Sunday, February 28, 1999



The writer and broadcaster recalls the tension - and the laughter - of filming in Moscow in the Sixties
Sunday, 28 February 1999

I've got one of those beastly new passports now, and it's empty. There are so many countries that don't stamp your passport these days.
Back in the early 1960s, it was different. I had a lovely old black passport. I was working on the BBC's Panorama programmes. When Robin Day and I went to Moscow, we were among the very first TV people allowed entry. In fact we got into trouble for filming vegetable queues and we were hauled up in front of the Board of Moscow Television. There were seven of them sitting in a row facing us. Their boss, in the middle, looking down on us, said: "The path you have chosen is the wrong one". Our producer, Jeremy Murray-Brown, just burst out laughing.
Some hilarious things happened to us in Moscow. One night, Jeremy was out very late at night by himself and he had no means of getting home. In fact he didn't know where he was. But suddenly he heard this huge rumbling noise: it was a Soviet tank coming up the street. So Jeremy decided to stick out his thumb and hitch a lift. The tank stopped. Jeremy asked: "Can you take me to the Hotel Ukraine?" And the tank driver agreed to take him home.
It was also pretty tense. Pretty grim. Climbing the steps to board the flight out we saw two men in trilbies. I thought we were going to be arrested. But they didn't stop us. An hour after take-off, the pilot announced that we were leaving Soviet airspace. The whole plane erupted into spontaneous cheers.
Another trip I did in those days for Panorama was to Saudi Arabia. The flight from Jeddah to Riyadh was extraordinary: there were sheep in the aisles and lots of clucking hens. When we arrived, a prince called Salman took me and my cameraman out into the desert and organised races for the retainers, using his starting pistol and a camera to snap them at the finish. It was like something out of Shakespeare.
We camped out, sitting under the stars with the prince, eating meat with our fingers. One sheep per night. The cameraman and I had a tent to ourselves. This may have been Saudi Arabia but there was a bottle of J&B and a pitcher of cold water waiting for us when we retired to sleep.
My first trip to India was another unusual experience. I was riding a taxi to Bombay when suddenly a man in a sky-blue suit and red teeth stopped the car, opened the door and got in. This was odd enough. Then he began asking questions. "What are you thinking of Harold Macmillan, Kingsley Amis and Charles Dickens?" he asked. There was a long pause. I asked what he was thinking.
"I am thinking of a poem about you," he said. "Happy in Love, Dauntless in Work, is Mr L Kennedy of the BBC."
I complained that it didn't rhyme, so he tried again:
"I seal with a kiss, our heavenly bliss," he began, but at that moment we arrived and I was spared the rest of his poem.
Sir Ludovic Kennedy's latest book, `All in the Mind' was published in January by Hodder & Stoughton, price pounds 18.99.

