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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On Sicilian drivers and culture vultures,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I am zee drivere zat passed you on ze way from Palermo to Cefalu and I want to say nyah nyah ze boo boo!!!!!! I am zee fastere!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tee hee,
A Maserati, Sicily

OK, Maserati, come clean, you might as well admit it. Were you:

  1. the fat guy with the cute little bambino on his lap checking his emails as you passed us at 100 mph?
  2. the sleek motorcyclist (sans helmet) with not-one-but-two sleek chicks attached to your rear end who roared past us at 120 on a narrowing bend??
  3. the moustachioed Mafia-man who zoomed silently up behind us in an Audi going 130 who overtook on a blind curve at 2000 feet in the mountains with a thousand-foot overhang on your side and two lorries bearing down on you???

Fact is, I had previously heard that Sicilians were ambitious, but had no notion that the ambitions of so many involved having small plaques put up to them on the side of the roads with bedraggled flowers over them (one, of a notably good-looking young man, simply stating, 'Ciao, Simone'). The standard of driving was so lousy that one simply got to expect any driver to protect his masculinity (or to test your brakes) by charging out in front of you with zero inches to spare. The standard of driving was so lousy that, in central Palermo, they didn't bother with lanes at all, driving completely a hornato, or with hand on horn. And I write as someone with speeding points on every license I've ever had.

Luckily, I only had to backseat drive, as I only squeaked past my driving test with 'the dumb American is only allowed to drive automatics' on my license. But my poor husband's right shoe will never be the same again, or his nerves either.

However, other than people like you, amigo, Sicily is a great place. Terrific beaches, fabulous restaurants, incredible duomos, unbelievable scenery (how can one compare it to shallow Tuscany? Even Scotland's grandeur pales in comparison!!!) The Aeolian islands were glorious (we did a day cruise) and I never imagined lying on a volcanic (silver-grey) volcanic beach.

Sicily also boasts (unluckily for us) Europe's most amazing water-park, Etnaland, a place beloved of my 8-year-old, Rachel, who has a most bizarre passion for the kind of rides Marquis de Sade might have contemplated designing on a bad hair day. (To give an example: I was enticed/bullied on to it's newest attraction, a ride where nine people are tossed like lettuce in a salad from side to side of a water whipping machine, up, down, through tunnels and out of them: strongly unrecommended by me!!!!!) We had to go to Etnaland twice, in order to please the infant, irreparably disappointing my culture vulture mother, who had hoped we'd make it to Agrimento ruins instead.

Yes, outside of people like you, Masarati, Sicily was wonderful -- but coming back was an unqualified nightmare. Luckily we'd economised with Ryanair, the no-frills, no-food airline, rather than British Airways, which cancelled all its flights from Italy the day we returned, but the new security checks kept us queueing for three hours in Palermo (my imitation of myself pretending to suffer an asthma attack in the face of a grim Italian security guard intent upon depriving me of my inhaler being worthy of an Oscar; the guy kept saying, in fluent Italian, 'Vere iz zee certificate of ze doctore to say that you neede zes inhaler' and I kept saying, in fluent sign-language, 'Buddy, without my inhaler, you may well have ze dead ze body of ze UK personne upon ze arrival'). Ryanair deprived us all of the chance to bring bottles on board only to run out of water after the first few rows -- and, to add insult to considerable injury (we were of course several hours late arriving back in Stansted, mainly because Ryanair kept the rest of us waiting hours for those who were desperately and hopelessly late), they refused to allow us to get off of the plane for almost an hour ... at one am.

When we were finally allowed off, we found Stansted completely unable to cope with the number of delayed flights that it had just been swamped with, and had to wait another hour for our luggage ... By the time we'd collected our car and driven to my in-laws (groggy with exhaustion but luckily no traffic on the road, let alone mad Italians) it was four am!!!!!!!!!

Today I'm thinking, holiday? What holiday?? I need a holiday to recover from my holiday!!!! (And don't forget we were the lucky ones: our flight flew, AND we weren't queuing from the car park to Heathrow Terminal four for 48 hours).

This infuriates me. We let these people in to live in a better country than Pakistan (or else why did they or their parents choose it??), and allow them every right, including paying through our taxes for their schooling and health care (and often housing until they get on their feet), which they very kindly repay us for by attempting to blow us up. Frankly, we are far too tolerant in Britain. I believe that every Muslim should be forced to swear allegiance or else be deported -- and that any Muslim demonstrating (or any Imam preaching) religious hatred should be deported the next day without right of appeal, starting with the sort that hold up signs like, 'Cut the heads of infidel children and feed them to the pekinese' ... After all, it'd be a kindness, really, as they're such Angry Young Men. I feel sure they'll all enjoy life much more in Pakistan, where they can get their footballs autographed by Bin Laden and better weather while they're at it.

As for you, Maserati, my advice is: start designing your plaque.


Agony Aunt complaint form

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I don't know whether you read 'culture vulture' in the Guardian, but it recently featured an argument about when (or how) it is acceptable to leave a concert or theatre mid-performance. Do you have any views on this?

B M Wakinson, Hampshire

Dear B M,

I think I've only done this once, so I probably have very little to contribute to any discussion or argument. I have WANTED to buzz off and drown my sorrows (Eight songs for a mad king at English National Opera some years ago) but my true 'culture vulture' husband wouldn't let me, so I had to sit down, shut up and behave. (When the mad king, seated on the john, started throwing pretend excrement around, I thought he was making a commentary on the music.)

The time I DID leave I was hustled from a pretty astringent Busoni opera at Wolf Trap a few decades ago by my irate father -- don't know why he bought the tickets, having a fervent belief that all music, post-Dvorák, is pretty much of a write-off -- but I can't say I resisted overmuch. I think the only reason I didn't propose it myself is that I was only around thirteen and cello mad (like the king) and probably hoped for a glimpse of my cellist hero (John Martin, see columns passum) in the pit at some point.

I guess since those days that things have changed. People are simply not willing to have rubbish chucked at them for the good of their cultural souls anymore. The cost of tickets (especially opera tickets) is such that you expect a memorable evening, not a load of crap. Maybe this is a sad thing: that the effortful self-improvement of the 1980s is lost forever, along with the zestfulness of the first resurrection of authentic instruments? Or maybe it's a freeing thing: a sign that people in the 21st century have other ways of spending their money and are (literally) voting with their feet?


Copyright © 18 August 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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