The pink hotel stood block-upright and silent. Bleak windows stared from behind the flaking wall – all happiness abandoned.
Nervously we peered upwards through the car’s windscreen, enticed by the almost empty roadside parking. Behind us, in the back, the dog bounced with impatience.
We were unsure … the dog wasn’t … so what was wrong?
We tried harder. After all our little trip had started well.
We’d driven down past water buffalo in their corner of pasture; we’d admired the rowers powering away in the distance; and, even better, we knew this lake was where the great Scipio Africanus, defeater of Hannibal, had spent the last years of his life.
Blissful … but for some reason not quite. The lake looked scummy, and the pink hotel didn’t help.
But the dog was insistent so we pulled over, climbed out and organised ourselves.
It was a perfect morning with all the possibilities of a large, freshwater lake. We let the bright breeze fill our lungs, and the dog rush to sniff the undergrowth.
We were about to set off down the road when the cyclist arrived. Greetings were exchanged as he loaded his gear into the back of his car, parked just in font of us. His Lycra-blue happiness lifted the mood, until … bang! It popped. He saw and we saw that his passenger window had been smashed.
Suddenly our parking colleague was transformed – all good cheer gone. He hissed Italian with words that spat off the walls at a speed we couldn’t begin to catch.
“Chi?” “Come?” “Quando?” “Perchè?”… and worse … zinged through the air.
We tried to join in. We winced and fluffed ourselves up, but there was clearly nothing we could do.
We left the problem in his Italian hands and turned our attention back to the dog. We decided it was best to split duties – to leave one of us to guard the car and the other to escort the dog.
I drew the car straw and opted for casual indifference. I leant awkwardly against the driver’s door, whilst the cyclist paced to and fro, haranguing his mobile.
Across the lake apartment blocks littered the far shore. Were the thieves there, or out of sight in one of the hotel windows behind me?
Then came the high buzz of a scooter approaching fast. It came from my right, the driver’s face invisible beneath balaclava and helmet. He was not the wind-blown texter of most motorinos. He flew past like an angry wasp, and then all was still again.
Behind me the hotel windows stared … and said nothing.
Eventually the dog panted his way back to the car and we headed on to complete the north curve of the lake.
Here, at the end of a rattly road, was another hotel but this one had well-occupied parking, and small groups of coffee drinkers enjoying the sun on the verandah. We joined them.
In front of us the lake was busy with the hum of small, remotely controlled seaplanes that whizzed, crashed, looped, and sometimes had to be rescued.
Beside us a table of older men discussed the papers. Occasionally they paused their espressos to admire the young woman who posed with her man for selfies on the lake wall. The wind whipped her short skirt high and flaked yellow foam off the water.
We relaxed … slightly.
It was not easy to imagine what the lake, and its town Liternum, had been like two thousand years ago; not easy at all to see why one of history’s greatest generals would have chosen to farm here, far from the politics of Rome.
Not easy even to imagine the lake as described in ‘Naples ’44‘ by Norman Lewis – who talked of the woods, the edible plants and the migrant birds at Lago di Patria. Now the lake’s corrupted edges, the prowling scooters, and the surface scum seem to have choked much of that.
We finished our coffee and decided to head for home – at least the dog had found plenty to sniff.
As for the lake, its hard to know if anyone can sort it out. Perhaps the best hope is that the name of Publio Cornelio Scipione L’Africano may ring through history once again, this time connected to one last battle … the battle to save Lago di Patria.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016