Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Snow and Rain in Italy


Snow fell in Italy before Christmas, in places where it doesn’t usually snow. Laura, who is 65 and has lived in this village for her whole life, can’t remember it ever snowing here - except perhaps the odd flake trickling down out of the sky on a very cold day. But just over a week ago, Tuscans - right down to the edge of the Mediterranean - came out of their houses to find the roads six inches deep in the white stuff. All great fun and very pretty. It only lasted a few days before it began to melt. And then on Christmas Eve it began to rain - and that’s where the trouble began.
Rain in the Tuscan Alps is never ordinary - you either get a light mizzle or you get the fully grown up version as seen in Hollywood movies with six fire hydrants trained on the set. So on Christmas Eve we stayed beside the fire and listened to it drumming on the roof and rushing down the gutters. Christmas Day was bright and dry and we didn’t have the TV on all day - or the computer. So when we went out on Boxing Day to take members of the family to Pisa Airport we were totally unprepared for what had happened.


Swollen with snowmelt and rain, all the local rivers, including the Serchio and the Arno, had broken their banks. The main autostrada to Pisa was underwater, the secondary ‘A’ road (SS Aurelia) was also flooded and the train line was under water too. The police had blocked off all the roads, but no one had thought to provide details of a diversion. We drove around for hours frustrated at every attempt by the flood water.

This isn't the river - this is a new channel cut by the flood across fields and through a raised flood dyke. Eventually we found a way through, by driving more than half way to Florence and then coming back across country in a nose-to-tail traffic jam that stretched for miles. We missed the plane, of course, and then had to find a way back. The route we had taken was closed by an accident, another was closed because the bridge was down ...... We made it home eventually, but a trip that would take 45 minutes each way normally, had taken us 8 and a half hours. Then, because their flight had been re-scheduled to the following day, we had to do it all again.....
Landslides up in the hills have caused even more problems, sweeping away roads that provide the only link for small communities. It will be months before the roads and railways are completely restored. The President of Tuscany has declared a state of emergency. It seems England isn’t the only country in Europe to have problems dealing with weather!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Consumer's Christmas Carol


The success of the American economy apparently depends on how much people spend on ‘Black Friday’ in preparation for Christmas.


A Consumer’s Christmas Carol


Deck the doors with plastic holly Tra-la-la-la-la etc
Sarah wants a Barbie dolly Tra-la-la-la-la etc
Tom’s asked Santa for Nintendo
But it’s on us their gifts depend for
Dad’s redundant, Mum’s on Prozac -
If we spend enough they’ll get their jobs back
Tra-la-la-la-la etc


This is your consumer Christmas Tra-la-la-la-la etc
And we must pay to solve this crisis Tra-la-la-la-la etc
Bankers gambled with the money
If not so sad it would be funny,
That we must pay the debts they left us
And bung them all a hefty bonus
Deck the doors with plastic holly
Can no one stop this senseless folly?
Tra-la-la-la-la etc


Happy Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Tired of Turkey?


I'm in London for some brief family visits and pre-Christmas shopping and couldn't resist the culinary horrors of this shop window! Particularly having just read Margaret Atwood's latest novel (The Year of the Flood) where one of the forbidden delights is the consumption of endangered species. Not that camels are exactly endangered, but do they really taste that good?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Feast of Santa Lucia

Yesterday was the feast of Santa Lucia. Around the mediterranean and in Scandinavia this is widely celebrated. We went to Pietrasanta to watch three friends making the traditional circuit of the town. You are supposed to stay awake all night on the 12th December (good excuse for all night parties) and the following morning just as dawn is breaking the women form a procession wearing crowns of candles on their heads, and they process again as darkness is falling in the evening. The song they sing - 'Santa Lucia' - is neopolitan but there are lots of Scandanavian variants. The candles symbolise the fire that refused to consume Santa Lucia in the Christian calandar, but it has much earlier pagan associations. It used to fall around the winter solstice before the calendar was changed in the 16th century. We don't celebrate Saint Lucy in England now, though John Donne wrote a wonderful poem about the feast, that connects its significance with the death of his wife. 'A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day'

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Picnic on Monte Corchia

We’ve been having a series of lovely autumn days here - too good to stay indoors. We try to stick to a routine of working in the morning and then going out for a walk in the afternoon. Yesterday we decided to head up into the marble mountains just behind us - a short distance as the crow flies, but longer on the tiny roads that slalom up and down the slopes. Monte Corchia is quite high, but you can drive up the quarry road to about 4,000 feet - 1300 metres before it turns into a 4x4 track. The views are spectacular.


