A cautionary tale!
Lost in fog and pouring rain down the Adege valley in Northern Italy, we rumble through sinister hamlets almost hidden in the hills lying deep in the shadow of looming mountains. A bell tower breaks through the cover of the small stone houses asserting itself loudly with masonry and pestering us with the siren of its bells. Having just escaped from my career I’m feeling liberated but a little overawed by my freedom, what the hell do I do now, what can I do? I had some cash rattling around, and I was in Italy I decided to do a little visiting. I used to be so idealistic and enthusiastic about my job: Tefl Teacher. Empowering people to communicate throughout the world, until one day together we’d rebuild the tower of Babel. However they have no time for idealists. Who has? I look out of my window and suddenly the hills and mountains have gone but the rain is still there flooding the vines and spoiling the wine. The wine around here is excellent particularly La Grein, an excellent robust and velvety red with a good long pruney aftertaste, quite the equal of many of the overpriced French Medoc wines. However I met a French Pizza Chef in an Italian restaurant who complained that they’re too strong and that they lack finesse. I feel that people should avoid taking their chauvinism with them when they travel, it aught to be confiscated at customs.
The train has just stopped some where I wouldn’t even begin to try to pronounce and now I’m surrounded by Italian youths: all denim and short jet black hair, I’m sure they’re nice enough people, but they don’t have a clue about the world they live in. I wonder what they think of Martin Luther King. Why are the best men always beaten down while the tyrants live on to make pots of money? David Icke, the conspiracy guy, charitably suggests that this is due to our manipulation by extra-terrestrials from the lower fourth dimension, but it seems to me that certain men and woman are perfectly capable manipulating, exploiting, subjugating and decimating their fellow man without any help from ET.
And now we approach Verona the sun is shining, well thank God, I hope this kills off the damp hill fug that still lies on my brain.
Suddenly on my right there’s a psychopath muttering to himself, I can tell he’s a psychopath by the fact that he’s muttering to himself. Are there proportionately more psychopaths in the world now than before? Are they a growth market. Will the time come when they are the ones considered normal and we are the madmen! Are we already at that point.
And now the train stops and more futile youths come on board and too few leave, damn my unkind cynicism but after what I’ve been through up in those mossy mountains, to have come away with only cynicism and not virulent psychosis is a very narrow escape.
And now we sit stuck at Verona station for no very good reason, Verona in the rain is best avoided.
The group of youths return arms laden with McDonalds bags, congealed grease food: it almost smells edible, I envy their enterprise, how long are we to wait here for God’s sake, as the rain pours down outside and the train is filled with the sound of denim youths grazing and the smell of grease.
Verona’s pavements of polished marble are beautiful but deadly. They evoke the splendour and majesty of the classical period but one can only assume that it never rained during the Roman Empire or else the sight of somersaulting togas and flying sandals would have been a commonplace sight of the classical age:
“Salué Marcus, I say where you there for the Aristophones cycle at the Odeon, whoops I’m on me arse!”
Marble is as smooth as ice when it’s wet, I nearly fell over a few times saved only by my natural cat like reflexes speaking of which I sense trouble, this train has been in the station far too long and I can see a file of five policeman in the next carriage coming my way…
Oh that’ll be the paranoia it still hasn’t worn off, a bit like drunkenness, you just can’t shake it off even though you know you’re under it’s effects, it can take a lot of effort to realise that you’re feeling the symptoms of paranoia, that’s why it can be so damn terrifying and such an utterly convincing reality.
The youths across the carriage have finished their meal and are now sleeping like little well fed babies with gristle between their teeth and grease on their lips, typical, the ubiquitous brown bags with red and yellow are everywhere, piled upon a seat like they’re paying a fare. We eat and sleep and make an almighty mess while we’re about it.
I seemed to have made a choice between life and teaching English, I chose life, getting blistering drunk, tracking down the odd spliff and having the temerity to think and act like a real human being.
