Not a Time to be German

Gaeta is strung out across the isthmus, much of the old town was bombed in the war, but relics of the mediaeval past remain. There are a couple of churches, fortress structures and lots of thick old wall to go at. We headed off along the front in the morning, before it became oppressively hot and stopped for a coffee at a stand with tables in the shade next to a small park.

A group of old men were sat round a nearby table playing chess and chatting. It was tempting to linger, but we made ourselves set out again, through the park. It was very simple garden with lawns slightly raised at the top of concrete pavers forming a basic parterre. The beds were edged in clipped box, but the grass itself was loosely cut and full of daisies and clover. In the beds stood various trees, an understory of gnarled olives, short with big girths and frothy tops beneath a canopy of pines and palms. There was a central memorial surrounded by wooden benches. In one corner the bright structures and spongy floor of a children’s play area struck a different note, but generally it was a very restful space. We wandered across the diagonal axis and then crossed the main roads and entered the back streets. There was a small square with a primitive stone lion dissolving in the center and a restaurant creeping up the cobbles. Then we came up against towering old walls merged with scrub. Houses were joined together by stone archways as in San Remo, but it all looked as though a minor earthquake could level it, though it obviously had survived the bombing only to be left derelict and deserted. We threaded our way back to where a road ran parallel to the harbour and followed this round till we came to another square shaded by two rows of trees. Outside terraces of nearby restaurants had taken advantage of the shaded space; the tables were set on decking on account of the slope. Although it was past midday all were deserted, in fact there were very few people about at all. John speculated that they were resting up ahead of the Italy Germany game this evening. We turned and headed back to the front, not sure what to do next.

Along the old quay stood a cluster of white pavilions, with potted olive trees on the corners of each tent. On hoardings around town we had seen advertisements for an olive oil festival and here it was. Not being opposed to the odd dip in the extra virgin, we headed over there. The tents were completely enclosed. Bright pots of plants glimpsed through the gaps hinted that all was primed and ready inside, but the only signs of life were from a line of children jumping into the sea off the harbour wall.

We went back to the park and had a nice quiet sit on a form; after all we are retired. It seemed a long way to walk back to look round the festival this evening. And there was the small matter of the football. Even though it was Saturday the whole town was deathly quiet. John thought we should head back to the sloping square and have lunch and then have a snack tonight and watch the game in a bar near the marina. When we arrived at the square there looked to be people milling around in the middle restaurant and by the time we realised they were all staff we were seated at a table for two in the shade. Our waiter asked if we spoke German and I said a little at which point he took me over to show me the blackboard, which was all in Italian. In English he said it was all fish, though some of it was obviously fish with pasta (my pasta vocabulary is improving). We both went back to the table to share my ignorance with John. The waiter then produced menus in Italian and English and we worked out some of what was on the blackboard and ordered pasta mains, linguini with fish for John and some big tubes with prawns for me, with Caprese salad to start. All told our chap had not spoken much German at all. John speculated that he had been checking whether or not we were supporters of tonight’s opposition, in which case Italian manhood would require them to all piss on the fish. As it was they became quite chatty about what we were doing in Italy and even brought out a Neapolitan to tell us how to pronounce the names of places we were heading for. By the time we left several other couples had been tempted into the restaurant by our presence, no one wants to sit in an empty place. The waiter shook both our hands appreciatively as we left. The olive oil tents were still in a closed scrum, so we went back to Lyra for a siesta ready for the big match.

There was a bit of drama when a boat flying a German ensign came in around three. The wind was blowing pretty strongly and the marineras were bringing him in to the berth on the inside of us, the boat with the Labradors having vacated early morning. A short man in swimming trunks was at the wheel with an equally small woman and an assortment of children ranged around him. He had a friend in yellow shorts ashore helping the marineras. I think this confused matters, because at first he reversed towards a different berth. There was a lot of shouting in Italian across the water and he pulled forward and tried to turn into the space next to us. Unfortunately this lost him momentum and the wind caught him and blew him sideways. He had no bow thruster and came to a halt across our bows with his keel trapped between the two lazy lines and his wife trying to hold them off by pushing on our anchor. By this time John was up there helping her and I followed him the boat hook and a fender. There was not room at the front for all of us, so I went back and lowered our passerelle, so the marinera could come on board to help. He tied a rope to the stranded boat’s stern, dropped the port hand lazy line and hauled the boat down our side. I stood ready with the fender in case the boats should touch and John hauled the lazy line back up once they were over it. They were soon tied up next door, the man was full of thanks and then we all went back about our business.

Once the heat had subsided towards evening we set out to explore the area immediately behind the marina, thinking there would be bars and cafes there. There were not. A narrow pedestrian street running parallel to the one along the quay was actually full of all manner of shops. On the corner a crush of people formed an abstract queue for take away pizza. As we passed the shop there was a smaller orderly line at a side door, presumably those picking up telephone orders. We entered the long run of the street and paraded with the throngs, window gazing. The buildings looked old and leaned towards one another, washing hung from balconies and at irregular intervals metal girders spanned the street to brace it. There were a couple of Catholic churches, doors open packed with supplicants. Every so often came glorious scents from bakeries and the place reverberated with conversation. Down side alleys we could see the sea front, but the alleys themselves were private flats and houses. Eventually we came out at the fish dock, not having found a bar. Heading back along the front there was a place where a few tables and some random plastic chairs faced a couple of screens, with local men chain smoking in anticipation, but we did not want to intrude there. Eventually we arrived back in the bar with the parasols where we had tried the local pie on our arrival. John had the draft beer and I had a bottle of Gran Reserva Peroni, which was rather nice.There were no screens, but just before nine they turned the music off and put the commentary on. Of course this was no good to us, so we headed back to Lyra to watch on our little telly. Unfortunately the only channels we could pick up were local ones, shopping, soap operas and the like. The Apennines had scuppered us. We sat on deck with a glass of wine and followed proceedings via the groans and roars. The German opening goal was an audible intake of communal breath then a deathly silence; the Italian equaliser spawned a rash of fireworks. The penalty shootout was hard to call, but at the end there was just a volley of bangers, somewhere nearby. Had Italy won I am sure the place would have erupted, as it was we had a quiet night’s sleep.


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