We ate a late lunch (4pm!) at the side of the road, next to the shrine, and stayed to watch the sun go down. It was bitterly cold - ice on the road - but the view is so wonderful it’s worth suffering for. You can see across the Mediterranean as far as Corsica. The sea seemed to go on forever beyond the glare of the sun.






On our right was the marble quarry of Mount Altissimo. The summit of the mountain has been eaten almost completely away by centuries of mining. It’s a visible reminder of the way human activity has affected the landscape.





As the sun goes down the colours change and the whole landscape glows. We drove home in the fading light, reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be here. Tonight the weather is changing - there’s a cold wind from eastern europe rattling the windows and storm clouds gathering over the mountains, so probably no walk tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Kate Clanchy: The Not-dead and the Saved


Congratulations to Kate Clanchy who has just won the BBC Short Story award with a story called 'The Not-dead and the Saved'. It's a wonderful piece of writing. Some critics have expressed surprise that a Poet should have won, but the crafting of the short story has more to do with poetry than prose.
Margaret Drabble - one of the judges - has written a very good article about the award. 'Critics wisely shy away from trying to define the short story. We know one when we read one, and we recognise the names of the writers of the past — Chekhov, Isaac Babel, de Maupassant, Henry James. But the form remains elusive and unpredictable. It’s not just an apprenticeship for longer work, though it has served as that. It’s a genre complete in itself, and some of the great stories have the economy and concentration of poetry. Some are interior monologues, some evoke one moment in a relationship, some suggest a huge backdrop of un-narrated events, some depend on a devastating punch line.......Short stories aren’t just very short novels'
She adds that 'the winning story was outstanding, one of the finest I have read'. Apparently the judges verdict was unanimous.
I love Kate Clanchy's poetry - I'd like to share one from her first collection, 'Slattern', [a poem now in the public domain].
Poem for a Man with No Sense of Smell

This is simply to inform you:
that the thickest line in the kink of my hand
smells like the feel of an old school desk,
the deep carved names worn sleek with sweat;

that beneath the spray of my expensive scent
my armpits sound a bass note strong
as the boom of a palm on a kettle drum;

that the wet flush of my fear is sharp
as the taste of an iron pipe, midwinter,
on a child's hot tongue; and that sometimes,

in a breeze, the delicate hairs on the nape
of my neck, just where you might bend
your head, might hesitate and brush your lips,

hold a scent frail and precise as a fleet
of tiny origami ships, just setting out to sea.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Driving in Italy

This is Pruno - one of my favourite hill-top villages in the Alpi Apuane and it’s about twenty minutes drive from Pietrasanta. The driving here is not for the faint-hearted, though you do get used to it. Italy has one of the highest death rates in Europe, due to a combination of speed, bad driving, and a lot of machismo. We’ve witnessed some unbelievable behaviour since we’ve been here. And it doesn’t help that the roads are not as well maintained as elsewhere in Europe. Italy has a large network of tiny mountain roads and it struggles to keep them up to scratch - this one is typical of Tuscany. They were never built for motorised traffic and are only wide enough for a small car, with steep gradients and right angle bends you negotiate with your front bumper among the flower pots and your wing mirrors scraping the corner of someone’s house!











It’s wise to hoot very loudly before beginning the ascent/descent because there’s nowhere to go if you meet another driver. The metal safety barriers are a recent innovation. Locals tell hair-raising stories of coming back from the bar late at night in winter and being found next morning hanging from a branch, completely sober but minus a vehicle.