Ahh we’re on the move again. The sun is long gone now and we seem to be heading into a storm, the rains runs off the top of the train and leaves long legs on the window like a good wine, or tears running down a child’s face. Did you ever see a man crying at close quarters, I never have, it’s like they’re ashamed of letting go, women do it all the time, at least they do when they’re with me. Children, young children let them run and run, a testimony to their misery. I feel like crying now actually, the pathetic leap forging from country to country that I’ve been doing lately in order to find gainful employment, I’m so willing but let me tell you there are some things I won’t do.
About me sit lots of fat old men full of curd cheese, dry meat and olive oil. This is what awaits you young denim jet black hair men, you won’t even see it coming, it starts between a girl’s legs and then you and her are ‘screwed’.
There I go being cynical again but how would you feel? Next stop Florence, at least something good’s come from all this, a cut price shoestring ‘grand-tour’ for the impoverished.
But in the end I didn’t much like Florence, far too austere and more than a little sinister. Cars and fleets of vespas everywhere and the menacing legacy of the Medicis. Rome was much better. I remember being atop Palatine hill, an American was noisily giving an opinion about his Berkeley university education, jarring with the peace of the place, only an American could keep talking in the midst of such spellbinding magic. The rest of us, citizens of the old-world were silenced, a mixture of awe and fear kept us quiet, lest the legends of the Palatine be true and we disturb something that sleeps within the hill. The sun shone blessing these old stones, the bountiful earth caressed by the sun, offered its treasure, oranges and olives. A spring flowed down a mossy rock to fill a cool clear pool. The legends are true there is magic in those hills. Those who built that place are long gone, at least in the flesh. Their corruption and genius long rotted, feeding nourishing future growth. But their blameless buildings, even the Coliseum whose architecture was party to so much bloody murder now stands guiltless and admired, a quaint souvenir, dangling on key-rings and on postcards the world-over. The bulk of the tourists were not there atop the Palatine, I suppose most people get as far as the Coliseum before the horns of their coaches split the air and it’s time for the next postcard scene.
I turned about me, I was alone, and Rome was mine I had carte blanche to wonder where I would. Imperial bedrooms, holy oracles, dead temples with absent gods. I ran in and out of thermal baths with a bound, over low walls which once jealously guarded privacy. Life had left the place and that suited me. But bliss’s fault is its brevity, slowly the roar of traffic swallowed me, I quickly turned to escape all that modern barbarity, I mounted the hill again but to no avail, I heard horns and air breaks and screeching tyres and angry expletives, a cacophony like the jeering hordes at a gladiatorial combat, the spell was broken, the magic hid itself again. I spent my remaining time in Rome sitting on the Spanish steps with a hippy guitarist complete with supporting choir/fan club and smoking Italians whose English manifested itself only in knowing the names of all the Premiership sides, and saying them at intermittent intervals in lieu of a conversation. “Liverpool Champions league, very nice!” “Newcastle United very nice!” “Wimbledon!” and so it went on. Maybe people aren’t so bad, I thought and I planned my next stop: Naples.
One week before I had taken the RailEuropero Paris to Verona service, I hate sleeper trains: I hate paying 100 pounds to share a room the size of a shower cubicle and with all the comfort and tranquillity of the inside of a washing machine going through a spin cycle. That’s the reality of a sleeper train, I can only boggle that the Orient Express to this day is idolised as the epitome and last word in luxury, I can only imagine that barbiturates were supplied upon boarding. When you do finally get used to the spin-cycle (it’s amazing what feat human exhaustion is capable of) and drift off into a well earned rest, the door starts a banging at 2’oclock in the morning because we’re passing the Swiss Border, and so bleary eyed we rise like the un-dead and are subjected to the steely inhuman glare of the immigration official as you politely answer his twenty questions while praying that he’ll let you get back to sleep and not ransack your bags.
Fortunately the trip was much improved by the company of a young Algerian called Kemal.
