Talking Location With author Kathryn Hughes – Central Spain
Memoirs set in Calabria (the dolce vita calabrese)
18th July 2019
Beached in Calabria by Ian Ross, memoirs set in Calabria.
Calabria in the toe of Italy: “Europe’s most colourful and least understood extremity..”
Why look for a home in Calabria? You might ask! Well, the author does a fine job of searching out somewhere, truly off the beaten track, somewhere that would accommodate his 23 family members. He has, of course, been inspired by The Durrells! In the southern toe of Italy there are vast stretches of beach, uninhabited and unsullied by tourism. Where is everyone? The appeal is clear, the friendliness of the locals towards an outsider is ubiquitous. He discovers Villa La Buntessa, a derelict sprawling mass of masonry and bricks, on the Ionian side of the coast, to wit the Jasmine Coast “where time stands stubbornly still…” (and which incidentally gets 326 days of sunshine per year!). Before he knows it, he has committed to the asking price of 155,000€. At this point his wife Bunty has no knowledge of his transaction.
A deposit – a cash deposit – of 100,000€ was required and that sees him back home, sourcing the money and then crossing the Alps in January, the car packed to the gunnels and with a money belt full of dosh. This pretty much sets the tone for the caper of doing up this house in the middle of nowhere.
There is learning for him to be had along the way, a LOT of learning as he peruses structural and aesthetic conundrums, choosing Prosciutto (should it be crudo or cotto?) for his lunch. And as for owning a car, ONLY Italians may own a car in the country, so that is something he has to get around. Oh, and Gianni Versace hailed from Calabria.
This humorous memoir is written by someone who is used to projects that are off beat. He was a co-founder of Radio Caroline and opened Britain’s first automatic car wash (in Richmond, London as it happens) and he managed The Animals (remember them?).
This area of Italy, however, is bandit country, where the Mafia (the ‘Ndrangheta) holds huge sway. So when he and his wife spot a potential Mafia don or two, there is a frisson of anticipation which fortunately comes to nothing; they are about 60km South of Locri where politicians get murdered at the drop of a hat. They do however get into trouble with the casa de legno which they have constructed, maybe legally, maybe not, and papers with criminale all over them are served. Rather unnerving for the incomers.
The narrative is speckled with Italian which adds authenticity (although it’s an idiosyncratic Italian for which the author gives an Apologia Italiano before he kicks off the story). An English voice is not to be heard far and wide… And clearly he has to ramp down the frantic lifestyle of Northern Europe in order to assimilate into the languorous lifestyle of the South…
Now, not many people are headed to this part of the world to find their home, so there will be few who can identify with the account of one family’s adventures in Calabria. Might you be tempted to follow suit? A pleasant read and it will transport you to this warm and idyllic (mostly…) part of the world!
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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