A nose for the good life

A nose for the good life

A vineyard tour is a great way to learn the difference between Bull's Blood and Bordeaux, says Jeremy Atiyah
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 28 February 1999
Have you ever wondered why the picnic wine you drank from a plastic bottle with manchego curado and jamon serrano in that orange grove in southern Spain last summer tasted so much better then than it did after you had brought a couple of dozen boxes of the stuff back to England?
If this has happened to you (and you have spent the rest of the winter languishing in a warm-beer-induced depression) I suggest a wine tour: not cheap but a hell of a way to learn about wines. Tours revolve around tastings and multi-course gourmet dinners accompanied by large numbers of wines.
The number of countries on the standard wine-tour itineraries has rocketed in recent years. Alongside the old stalwarts, France, Italy and Spain, tours and tastings of the best wines of Switzerland, Portugal, Hungary, Bulgaria, Chile, South Africa, California, New Zealand and Australia are all possible.
Two specialist operators who can provide wine tours of all or most of the above destinations include Arblaster and Clarke (tel: 01730 893344) Alternative Travel (tel: 01865 315678) and Wine Trails (tel: 01306 712111). Holidays on offer include group tours with expert guides, walking tours of vineyards, as well as virtually any kind of tailor-made package. Many wine tours take place during the harvest season, which means early October for the European wineries. In fact, tastings and vineyard walking tours can take place at any time of year.
A (somewhat subjective) list of the best wine-destinations might begin with Rioja in northern Spain. The wine is fantastic, the scenery divine, and the prices are not as high as in France: a nine-night tour with Wine Trails costs pounds 1,095, not including flights.
"Chiantishire" tours of Tuscany are also fairly irresistible: five nights in Umbria and Tuscany in October cost pounds 999 with Arblaster and Clarke. If that still sounds expensive, try Jerez in Andalusia; Wine Trails can put together a package of five nights to that area, including lots of sherry, several gourmet dinners and visits to at least one bodega each day for about pounds 450 (not including flights).
The Eastern European destinations may not sound terribly promising by contrast but the vineyards look just as nice in the sunshine. And in Hungary there are ancient traditions of wine-making: visits to the Tokaj region, from the beautiful Baroque city of Eger, are an excuse to experience the famous Bull's Blood wine, once known as the "Wine of Kings". A five- night trip next October costs pounds 699 with Arblaster and Clarke.
The more traditional wine areas of France, such as Bordeaux, can work out expensive. Another Arblaster and Clarke trip where you stay as "private guests" of Chateau Lascombes and enjoy entertainments such as visiting the First Growth of Chateau Latour, amounts to no less than pounds 1,500 for four nights and five days (with outstanding food and wine).
Do-it-yourself wine tours are perfectly feasible as long as you are in a place which has a tradition of wine-tasting. Oporto in northern Portugal is one such place: a vast number of different Port wines can be sampled by simply walking from one warehouse to the next. This sublimely pleasant experience is free.

Sunday, February 21, 1999

It's different down south

It's different down south

Jeremy Atiyah samples the pride and despair at the heart of the slow, traditional life of Italy's Calabria


Take one elegant Piedmontese lawyer with a very long Roman nose. Add a rumbustious Calabrian orange-grower with Arab blood in his veins, who not only makes his own cheeses, sausages and wines, but also treats disobedience as a fine art. The result? Two Italians.

At Rome's Fiumicino Airport a fortnight ago I noticed that the gates for Turin, Milan and Venice were dressed up like Bond Street boutiques. The gate for my flight to Calabria meanwhile was stuck in a basement, a sad Cinderella, hidden from view by the wicked sisters of the north.

If so, this was nothing new. It is all part of a 2,000-year-old conspiracy, stemming back to the days when the Calabria area, populated largely by disaffected Greeks, made the mistake of aligning itself with Hannibal against Rome. The result: a scorched-earth policy which has alienated the locals for more than 20 centuries.

Fortunately, I had one of those alienated locals to show me round; my friend Francesco, a typical Calabrian who has fled to the north but returns at every opportunity to eat his mother's pickled mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes with anchovies and garlic, not to mention local delicacies like sanguinaccio, a sweet sauce made of fresh pig's blood, containing nuts, raisins, sugar, orange peel and cooked wine. You eat it with bread.

Francesco's view of Calabria is a typical mix of pride and despair. The mafia, he scoffs, are unintelligent, mediocre people who have plundered Calabria and are still preventing new funds from reaching the area. But simultaneously he inhabits the same emotional world as any Calabrian who could grow a black beard in less time than it takes to kill a pig. "If your brother is murdered," he once told me, "your life changes immediately. People see you with different eyes. You have a big baggage to carry. You must stay with your family. You must be serious. Until la vendetta." With this warning in mind we set off round the peninsula.

Calabria is a narrow, mountainous land. Tours tend to involve switching from one coast to the other, back and forth across the central spine, where once grew the timber that built Rome's navies. A linguistic remnant of these treasured forests (Latin: silva) can be found in La Sila, in central Calabria - mention this area, and locals still brighten up with talk of giant pine trees, lush pasture, deer and foxes scampering through sparkling snow.

But mention Aspromonte ("harsh mountains"), in the far south, and a sinister silence falls. This stony land of cliffs and narrow, barren valleys is where 12-year-old shepherds carry sawn-off shotguns to keep wolves at bay. Tracts of the Aspromonte are entirely in the hands of the mafia. Kidnap victims languish here, locked in mountain caves beyond the reach of the carabinieri.

