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16:39 saturday 24 june – restaurant ” est est est ” , gatwick airport
south terminal

damn . i’ve succeeded in booking myself onto today’s flight of doom .
i spoke to a few agents on tuesday and purchased a dirt-cheap seat on a plane operated by one of the myriad charter firms of which nobody’s ever , ever , ever heard .

but as i sit here waiting for my voucher-subsidised pizza , my 15:45 departure receding into the distance ( latest estimate – 19:00 ) , it somehow seems less of a consumer triumph .

the desk where one might expect to find an unctious company rep remains resolutely unattended , a phone cursorily left in front with a number to call . the number , though , has been amended by hand and rendered unintelligible . a shifting coterie of nervous-looking package fodder huddles around it , left rootless by this unforseen gap in the stream of commands by which they secretly prefer their holidays to be organised . nobody is telling them what to do now . even the muttered complaints sound hesitant , half-hearted .

we ( suddenly a community , our uncertain fates fused in this hermetic city , our common submission to the invisible ” them ” who hurl aircraft between continents ) have been issued with ” light refreshment vouchers ” . my experience suggests this is a bad sign . it happened far too quickly . something must be seriously wrong with the plane and the i won’t be surprised if the19:00 prediction slips back further . i dislike the way that airlines routinely lie to their customers , announcing an iterative procession of further delays rather than squaring up right away with the true prognosis . it is as if they wish to toy with us , manipulating our hope and despair on the ground just as they manipulate our sleeping and waking in the air .

the pizza has come and gone . a modish confection of roasted vegetables ( scarcely cooked ) on a tomato base ( unseasoned ) with rocket and shaved parmesan . the environment is pleasant though . light wood , modern chairs and white walls . quite unexpected in an airport which aspires more than anything to resemble a shopping mall . indeed one of the syntheticically cheerful voices which springs from the ubiquitous speakers every now and then celebrates the ” south terminal shopping experience ” where ” tax-free prices ” are available to passengers ” for all destinations ” . it is as if the various retailers have collectively willed themselves into a parallel universe in which intra- european duty free was never abolished . presumably they hope to take a few passengers with them .

the last time i flew from gatwick was in december 1998 , on my way to australia . on that occasion my flight departed six hours late . or was it twelve ? or twenty-four ? time somehow changes its substance in these places . incongruously i am reminded of lapland and perpetual daytime . but that experience is one of freedom as opposed to this confined purgatory .

i am glad to have the company of my powerbook , my backlog of correspondence , my scribbling book , the reading i was meant to do for michael young , books by george soros and plato . enough to tide me over , i think . however long i must remain here in limbo .

18:04

latest prediction – 20:30 . apparently a replacement aircraft was flown in … and found to be defective . aircraft number three is being sent down from luton . or perhaps they’re constructing it out of the remaining pieces of aircraft numbers one and two ?

20:05

about quarter of an hour ago we were all shunted off on the crummy monorail thing to the deserted north terminal . the screens indicated that our flight was now boarding … except that there was no plane at the indicated gate .

an aircraft has now rolled up , with ” european ” painted rather generically down its side . somebody with limited english made an announcement . it sounded like they were informing us we’d be landing at verona rather than bergamo , but surely that can’t be right …
surely … ?

11:06 sunday 25 june – express train , stresa to milano

verona it was . by the time my flight entered italian airspace last night bergamo airport was closed . milano’s two airports were too busy to accept additional traffic . so verona it was . we landed around midnight . i explored various options for getting to milano and the party i knew was underway . but it was hopeless .

my night’s accommodation came courtesy of a couple of fortuitously non- showing packageers . their room in a rather grand hotel had already been paid for so i blagged it . what i didn’t altogether grasp was that their hotel room was in stresa , three hours’ drive away on the shore of lake maggiore . i arrived there at half three this morning , feeling slightly jaded .

waking up this morning to the lake , the moutains , the cool air and the hot sun soon put paid to that though . what a gorgeous and unexpected place to spend my first morning in italy . my room had a big terrace surrounded by camelia blossom . i could have asked for nothing more .

now i am on my way to milano on the alpine express , destined beyond that for geneva and venice . it’s a beautifully designed modern train . my ticket cost 18600 lira , about six sterling . a similar service in britain would cost three times as much .

the drive from verona to stresa was a good introduction to northern italy . the road was lined with factories , each with its impeccably designed logo . i don’t get the impression this society is ashamed of old-fashioned heavy industry in the way that britain is . there’s obviously a bit of a fad for high intensity light projectors at the moment , used as a promotional device . i noticed about a dozen of them along the route , tracking their silent beams across the bellies of low clouds .

21:15 – fabrizio’s appartment , via solferino , milano

it’s taken a couple of hours to set up but i’ve finally got a free dial-up account working properly . i’ve been phoning bobo every ten minutes or so to get off-the-cuff translation of crucial bits of registration forms i couldn’t work out . he’s working on a painting at his apartment round the corner .

it’s been a fabulous day . brilliant to be with bobo . feeling excited about italy in general . but i’m tired and expect to sleep well tonight . down to work tomorrow .

: cH

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