris. The young woman is getting out in
Cassino, but the couple are going still further South. We pull into Cassino
and almost the entire carriage gets up to leave the train. I say goodbye
to Tito and his wife and slowly made my way out. No sign of anyone. Decide
to walk to the front of the station. Still see no one who might be meeting
me. Go next door to the station and order a coffee and ponder what to
do. A fellow comes up to me and asks if I am Jim. He is Peppe Masi and
he has come to collect me. He is with Jola Jeglinska, a woman I have met
before in Paris. She cooks for Stanley. Jola is from Poland. I speak my
few words in Polish to her and she is surprised and pleased. We have some
shopping to do before we go to the house to meet Stanley. We stop in a
supermarket and I wait in the van. Watch a young man selling men's socks
to people entering and leaving the supermarket. Peppe and Jola return
with sacks of food for tonight's dinner. We drive out of Cassino to Rocca
Wednesday, 11th: Early morning coffee and pancakes with everyone in the kitchen. Peppe arrives and soon we all pile into two cars and we are off to meet Danila Bracaglia, our guide for today. We pick her up in front of the train station and continue up the side of a mountain to one of the first monasteries in Italy and the scene of bloody battles in the Second World War. Apparently Churchill wanted to create another front to draw troops from France and the Eastern Front. Danila is super informed and describes everything in great detail. I am not a fan of churches and monasteries. Nor is Peppe. Later we visit a Polish cemetery. It seems that many Poles lost their lives in this campaign. We then head back into Cassino for lunch in the l'Angolo divino. We have a superb meal. Francesca, one of the staff, is super lovely. We walk to a nearby ice cream shop for gelato afterwards. Back into the cars for a further exploration of World War II battles. Entire villages were bombed into extinction. We visit a village that was completely destroyed and John Huston made a documentary about this battle. We see the documentary. All I can say I am pleased that I was not a soldier in this madness. Poor brave lads, thank you. Next we drive to a river that was also the scene of more bloodshed. Back to the house in Roca and a bit of rest before dinner. Steven Ullman is due to arrive at the train station in Roca at about 6. Peppe goes to meet him. Shortly thereafter, the two return. Steven is introduced to everyone. Then we have another feast. After dinner, another early night.
Outside Monte Cassino, Arik, Danila Bracaglia, Jim, Peppe, Lola and Laura. Photo Cathy Grunfeld
Thursday, 12th: This morning Arik, Laura, Alex
and Lila are leaving us. They are driving to Rome and will stay there
a day or so and then fly to their home in L.A. They depart and Peppe arrives.
Steven, Cathy, Jola and I go for a tour to Peppe's home town, another
town that is a thousand years old . We are all introduced to his grandmother,
Lina. I sit in front of her roaring fire place and have a coffee with
her while the others wander about the village. She and I attempt to communicate
with not a lot of success. Peppe then drives us up another mountain side
and points out the local castle and a place where we will later have lunch,
Acqua Viva. Back we go to the house to collect Stanley and Paul. Up the
mountain side again for one of the most amazing lunches I have ever had
in my life. The restaurant has been opened especially for us. Eleven courses
and vast amounts of a local wine. Everything is super delicious. There
is no menu and nothing is ordered. It just keeps coming. We all are stuffed
and extremely happy. Thank you, Stanley. And thank you, Peppe. Back to
the house to rest. Cathy does not ride back with us. She elects to walk
At the Angolo divino. Paul Cohen, Jim, Stanley, Lola, Peppe. Photo Cathy Grunfeld
Then Stanley, Steven and I discuss Casablanca - the Gin Joint Cut, Morag Fullarton's delightful and lovingly disrespectful homage to the film that was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and which I brought to Paris last May. We want to produce the show in New York City. Stanley comes up with a superb idea. Now all we have to do is find the right venue and get an OK from American Actors Equity. Two uphill undertakings. I head for bed. Steve stays up late, talking with Kathy.
Friday, 13th: Our last day in Roca. Stanley has
suggested we have coffee and croissants in the town in a cafe that is
only a five minutes walk away. So Steven, Stanley and I head out. The
place is called Victoria's and the woman making the coffee is a delight.
We order the coffee and it will be consumed outside on a terrace. Cathy
joins us. And I treat. Wonderful coffee and super delicious croissants.
Peppe drives by and sees us. He turns the van around and comes to collect
us. Back we go to the house. Steven and I collect our things, thank Stanley
and Jola, and say our goodbyes. Peppe will drive us into Cassino to get
our train to Rome. He will later drive Stanley, Paul, Cathy and Jola to
Rome where they will stay two nights. Then Stanley and Paul will fly to
Paris. Yola will fly to Warsaw. Cathy will fly to Majorca.
Last coffee in Roca at Victoria's. Jim, Stanley ans Steve Allman. Photo Cathy Grunfeld
At Chambery-Challes-les Eaux we learn that the train is not going to Lyon, so all Lyon passengers must de-train. But it seems we will be late arriving in the Gare de Lyon in Paris - some twenty minutes late, about 23h45. We manage to find a taxi and are soon home. Martin Walker is asleep on the couch. I go upstairs and answer about 40 or so email messages.
Another trip completed. Next trip to Steve Gove's Fringe Festival in Prague in May with Susie Parker. Then Edinburgh Festival in August where you will find me in the Hotel du Vin once again. Then let's hope it will be to New York City for the opening of Casablanca - the Gin Joint Cut. See you all there!
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