In fact, much of Calabria has an untamed aspect. Strange little medieval villages hang on to rocky crags in the sky everywhere you look. Even the main centres can feel medieval: one of my first stops was in the city of Cosenza, known as Citta dei lupi, or wolf city. I found wet cobbles, half-lit balconies, fig trees growing out of walls, crumbling archways, smelly alleys and stairways. The people? All in the duomo, of course, bundled up in hats and scarves, freezing under bare columns and being harangued by the priest on international politics and the necessity of employing more priests.

Let no one say Calabria is entirely behind the times. In summertime, after all, tourists from all over Italy flood down to Tropea on the Tyrrhenian Sea, while over on the Ionian side, Soverato is compared to Rimini (except that Calabria's waters are much cleaner). But I was not looking for resorts; I was looking for clues to Calabria's non-Italian identity. And a few miles south of Soverato I emerged from olive groves on to the coast at a promontory known as Punta Stilo.

The sea was pale but smelt of fresh salt. On a temple platform by the beach, I saw remnants of plain Doric columns, where Greek settlers once prostrated themselves before the sea. Francesco paced the platform barking into his mobile phone, but it still felt like a holy place. In 1972 a pair of bearded, naked gods in bronze - the bronzi di Riace - were pulled from the water just to the south of here. These giant Calabrian gods, 2,500 years old but detailed down to the finest veins and abdominal muscles, have been seized on as evidence of early local talent: when these were crafted, Rome had hardly been more than a twinkle in the eye of Zeus.

But where does pride in the past cease and backwardness begin? We drove up a narrow mountain road from Punta Stilo to the village of Bivongi, in a smoky green valley overlooked by ruined Norman castles, where peasant women walked in single file with baskets on their heads. Popular Bivongi dishes, I was told, included dormice with tomatoes and pasta. In the hills behind the village thunders an extraordinary 300ft-high waterfall; long known to the Bivongis, it was only "discovered" by the rest of the world 10 years ago. Meanwhile, in the village centre, on a wall overlooking the piazza, is a faded but clearly visible stencilled face of Mussolini, over the word Duce. Nobody has got round to cleaning it off in 50 years.

So slowly do things move here. Until inquisitions from Rome finally killed off the Orthodox Church in the 15th century, this had remained a strongly Greek area, a ghostly vestige of the Byzantine Empire. But now, astonishingly, the Greeks are on the way back. In the 11th century Byzantine monastery of San Giovanni, which stands semi-ruined on a mountain-top overlooking Bivongi, a Greek monk with a long beard and a revolutionary black hat has taken up residence again. His name is Kosmas Papapetrou and he comes from Mount Athos, Greece's holy mountain.

"People here are interested in getting back to their roots," he explained, pouring me a grappa in a brick room cluttered with icons. "I was invited to come by the local people. So I came. I love it here. South Italy has a very special spirituality. The mountains remind me of Athos. The only noise to disturb me is the sound of running water. In a sense, yes, you could say I am trying to recreate the past, but a glorious past is not reason enough to keep me here. I have not come to impose anything. I am here to offer my work, and to promote peace between the Catholic and Greek churches, between Italy and Greece." A couple of curious Italian tourists were dropping by for a chat with the monk even as we spoke.

But the Greek presence in Italy is older, perhaps, than even Kosmas Papapetrou can imagine. Calabria and Sicily were where the Greeks and the Italians met for the first time in history 3,000 years ago, when Greek pioneers set out from their homelands in search of living space. And, incredibly, I had been told, the Aspromonte still contained remote villages where the locals spoke a form of ancient Greek. I intended to visit one.
Driving past signposts riddled with bullet holes ("This is Calabria," explained Francesco, wearily) we arrived in the mountain-top village of Bova on a desolate, rainy evening to find the place in uproar. Italy's Yellow Pages, published by a company belonging to the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, had just appeared showing the map of Italy with a gun where the village of Bova should have been. The local Communist mayor told me they were planning to sue. It wasn't fair, he said. There weren't any kidnappings here any more. It was all northern propaganda.