As a matter of fact it was Ramadan and Kemal was breaking his fast with a feast of Couscous and we ate and smoked the night away. We talked about George W Bush who seemed intent on bringing our peoples into conflict. In his opinion George W Bush had done more to provoke and promote a Jihad than any Arab living or dead. Still, as Kemal remarked wisely: ‘the ways of the big ones are beyond us!’ As we ate Kemal told me that this was the first meal he’d had since dawn. I reminded him that those who are travelling are exempt from fasting, he knew this and seemed content to fast all the same:
‘It puts things in perspective and teaches you to appreciate the little things in life. It purifies you, these days all we do is consume, we used to be people now we’re all consumers, at least if we can afford it. Ramadan is a reminder that there’s more to life than consuming, it’s about mastery of the mind over the body’. Anyway I left Kemal at Verona and wished him luck, he went on his way to Naples to conclude the delivery of some JCB’s, it was strange to think of a half starved Arab moving 5 tonne earth movers across continents.
I left the train to catch another one to Trento, deep into the Adige Mountains. I was radiant with hope about my new job and I couldn’t wait to get started and meet my students and colleagues. I arrived at Trento at about 10:30 in the morning and was met there by Andrew, the director of studies. He helped with my bags and we walked the couple of hundred meters to the flat and school, as the flat was conveniently located just above the school. I marvelled as I walked, at the mountain scenery that surrounded me on all sides, and the beauty of this quaint little renaissance town hidden in the mountains. The sun was shining brightly and it was warm enough for t-shirts, having just left Paris behind in the drizzle of approaching winter it was a joy to find that I had travelled back in time to the summer. God I deserved a summer, I didn’t get one in France, these days there are only three seasons in Northern Europe, summer’s been muscled out by spring, autumn and the rain. But here in Trento, summer seemed to be sleeping over into late autumn, it was November after all, but the rain was miles behind me and the mountains were a wall keeping out the foul continental weather and providing a microclimate here on the other side of the alps where fine red wines, olives and even oranges (or were they Kakis, I never could tell at a distance) could be grown.
I moved into the flat, sharing with a blond haired girl called Beth. The flat was extraordinary, it was a penthouse flat and was ablaze with sunlight which streamed in from the wide screen windows. I slid open the screen window and gazed across La Piazza del Duomo: the cobbled stone town square with its beautiful Baroque fountain representing Neptune the god of the deep, and here he was, furiously waving his trident as the water frothed and bubbled over him. At one side of the piazza stood the Cathedral del Sainti Vigili in flamboyant gothic and on the other stood shops and houses decorated with frescoes depicting biblical scenes, and the whole was scented with the smell of fresh coffee and apple strudel from the various Austrian flavoured cafés. The square was busy with people rushing around trying to get home for lunch, I lifted my eyes from scurrying feet, to the high bell tower and higher still to the looming mountains and felt at peace with myself and my surroundings, if this isn’t heaven I thought, it’s as close as it gets.
I had the prospect of invigorating walks in the surrounding high-lands, breathing in the fresh balm of the scented mountain air and looking down at the art and history of Papal Italy and the renaissance. Not only that but I would also be teaching English, something that gave me much pleasure, and I would no doubt get to meet many interesting and pleasant people and I would soon become firmly established in this happy community.
My first day of work as I recall wasn’t particularly busy, it was a question of unpacking, settling-in and finding the ropes. My first lesson was on the second day of my arrival, it was extraordinary, the kind of thing that could only happen in Italy. There were 20 uniformed soldiers sitting in a classroom waiting for me to give them a lesson, but before I could start, a richly decorated captain strutted into the room and looked around seemingly waiting for something to happen, “Don’t you stand up when a captain enters the room.?” He said, at this the soldiers leapt to attention feeling deeply embarrassed, they saluted and so did I (I don’t quite know why but it was fun anyway), at this point he started hectoring the students about the importance of doing what the teacher tells them, it was great, he was doing my job for me, no chance of missed homework or skiving lessons with this guy on their back. Anyway away went the Captain and as they were a group of beginners I did some drills with them: we practiced the first and second person, I asked a student what he did, ‘I am a soldier’ he replied, ‘I’m a teacher’ I told him, and then in order to practice the first person plural I had them shouting as in a battle cry ‘We are soldiers! we are soldiers! we are soldiers!’, the rhythm was getting frenetic and the shouting louder, any moment now they were going to get up and charge off into battle, “Ok so open your books please?” I said, though I had to say it twice because some of the students were so carried away that they were still chanting while the other students had gone silent “We are soldiers!” they kept on “We are” then realising that it was time to calm down “We are…” “scusi”. The next day was a little more hectic, I was due to have a lesson out of town at a computer components factory, although being a novice driver and getting a little swept up by the Italian motorway traffic, I missed the turning and only realised 500 metres later, I took the next turning and found myself not going down towards the river but instead following a winding loop which climbed tightly upwards into the mountains. And so there I was, powerless to stop now as there was a queue of impatient Italians behind me, and so onwards and upwards I went round and around upwards and upwards like a helter-skelter into the clouds until I arrived at the top of the mountain I parked and gazed out at the view spread out before me. I could see the high snow capped Austrian Alps, to the my left was fortress Switzerland, impervious to invasion: mountain ramparts protecting its wealth.
