Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Pisa, Florence and Roma

Extract from my piece for Baku Magazine - Link

Falling in love is a curious thing. Falling in love with a city, even more so. And falling in love both with a city and in that city? Well, that’s pure magic.
Florence – the birthplace and cradle of the Renaissance. A living, breathing museum of architectural splendour and one of Europe’s greatest cultural jewels.
It’s a city shaped by wealth. Its founding families were not only the architects of modern Florence, but also of art, culture and modern capitalism.
Golden domes reflect the sunlight giving everything touched by it other-worldly golden warmth. We walk the city at dusk, when it’s at its most glorious. Narrow streets and crumbling courtyards stand steeped in the smoke of time. Sculpture is everywhere, bodies and cherubs drawn in shadows.
By way of contrast, everything in the Tuscan capital is harmonious. Even the Arno river is the same pale sand of the surrounding buildings, with khaki lowlights from the vine-covered hills. After flexing our cultural muscle around the Uffizi Gallery the sky beyond the endless corridors of Da Vinci’s and Boticellis, is a deep passionate azure, as if straight out of a Giotti fresco.
My thoughts turn to Michelangelo’s David – a life liberated from cold white stone. His pale unblemished flesh as real as any, a face that forever dwells in thought. The haunting sense of time stood still surrounds one in this city. Statues trapped in the ember of eternity amid a sea of people, all on their way to somewhere else.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Portofino and the Abbey of San Fruttuoso

Extract from my latest piece for Baku Magazine - here.
As autumn approaches I am reflecting on this Summer’s main holiday, a gallop around the Italian Riviera, a short sojourn in Florence and a microstop in Rome. Two weeks.
I was determined to live La Dolce Vita, scooter around a la Hepburn on her Roman Holiday, shake-shake-shake-senora and of course do plenty of livin’ la vida loca. I blame pop-culture.
It all started in Portofino. In the province of Genoa, Portofino is a former fishing village turned glossy upmarket resort. The harbour fizzes and glitters. It is crowded with lithe tanned bodies, statement handbags and bare backs. I discern the occasional American accent, although it’s owner is not your typical fanny-pack tourist. It’s all Ralph Lauren catalogue families twisting lobster linguini around forks received by Amorone stained lips. Music flits through the air from the jaded mouths of moustachioed restaurant singers. We bid them goodbye and sail away from Portofino to the small hamlet of San Fruttuoso.

The Abbey of San Fruttuoso of Capodimonte is nestled in a small sheltered bay.  According to legend, Bishop Fruttoso came to five monks in a dream. He told them to seek the place of the dragon, a cave and a spring, where they should bury his remains. Together with an angel, the monks defeated the dragon and discovered the invisible Capodimonte bay. The tower stands overlooking the turquoise Ligurian waters. The Abbey can only be reached by a two hour hike from the main harbour or by sea, so it bears little wonder that it has stood here since the 10th century. The inside of the abbey is quiet, with its crypt and cool cloisters betraying no breath of the hot August afternoon beyond them.
The boat leaves the bay and heads East (dont they always?), the olive groves against the red sky dissolving into a soft pimento blur.


Sunday, 30 June 2013

A little bit of something else..

As you know, I occasionally inflict my prose on publications beyond this humble blogspot.  You may remember Mr Wu and my trip to Macau, as published by the Arbuturian - link here

And then there was the return of the prodigal daughter to Baku- link here. Not gonna lie, it did give me a teency bit of pleasure to write about my home town for the Arb, a finalist in the British Travel Press Awards.

But nowhere near as excited as being asked to write a weekly column for Baku online. And so, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to (where's my drumroll?) introduce these offerings:

London Summer - if you be chillin' like a villain, this is how to do it.

Baku's Art Scene - in case you were wondering

Andy Warhol at the Heydar Aliyev Centre


Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Tale of Three Cities

“I’lllll misssssssssss yoou” I wailed with complete sincerity. “What’s the big idea. I mean….[stumbles] you can just as easily live here. Yes! In London! In Kensington. Next to me. Wanna come live with me?”

Vanessa looked at me, the way she does when yours truly gets overexcited (this happens a lot).  

Then in her smoky French-English replied, “Sweety, you’ah coming to see me in June, my summer party, remember?.. That’s only a few weeks away”

At which point I untangled myself from embracing her knees, she stretched out a hanky and I dabbed away my sniffles.


Vanessa lives just outside Lugano, Switzerland. Her neighbourhood boasts lakes, valleys and le chocolat chaud that will have you whimpering with pleasure. I was to spend a few days with her at her family home. Following a slight hiccup on arrival and a taxi driver who spent 45 minutes circling me around Milan instead of taking me to Lugano, my train pulled into the station and shortly after we were pulling into V’s driveway. From my bedroom I had boundless views of the vineyards and the mountains. We sat in her garden amongst the blossoming bougainvillea as bunny rabbits surreally hopped around us.

As always, V  knew exactly what I needed. She took me to the local galeteria- an ice cream parlour to you and me.

“Three scoops please.” Creamy. Dreamy… Done.

We then decided to drive into town and take the boat out for a spin on the lake. The plan was to recline, do some sunbathing, pop a bottle (or two).  Typically, I did all the leg work, despite being 5ft3, whilst 5ft8 Vanessa sat in the back and critiqued my technique (rarely happens).

As you can see, Lugano is beautiful, peaceful, idyllic and elegant...

In the evening we headed to a Grotto. Grotto’s are restaurants that began as wine cellars carved into the mountains. They serve up traditional local fare.  Our table groaned (as did ultimately we) under the weight of chacuterie boards, polenta, rabbit, wines, breads and cheeses. After dinner Vanessa literally carried me back and put me to bed.

Lake Como

I woke up Saturday morning and contemplated the lunch awaiting us at another Grotto and the dinner at Villa d’este on Lake Como.

Lake Como is a destination. It’s where George Clooney brings his broads. It inhabits the daydreams of young women who write in spiral notebooks and wear taffeta on special occasions. It’s romantic in the best not-trying-to-be-romantic sort of way.

Dinner was at the hotel's restaurant on the shores of the lake. The food was exquisite. My date sat next to me. She replenished my plate and made me laugh. We like it when that happens.

Incidentally, Vanessa is an extraordinarily talented jewellery designer. She is wearing a pair of pave ruby and sapphire dragon earrings from her eponymous line - Vanessa Martinelli- drool. Check out the rest of her fabulous collection - http://www.vanessa-martinelli.com/


The last two days of my trip were spent in Milano. The heat was sweltering and the city was deserted. But we had the best time, we always do. See below for outtakes.