I am currently on a walking trip through
the Sabine Hills, about an hour outside Rome by train.
I’m walking with my
wife, and each day we wake in one ancient stone-carved hilltop town and walk
for five or so gentle hours over hillsides perfumed with lavender and wild
rosemary, following a route-map and printed directions and flashes of red paint
on strategic tree trunks and boulders, to another hilltop town where we’ll
sleep, where we sit and sip red wine and watch the red sun set over an ancient
It is very perfect and idyllic, so of
course we had a terrible fight.
On the second day of walking, high in the
mountains on the other side of the town of Roccantica, walking a trail of
bright white stones through a rustling green forest, I took the wrong turning.
I say I took the wrong turning, because I am the one carrying the map and
reading the directions, and whenever my wife wants to see the map or the
directions, I say, “Only one person can drive a car at a time!"
'I suppose I could have rectified the mistake sooner'
This annoys her. She thinks I am a tyrant
and a dictator, and when it comes to maps and direction, she is right, which
made it sting all the more when I took us wrong and led us up a steep hillside
for an hour. I suppose I could have rectified the mistake sooner, but no one is
more determined to keep going in the wrong direction than a man who is being
told that he is going in the wrong direction.
I don’t mind telling you, strong words were
uttered on that mountainside. There was cursing and shaking of fists. By the
time we’d walked another hour back to where we’d gone wrong, it was late in the
day and we were still four hours from our destination. There was nothing for it
but to walk back to Roccantica and call to arrange for a car to pick us up.
“That will be 35 euros,” said the Italian
gent on the phone, which made my mood even worse. The only thing that stings
more than being wrong when you have the map, is being wrong and being charged
35 euros for it.
We waited for an hour for the car to
arrive. The quarrel had escalated beyond my map-reading abilities and
tendencies to personal undemocratic behviour. We had covered every character
flaw and personal failing we could think of, and had invented some new ones,
and finally we had sunk into a silence and a sulk so deep we would never emerge
from it. We would cut the holiday short and catch a train back to Rome and jump
on a plane and fly home and never speak to each other again.
'Holiday quarrels that make you feel as though your home'
Have you ever had
one of those holiday quarrels that make you feel as though your home has burned
down and you are empty and alone and doomed to wander rootlessly forever and
never again feel safe and loved? This was one of those quarrels.
Then the car arrived. There was nothing
wrong with the car, but it was hard to say the same about the driver. He spoke
no English and was two metres tall and skinny, all knees and elbows and wild
hair like Rian Malan’s. He had a cigarette dangling from his lip. He gave the
impression that if it were up to him, there’d be two cigarettes dangling from
He seemed to be constantly moving; all the
parts of him seemed to be moving in different directions at the same time. I
have never seen a man with a greater need to be constantly at high velocity. He
drummed his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently while we climbed in the
back then he roared off with a squeal of tyres.
You need to see these toads to understand how frightening this was
You need to see these roads to
understand how frightening this was. They are mountain roads, and they are all
going steeply up or going steeply down while zigging and zagging and twisting
back on themselves. They all run along the edge of a steep drop with no safety
barriers, and they have a speed limit of 30 km/hr, and that is still too high,
if you ask me.
This guy didn’t drop below 100, and he drove while either
texting or playing a game of Snake on his ancient Nokia.
I tried to ask him to slow down, but
whenever I spoke he would turn around in his seat and stare at me with uncomprehending
bloodshot eyes, which was slightly more scary than when he was texting, and it
seemed to make him speed up. Perhaps that’s what he thought I was shouting:
“Sir, we are not driving fast enough, could you please drive a little faster?”
And anyway, I thought, settling back and
waiting for the plunge and the explosion, what did I care? This fight is never
going to end. This bad feeling is never going to end. At least this way there’s
a way out of this misery without having to say sorry or start piecing together
where whose fault it was, and when.
But then I looked across at her, and her
face was white with fear, and her knuckles were white, and at the same time we both
reached out and took each other’s hand and then I wanted to lean forward and
give the driver a big warm kiss to say thank you.
Darrel Bristow-Bovey is a columnist, screenwriter, travel writer, author - follow him on Twitter.
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