Do you know that niggling feeling when there’s something not quite right? As we walked through the restaurant to a table in the centre, I felt there was something slightly out of place. We sat down, looked around and I realised that I was one of very few women in the place. All the tables were full of men – young men, old men, in-between men, – but definitely men. A business convention? I wondered for a nanosecond. As two well groomed twenty-somethings were shown to the next table, the penny dropped. Il Pirato del Porto was clearly part of the “lively gay and lesbian scene” we’d read about in the guide books.
We were in Italy in Bologna for the weekend, a post-chemo celebratory/break from too much work weekend and had been recommended this restaurant by the gentleman at our hotel reception. There had been a moment’s pause when Iain asked him, quite casually, if he liked the restaurant and he’d replied “Would you like me to book you a table?” in best politician-speke. And I had wondered, as we passed the windows, why they had opaque half-curtains when most places like you to see that they’re busy. We had an excellent meal, seafood, aided by an entertaining waiter who put a bottle of Limoncello on the table with a flourish at the end of the meal and commanded us to try it. Great evening but an odd recommendation when, for all he knew, we might have stormed out in a morally outraged huff.
It was a long lazy weekend without the teenagers that felt like a week, a wonderful break from all that has gone on over the past autumn and winter. Did I say lazy? We walked the soles of our feet to shreds in Bologna’s alleyways and piazzas. In and out of basilicas – plain exteriors, stunning, breathtaking interiors with every available surface covered with artwork. We climbed up towers and looked over rooftops. We poked our noses into shops selling parmesan and Parma ham and gawped at the sheer number of varieties of vegetables on sale. And then we sat in the sun and drank coffee, ate ice cream, drank wine, ate lunch, drank more wine, ate dinner. We watched Italian life in the piazzas and fell asleep in the sun on the steps of Piazza Maggiore.
On the Sunday we tackled the Italian rail system and travelled two hours down the coast to Senigallia to visit Anna Maria, a friend we’ve not seen for nearly 20 years. She is married now and has delightful nine year old twin boys who played up to visitors and kicked footballs just like nine year olds anywhere do. Her husband Simone is the son of the Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli. I was only vaguely aware of his photos before – Iain was definitely more knowledgeable, and knew the picture of the dancing priests – but I was wowed by the way he managed to make black and white photographs look almost like paintings, with such striking images. Simone now works trying to promote his father’s photographs and protect his copyright. We had a chilly walk along the beach, home from home to us hardy Scots, and then retired to the Foro for ice cream and football – the boys kicked the football with ice cream teetering perilously on cones while grown ups chatted.
Back at the station, we negotiated the little yellow box where you stamp your ticket before getting on the train, and then promptly jumped on the wrong train. There’s nothing to tell you about the little yellow box – it’s one of those things that I imagine you’re born knowing if you’re Italian, a little like, in Scotland, putting your child’s name down for kindergarten on his second birthday and not a moment later. We managed to find the right train a little further up the line.