Tourists aren’t expected to tackle the chicanes. They can leave their cars in the car park and walk the last few yards. When we first started coming to Italy we came across blurb which read ‘We will collect your luggage with the Ape’ which produced much hilarity. This useful animal is pronounced ‘Apay’ in Italian and isn’t a gorilla, but a narrow vehicle constructed around a motor bike frame like this.

There are no easy options in this part of Tuscany, but the tranquility of the mountains and the views are worth any amount of effort to get up here.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Corrections to the Corrections


I’ve been quiet for a week because my Mansfield manuscript has bounced back across the internet and it coincided with running a tutorial for my Open University creative writing students.
I’m now at the stage of the book where we are doing the corrections to the corrections. I’ve had a bit of a tussle with the editor because of the style. The biography is written, experimentally, in the present tense, to try and convey a sense of Katherine’s life as it was lived, rather than looking back on it with the biographer’s privilege of hindsight. And because the present tense gives such an informal feel to the narrative, I’ve opted for an informal style, which I hope is more readable. Somehow colloquial contractions such as she’s, can’t, doesn’t, won’t, etc seem to fit the rhythm of the present tense much better than she is, cannot, does not etc. But it seems that this might compromise my academic credibility! However, I’m digging in. The following is an example - where Katherine and her friend Ida are living in Italy; Katherine is ill and the hapless Ida is trying to look after her:


‘Katherine and Ida, living together in such a small place, are soon quarreling. Katherine wants – needs – Ida to be everything she’s not. They can’t get a maid because the local girls are all afraid of catching TB, so Ida has to cope alone with their domestic affairs. She’s stubborn, clumsy and inept; her appetite for food revolts Katherine, and her terror of offending or doing the wrong thing drives her to a frenzy of irritation. Ida is also impractical: she breaks dishes, glasses, thermometers, wastes money on fuel because she doesn’t know how to operate the chimney flue and burns the meals. There are times when Katherine hates Ida so much she’s almost consumed by it. Ida, aware of her feelings, does her best to remain in the background and wait until the fit is over.’


I’d be interested to hear opinions on the pros and cons. Katherine Mansfield herself was a supreme technician. While going back through all my references for a last check I came upon this quote in one of Katherine’s letters, about editing her own work.

It’s a queer thing how craft comes into writing. I mean down to details....... In Miss Brill I chose not only the length of every sentence, but even the sound of every sentence - I chose the rise and fall of every paragraph to fit her - and to fit her on that day at that very moment. After I’d written it I read it aloud - numbers of times - just as one would play over a musical composition, trying to get it nearer and nearer to the expression of Miss Brill - until it fitted her.
.......... I often wonder whether other writers do the same. If a thing has really come off it seems to me there mustn’t be one single word out of place or one word that could be taken out. That’s how I AIM at writing. It will take some time to get anywhere near there.’


Now, thanks to my Penguin editor (who must be almost cross-eyed with the strain of going through 200,000 words yet again with a fine tooth-comb) and a lot of eye-strain on my own part, the manuscript is as honed as we can get it. I can’t wait to see it in print, but at the moment I can hardly believe it will ever get there. And now I have to sort the illustrations ..........

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Olive Oil

We arrived here just in time for the olive harvest and, although I was glued to my computer editing the biography, Neil spent some beautiful autumn days on a ladder jiggling branches with a length of bamboo.
After this hi-tech operation, the olives fall into nets spread under the trees and are scooped up into plastic bins, brought inside and spread on the floor to dry off. It’s a job for lots of friends.

Then they have to be picked through to take out leaves, mouldy olives, bits of twig etc, before being put into sacks to take to the local Frantoio for pressing.














They don’t press in the traditional way any more, mashing the olives and spreading the paste on woven mats before screwing the whole lot down.
The Frantoio is full of gleaming machinery - the olives go in a hopper at one end and a greeny/yellow sludge pours out at the other into stainless steel milk churns.



























