Sunday, 30 December 2012

Organising the home run

There were ten of us for the celebration of my final Sunday Eucharist in Taormina. The numbers were swelled by an Englishman and his two teenage children who lives in Belgium but owns an orange orchard business in the region.

After we'd made our farewells to the regulars attending, we had a quick lunch before driving out in Kath's hire car the 120km round trip to Pedara. It's the town on the south side of the paese Etnaese where the local Catania based Honorary British Consul Richard Brown lives with his Italian wife and family.

The fertile lowlands around Mount Etna are a rich agricultural region densely packed with small towns and villages, all of which seem to run into each other in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. There doesn't seem to be a long straight road everywhere. The layout of the environment is determined by the long confusing history of lava flow from the volcano. Interesting maybe to an extent, but a far from remarkable landscape until, I suspect you get much higher up the slopes of the mountain.

Here the Honorary Consul graciously welcomed us into his home just after lunch, which was when we arrived. We went through the formalities with him to arrange for Clare's emergency travel document to be produced by the main Consular office in Rome when it opens tomorrow. It will be sent by courier to a TNT depot near Catania airport in time for our flight home on Wednesday, IF and ony IF the courier service functions as normal over the capodanno holiday. Richard will find this out first thing tomorrow and let us know. If this doesn't work we will have to rearrange our home flight and the necessary document - an expensive one-off travel permit adapted accordingly. Otherwise flying will be impossible.

The British Borders Agency permits nobody to fly into the U.K. without an identity permit, even if they are a British citizen and can prove it. The EU Schengen Agreement allows us to go by bus or train from Catania to Calais with no obligation to produce a document to prove who we are as long as we behave. But, little fortress Britain makes its citizens pay and jump through bureaucratic hoops to come home. No wonder the trade in illegal immigration thrives.

If Clare could get on a flight and return with no other document than a declaration from the Italian police to say her passport has been stolen, she might be allowed in after questioning, but the airline would be fined €20k for carrying her without documents and honouring its obligation to the ticked sold to us.

British Consular and diplomatic staff are admirable and provide an excellent service to Brits abroad, and this is suffering cutbacks all the time. All calls to Consuls in Europe, no matter which Embassy you enquire of, are directed to a single call centre in Malaga. It may be staffed with the best trained personnel imaginable speaking all the necessary languages, but what they lack is local knowledge of the places in which the crises are taking place which they are called upon to manage. The aim is for the whole expatriate world to be served by just three call centres. We'll be sorry for this in the long run. The only people who don't hate call centres are those employed by them or profiting from them.

With so much going on yesterday, I forgot to mention what when we walked the Corso yesterday afternoon, the remains of both Christmas Eve bonfires had been cleared and the places where the fires had been bore only remnants of the fine dust from the protective soil on which the fires were burned. The next shower of rain will dispose of this, leaving the black basalt cobble stones as they were before.

When we got back, I went to Vespers while Kath and Clare went up to the Corso to join Anto and Rhiannon. Kath and I then prepared a meal together - rice with roasted veggies and a veggie ratatouille. Just right for a mild winter's evening. Writing this before bed, I took a stroll up to the bottle bank and then down the Corso back home. Although eleven o'clock at night some clubs and restaurants were still open, and there were a many people out as there generally are at nine in the morning. Thanks to the not so wintry weather. What a treat!

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