Led astray by guide Roberto
A GREAT guide can make all the difference to the enjoyment of a holiday. That might seem an obvious observation, but what happens when you score a bewilderingly bad one? I have just seen a media preview of the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and what an irresistible sequel it is, with all the same actors, plus Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig, both of whom wander through Jaipur looking as if they have lost something — perhaps their agent and the script. Dame Maggie Smith, as ever, has the best, and most disapproving, lines.
Bill Nighy’s character is filling his time, between wooing a reluctant Dame Judi Dench, as a tour guide, and a rather forgetful one at that. He has wired up a local lad to feed him the facts into an earpiece and just repeats the words, like a television anchor. But, this being India, things go awry, the system frequently fails and he is off air for most of the tours, much to the puzzlement of his charges. He just mumbles madly and makes up stuff, and quite beguilingly as well.
I have had impeccable guides over the years — Jan Williams in northeast England instantly comes to mind. This Durham resident brought the university city to life with her tales and taught me how to speak a bit of Geordie, such as “plodging”, which means paddling at the beach. “And you can swallow that final letter, Susan,” she advised, after I had a few attempts.
She also taught me to pronounce “whatever” as “war’ever” and to say “nowt” for “nothing”.
Charlotte Frey in Heidelberg, an expat American married to a local chap, was another standout companion, managing a few testy members of our group with enviable aplomb. Her patience and intuitiveness made me realise good guides need to be part nanny and mother duck as well as lecturers. Charlotte told me there is no German word for relax.
In Naples, the immaculately presented and lightly fragranced Roberto believed in relaxation and flirting and left us to our own devices while he took coffees and smoked leisurely and ogled women. We stumbled about Pompeii with our well-thumbed Baedekers while he appraised scantily dressed Scandinavian backpackers. “I am Italian ... it is my destiny,’’ he replied in a bit of a defensive huff, when one of our group, immune to his charms, told him off. But he even won her over by taking us all for rides on his brother’s Campari-red Vespa, one by one, around the block, all without helmets.
The government ruling of 2000 about crash helmets was a “disaster’’ of unimaginable proportions for everyone’s hair, Roberto advised our group. Traffic rules, he informed me, as I clung tight to his waist and we raced through red lights and scattered pedestrians, were simply “suggestions’’ for Neapolitans. War’ever, in other words.