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Posted Monday, September 14, 2009

THEY have booked me onto the six-oh-five pm flight to Venice, changing planes at Frankfurt, and they don't mean the capital of Kentucky.

[Previous Radical's Diary]

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September 11, 2009 (Friday)
Windsor (England) - Venice (Italy)

AFTERNOON: IT SEEMS I have made a major blunder: I should have arrived in Italy today, not tomorrow. They just phoned from the airport in Venice, where they are awaiting my arrival with a welcoming party at this very moment. Aaaaargh! -- Simple explanation: too much on my plate. Throws a major spanner in the works. -- I remove Udine from my functions list, but diffidently assure the Italian organisers I can make any flight they care to get me onto this evening.

The organiser, A., says the whole function is based on my arrival, which is news to me. I have never let an audience down. I rapidly shut down what I am doing, leaving messages unanswered, orders unfulfilled, and pack.

I phone my housekeeper but she cannot take me to the airport. I shall have to park there for three days, at vast expense.

2:52 p.m they phone again, they have booked me onto the six-oh-five pm flight to Venice, changing planes at Frankfurt, and they don't mean the capital of Kentucky. Frankfurt, Germany? I am banned ever since November 1993 from that country, "the Free-est Democracy that Germany has ever seen," for writing Real History; the country is teeming with prosecutors eager to get their names and faces into the newspapers, and to sink their fangs into me. This may turn very nasty, but it is I who have made this mess. Now I cannot even risk taking a laptop with me.

The plane is delayed an hour. I send text messages to Venice, and notify friends in London in case of problems at Frankfurt, i.e. in case I inexplicably vanish from radar screens for some time, as happened in Vienna in 2005. K. is sure it is an ambush.

Much trepidation as I scamper through Frankfurt's hideous airport-labyrinth; I am only in transit, but the unexpected passport check takes longer for me than with any other traveler, and the gentleman in green throws a quizzical look aside at something twice, having checked the screen in front of him, then waves me through, still wearing a puzzled look, and onto the plane to Venice.

It arrives there at five to midnight. A. is overjoyed that I have come after all, as tomorrow's entire conference centres on me, he again says. His right arm is black with smudgy, illegible tattoos from wrist to armpit; there is a one-inch tattoo round his neck, and his left arm sports a swastika-tattoo as a bracelet. So on balance I surmise that he's not a Lefty plant.

The local and national Italian press features stories about my coming and the anticipated violence, which is disconcerting. Weird. There has been an element of lack of liaison between the organizers and me from the start. I am left much in the dark about the programme throughout the whole weekend.

We drive to the Hotel Prealpi in San Vendemiano; its main entrance is reached up a flight of about sixty terra-cotta steps. Just great. Okay for the Alpini, the Alpinists; not for somebody who has spent fourteen months in solitary confinement not that long ago.

As I exit the elevator on the second floor to find my room, I am plunged into darkness as the elevator doors close. I find no sign of a light switch. I have to feel my away along the doors like a blind man reading Braille, until I find the right one, 206, by touch.

The shower cabin is the smallest I have ever stood in; I find difficulty in even squeezing through its door. These northern Italians must be quite small, I deduce.


September 11, 2009 (Friday)
San Vendemiano - Udine - Selvilla (Friuli, Italy)

LUNCH with the folks at a biker-restaurant about thirty miles away, a safe rendezvous halfway to Udine; security is necessary, as the papers are filled with reports of a violent Leftist reception in preparation at Udine.

I go over the outline of my talk with the interpreter, and she takes copious notes. The eating place is owned by her daughter and her mother is here too. All are heavy smokers.

Never seen so many barrel chests, bald heads, tattoos and black shirts. "I have never felt quite so moderate -- and civilized!" I jest thinly, but it sinks like a lead balloon. English humor is foreign to these folks, perhaps untranslatable.

Apparently tattoos are very common in this region of Italy: but swastika tattoos? Are they all worshippers of some Indian Sun-God, or of Good Luck? The Hakenkreuz-Genie didn't bring much luck eventually to the Germans. I guess they must have rubbed the lantern the wrong way.

At three pm we hold a press conference in the function room hired for this afternoon - a hall set out with 300 chairs at the Hotel Executive in Udine. Five television cameras are there, including RAI and local TV, and a dozen journalists. All have been brought in from a secret rendezvous. The press do not like such things, but there is little alternative, the way the violent Left behaves.

At four p.m. I deliver my talk, after a lawyer has lectured learnedly on freedom of speech. There are some empty seats, but not many.

I notice of course a beautiful raven-haired girl in a revealing black dress sitting in the third row with her boy friend; she shortly moves forwards to the front row, towing him with her, and pulls out a large Spanish-style fan, from behind which she makes what I immodestly assume to be eye-contact throughout my talk; disconcerting, but when one is speaking line by measured line through an interpreter it is not enough to put one off ones stride.

