Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

09 September 2009

Barga: The Ospedale

Alan and I go to the Café Alpini in Barga’s Piazza Roma to drink iced Campari. I do a pen sketch, from my chair on the boardwalk outside the café, of the street that goes towards the centro storico from the Piazza Pascoli. Alan is content to smoke and read. My sketch finished I order another round of drinks marvelling, yet again, at the Italian practice of not paying until everything has been finished. How the café owners, let alone their patrons, keep a tally of how many drinks and of what type, and whether or not there were cakes or savouries beats me; but practice is that one does not pay until after. Then one must be certain to get a receipt (una ricevuto fiscale) for fear of being stopped by polizia and thrown into a dungeon for lack of evidence of payment. I’ve never yet been stopped and asked for a receipt but they tell me it happens often.

A group of ripened middle-aged ladies in black silk, satin and crêpe chatters away at an adjacent table. They’re nearly all smoking. I’ve seen them before; they gather regularly. They’re locals, retired and probably widowed. One of them is totally different from the others. She blooms like an eager rose, pink, with ruby red lipstick, a hint of azure in her hair, and wearing the sort of spectacles that Sophia Loren might have modelled for Rodenstock. She has plump, white arms and stubby, jewelled fingers which she uses expressively. I catch her eye and she smiles. Alan, his back to her, is oblivious. After a particularly long diatribe rapidly pattered out in Italiano molto espressivo she leaves the table and, as she passes close to us, she says ‘Have a happy holiday’ in heavily Scots-accented English.

‘You’re very kind signora.’ I thank her.

Alan swivels around and smiles ‘Buona sera.’

‘Where are you from?’

I explain that I am from la Nuova Zelande while Alan is a Londoner with a casa in Barga.

‘Oh,’ she lights up at Alan, ‘Where are you?’


He explains where it is but there’s no need, she knows it.

‘I’ve just been trying to get the others to come to the protest at the hospital tonight,’ she says, pointing a thumb over her shoulder. Then dropping her voice conspiratorially she wrinkles her nose and says, ‘but they’re a bit apathetic. The authorities are trying to close it down.’

She taps me lightly on the shoulder: ‘Nice to have met you.’ and she’s away, bustling across the grass of the Piazza Pascoli.

‘Nice woman.’ says Alan. ‘Typically Barghigiani Scots.’

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’


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By Don Donovan