This year it’s yellow rather than green - something to do with the soil apparently. It’s nothing like the olive oil we buy in England - even the posh Extra Virgine. There’s something nectar-like about it - medicinal in the tradition of magic potions and elixirs.
My grandmother used to keep a small bottle in the cupboard for earache - to be warmed on a heated teaspoon! But this stuff is much better ingested, preferably with warm bread, Tuscan tomatoes, some home-made pasta and a sprinkling of Peccarino cheese.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Cumbria's Floods


Here, from my safe vantage point in Italy, I 've watched the news anxiously wondering how friends are managing to cope. Some of them have had to leave their homes for the second time in a very short period. Last time the centre of Keswick flooded it was over a year before all residents got back into their homes. It's easy to overlook the devastation this is going to cause in people's lives. In a few weeks time it will no longer be news, but the displaced residents will still be living in temporary accommodation and businesses may well be closed until Easter or beyond.
Many people no longer have insurance (we don't) and after this flood, those who do will find that it's been withdrawn. This is going to have a terrible effect on businesses like the one above. The book trade is difficult enough - many rely on Christmas as their big earner. Cockermouth was lucky to have one of the last independent bookshops in the county - a wonderful place to browse - author friendly and very pro-active in supporting book-related events. It made me very sad to see the picture above. Only one image to represent many, many altered lives.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Year of the Floods - Again

It seems unfair to be sitting in warm Italian sunshine, while my home county is under-water and the lead feature on the international news. It’s been an anxious time - we live in an old mill on the banks of a big river and it floods regularly. Before we left we stripped everything out of the ground floor, just in case the water rose high enough to come inside. And on Thursday it happened. A series of telephone calls as the river rose. Appleby on the news as residents filled sandbags and evacuated their belongings, expecting the Noah-style inundation we had in 2005 which almost reached the ceilings and made thousands of people homeless across Cumbria.

You can see from the picture the force of the water powering its way through windows and doors - the lintels of two windows are just visible. The wreckage left behind can be seen from outside in the photo taken next morning.
This time, it only flooded the ground floor of the mill (which is raised up about four feet above the river) to a depth of six inches, leaving a mess of mud and river debris. Appleby's riverside shops and houses were also flooded, though it escaped the worst of the weather. Other towns and villages weren’t so lucky and some of our friends are homeless again only five years since they were last flooded out. Neil has gone home, while I watch the internet news with disbelief at the scale of the flooding.
Living as we do with the rising and falling of the water, we’ve got used to compromising with it. I don’t grow anything in the garden that doesn’t survive being under-water. We don’t use the ground floor except in summer. We park our cars at the top of the hill as soon as it begins to rain. And, although it washes away my garden soil and floats off anything not tied down, it also brings gifts.
Last winter it left two beautiful
'accidental' sculptures on the weir. One a branch like a water sprite, trailing her arms in the water; the other a tree-stump like the head of a beast. They stayed there for a couple of months before the river rose again, carrying off the naeid, and moving the ‘beast’ up onto the river bank next to my garden.


There he’s remained all summer like a primitive carving - a god of the river - looking at me every time I glance out of the window. I suspect, after the water levels of the past few days the river will have moved him on, perhaps to dump him in someone else’s garden and I will be very, very sorry.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Editor's Cut

When I got back from Cambodia, the editor’s proof of my new biography was waiting for me. This is the moment I dread with every book. Having lovingly crafted every sentence and agonised over every chapter link, suddenly someone else is in charge of your masterpiece and they don’t love it the way you do.

But having a good editor is the most essential thing for any writer. They know when you’ve been self-indulgent (murder your darlings!), careless, or just downright confusing. This is particularly true with biography, because there’s such a fine line between giving the reader enough information to understand the situation, and either loading them up with irrelevant detail, or telling them so little they’re mystified.

Novels need pruning too, and there are some very badly edited books on sale. I’m just reading a bestseller and have come upon this in the second paragraph: ‘Just north of Tarvisio, on a curve that led down to the entrance to the autostrada and thus into the warmer, safer roads of Italy, the driver braked too hard on a curve and lost control of the immense vehicle.’ Didn’t the editor point out that having ‘on a curve’ twice in one sentence on the first page was a bit much? Or maybe they were too respectful to do so? We can probably all think of very famous writers whose editors became unwilling (or just too intimidated) to wield the red pen. Catherine Cookson was one of them - and her later books suffered from it.


