Beached in Calabria by Ian Ross, memoirs set in Calabria

Why look for a home in Cala­bria? You might ask! Well, the author does a fine job of sear­ching out somewhe­re, tru­ly off the bea­ten track, somewhe­re that would accom­mo­da­te his 23 fami­ly mem­bers. He has, of cour­se, been inspi­red by The Dur­rells! In the sou­thern toe of Ita­ly the­re are vast stret­ches of beach, uni­n­ha­bi­ted and unsul­lied by tou­ri­sm. Whe­re is eve­ryo­ne? The appeal is clear, the friend­li­ness of the locals towards an outsi­der is ubi­qui­tous. He disco­vers Vil­la La Bun­tes­sa, a dere­lict spra­w­ling mass of mason­ry and bricks, on the Ionian side of the coa­st, to wit the Jasmi­ne Coa­st “whe­re time stands stub­born­ly still…” (and which inci­den­tal­ly gets 326 days of sun­shi­ne per year!). Befo­re he kno­ws it, he has com­mit­ted to the asking pri­ce of 155,000€. At this point his wife Bun­ty has no kno­w­led­ge of his tran­sac­tion.

A depo­sit – a cash depo­sit – of 100,000€ was requi­red and that sees him back home, sour­cing the money and then cros­sing the Alps in Janua­ry, the car pac­ked to the gun­nels and with a money belt full of dosh. This pret­ty much sets the tone for the caper of doing up this hou­se in the midd­le of nowhe­re.

The­re is lear­ning for him to be had along the way, a LOT of lear­ning as he peru­ses struc­tu­ral and aesthe­tic conun­drums, choo­sing Pro­sciut­to (should it be cru­do or cot­to?) for his lunch. And as for owning a car, ONLY Ita­lians may own a car in the coun­try, so that is some­thing he has to get around. Oh, and Gian­ni Ver­sa­ce hai­led from Cala­bria.

This humo­rous memoir is writ­ten by someo­ne who is used to pro­jec­ts that are off beat. He was a co-foun­der of Radio Caro­li­ne and ope­ned Britain’s fir­st auto­ma­tic car wash (in Rich­mond, Lon­don as it hap­pens) and he mana­ged The Ani­mals (remem­ber them?).

This area of Ita­ly, howe­ver, is ban­dit coun­try, whe­re the Mafia (the Ndran­ghe­ta) holds huge sway. So when he and his wife spot a poten­tial Mafia don or two, the­re is a fris­son of anti­ci­pa­tion which for­tu­na­te­ly comes to nothing; they are about 60km South of Locri whe­re poli­ti­cians get mur­de­red at the drop of a hat. They do howe­ver get into trou­ble with the casa de legno which they have con­struc­ted, may­be legal­ly, may­be not, and papers with cri­mi­na­le all over them are ser­ved. Rather unner­ving for the inco­mers.

The nar­ra­ti­ve is spec­kled with Ita­lian which adds authen­ti­ci­ty (althou­gh it’s an idio­syn­cra­tic Ita­lian for which the author gives an Apo­lo­gia Ita­lia­no befo­re he kicks off the sto­ry). An English voi­ce is not to be heard far and wide… And clear­ly he has to ramp down the fran­tic life­sty­le of Nor­thern Euro­pe in order to assi­mi­la­te into the lan­guo­rous life­sty­le of the South…

Now, not many peo­ple are hea­ded to this part of the world to find their home, so the­re will be few who can iden­ti­fy with the account of one family’s adven­tu­res in Cala­bria. Might you be temp­ted to fol­low suit? A plea­sant read and it will trans­port you to this warm and idyl­lic (mostly…) part of the world!

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