I saw the valley serpent out below me biting through the hills and nourishing the roots. Without any further ado I got back in the clapped out-old Renault 5 and went literally hurtling down the mountain side, this being the first time I’d ever driven in the mountains I was amazed at how dangerous it was and was fearful of my life but with a judicious use of the break pedal I managed to survive and find my way to the lesson.
Later as the sun was setting and night approached Beth suggested we go out for a few drinks, I acquiesced as unsociability for me is a moral crime but instinctively I was against it.
Along came another teacher: Maria, she greeted me quietly and turned to Beth
“You cheeky madam, what were you like last night” She squawked
“Oh don’t, I’m so ashamed” Beth answered with fake shame
“He’s cute though?”
“Yeah he’s quite sweet”
“But you know what they say : “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen””
“Don’t worry about that I kept him on his toes and at arm’s length. His friend Sacha liked you though, he’s desperate to see you again.”
“I bet he is, but I’m not interested, have you seen his face and that big nose, it’s more like a beak, could you imagine trying to kiss him with that thing trying to put your eye out”
“I’d rather not” And at this they started laughing noisily I smiled vacuously even though I hate doing that. I would really liked to have said something like: “For god’s sake you empty headed harpies is there not more to life than teasing poor virile young Italian men. If you’re not interested then stop letting them buy you drinks all night and put some proper ‘effing clothes on.” Of course I didn’t. I never could say what I thought, I put it down to good-breeding but it probably had more to do with spinelessness.
So we had a few drinks, well in fact we had a drink which judging by their previous night’s performance was a surprise, I thought they would have been a little more festive, but no, one drink was all and at a bar of literally no distinction: la Villa la Masa whose only merit was the fact that they had a terrace by the fountain and that they served hefty pints of Beamish red.
While we sat more teachers seemed to crawl from the corners of the town and gravitate towards our table:
“Hi Beth, heard about last night, naughty, naughty”
“Hey Woger, how ya doing?”
“This is Chris he’s the shiny brand spanking new teacher”
“pleased to meet you, what d’you think of Trento then”
I reflected trying to crush my myriad thoughts and feelings into a few words:
“It’s magical, Arcadian, every step I find a new marvel, a statue here, a fresco there the beamed houses are so evocative of the paradoxical rusticity and aesthetic sophistication of the middle ages and the place is so rich in history, you know that there was the council of Trent here were they repealed the edict of Nantes” It was something I’d read in a history book, you know the way you learn something in a block form ‘1666 repealed the edict of Nantes, you know that in such an such a year the edict of Nantes was repealed, but as to what the edict of Nantes actually was in the first place or as to why they repealed it, or even where Nantes is, you haven’t got a clue. I later learnt that repealing the edict of Nantes was tantamount to reopening protestant hunting season.
“Yeah but there’s sod all to do’
“Well actually there’s the Bolzano orchestra are performing Beethoven’s 5th tomorrow at the university auditorium it’s going to be fantastic”
“yeah that’s what I mean”
I smiled that vacuous smile (again) when I should have shouted “Extra! Extra! Donkey taught to speak” but I didn’t.
