I’m a short way down the hill from Norma and Marco’s lovely house in the hills above Genova, when someone calls my name. It’s such a surprise I nearly fall off the bike.
It’s Marco and Norma, on a nifty motorbike, on their way to a swim before Norma has to go back to her exam paper marking. “Follow me,” Marco instructs, and sets off at full speed, weaving through the Genoan traffic as though we’re late for a very important meeting.
There’s only one way, I’ve realised, to deal with Italian traffic. Whatever you intend to do, it has to be done with absolute conviction. You have to proceed with an aura of divine authority. Rules, you have to proclaim, and demonstrate, do not apply to a bicycle conveying a cello.
Well, it worked in Genova. It worked less well, later, in Rapallo, where an angry Italian car rammed me – absolutely deliberately. He didn’t win the shouting that followed, though. A small crowd quickly materialised, and it was clear which side they were on. The angry Italian car screeched away with its tail between its legs.
Apart from that, Rapallo was a lovely place. A monstrous cruise ship was anchored, smoking, out in the bay, and all its cargo were being shepherded, in numbered groups, through the pretty town. I played on a quiet corner, trying to put off the day’s difficult decision.
The thing is, I don’t know how far I’m trying to go, or where I might stay. The original plan, made with a flat map in front of me has, I now realise, a 2000ft hill at the end of a 50 mile day. That might not be comfortable.
And even with Marco’s help I’ve not been able to find a place to stay after Sestri Levante, the holiday town at the bottom of the hill.
I tell him there are always places to stay. No, he says, there aren’t.
The Ligurian coast here, like so many beautiful coasts, is hilly. Up and down, the views of the sea, the wooded hills, the expensive villas, mean frequent stops and slow progress.
Even so, I don’t want to stop in Sestri Levante, except briefly under the shade of an ice-cream umbrella.
I’m going to tackle the hill, and sleep under a tree if necessary. Halfway up there’s a campsite – but I haven’t got a tent. Anyway, I can get further. Possibly even to the top.
And I would have done – really – had not Franco beguiled me.
Franco had the long silver pony-tailed hair of an old pirate. He was standing by the open door of a slightly dingy bar, watching the world go by, as though he’d seen it all before. He smiled at a cello on a bike, and nodded imperceptibly in the direction of the sign that advertised his restaurant and rooms.
Decisions are made in moments. So now here I am, sitting in the bar, which really only looked dingy because I was outside in the full sun, with the bike parked up in the spare dining room, waiting for Franco and his chef to finish their dinner so I can have mine.
Luca, the rugby player on holiday from Milan, has translated a few difficulties. He’s staying at his wife’s sister’s house – that white one, there, where I should drop in for a drink – and afterwards he’s coming back to hear me play the cello. Do I play Irish music? He used to coach an Irish team, and he loves Irish music…