My daughter, Lois, came to visit, which was a boon and a delight. She is the best of companions: curious, humorous, calm in the face of adversity (which I am not), cheerful and determined the enjoy each adventure to the full, which turned out to be just as well. We went to Giannutri.
There’s not much to Giannutri. It lies, the shape of a gnawed dogs bone, about 45 minutes from Giglio Porto. The sun was bright. The sea was smooth and blue. The light sparkled on the surface of the wavelets. A sense of adventure bubbled within.
We drew into the Cala Lo Spalmatoio one of two places you can land in the island. Houses, holiday homes, were scattered through the trees and up the incline leading to the landing stage. The place looked absolutely deserted, but as we got off, we were accosted by someone who appeared to be the Ancient Mariner’s elder brother, rather nattily done up in a striped shirt of many colours and shorts that were indecent on a man of that age, indeed, of any age.
‘Germans?’ he asked, never a good opening.
‘No,’ I said
‘English,’ I said firmly.
‘Ah,’he said, and proceeded to outline the last few years of his life, which I won’t bother you with here and now, or ever.
Eventually we made our way through the deserted village and set out along the path taking us to Cala Maestri, the other landing spot. Or I thought was taking us to Cala Maestri.
You may well think how extraordinary to get lost on a very small island. In my experience it’s quite easy. Wayward signposting didn’t help. The solid wall of bush on either side cut off any long view. The path or paths, I was never quite sure which, turned this way and that, some leading to the dead end of an holiday establishment festooned with ‘Proprieta Privata’ signs. Others just twisted and turned until we came to a fork. It was a lottery which fork to take, as it turned out a losing lottery.
Had there been anyone to see us, we would have made a deeply incongruous sight, a middle-aged (sic) man with a red, perspiring face, a straw hat, a ruck sack on his back and a plastic bag in each hand, one bulging with lunch, the other with towels, being led at a fast clip an elegant young woman in a coral pink T-shirt and black leggings, with a Mary Poppins hand bag in one hand and yet another plastic bag with God knows what in in the other. English or what?
My spirits drooped. I moaned. I felt I had let my daughter down. Where was the swimming I had promised her? Where were the clear, azure waters? The curious sights? The bold adventure? Even more disturbing, where was lunch? It seemed a distant prospect.
‘Stop complaining, Dad’, Lois said sharply. ‘This is an adventure.’
‘Not the one I had in mind,’ I said.
‘Well, I’m enjoying it,’ she said.
We were passed by a truck carrying two men, one of whom appeared to be North African and the other from Central America. How odd, we thought. However, they gave us clear instructions how to find Cala Maestri, and, sure enough there is was, curious,beautiful, complete with Roman pillar, mysterious brick archway, and, best of all, empty.
Joy, rapture. A swim before lunch. A snooze in the sun. This is what it was all about. Then we noticed jelly fish, pretty pink umbrellas with waving dangly bits pulsating gently in the water at our feet. Suddenly swimming didn’t seem quite so attractive. Presently, four elderly folk descended the steps we had come down and settled not far away. And then a middle-sized cruise boat hove to and began edging its way towards a jetty on the far side of this little cove.
‘It isn’t going to – !’ I exclaimed.
”It is, you know,’ said Lois.
And it did, edged in, tied up and disgorged about 70 people, families on a day out, who made their way, chattering like parakeets, along various paths to our – OUR – side of the cove. I regarded them in much the same way that peaceful villagers on the north coast of England must have viewed the arrival of the Vikings. We packed up again and marched off.
Eventually we made our way back to where we had landed, where another cruise boat was now tied up. Mercifully, we could clamber along the rocks to a place of solitude. We swam and we lunched and we chatted in a most amiable way. Balm at last.
But we both concluded that Giannutri was pleasant enough, pretty in its way. The waters were a wonder for divers, and there were the remains of some handsome Roman villa (which you could only visit in the company of a guide, or so the notice said). But, when all was said and done, Lois pointed out, there was something missing, that we always had the feeling that people had just left the place we had come to, that fun had vanished round the corner, that we had just missed something, someone, some group, some action, that Giannutri was really empty of defining character. More Gianneutered than Giannutrious, if you know what I mean.