"Forget about the mafia," he said. "The interesting thing here is that we are Greek. Until 30 years ago everybody spoke Greek here. Now we are beginning to lose it, but there is enough awareness to keep it alive. We are stubborn people. The Greek Orthodox religion was not shifted out of here until 1593 - we were among the very last to capitulate to Rome. Even after that we continued to hold Orthodox services in secret. Are we descended from the ancient Greeks? Of course. When we have a problem in our village we go into the square and discuss it, just like the Athenians did."
Some scholars, in fact, have claimed that the Greek presence in Calabria dates back only to the 15th century, when the Ottoman invasion of Greece drove them here as exiles. The mayor of Bova does not believe this. As evidence, he pulled out a tray of old ornamental goat collars and stamps for fresh cheese. "These geometrical designs are described in Homer," he said. "People dig these up in archeological sites in Greece. But these were made here by our shepherds in the last 30 years."

Bova is not a cheerful place. Its fantastic eagle's nest location is a false promise. The village currently comprises a muddle of alleys, a cold, crumbling church and a ruined Norman castle with one wing occupied by a Bohemian from Switzerland. Its population has declined from 5,000 to nearer 500; most of its houses are falling down; money promised by the government has been frozen in the bank for 25 years because of political and bureaucratic wrangles.

Of course, the north of Italy has had it better. But only in beautiful Calabria - until so recently - have shepherd boys entertained themselves by carving wood into patterns which were sung of by Homer.


Jeremy Atiyah flew to Lamezia Terme in Calabria, via Rome, as a guest of Alitalia (tel: 0171-602 7111). Return flights cost pounds 190, including tax, until the end of March. Cars can be rented in the airport on arrival.

There are no direct flights to Calabria from the UK, although daily direct flights to Naples on British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) from London are currently available for about pounds 185, including tax. The onward journey by train or car from Naples to Calabria takes about four hours. Direct charter flights to Catania and Naples on Monarch are also available, at a variety of prices and can be booked through a travel agent such as Baileys (tel:             01933 410570      ).

For independent travellers, local hotels and pensions are inexpensive. Call the Italian tourist board for a list of options. Long Travel (tel:             01694 722193      ), which specialises in southern Italy, can offer tailor-made packages including return flights and hotel accommodation in Calabria, from the beginning of May. One option is a rural "agritourist" hotel (a converted farm), where guests walk, pick oranges, ride horses and enjoy fabulous home- cooked food. Half-board accommodation, scheduled return flights to Lamezia and use of a car costs about pounds 700 per person per week. You can book just the half-board accommodation for pounds 273 for the week. A hotel on the coast at Capo Vaticano is also available at similar prices.

To view the waterfall at Bivongi, visit the local town hall, Municipio di Bivongi, (tel:             00 39 0964 731523      ), where they can arrange hire of a jeep for a small charge. The Italian State Tourist Board (tel: 0171 408 1254) is at 1 Princes Street, London W1R 8AY. The Blue Guide series publishes a book on Southern Italy in its range.

Sunday, February 7, 1999

Patricia Rozario - `Getting visas is a real headache'

Patricia Rozario - `Getting visas is a real headache'

My passports are always full of stamps. I keep an Indian passport even though I have lived in Britain for 20 years. It's a sentimental thing. My mother still lives there and I like the feeling that I can get back home at any moment.

Getting visas is a real headache, though. In fact, I've just come back from a battle at the Spanish embassy where I was trying to renew my Schengen [most of Europe] visa. I had all the correct paperwork but the woman in the embassy still gave me an earful. She told me I was lucky next to my compatriots. She even seemed to be complaining that my job was more interesting than hers. Why do they have to speak so nastily? I told her I didn't understand why she was in a rage.

People ask why I attend embassies in person when I could get others to sort my visas out. I think it's because I want to keep in touch with normal life. I want to know how we foreigners are being treated.

