I've just got back from Cisternino, in Southern Italy, where we've spent the past two weeks. We've been there before and it was great to become re-aquainted and also make other discoveries of this beautiful part of Puglia, including Masseria Selvaggi, the Agritoursmo farmhouse where we stayed, and Materia (photo).
One of the reasons we return to Southern Italy is the climate. Again, the weather didn't disappoint, although there were a couple of blowy days and at the beginning of the holiday some cloud with even a bit of rain.
And then there's the food. We ate at a number of restaurants where all you needed was the antipasta. The most expensive meal by far was €55 for two, including wine and liqueurs, and that was at Il Portico, a vegetarian restaurant, which doesn't have a menu, the food just keeps coming. At another restaurant we shared a starter of mussels and for €8 were served 44 of the largest mussels ever. I followed this with a dish of raw salmon and sword-fish, something of an adventure, which proved to be delicious. I did order a side-dish of patatine fritte, i.e. chips, which just goes to prove that you can take the man out of Barking but can't take Barking out of the man!
And then there were the great people we met: Graham, Patrice, Cameron and Nathan; Andrea, Phil, Lewis, Bella and Eve; and especially Rob and Laura who we really missed when they moved up to Tuscany for the second week and hope to meet up with again. We also met David and his family, and it transpired that he was the architect who designed Milton Keynes Railway Station.
The place itself had a fantastic swimming pool, one that you could actually swim in. You could also lie on sunbeds and read, and so to Tony Blair - and no, we weren't staying with Silvio Berlusconi.
Between us we took a pile of books we were looking forward to reading. Cazz read many of them but the day before we went, 'Tony Blair, A Journey', took my eye in Waterstones, and as I dipped into it I found myself drawn. I ended up buying it at the airport and that's all I read - it's 720 pages and the type's fairly small!
I found it compelling and the praise on the back cover and on three pages at the beginning of the book was not exaggerated in my opinion. This memoir gives huge insight into the man and his perspective on what went on behind the scenes during some significant national and world events. It provided me with a greater understanding of the philosophy of New Labour and a deeper appreciation of where the Labour party now finds itself. There are many penetrating insights about effective leadership of an organisation, and indeed a country. And above all it challenged me to think deeply about a number of key issues for our world, seen in their stark reality in the events that have filled the UK national news over the last week or so. Add to this, a relatively light touch with numerous laugh-out-loud passages, and it made a superb read.
I was particularly struck by his reflections on the Middle East, and especially his analysis of the Muslim world. I was fascinated by the statement that he makes a number of times that he's more passionate about religion than politics. In the light of this I guess it's not surprising that these emphases have taken expression in his role as the Quartet Representative to the Middle East and the launching of his Faith Foundation.
If I'm not buried by a mountain of emails over the next few days I might reflect some more, but otherwise, 'Tony Blair, A Journey', comes highly recommended. And I still have a pile of books to look forward to I don't know when!