Tuscan Retreat

With Brexit still breathing down Britain’s neck, I wanted to revisit a blog I did some time ago, to celebrate the very best of British production, in my view – the Landrover – and how this journey back (together with the journey down) opened up Europe for me, travelling across France and in to Italy.

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So many journeys so many memories, to and from London and our place in Tuscany, Italy. Nostalgia? Absolutely, completely. I feel the need to revisit these memories before the Brexit maniacs get their way and destroy what is beautiful and sustainable in Freedom of Movement. The camping grounds I stopped at in France were extraordinarily well-managed, great facilities, and so reasonable in price. It made driving the long hours an absolute joy.

The first trip back to London took me up through Italy from Tuscany up through Piemonte to Valle d’Aosta, which led me (countless times) to les Alpes, driving up over the Great St Bernard Pass (il Passo del Gran San Bernardo) that first time down into Switzerland in brilliant sunshine, at four on a September afternoon. Around Lake Geneva to Lausanne I went, arriving at Pontarlier in the dark. I found a parking spot just outside the entrance to a Péage, heading to God knows where. I was absolutely exhausted. After a night of waking up, dozing in the front seat of the old beast, I shook myself conscious and crawled on toward Troyes (seeing the periphery), going on, then around in circles late afternoon south-east of Paris struggling to discover a municipal campsite. Finally I did, coming upon Méry-sur-Seine, a tiny hamlet south-east of Paris.

I parked on the grass and walked in to the village, got something to eat – do I remember what I ordered? No, but whatever it was it was very, very good. I know that. I walked back and set up my mattress in the back of the beast, extending out over a table top I had made especially with a trestle to support it. With a tarpaulin attached to the roof rack and reaching down and pegged in to to the ground all around, fresh country air flowed in all around me. I slept the sleep of angels. To this day I can’t recall a sleep so sound (maybe one other). It rained all night and I never felt a drop.

Waking up at six I packed up like a single person army on the march. I was gone in minutes, driving around to find the right route north, until I stopped at a café for breakfast, café au lait, a croissant and advice how to drive en direction de Meaux skirting north-east Paris, on through the northern cities. I reached Calais at four in the afternoon. Crossing the channel by ferry to Dover, I arrived home in east London at around ten at night. My old landrover only did fifty miles an hour.

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That voyage in 2006 I will never forget. I have done the same trip many times in the years since then, in two separate Landrovers (old and new). My last defender model (2013), took me via different routes, but the first trip from Tuscany in the battered old Series Three has never ever been bettered.

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France, by land rover

France. I have been going in the series 3 every year taking old furniture down to Italy or just going for the hell of it, across/under the channel down through France up over the Alps into Italy (you have to see Liguria’s Cinque Terre at least once in your life) – the rest of the time the old car sits idle outside.

As for so many things, time is running out for the old land rover. Old cars are not liked anymore. They are smoky – I won’t defend them more than this: emissions of 24/7 trucks, high octane fuel guzzlers, the factories etc etc, one old car on one month annual trip (no city driving for me) doesn’t add up to much – not in my arithmetic. Not more than 50 mph (in fact 40 mph) is my way and motto (I’d like to put a sign on the back saying – This goes less than 50 mph.. on principle! – as well as by design). It’s not only the bunches of flowers every few miles – where do all these hearts go when  they leave the road..we don’t need to know the details…they’re gone.

How much more you see going slow.

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One France I know is magic, sometimes a melancholic magic – rivers, fields, towns (to die for, towns so many did die for), little ordered graveyards along the way to forests, mountains, plains. But I can’t sit back and say nothing about these evictions by the police.

Where do the developed countries think their labour forces come from (bus drivers, street sweepers, factory workers). Oh I forgot – all these poor and hopeful immigrants are freeloaders on the state, not cheap labour at all for moneybagging developed nations. That’s what the exploiters want us to believe  – we and Africa, South America, and vast swathes of Asia know better.

The West uses, abuses and discards. Reading some wonderful memories in essays of what New York (New York Calling ed. Marshall Berman) used to be like even in the not so distant past, before Rudi Giuliani began building his ‘political career’ by killing diversity, giving the bankers and other users etc the chance to move in and tear down, throw up condos, destroy the art that the city used to grow on every edgy noisy street corner. It all’s babbitts now whatever they are – John Strasbaugh ‘From Wise Guys to Woo-Girls’ describes one property owner taking out contracts on low-renters to get his hands on their apartments.

Where is the heart, the meaning of community, ‘this land is your land this land is my land’, where is the belief that we all share this planet (being an old car user – I aint perfect)..but where are the Bohos, the ex-centricos, the buskers, the old guys and girls who have ‘lived here all their lives’..where is all this redevelopment going? I look in London and wonder how the architects could even think of putting this up  – the plastic crap that’s dead inside a year – whatever happened to weathered brick? Where’s the spirit of Lou Kahn?

We have to think this through, again, claw back meaning, humanity, the street belief, the daily art and human show, somehow.