Fortunately I’m not famous enough to experience this syndrome and I don’t think my editor would be worried even if I was. As you can see from the picture, she’s not afraid to do a bit of crossing out or re-writing. The book runs to more than 600 pages, and most of them look like that. By the time I’d reached page 100 I was ready to commit homicide! But by page 250 I was full of respect for someone prepared to give my manuscript such minute attention and willing to acknowledge that there were a lot of words that needed to be eliminated instead of the editor. There were also a lot of stupid errors and Freudian slips I would rather have died with embarrassment than have exposed to the public. Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller will be a better book for having such a stringent editor. I’ve just emailed it back to her and the whole process has been what my mother would have called ‘a character-building experience’.

So, now to open a bottle of Prosecco and wait for the corrections to the corrections to come floating across the internet between New Zealand and Italy! But the acknowledgements will have a big vote of thanks to the editor.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dangling the Dongle in the Olive Groves




This is my first post for two weeks. Followers must think I’ve vanished from the cyber-sphere! Not quite - I’ve simply moved to Italy, a country where the internet is still advanced technology rather than an everyday convenience. Once you get away from major cities such as Rome, or Milan, telephone lines capable of broadband transmission simply don’t exist. Most people use the new plug-in ‘dongles’ for wireless internet using the mobile phone network.
So, on my first day here (after queuing for an hour) we acquired a mobile ‘dongle’ for the laptop which promised immediate access on a pay-as-you-go basis. The only problem was that, after a whole evening deciphering Italian cyber-speak for beginners, it didn’t work. After several phone calls and visits to the shop (more queuing, more frantic flicking through the dictionary) we still didn’t have a connection.

Now (more queuing) we have another one from another Italian server and - after another wait - and a lot of dangling the dongle out of the window for the best signal - we finally have email!!! You really do begin to wonder whether there is a conspiracy somewhere to keep Italians off the internet.

It’s frightening how cut off you feel without access to your email; how frustrating it is not to be able to look things up on Google (let’s not mention Wikipedia!) - I suddenly realise how cyber-dependent I’ve become.
Apart from these struggles - it’s good to be back to the alternating storms and sunshine of the Alpi Apuane. One moment the sun is shining - the next it’s thunder, lightning and torrential rain. The olive picking is in full swing everywhere and the grapes are off the vines and beginning to appear as red frothy liquid from the vats in the Cantine. I haven’t seen much of it, because I’m glued to the computer going through the editorial alterations on ‘Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller’ and already planning a Homicide - but more of that in my next post!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Jet-lagged Memories of Cambodia

Back in stormy, cold, wet England with only memories of Cambodia filtering through the jet-lag. It's a wierd condition. You feel light-headed and slightly drunk. You lose all sense of time and your short term memory fails completely(never very good in my case!).

What are the things that have stayed with me? Dawn on the island. A boy on a polystyrene raft singing in the very early light.







A centipede on a monkey's skeleton in the rain forest.








Six people on a moto - yes, you can just see a bit of the head and one arm of the sixth person.





A boy asleep on a moto - you can do almost anything on a moto in Cambodia!


The 'Fast Food Massage Special' - do you eat it during, or have it smeared all over you?








Below - Cambodia's answer to the economic crisis!





















The landscape - which is very distinctive, dotted with villages of stilt houses.

And the poverty. Not the starvation level, life-threatening poverty I've seen in Africa, but border-line subsistence poverty. Life on the edge of survival. We met several people who are involved in organisations hoping to alleviate this by putting long-term measures in place. On man was raising the money to send Khmer teenagers to university - another running a project for the street children. This is called 'Friends' and they work with about 2,000 children in Phnom Penh, training them to cook and to make things that they can sell. These children can help to support their families without begging, and they get schooling too.

There's a darker side to the children on the streets. China is building garment factories there now (we saw Debenham's name tabs) and employing a lot of young Khmer women (cheaper than the Phillipines). Many of the women have small children but no child care. So their children are either lent, or in some case rented out, to begging organisations during the day. This is becoming more of a problem but there are people who think it too incredible to believe. They've obviously never read Dickens.

