Towards the end of last year I sold my old Black Mercedes. I didn’t want to – it just seemed the ‘time’. As I was clearing it out (amazing how much stuff we collect in our cars over the years) I was astounded at the sheer volume of totally useless objects, maps and paperwork that had been travelling round with me for twenty years, and that must have seemed terribly useful and essential at the time. But I found it hard to throw away all the AutoRoute and Autostrade toll station receipts that I had superstitiously kept every time I drove from the South Of France, across the Italian border on my way to Genoa, to the recording studio, and back again.
For many years the receipts were a kind of long rectangular card, and recently they had changed to a paper of the same shape, to accommodate the workings of the same machines I suppose.
My first receipt was dated 1996, the year I met my dear friend Alberto, and as the years, and visits, mounted up I became obsessed with collecting every single one and keeping them in a special place in the car. They became a kind of badge – a record, or a witness to the journey’s I so enjoyed. I must have collected more than a hundred as I visited Alberto, and when I stayed either in Recco or Genoa. I did the drive at least five or six times a year, some years ten times, or more.
While in France the wide road seems to circumnavigate the vast hills that are the beginnings of the mighty Alps, and the French road builders chose to go over and round what stood in their way in a series of giant hills and long curves. But their Italian counterparts decided to go as straight as they could, and create tunnels and viaducts that must have involved huge skill and labour in an amazing feat of engineering, and to bore a way through the most dramatic of scenery, with the beautiful Mediterranean always in sight somewhere at regular vistas along the way.
Anyone who has travelled the A10 in Italy, that leads on from the A8 in France, knows that as far as the Cinque terra and beyond there are innumerable tunnels to whiz through on this stunning route.
I tried to count the tunnels many times as I drove, but always got fed up as there are just so many of them, all with a name, but with Italian and European drivers sometimes madly zooming along with a whooshing sound, I was distracted!!
As one approaches Genoa the flashing ‘darkness to occasional light’ becomes more intense with every kilometer, and the tunnels become longer and busier. This is real Italy.
Just after the turn off for Genoa airport there was one long dark and slightly scary tunnel and then a right hand bend out into to blinding, beautiful light, and the amazing sight of the magnificent and dramatic Morandi Bridge was before you.
Whenever I got to that bridge I knew I was safe – I was back in the place I love – Alberto’s house and studio were not far now, and I was where I belonged, where my music was.
I have waited some time before I was able to even contemplate writing about the disaster that happened that awful day, the day Genoa was changed forever. I feel a sadness that can only be described as grief, and it has touched my heart. The Genovesi are among the most genuine, hardworking, kindest and warmest people I have ever met in my life. Genoa is a working city, where life can be hard and tough.
Not much affluence is there nowadays, but it is an important and ancient port, and was clearly once very beautiful. It’s still a charming, secretive, fascinating, twisting and turning old town set among the steep hills that surround it. But it has had a hard life. That’s why I love it.
It’s a place with no pretentions – no airs and graces – no snobbishness – no covering over the cracks, but, there is no lack of real, real love, and of gorgeous simple food. It’s the perfect place to make beautiful music, and always will be.
Of course, I spoke to Alberto straight away, as soon as I heard the terrible news of the falling of the Morandi bridge. He and his family were safe – but their lives had changed – their past had changed.
Alberto once told me he remembered when they built that road, and he remembered the long, long arduous journey to Nice before the Autostrada was created. I loved hearing about it when I first starting travelling there, and I imagined what it must have been like, and how many days it must have taken to arrive in affluent elegant France.
I’m so sorry. I’m so very sad. I can only send my sincerest condolences to those who have lost loved ones. They will never be forgotten. It’s a tragedy of such immense proportions.
I don’t know what will happen now. I think too of all the trucks and lorries that could only take that particular road from Eastern Europe - the alternative for them was going in to Switzerland, and on from there – not acceptable to the Swiss. They will find a way I suppose.
So will I, you can be sure of that.