Led astray by guide Roberto

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

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.

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