At the end of the Day

I left Athens this morning, en route by Air Sleazyjet to Milan. Foolishly, I had packed two small bottles of sun lotion in my hand-luggage, and this was of course confiscated in a flurry of panic by airport security. I’ve lost count of how many pocket-knives, shampoo sachets and tweezers I’ve lost to this nonsense over the years, but nonsense it always was and nonsense it remains. The only way to deal with those minorities who use violence is to let them get on with it unhindered, but make life impossible for their admittedly innocent co-religionists.

Veteran Sloggers will be well aware of my views by now, but they bear repeating for any newcomers. All minorities become, in the end, dictators…because they are appeased. It matters not whether these are gays, trade unionists, the IRA, or Sons of Allah upset by some imagined slight or other: what they crave is making people uncomfortable and/or inconvenienced in order to have their way. My view about Islamic terrorism is to ditch every last iota of security, but (a) make life intolerable when travelling for their non-violent kin, and (b) do everything in our power to starve them of commerce.

Only by doing so will pressure be brought to bear on them to desist….and meanwhile, the 99% of all of us who just want to be left alone can go back to normal air travel. This may sound draconian, but it was starving the IRA of Arab and US funds that brought them to the negotiating table. I do not doubt that using sexual psychopaths to strip-search every Islamic voyageur would soon return air travel to the vaguely civilised loisir it used to be.

There is something about Italy which is wrong. Well to be more precise, almost everything about Italy is wrong. You have to be a little concerned when a plane full of Italians lands successfully in Milan…and the passengers clap, as if it doesn’t happen that often.

After landing at Malpensa airport early this afternoon, I sat and waited 35 minutes for the baggage to arrive from the one plane that had landed at our terminal. Then I was stopped by an officious customs cop who wanted to know the value of cash I’d got with me in Sterling. But he kept addressing me in German. I got into a cab outside the main entrance and was charged fifteen euros for a five-minute cab drive to the hotel where my car was parked. And then I tried to get out of Malpensa (and Milan) using Italian road signage.

Malpensa airport is located 28 kilometres outside Milan, which makes it very handy indeed for Turin. I’d spotted this on arrival last week, and that helped me decide to go the Alpine rather than coastal route back to la belle France. The first sign I encountered said ‘Torino’ (which was encouraging) but when I reached the next roundabout, everything but Torino was marked there. So I circled twice, looked at a sign saying ‘Milano’, and went the opposite way.

This proved to be a mistake, as the A6 goes back towards Milan for a bit before becoming the A4 to Turin. After a fascinating tour of two industrial estates, I found myself on the right road. I know it was the right road because it said ‘Torino’. Then it ran out of road and became a nameless suburb.

But mishaps aside, returning via the Alpine route was the best decision I’ve taken about anything in years. The road from Turin to the Frejus tunnel and then along to Chamberey is quite simply the most gob-stopping drive I’ve ever made, skirted as it is on both sides by spectacular verdant slopes and snow-capped mountains. The only thing that marred it, I’m afraid, was the chaotic Italian approach to road tolls.

Approach a péage on an Italian autostrada, and it’s an even bigger guessing game than their roundabouts. There are telepasses with and without cards, cards with and without tickets, coin nets with and without tickets, and little to offer clues about whether you’re paying or getting a ticket. Work out the mathematical possibilities from that lot, and you can see what I mean. Of course, hesitate longer than three seconds once in the alleyway, and immediately ten Italians are hooting and gesticulating.

It is an odd thing to try and explain, but after eight days in countries where one understands little or nothing about the rules, the spoken word or even the alphabet does get wearing. Emerging from the Frejus tunnel into France, I felt a sense of relief that –  as a Brit – I would never have thought possible. In Italy, very few speak English but one can work out the gist based on French and Latin. In Athens, everyone speaks English, but the constant chore of needing an Enigma machine to read stuff tired me out in the end. So it was with something approaching elation that I drove into Chamberey this evening, stumbled into the bohemian quarter, found a small hotel, and went out in search of food and drink.

Le Ferme Jules is a famous Savoyard restaurant here, but a quick look at the prices was enough to send me reeling towards the more ordinary (but far more interesting) Bar des deux Savoie run by a lady of indeterminate age with beautiful, sparkling eyes. Her patter, dress and coquettish approach to the clientele rendered her perfect central casting for the tough tart with a heart role, and God help me I was utterly charmed by it. I was dispatched, glowing, back to the hotel some time later. Here I have a room infinitely less appealing for €70 a night than a room I had at the Golden Age Hotel in Athens costing €56. (The Golden Age is, by the way, a gem – and highly recommended for anyone who wants to stay in the Greek capital and receive both great service and excellent value. A major hat-tip goes to Theoni for suggesting it).

But when one compares the cost of rooms, petrol, meals, tolls, and drink across three areas of the southern eurozone, the profoundly bonkers nature of the 17-nation single currency hits one squarely between the eyes. For it is a fiat currency with no consistency of value that nobody can devalue if they need to. As such, it is the worst of all worlds. As the day ended, I watched on telly as José Manuel Barroso spouted nonsensical drivel about the euro (of which, more tomorrow) and prepared for bed secure in the knowledge that it is they who are mad, not I.

Earlier at The Slog: Why, in 2013, bullishness is almost certainly bullsh*t.