Now I'm in a mad whirl to get to Brussels on Friday for a day-school I'm tutoring on Saturday and I have to pack up myself and the house because I'm joining Neil in Italy for three months. The suitcases have hardly had time to cool! And the editor's version of my Mansfield biography has just slithered down from the internet - 650 pages of alterations, queries and re-writes. It's enough to make any self-respecting author turn to drink! Except that I've got no time just now to even open the bottle. Suddenly, watching the sunset from a hammock on the beach is very appealing!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Despatches from Phnom Penh

After another 6 hour bus journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, here we are in a tourist prison - a hot little cell with bars on the windows, otherwise known as a budget hotel! But at only $20 a night it's bearable, particularly as we have the Mekong river on one side and the National Museum on the other.

The museum is what we have come to see. All the remaining free-standing sculptures and important works of art from the Angkor temples have been brought here for safe keeping. All the ones that haven't already been looted that is ........ Much of it was carried off to Thailand in the nineteenth century. One Thai king even had the idea of dismantling Angkor Wat and re-erecting it outside Bankok! Other foreign visitors also appropriated artefacts for their 'preservation and protection'. During the Khmer Rouge period there was a great deal of looting. Even today carvings from the temples find their way onto the international black market.
The museum has the royal regalia from Angkor Thom - two twelfth century gold crowns with necklaces, bracelets and earrings worn by the Angkor kings and shown in some of the bas reliefs. These were returned to Cambodia, together with several statues, by Douglas Latchford - an antiquarian and collector living in Thailand with a strong interest in Cambodian Art. How many more fabulous artefacts are out there? No one knows.

We had lunch with TV producer and film-maker Cedric Jancloes at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Phnom Penh. This was the centre of Press activity during the war, but is now one of the tourist hot spots, though journalists and media representatives still use it. I was fascinated to see that Al Rockoff, the US journalist whose Cambodian experiences were the subject of the film The Killing Fields, was sitting just behind us. He still lives in Phnom Penh for much of the time and is apparently very critical of the way David Puttnam's film distorted the truth of his relationship with his Cambodian assistant.

Cedric Jancloes, who came originally to Phnom Penh as a documentary film maker with the UN, told us about a recent excavation in Cambodia. One of the historical legends records that Khmer civilisation began when a Brahmin prince from India fell in love with the daughter of the Naga (snake) King. This seems to explain the fusion of Buddhist and Hindu iconography in the temples here.

Left - female warrior carved in Preah Ko temple.

The same legends also tell of an army of women, and no one has given this much credit, until archaeologists began to dig up a necropolis containing the burials of female warriors - all tall and long-boned, buried with their weapons and regalia. The discovery of this army of Amazons is very exciting for Cambodia. But Cedric told us that the site is being constantly looted - the women's bronze bracelets and other jewellery simply vanish despite the best efforts of the archaeologists. This is the reason why, although they know where dozens of other important temples are hidden in the rain forest, they remain unexcavated. Cambodia doesn't have the money to protect or maintain the monuments it already has. A few wardens patrol temple precincts which stretch for miles.
In the afternoon we wandered around the city and went to the art college where students learn - among other things - traditional carving and other sculptural techniques. A young boy was casting a temple lion in cement outside on the pavement. Much of this expertise was lost in the war and most of the restoration work is now done by foreign governments. Hopefully they will soon have a skilled group of artisans to restore their own works of art though I suspect that the money to fund it will continue to come from wealthier nations.


We ended the day on the roof terrace of the Foreign Correspondents' Club, watching the sun go down and lights come on along the banks of the river.

Tomorrow we leave Cambodia to begin the journey back to England, and I'm surprised to find myself very reluctant to go. Despite the poverty, the blatant tourist trade, the heat and the mosquitoes, Cambodia's landscape and its people have been quietly clawing their way around my heart - like the strangler figs enclosing the stonework of the temples. Far, far too romantic an image I know, but that's how it feels at the moment.