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John Mortimer, My Perfect Weekend, The Daily Telegraph

“It’s just a bore when you can’t get up by yourself. Maybe on a perfect weekend I’d be cured by a miracle.”

“My wife Penny and I have been going to Italy every summer for 15 years. It is where our happiest weekends are spent. We rent a converted farmhouse 15 miles the other side of Siena. It is owned by Rosalind Ingrams, the widow of Leonard Ingrams. Leonard worked in Saudi Arabia, so there are lots of good Arab carpets and things.

I have an enormous store of children and grandchildren. We can’t fit them all in the farmhouse, but there is usually a collection. Friends come to stay. They are what they call Chiantishire.  Richard Eyre comes. Neil and Glenys Kinnock. Neil is funny. And Glenys is a really good friend.

On Saturday morning we go shopping in Radda, into all the shops, buy the groceries, go and sit in a café, the Bar Dante. I drink prosecco, the Italian excuse for champagne. Penny thinks the café’s awful because it’s on the main road and lorries thunder by. But all life goes on in the Bar Dante. I get ideas there and write sometimes, in a notebook. I thought of my novel Summer’s Lease there.

We have a fantastic cook, Jo, who comes to Italy with us. Even if we have 18 people to lunch, she won’t say a word. She is wonderful, like part of the family, and her food is just miraculous. She makes her own pasta and strings it on chairs. I don’t eat much but I watch other people eating.

The bottom floor of the farmhouse was where the animals lived. It’s got a grand piano and we like to sing. A friend who’s quite high up in the Vatican, he has Cardinal status, he comes to stay and plays all the old Gershwin numbers, and there is dancing. Or we sit around, talk and have a drink. Everybody is welcome to smoke all over the place. I don’t smoke, but I can’t bear the ban.

On Saturday evenings, we like to go into Siena – friends, children, grandchildren – and sit in the Piazza del Campo, where they run the palio. There’s nowhere more beautiful. The Palazzo Pubblico, with its big tower, is red brick but in the evening it gradually changes colour – blue and mauve.

We go to dinner at La Loggia. It’s up a little street on which all of life is going on: the doors, the windows are open, people peer out or sit in doorways. We sit outside at a long table. I have to be put everywhere in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t make any difference. It’s just a bore when you can’t get up by yourself. Maybe on a perfect weekend I’d be cured by a miracle.

The hosts at La Loggia are old-fashioned communists (the equivalent of English liberals), so we have old-fashioned communist discussions. Their grandchild has a Berlusconi doll that he likes to kick.

On Sundays, I get up at eight and write, with a pen in a room on the bottom floor. I enjoy it, when it’s going well. When you can’t think of what to write, it’s torture. When I finish, about 11, I have a drink on the terrace.

I’m not religious, but I like to go to Sansepolcro to see Piero della Francesca’s painting The Resurrection, Christ rising out of the tomb. What is so good about it is that there’s this drama going on and the Roman soldiers, all around, are just sleeping through it.

On Sunday afternoon, we all go to San Gimignano. It is the most beautiful town on top of a high hill. They erected these towers in competition with each other in the Middle Ages – “I’ve got a bigger tower than you have.” It’s where we filmed Tea With Mussolini, with Mr. Zeffirelli.

We have an early dinner in a hotel, La Cisterna. We have a long table and you look out all over the countryside. Then you have to hurry to get to the opera. It’s in this little square in front of the little Cathedral, with big Cathedral steps down to the square. The opera starts in daylight then gradually it gets darker. It’s usually Puccini. Italian opera houses tour in the summer, so you don’t quite know which tour you will get.

Then we’ll drive home and have a nightcap, absolutely. Grappa probably, on the terrace.”

5 July 2008

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