Fortunately he didn’t hang around too long, he’s probably exhausted his five minutes worth of pre taught conversation. A plump middle aged lady with a basin haircut and blue rimmed glasses appeared, we were dutifully introduced:
“Oh so you’re the new teacher hi” she beamed
“I hear you went to Queen Mary college”
“Yeah that’s right, for all the good it did me”
“Why do you say that”
“Oh, I didn’t like it very much, it was like an academic conveyor belt, you put the coins in, the machine starts, you get on, listen to their lectures, go to a seminar where you listen to other students regurgitate the lectures, then you write an essay where you regurgitate what the other students and the tutor regurgitated from the first lecture. It made me sick.” I smiled
Anne wasn’t amused : “I know one of the lecturers”
“oh” Coup raté “Who?”
Oh no, she was a particular target for my dissatisfaction, a classic example of style over content, although by my final year she was more likely to be in a the radio studio or in Groucho’s than on campus.
“Yes, I had her for a few seminars, she didn’t like me very much.”
“Really, why not?”
“I think she objected to my rouge and mascara, still I can’t entirely blame her, I was usually too hung over to apply it properly”
At this a sudden quiet descended over everyone, they were all astonished but trying not to show it. I felt uncomfortable and felt that I had to defend my corner.
“I mean women do it so why can’t men. Women don’t have a monopoly on beauty, why can’t men be beautiful too. Having said that, nowadays I find the whole idea of make-up utterly ridiculous, both for men and women, but back then I used to wear it all the time, those were funny days.’ I chuckled to myself indulgently, but was alone in this. Suddenly Anne turned away from me and asked Beth if she had any plans for the weekend, I found myself excommunicated from the conversation, a heretic in the company of the ordained.
I was frozen from the conversation for about ten minutes, by which time the talk had worn away the sheen of their vivacity and exposed the innate dullness underneath, it was time to talk to me again. Anne looked at me:
“It’s funny all those TV dons though, they’re all the rage now aren’t they, it’s quite a new phenomenon.”
“I suppose, but don’t you remember Dr Magnus Pike, he was the Mac daddy of TV dons, the quintessential nutty professor, he used to do children’s science shows and wave his arms about like a psychotic windmill with a mustache. He was also a pop-star for a spell, you know he on that Thomas Dolby track ‘She Blinded Me with Science’, he even appeared on the video, shouting the word ‘science’ at seemingly arbitrary intervals and for the most spurious of reasons”
“oh yes, Magnus Pike how amusing”
“I really like Richard Starskey, he’s a great character; an authentic in a world full of pinchbecks”
“Well, I’m not sure about that, I thinks he’s rather rude actually”
“No not rude, I’d call him ‘uncompromising’, it’s refreshing. Why should we always be so moderated and gutless, if you believe in something cry it out loud, if someone’s an idiot let them know it, being quiet doesn’t help us one bit God knows there’s enough in the world to shout about”.
This sally was again treat with silence and discomfort, ‘oh well, might as well get pissed then’ I thought, but as I rose to go to the bar I was informed that we were leaving. And so we went, they talked about nothing in particular while I hovered behind ostracized.
The next morning I went downstairs to my new university group, they were mostly girls and they were all petulantly post pubescent and more than a little batty. The particular difficulty I discovered was that they had still exhibited the behaviour of school-children which they had yet to shrug off yet they could not be treated as such being fee paying adults, so faced as I was with one student eating an apple in class, another knitting a jumper and yet another doodling a man’s torso , I had to put my foot down firmly but gently, but apart from that they seemed pleasant enough, although sometimes they would act just plain foolishly and pull faces and become stroppy, teenagers are the same the world over I reflected.
