Celtic Illumination, part 168, What’s in a name?
Everything happens for a reason. Normally with me it’s the double top secret cabal who were organising my life so that I would be prepared to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland. This time it was the weather that changed events and I’m not sure if my double top secret cabal were influential enough to do that. We came hurtling out of the Alps, well hurtling as much as a little bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle can. Italy really did feel a little grubby and very, very, industrial. My aeronautical map didn’t really give a decent representation of the street layout in Milan so I planned to head for the centre of town, as you do.
As we approached the outskirts of Milan the volume of traffic seemed to quadruple every ten yards until we felt as if we were in a permanent traffic jam with everyone shaking their left hand while honking their horn with their right. After the space and freedom of Switzerland it was a little too claustrophobic and then the rain came. I mean rain, beautiful, heavy, constant rain which unfortunately made the whole situation far too confusing. We left Milan and hit the motorway. I pointed the car towards Verona, with images of the Capulet’s and Montague’s knocking seven bells out of each other. Even the motorway was frustrating. It felt that every time we got the little Beetle up to optimum speed we would come across a toll gate.
As we neared Verona, well thirty or forty miles away, I began to recognise place names and had an idea. I turned left and realised that I had happened upon one of the most beautiful drives in Italy, which was to go up along the side of Lake Garda. Suddenly Verona and William Shakespeare melted from my mind and real memory took over. I remembered the drive alongside the lake with its arched tunnels and little villages and to top it all, the rain had stopped, and the sun was boiling any of God’s creatures that were daft enough to be out in it. It was the only time I wished I had a soft top car rather than a sun roof.
I suppose the road alongside Lake Garda would be about thirty miles long and once you’ve got to Riva Del Garda, at the top, you just want to turn around and do it all again. Well; I did. In the blistering afternoon sunshine we stretched out at the lake side enjoying a couple of beers. It was perfect and I’m not one for lying around beaches or the like but surrounded with the mountains it couldn’t have been any better. But then I had an idea. It could get better for I knew that about twenty miles north was a very special castle. This was regarded as perhaps the most romantic castle in Italy. It sat on a lake and was dripping with legend, including ghosts and fairies and a string of forbidden aristocratic love affairs. Seemed only right that the future King of Ireland should visit, again, after all, not only did I have the loveliest legs in Ireland, but in the right light, I was dammed handsome.
The castle dated back to the Roman times and this is very evident in the architecture. It certainly does allow you to take yourself back in time, but I have to say that sitting on the balcony, draped in soft yellow electric light, with flickering candles and a clear evening, enjoying fresh fish from the lake was marvellous. There was a sort of peacefulness about the place and I wished I had been able to fill myself full of the stories and legends that had grown up around the place. I settled for the food and wine and I promise you, fresh apple strudel and red wine on a balcony that juts out over a lake is perfection. It costs an arm and a leg mind you, but delivers the sort of experience you tend to never forget.
Luckily I got away with it; no one had asked me how I knew about this place. It hadn’t occurred to anyone that it might be a little strange that a good ol boy, like myself, would be aware that such a place existed, so I never mentioned how I had first rolled up to Castel Toblino in a little red, open topped, Lancia Fulvia. It had been such a perfect day and as the chill of the evening began to roll across the lake I knew the good times would have to come to an end. We were close enough to Trento that it was time to put my family head on. I didn’t know what sort of reception I was going to get, so simply aimed the Beetle at Trento and drove.
It was dark when we got to my sisters flat. She was in panic mode, which I think is how she thought all prospective brides should act. Her flat was a mess and it was quite obvious that we were not welcome. She couldn’t get us out of there quickly enough, so telephoned a hotel in the centre of Trento and booked two rooms for us. I got the sort of feeling that the whole wedding situation was going to be quite an awkward affair so realised that perhaps the most sensible way to get through it would be to engage in some heavy drinking. It was quite obvious that I was only there because of tradition.
That evening I only had a couple of glasses of wine and retired early as it had been a glorious day, but exhausting. The following morning refuelled with a hearty breakfast, and the hotel manager telling me not to park my car outside the hotel as the radio would be stolen, I took Irene and gave her my personal tour of Trento. I took her along to meet a friend of mine, Alberto, who was a silversmith in the town. Alberto could not speak one word of English but we had always got along very well.
I didn’t really know much about him but enjoyed, on the odd occasion, visiting him in his shop where he sat making silver ornaments. His speciality was silver roses. Some would have been two inches high and he would encase them in a block of clear plastic or resin, but he also made stemmed roses that would have been the same size as the real thing. I introduced Irene and there was a lot of shaking hands. Alberto explained that he would be attending the wedding and we promised to buy each other a beer. Irene was taken with the roses and I asked Alberto if he would make me something special as it was Irene’s birthday in a day or two’s time.
He seemed to take this as a great honour and asked me for fifty quid, well eighty thousand Lire, and judging from his shrugging of shoulders and various hand gestures, it was he who was doing me the favour. We left Alberto and wandered off exploring Trento. I really enjoyed showing Irene about and hoped that I wouldn’t be bumping in to any other people I may have known as some things are just too difficult to explain. Irene was getting itchy feet and unlike me didn’t enjoy watching rivers. She wanted to go back to the hotel and I was dragging my feet as I knew my family were arriving and I have to admit it was something I wasn’t looking forward to.