In the eighth installment in the series looking at
the world of James Bond, we visit Italy...
The World Of James Bond - Italy
8th January 2005
It is not until the end of the first section of the short story
Risico (found in For Your Eyes Only) that we
learn that James Bond is on assignment in Rome, one of Ian Fleming’s
least favourite cities. Bond appears to have little interest in
the city beyond food and the drink, and makes no effort to see
the unmissable Coliseum, nor the nearby Roman Forum.
He meets his contact, Kristatos, at the
Excelsior Bar. The bar belongs to the hotel of the same
name, located in Via Vittorio Veneto, Rome’s most
celebrated avenue since featuring in La Dolce Vita, and
renowned as one of the world’s great classic hotels.
After his rendezvous, the two make their way to the presumably
fictional Albergo Colomba d’Oro, off Piazza di Spagna
at the foot of the famous Spanish Steps.
Above: The Excelsior Hotel
Above: The Spanish Steps
The restaurant appears to have been an
eye-opener for Bond; he orders “Tagliatelli Verdi
with a Genoese sauce which Kristatos said was improbably
concocted of basil, garlic and fir cones”. Unfortunately
though, Fleming fails to tell us what Bond thinks of his
first taste of pesto.
Leaving the restaurant he meets the German girlfriend of
Kristatos’ rival, Colombo, owner of the restaurant.
Offering her a taxi ride to her hotel, the Ambassadori,
Lisl Baum refuses Bond’s offer of a drink, but tells
him she will be travelling to Venice the following day:
“I bathe every afternoon at the Lido. But not the
fashionable plage. I bathe at the Bagni Alberoni, where
the English poet Byron used to ride his horse”. After
dropping the girl at the Ambassadori, Bond continues in
the taxi to his own hotel, the Nazionale. Although the Ambassadori
seems no longer to exist, the four star Hotel
Nazionale is an 18th century palace in Piazza Montecitorio,
close to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.
Ian Fleming vented his spleen against Rome and its inhabitants
in his newspaper travelogues, also collected in book form, under
the title Thrilling Cities. Driving from France on his
way to Naples, Fleming arrived in a Rome that was undergoing a
pre-Olympic transformation. “The monstrous autostrada hoardings,
demonstrating, even more forcibly than the Italians’ total
lack of interest in their artistic and architectural treasures,
that Italy is a race of Philistines, flip by with the kilometres”
and “It is not that the ordinary Italian, while loathing
and despising all tourists, milks him with the minimum of grace
and the maximum of money”. Harsh words indeed, but although
Rome certainly has its attractions, it seems to have changed little
since Fleming’s fleeting visit.
“The best train from Rome to Venice is the Laguna express
that leaves every day at midday” writes Fleming. “The
Laguna is a smart, streamlined affair that looks and sounds more
luxurious than it is. The seats are made for small Italians and
the restaurant car staff suffer from the disease that affects
their brethren in the great trains all over the world –
a genuine loathing of the modern traveller and particularly for
the foreigner”. Sadly the Laguna express seems no longer
to be in operation, although you can still make the four-and-a-half
hour journey from Rome to Venice by train. Once he has arrived,
Bond checks into the Gritti Palace, situated on the Grand Canal.
The hotel was originally built as a palace in 1525 and Hemingway
described it “as the best hotel in a city of great hotels”.
Bond passed his evening in the inevitable Bond manner; first
Bar, followed by Florian’s
“and finally upstairs at the admirable Quadri”,
and although Fleming does not recount what Bond ordered in each
establishment, he returns to Florian’s the following day
for an Americano. What is sure though is that Bond didn’t
travel too far, as all three establishments are in St Mark’s
Square. Harry’s Bar was established in 1931 by Giuseppe
Cipriani, and is where the Bellini
cocktail was invented in 1943. Although it has played host to
many distinguished names over the years, it now has a reputation
for being overpriced and serving indifferent food (although probably
Bond was there purely for liquid nourishment). Caffè Florian
opened in 1720 and as well as various coffees and teas, serves
cocktails, wines and Champagnes and offers a light lunch menu.
Gran Caffè Ristorante Quadri dates from 1638, although
lacked a restaurant until the upper floor was converted in the
nineteenth century. The dinner menu starts at €110, although
this includes VAT and service.
The next day after lunch, Bond takes the
vaporetto to “the tiny fishing village of Alberoni”
and to the Bagni Alberoni to meet Lisl Baum, surely the
most unattractive sounding name of all the Bond girls. After
a half an hour with her, Bond finds he has been set up and
after running off along the beach he is captured by Colombo
and knocked unconscious.
Bond awakes on what “might once have been a large
fishing-vessel” and concludes that “they were
sailing down the Adriatic coast”. Colombo wants to
explain that not is all it seems with Kristatos, but before
they talk, provides refreshments: “What will you have-gin,
whisky, champagne? And this is the finest sausage in the
whole of Bologna. Olives from my own estate. Bread, butter,
Provelone-that is smoked cheese-and fresh figs. Peasant
food, but good”.
It turns out that Kristatos is the heroin smuggler that Bond
has been sent to Italy to stop, and in order o accomplish his
mission, agrees to help Colombo in an operation against Kristatos
“at a small fishing-port just north of Ancona, Santa Maria”.
Colombo has discovered that Kristatos has a shipment of raw opium
arriving that night, hidden in rolls of newsprint, and intends
to put an end to him. The mission goes ahead as planned and having
destroyed the shipment and killing Kristatos, they make their
return journey. “Over a mound of fried eggs and bacon washed
down with hot sweet coffee laced with rum, Colombo dotted the
i’s and crossed the t’s”. At the end of the
story Colombo hands Bond some keys, telling Bond that he has happy
for Bond to see Lisl Baum: “The metal tag was inscribed
Albergo Danielli. Room 68”. Let’s hope that
Bond managed to track down the five-star Albergo Danieli, a hotel
just off St Mark’s in Venice.
"The World Of James Bond" will continue next month...
Article by David Leigh.