The day Matisse turned five did not start like every other. I woke in a bed with a glass wall to a rooftop terrace overlooking Lake Garda. I went outside to take in the view, just in time to catch the arrival of a “very emotional” Italian lady, shrieking hysterically, and bashing down the door of the apartment over the garden. The situation escalated for the next 30 minutes. She made Angelina Jolie look normal. Surprisingly, no one came to the door. Yet everyone in our apartment, and those surrounding, came to see what the commotion was about. I say no more.
It was a superb way to bring in the fifth birthday of Matisse; recreating the emotion and passion that Matisse unleashed on us for the first few months of her life.
Our travels to Italy meant that we delayed the onset of her birthday by 7.5 hours. And then used to baggage restrictions as a convenient excuse not to have any presents. I really know how to make a child feel special about racking up an entire hand of years. But “Italy!!!” I declared, putting her on the edge of our rooftop terrace so I could get a photo that captured the dawning of her new age. It seems lost on her. Thankfully pizza and gelato aren’t.
So we traipsed the streets of Lake Garda for breakfast. Croissants are served with an obligatory filling of chocolate, lemon cream or some other decadence. Despite already having eaten breakfast, and eating one croissant, Matisse was suddenly ravenous and insisting her need to eat many more. I didn’t oblige because I’m not that nice.
Instead we filled up water bottles from the ancient fountain; evidently not of good behaviour as the day went on to demonstrate. I am literally listening to karl reprimand the kids as I write this. However I’m on the rooftop terrace sneakily drinking tea, to the relaxing sound of pigeons mating on the roof beside me.
Strangely, I have digressed.
I am tempted to make some really bad jokes about broadening Matisse’s perspective for her birthday. First by climbing the bell tour and taking in 360 degree views of incredible Lake Garda. Then scaling a mountain for a higher perspective - and lunch. The drive was complete with winding roads, fairytale castles on bends, cars driving us off the road and Karl having a heart attack. We arrived at Refugio St Pietro, perched on the edge of the mountain, valleys plummeting below, Lake Garda in the distance. Magic. And the food!! We selected based on loosely knowing words in Italian or German as there was no English option. It was sensational.
I desperately needed a slammer of espresso to kick start the afternoon. But the dude wouldn’t let me order coffee with my meal. In fact, he suddenly became very proficient at English and accused me of being German for even suggesting such a thing. A point I find particularly amusing given their obvious German patronage. Then he made me drink wine. I really didn’t want to, *cough* but there was one local red with “superiore” in the title that was begging for it.
Some hours later, I was permitted to order coffee. My espresso arrived in a mug, with a spoon in it, and a carton of UHT milk on the side for good measure. That Italian elegance is really defining my coffee experience. No wonder he wanted to intoxicate me first. The coffee was intensely strong. So I drank a carafe (or two) of red at dinner to ensure I could sleep at night.
We spent the afternoon on Lago di Tenno. I won’t ruin that incredible place by attempting to put words on it. Instead, we put a paddle boat on it. I graciously minded the kids in the back whilst Imogen and Karl whinged non stop about who was paddling the most, and how hard it was to do some light physical exercise in picturesque paradise. I distracted myself by taking a photo of my really unkempt foot, in the sheer beauty of the surrounds. Apparently contrast in colour, light or subject matter contribute to a compelling photo. According to the theory, a centre composition can make the viewer feel uncomfortable, so I did this too. Prepare yourself for the confrontation. Soon, my ears were so sore from the pedal pushers complaining that I pretended I wanted to get a photo of them on the lake so I could disembark at the jetty. Their discussion continued in the car, and even over dinner.
The man running the boating situation on the lake asked Matisse how old she was and she said four. FOUR. She hasn’t heard the last of that. Meanwhile, Elspeth is working the crowd, owning her two Italian words “ciao” and “grazie;” and generally bringing a concerning amount of charm to the table. Imogen takes the cake with her generous offer to take a group photo of the Italian men in Lycra by the fountain. Note her recent instagram follower “Luigi” from Lake Garda, who can only be described as an Italian Stallion. I’ll keep you all posted.
Pizza, carpaccio and gelato for dinner, to the soundtrack of Elspeth singing herself Happy Birthday - and me threatening Matisse to sit at the table properly or forego her birthday cake. Italian serenity.