After my lessons I went to a very expensive and exclusive South Tyrol delicatessen, the kind of place where a mediocre wine could set you back 100 euros or a packet of biscuits 10. Rooting trough the cheese section in the chiller, intrigued by the six quid camembert I came across an extraordinarily decomposed blue cheese, having live in France for more years than I care to remember I was fairly used to ingesting mould and decay on a regular period and enjoying it, but this was like nothing I’d ever seen. It wasn’t merely blue veined, it was blue, almost black and the smell was the smell of earth, that familiar and fertile element that cradles us at every turn is the result of millennia of rot death and decay. Rot nourishes us but these cheese would have nourished no man. Intrigued and wondering what new culinary horror this could be, thinking even of buying it (in France going one further into the extremes of weird foodstuffs is a national hobby. My starting point was horse meat then to pig’s trotters and ox tongue then a natural progression to frogs and inevitably snails (but not puppydog’s tails) and inevitably on to pig’s face and pig’s something called which is actually pigs testicles)
I turned the cheese around looking for a name and an inflated price tag, hmm funny, this cheese has pine seeds in it too, big fat looking ones….moving ones…oh my gord, I wanted to gag, I nearly did all over the expensive luxury food chiller. A regional delicacy? No that I wouldn’t eat. Having nearly lost my lunch I discarded the product I had picked of the shelves, maybe they too were heaving with maggots, my maggoty mustard and jelly beans, unlikely but mind was wheeling with visions of maggots everywhere, microscopic flies eggs were everywhere, inconspicuously waiting for fruition. Summoning up the courage and trying to calm my stomach with nice thoughts I asked the Italian shop assistant if this cheese was typical of the region, she looked at me with a contemptuous air, my Italian wasn’t as good as she would have liked and anyway what the hell an Englishman doing here anyway?
She picked up the cheese which she looked at blankly, she looked at me uncomprehendingly and slightly haughtily ‘turn it around’ I said. I stood there like a man waiting for a bomb to go off and I read her face and I waited smiling sardonically for the grimace of ancestral horror, it soon came as her eyes focused on the fat squirming pine kernels, and he eyes nearly pooped out of her head as she realised she was holding a bag of fat maggots with a rotten blue cheese coating, like a kind of meaty pie. She said a quick and humble ‘grazie’ and took the maggoty cheese away very quickly indeed, lest their reputation as a superior food hall should be for a second tarnished. I walked away and laughed at all those fools with more money than sense who shop here and for once I left a food shop empty handed.
Thursday began again with my university students and after this lesson I had to take a bus to get to Riva Del Garda; a charming little lakeside mountain village much beloved by Thomas Mann and Neitzche, although as Roger might say there was ‘sod all to do’. I had exam preparation classes at the Secondary school. The students were great, there was an Italian 15 year old who had learnt English with the Beatles and consequently had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Beatles but who also spoke ‘Beatle’. I tested his knowledge with a few patronisingly easy questions: “What’s Ringo’s real name?” “George Starkey” he yawned “Ok” I thought “I’ll turn up the heat” What was the name of Lennon’s first band?” “The Quarrymen” he answered in a flash. “What album is Dr Robert on?” “Revolver”. “Within without you” “Sergeant Pepper” he answered “What’s your least favourite Beatles album?” “er Let it be” he answered after a moments thought “Good answer” I commended
To which he started Beatling: “Give me an answer, fill in a form, mine for ever more. Will you still need me will you still feed me when I’m sixty four”
“You’re a good lad Matheius anyone who knows the Beatles so well can’t be at all bad. Where are you from Matheius are you from Riva Del Garda?”.
He began slowly and with reflection “In the town where I was born.…..”, he then picked up the tempo and started singing: totally catching me out “there lived a man who sailed to sea and he told of us of his life in the land of submarines”
This went on for some time much to the amusement of myself and the rest of the class, and I thanked John Paul George and Ringo, for making my job as a salesman of the English language so much easier.
That night as I returned to the flat I almost ran into Beth who was coming down the stairs
“You up for going out tonight?’ she asked
“Well Maria’s coming over at 8 if you’re interested”
So inevitably I ended up going out, I forced a smile onto my face and emptied my mind of anything profound. After a drink in a darkened cheerless ‘English’ bar we sat opposite each other and having nothing to say to each other, I did, as I always did when bored in company that is drink more alcohol until my brain was fuddled enough to find the whole scene diverting, they had nothing to say so I spoke for them and at them, and found myself drifting inevitably into obnoxiousness and drunken hectoring. Beth suddenly had a brain-wave; remembering the friend: Pablo whom she described as a predatory Cuban whom she seemed half afraid to meet again but somehow felt that seeing him again was inevitable. So we went off to the eponymous Irish Bar to seek him out. And so we arrived at the eponymous Irish Bar, not to be confused with the English bar although they differed essentially only in name. Pablo seemed nice enough, he said he was from Cuba and bought me a cocktail. It was absolutely explosive, it was, he claimed, his own invention of tequila, rum and cherry liquor, he called it ‘il Caldo’, and it certainly was, after three of them I suddenly found the whole evening and my company absolutely charming, then I found myself agreeing to something and getting into a battered Renault Broadway with the sound of Marylyn Manson pouring from battered speakers which was quite the greatest thing I’d ever heard in my life We walked into a club which was predominantly a student hang-out and almost immediately I found a drink had materialised from someone:
“Drink up mate, viva la vida loca”
And I did.
