Dream sequence: suddenly I’m driving across a busy intersection without right of way. A yellow bus squeals to a halt inches from my nearside; another vehicle brakes and avoids me as I mash the accelerator and lurch into the street opposite.
But it wasn’t a dream. I’d just started my journey out of Milan, and suddenly this was happening. I could have died this morning. And while I can construct stories about this dramatic departure from my normal vigilance and caution, they are all after the fact. I talk often enough about the illusory continuity of consciousness; this is a sobering reminder.
My by-now ritual tangling with the Tangentiale then, finally, Genoa and the Ligurian coast. A strong onshore wind sends a heavy swell onto the beaches and moles; the wrinkled mountains funnel it into unnerving gusts. The many tunnels through the mountain slopes provide shelter. What better place to imagine a story in which a mysterious wind arises all round the planet and blows stronger and stronger until it has wiped out human civilisation? Is this why J.G. Ballard’s The Wind From Nowhere starts in Genoa?
Alassio, Imperia, pottering along the Via Aurelia, the old, slow road along the crowded Ligurian shoreline. My grandmother toured this coast summer after summer with my godparents, in my godfather’s Hillman Minx. John Kingston was by all accounts an appalling driver, and had one of the early automatic transmissions, which enabled him to drive at 2mph without stalling, a trick guaranteed to infuriate the locals.
In some ways this little side trip is a homage to those summer holidays. I always imagined I would make such journeys when I grew up; I never imagined growing up would take so long.
The onshore wind condenses to clouds on the mountain slopes, great scoops of them piled on its slopes like ice cream, while below the coastal towns bathe in sunlight. On every slope I see those staples of 1930s’ travel posters: blue skies with giant white clouds piled behind eclipsing hills. The road winds around the cliffed coastline, wreathed in pines, aloe vera, bright flowers, bright sunshine, dark blue sea. The mountains slope up for ever, studded with the terracotta of buildings, the slim dark-green candles of cypress trees. Did this look any different in Roman times?
I bet parking was as bad. The towns are full of hotels, probably with rooms at reasonable rates, but I don’t fancy trying to park and find out. Happily, I find a camp site and for €15 pitch on a ledge overlooking the bay. I’m joined by Joop Mutsaers, retired from coaching schoolteachers and now a jazz promoter, in town for a session Wednesday night. We stroll into town for a pleasant and modest dinner.