Afterwards she comes forward to see the books and turns out to be Spanish, from Madrid. Her boyfriend is a trucker (I mishear him . . . and she laughs at the Dumb Game) .... But this one, like all Spaniards, smokes ... I am astonished how many Italians in this region, Friuli, smoke; A. ("Bati") says that the real problem here is alcoholism, from the local wines.

Opening line -- what I call bridge-building, and the interpreter more prosaically calls establishing rapport: "I find myself in Udine for the first time in twenty-five years or so. Four or five weeks ago I was in the United States, crossing the Rocky Mountains. But now that I have seen the Alps from Friuli, I am no longer happy with the Rockies." Great applause (because I have called their region Friuli, not Venezia Giulia -- they are very picky about that).

Afterwards A. takes us to a friend's house in Selvilla where there is a cook-out on the back porch. It is almost over when we arrive. I sit on a white plastic chair away from the rest, hunched over a plate of crisps (chips), and one slice of an eggy, soggy thing. Most of the men seem to be wearing black; perhaps that is a North Italian habit, like the tattoos, and all are smoking. French Canadians would like it here.

After twenty minutes of solitude, I ask to be left at the hotel they have booked nearby. The room is up a flight of forty stairs again, two spiral staircases, and is illuminated by a single bare light-bulb in an otherwise well-furnished room. I slide gratefully beneath the covers; the two beds slide unexpectedly apart and I vanish into the gap between them.


September 13, 2009 (Sunday)
Selvilla -- Valvasone (Friuli) -- Venice (Venezia Giulia) -- Heathrow - Windsor (England)

IT HAS been a disturbed night -- the hotel is new, with the roof above me creaking and cracking with wooden pistol shots as it cools into the night, then again as the rising sun bears down on it. In Room No. 1 next door is an infant girl which cries all night with teething problems, and a loud father, whose cooing and admonitions to the baby to be quiet ring through the wall.

At breakfast the family is there, misunderstanding my silent glares for admiration of their infant. The young mother smokes; her no doubt once-gentle skin is darkened and leathery in consequence.

My friends have arranged to collect me at ten thirty; I stand outside in the sunshine until ten past eleven, and read Die Zeit -- a great newspaper, if its views are, ahem, slightly skewed to the left of Das Reich.

We all drive over to Valvasone -- A., and his wife and child. At Valvasone there is a three-day mediaeval festival running -- with pikemen, nobili, peasants in mediaeval russet-coloured costumes, and competing teenage corps of drums, flag-jugglers, etc.

The drums are beaten loudly, with great violence and thudding gusto, and remind me of the famous scene of the Hitler Youth boy thumping the same kind of kettle drum in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, a look of dedication and tierischer Ernst on his face. I sometimes wonder what became of him in Hitler's War?

As usual A. has not told me in advance or explained today's programme, so I have left the camera in the car. I must learn more Italian. Like Spaniards, the townsfolk appear to be six or twelve inches shorter than the average English, and stockier. But I see only one Black during the whole stay in Friuli, and no half-caste children at all.

I wander round the mediaeval town center, admiring, and looking, and taking it all in like a tourist, for once, with nothing else to do, while A. chats with friends at a bar. He calls one over to us, a tall burly man with arms like tree trunks and lank hair dangling below his shoulders and tattoos which perhaps fortunately I cannot read, not having my glasses on; and A. asks me to be photographed with his friend.

The friend drapes an uninvited arm around my English shoulders in an over-genial manner, and this time I am rude enough to half-turn and pick it off me for the picture and put noticeable daylight between us. Because, who knows who he is?

It reminds me of the day at a conference in Aschaffenburg in July 1978 when Gitta Sereny did the same thing -- invited a tall gentleman over to be photographed by the press shaking hands with me: "Did you get that?" I heard this shrivelled little prune hiss to the photographers, as she cackled proudly to her accomplices, having successfully staged this ambush. the picture appeared in The Sunday Times thenext day. It was SS Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, Himmler's chief of staff, whom she evidently knew better than I.

Memo for the future: Never be photographed with a beer in your hand, or with a burly former skinhead in a black shirt with dubious tattoos putting his arm round your shoulders.

At six pm I fly back from Venice. Again there is a stopover at Frankfurt. Angst! It should have occurred to me to ask. We have been warned that it is a very tight onward connection on to London, and as I dash into the terminal labyrinth I ask two officers the way to gate A-60. They look perplexed - they are not airline officers, but German police. I do not wait for an answer.


[Previous Radical's Diary]


La Repubblica: David Irving in Udine - The Mayor Protests - The city is outraged (Italian and English) 
Jaenelle Antas: page and photo gallery 2008-2012

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