Then a girl appeared and then I found myself in the back of the aforementioned Renault Broadway, despite wanting to be up front to listen to the God Manson. I found myself kissing a mad faced Italian creature (I had the distinct impression that I had no choice).
“Kiss me kiss me I love English” She purred
“The English” I answered, “I love the English, or I love England”
“Yes, yes, I love her”
“Her?” I answered pedantically, determined not to get what I really wanted “Not last time I looked”
“Her it’s a woman, him is for a man, but you want to say ‘I love the English’ so the ‘object’ of the verb is 3rd person plural: them. I love them”
“Yes them I love.”
“No…” I was about to continue this backseat ‘one to one’ lesson when the car suddenly came to a stop, just as I was enjoying myself, and everybody got out and the girl disappeared leaving me highly confused.
“What’s going on? what are we doing here?”
The girl was nowhere to be found. I was deeply disappointed, I had so much to teach her.
But I was glad we had stopped because I was desperate for a piss, so I asked where the nearest toilet was and someone pointed to a wall. Of course this is what always happens when you get shit faced, obligatory pissing in public, anyway I tried to be as discrete as possible. When I’d finished I turned around and was astonished by what I saw. A whole line of ten men, all pissing against a wall in a long line on the other side of the road. “What the hell” I articulated. Then Pablo came up to me:
“Chris, Chris listen, there’s something I’ve got to tell you” It was Pablo only his accent had unaccountably changed from Cuban to Home Counties. “I’m not really from Cuba you know what I mean?. My name’s not really Pablo. I’m Harry. I hope that you’ve learnt something from this experience about what it means to be an English teacher in a small community” Initially I didn’t understand. But then I understood and that’s why I had to leave. I flew from them disgusted with their craven duplicity, and my own gullibility, I stumbled home following the river, trusting to luck which seldom let me down, they followed me, in that fateful Renault Broadway, but I told them to sod off and by the name of God almighty I cursed their remaining days. What kind of soulless immoral hypocritical two faced scheming (I exhausted my vocabulary insulting them) scum-bag sneaky double crossing devils would do such a thing, what kind of person could do that? I felt so alone, the person I lived with; my colleagues and even, I felt the sky falling on me, I just remembered my class of petulant university students, what were they studying….Psychology, of course they too had been watching me, were did it end? It was like Classical Athens; Renaissance Venice or Soviet Russia, the streets were crawling with informants sneaking about watching me and reporting back to Andrew the school director. I wanted to treat that whole rotten crew of sneaks and spies in the manner they deserved, how did Aristophanes have it.. “A rogue, a sycophant complete; fit to bang about and beat!’
But I never got to Naples in the end. I soon ran out of money in Italy and couldn’t fact the prospect of disappointing my parents again so I gave a phone call, took the train from Rome and arrived 8 hours later in Trento again. You see, pride is just an illusion and as for principles, well in my opinion they’re overpriced. The new English teacher arrives next Monday, he’s going to share a flat with me. Andrew says all I have to do is keep my eye on him and keep us informed, they’ll do the rest. They’re going to increase my salary too and maybe in a few years…well who knows but it would be nice to be sitting in Andrew’s chair. Not sure if I’ll be expected to do those funny handshakes he does though. When he shakes your hand it’s like he’s playing an accordion. Don’t know what that’s all about.
I mean selling out. It’s no big deal. Isn’t that what everyone does?