In the summer of 1992, my friend, colleague and housemate Judi Forsyth and I had put a pause on living in Britain and were on the second phase of a two-month backpacking expedition around Europe, which took us to seven countries we’d not visited before, plus my maternal homeland of Greece, which wasn’t new to either of us.
Having been low on bread (literally and figuratively), we hastily left the pretty Greek island of Paros under a slight law-enforced cloud (cough — a story for another day, alas), and after a night in Athens’ somewhat squiffy and spliffy Hotel Alex the two of us made our way to the Northern Peloponnese to pick up the boat from Patras, regional capital of Western Greece, to Italy via Igoumenitsa and the island of Corfu, skirting the surprisingly lush green Albanian coast as we made our way to the southern port city of Brindisi.
My William Younger navy pocket diary records that we each purchased 60-quid Inter-rail tickets that meant we had to keep going in one direction or pay extra, so we sped through Italy in a matter of days, mainly sleeping in train stations when permitted and taking in the following cities:-
Napoli (“not very exciting.”)
Rome (Trevi Fountain was pretty “even though there was no water.”)
Florence (“got slightly pissed” at lunch in a Tuscan trattoria for £3 each, including the bottle of wine!)
Pisa (the famous leaning Tower was “amazing”)
Bologna (couldn’t work out why it was so difficult to find spaghetti bolognaise, doh!)
Then on 18 June 1992 “all day was spent traipsing round Venice — nice but a bit over-rated, and very expensive. Niko’s gelateria was shut so we had one next door! Unfortunately, we decided against the £35 gondola ride. We just walked and walked, and then went to Pordenone but didn’t find a cheap hotel. Caught overnight train to Vienna. Didn’t get much kip.”
Owing to the limited size of the diary I had to employ some ruthless brevity, though I can remember as if it was yesterday waiting at the station platform for our train out of Italy and spying a copy of a German celebrity glossy called Bunte on the mobile newsagents’ racks:
“That looks like Bowie and Iman on the cover,” I said to Jude.
Indeed it was. Upon closer inspection it was the Deútsch version of Hello! magazine, and at that precise moment I realised The Dame and his supermodel had just got hitched.
Having handed over the equivalent of almost three whole English pounds for the sad rag I hurriedly flicked through it to find an extensive photo special of the happy couple’s official wedding photos. As Judi had spent much of her teens in South Africa she offered to try and translate the German text for me “as it’s not that different to Dutch Afrikaans.”
Lo and behold, we discovered that the surprisingly showbiz-centric ceremony — ciao Eno, Ono, Bono — had taken place on June 6th at the Saint James Episcopal Church in Florence, literally across the road from the Trattoria Baldini where we’d had our bargain boozy lunch.
We had been in the actual vicinity just ten days after their big day.
I couldn’t believe it.
Judi could tell I looked slightly peeved we’d been so close and knew nothing of what had just occurred.
“If only we’d heard something earlier,” said I.
“Yeah, we could have gone to the church,” she agreed.
“Yeah,” I replied, with a twinge of regret .
Then I looked up and saw her wry smile and realised she was taking the piss.
Thank feck I had friends that kept my fandom from getting unhealthy rather than enabling and feeding it.
It’s a valuable lesson I’ve tried to adhere to ever since, which has stood me in good stead as I made the tricky transition to more professional endeavours in journalism.
Steve Pafford, Nice but recently in Italy again 30 years on…