Italy: The Headmaster rules

As you may recall from a previous post , I travelled to Italy for two weeks to stay at an enclave of villas to celebrate my friend’s significant birthday. It was all women on the trip except for Judy’s son and her brother Nigel who lives in England. Nigel rushed in to fill the patriarch vacuum and took it upon himself to direct the day to day activities of the women folk, who were clearly not up to the task of organizing themselves.

This is not to say that Nigel didn’t display any useful skills. He, Judy and their entourage (Nigel’s wife Beryl and her friend Gemma, and a friend of Judy’s) had arrived first, and Nigel set out to find a good local (and cheap) source of wine. He returned triumphantly with several cases he filled himself from a spigot at the winery for one Euro a bottle.

When we paid in advance for our villas, we established a kitty to stock the kitchens with some basics and buy essentials like toilet paper that were not supplied with the rental. Wine, of course, was one of the essentials. Nigel distributed a couple of bottles of wine and some kitchen basics to the two satellite villas and set up a command post and commissary in the largest house where he and the early entourage were all staying. This, he decided, would be our kitchen for communal meals.

My villa, which I was sharing with my friend Susan, happened to have the nicest patio and caught some sun in the afternoon and evening. Prior to our arrival it had become the gathering spot for pre-dinner drinks. It also had the best breeze and one of the few heaters that worked, so the kitchen later became the communal laundry room, but that’s another story. Anyhow, courtesy of the cocktail hour activities, when we got there the allotted ‘welcome’ wine was gone, so we didn’t yet know there was a collective stash that we had helped pay for.

Susan was arriving with our rental car a day after me, so I had a day on my hands. Nigel thought I couldn’t possibly fend for myself, so insisted I come with him, Beryl and Gemma to explore one of the hill towns not far from the villas. Beryl looked and sounded exactly like Mrs. Premise in the Monty Python sketch . Gemma had the personality of wallpaper and a voice you could barely hear. Between listening to the vacuous conversation between them and Nigel’s forced march through the hills and dales of Umbria, I had more than enough of their company by the time we got back to the villas.

Susan finally arrived and on her first night we reported to the command post where Nigel filled us in on what he had decided the itinerary was going to be for the next two weeks. Our first mistake was to completely ignore him and decide ourselves what our agenda was going to be for the duration. One thing we decided was to go to Florence for a day. Nigel was horrified at this, because being roughly a two hour drive, we couldn’t possibly get there and back in a day. We set off anyway around 8am and arrived in time to see some sights and stop for lunch in a lovely piazza. We walked around again in the afternoon, exploring the Ponte Veccio, Duomo and vast outdoor market. Around 4pm we decided we had seen enough and headed back to Umbria.

We walked into the command post around 6 o’clock. Nigel’s jaw dropped and he sputtered something about how inconsiderate we had been not to let him know we weren’t saying overnight in Florence, and how they hadn’t planned dinner for us and how we had made the evening highly inconvenient for everyone. We slunk off to our villa to make our own pasta, but not before snagging a couple of bottles of wine (which we had now discovered was communal) for our larder. This further enraged Nigel who looked like he was about to explode.

The next morning it had mostly blown over, but for the rest of the trip, wherever we decided to go, Nigel or one of his emissaries from the entourage would always show up and follow us around. That is, until we gave them the slip by swapping rental cars. But that’s another story.