I once had a difficult time flying into Athens very late at night. I had a visa but the man behind the desk didn't dare take responsibility for letting me in while his boss was asleep. My composer friend who spoke Greek protested: "She's a famous singer. She's singing at the Megaron." But his Greek was not that good so they decided to let me go and detain him instead. "You go, madam," they said. I refused. It took a lot of persuasion to let my friend go.

Which passport stamps do I remember best? A Chinese visa intrigued me. I got myself one when I was alone in Hong Kong. The visa only took a few hours to be issued and it was an old-fashioned one, which I liked. The whole experience of just going over the border was beautiful. It was lovely to see all those Chinese people.

As for India, I go back every year now. I helped start a musical festival in Bombay a few years ago, which I always attend. When I was younger, it used to be emotionally hard for me to go back - I couldn't take more than a couple of weeks. Nowadays, I am much happier and more relaxed about going.

Bombay, where I was born and brought up, carries a great sense of survival. It's such an active, tough, positive place, in spite of all the competition. People still manage to have fun even when they are up against it. I get renewed when I see my friends there. Over here there is more of a tendency just to get depressed about things.

I'm a bit of a curiosity over there. People ring up my parents when they read about me. Western classical opera isn't well-known in India, but sometimes after performances Indians come and tell me that they enjoyed my voice in spite of not understanding the music. It's great to think I might have turned them on to opera.

Patricia Rozario is an Indian soprano. She is performing on 4 and 6 February in the Canary Islands, and on 1 March at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

Calabrians just don't see the bright side

Calabrians just don't see the bright side

HAS ANYONE ever whispered in your ear that Calabria in the south of Italy might not be all bad? I doubt it. Everyone knows this is the fag-end of Italy, the stubbed toe with chilblains, the place that all good men leave as soon as they are old enough to shave. The place that never gets any EU funds because if it did the mafiosi would get them. And I'm not just reporting the words of some snobby Milanese stockbroker in a lamb-skin jacket. This is what the locals keep telling me.

I wonder where the Calabrians lost their self-esteem. Friends who are supposed to be showing me the positive side of local life can't help lapsing into gloomy self-recrimination at the slightest opportunity. "Oh, good people don't live here," they say, pointing at some innocent passer-by with bandy legs. "We have only the mediocre ones. The ones who were left behind. It's so strange. Look at these people. Dark clothes, dark cars, dark glasses, dark houses. Everything dark. This is not a modern country like Britain you know."

If that isn't a masochistic self-perception, I don't know what is. Look at this place. It is slap-bang in the middle of the Mediterranean. It is the place - once known as Idalo - that gave all of Italy its name. What I see from where I am sitting is bright sunshine pouring on to stone tiles through an open door. Just outside is an orchard of trees loaded down with oranges. The vines are budding. The air smells of mountain pines and wood-smoke mixed with faint suggestions of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the ships that once ruled the Mediterranean world. Perhaps I am insensitive but I can't quite see the badness and the loathsomeness in all this.

Perhaps the people are just bad. Well possibly, if you believe in the Hollywood version of southern Italy. And if you insist, yes: perhaps a handsome boy with a black chin and a beautiful girl with red lips and white skin will kiss somewhere in Calabria tonight, and perhaps they will have a child, and conceivably some bad godfather who had had other marriage plans for the girl will then have her shot to death, causing blood to splatter over her dress on the steps of the church.

But I suspect plenty of other people will not be shooting their friends or relatives. My experience of the Calabrian people so far is this. Last night I arrived with the address of one Calabrian in my pocket. By 11am today that friend had asked another friend to call his aunt to have a word with her lawyer to send a message to the mayor to suggest to the carabinieri to persuade the Italian military to provide a snow-plough to clear a road for me to visit the ancient forests of Sila in the mountainous interior of Calabria. Why? Because the Latin poet Virgil mentioned them, that's why.

But to judge by the way the Calabrians talk about themselves, the children are still begging in rags, the towns are still locked into never-ending cycles of self-inflicted poverty and misery. If only I could put them all into psychotherapy. I want to take them away from their oranges, their olives and their wine, and send them to England to live in a dark, draughty castle and eat dry scones for a month. Then I want to bring them back to the sunshine and see how much progress they have made in the field of self- esteem. They deserve the break.