Saturday 16 December 2017

Powers of Montecatini provide unexpected spring in the step

Dion Fanning

'Do truffles keep?" There were plenty of important questions asked by journalists in Montecatini last week, but this was as significant as any of them.

Two years ago in Johannesburg, I stayed in a house in the northern suburbs whose owners quickly made it clear that they wanted me to eat 13 eggs a week which they insisted was the best way to lower my cholesterol and to help their own needs as feeders.

So the town of Montecatini had many memories to compete with. It was a beautiful place for Ireland to stay and, just in case there was any doubt, on our first full day in the town they bombarded us with truffles.

By the end of the week, Montecatini had been shaped to our own needs. Kevin Foley had been pictured in the park, alone and desolate, and the town was acquiring a different image.

If Saipan made the Times of India front page while Pakistan and India were engaging in a nuclear stand-off, Montecatini reached Indian news websites last week and Ireland was at the centre of it again.

"Giovanni Trapattoni's hopes of being able to prepare for the tournament in peace have been dashed after a local tourism chief claimed that spa town Terme Montecatini's water boosts visitors' health, as well as their horniness," reported one site.

Maybe it wasn't Saipan, but nothing could be Saipan. Yet if in India they were reporting that Trapattoni's peaceful preparations had been disrupted by systemic horniness among the population, then it couldn't be said to have been a week entirely without incident.

It had been intended as a lazy day. The welcome for the Irish in Montecatini has been exceptional. We couldn't be lavished with so many truffles and not do something in return, so when the local tourist office invited us to visit the beautiful Terme Tettuccio spa on Wednesday, where the civic reception for the Ireland team had been held, most of us walked up the road and were happy to listen to their consoling talk.

Massimo Giovanetti told us of the glorious history of their spa town and how it was a shame that in the modern world, the restorative powers to the mind and body of treatment with spa waters had gone out of fashion.

Massimo talked eloquently and passionately. He told us 10 days taking the treatment would do wonders for your cholesterol and constipation, although obviously it involved time and money.

Quickly, I began to feel guilty for never having drunk the waters and scolded myself for always demanding the instant fix rather than looking for the solution that would improve my general well-being, a solution for mind and body. Although as many towns seemed to place casinos alongside their spas, the quick fix must have been on their minds as well.

Massimo talked and we took dutiful notes and thought they would file a line or two in a diary piece. That was until Massimo was asked about Verdi.

Soon Massimo was telling us about Verdi's love for Montecatini, how he visited with his wife and his fiancée and how you shouldn't be surprised by this, things like this happen all the time in Montecatini.

The waters, he said, it is down to the waters. They do incredible things. He mentioned Viagra and said the waters could surpass any dose. He may have noticed at this point that the journalists were writing with a bit more vigour. If he was on Twitter, he would have seen that his remarks were now being live tweeted.

He kept going. He talked about the remarkable sexual urges of women in their 60s who come and take the waters. As a result there was a need for gigolos to work in the town to satisfy them. We made jokes about Berlusconi, the words 'Bunga, Bunga' floated across the rolling lawns and above the ornate fountains of the spa. Massimo may have tried to return to the surer ground of constipation and cholesterol again, but nobody wanted to know.

We got up to leave, wandering past the classical columns and the soothing fountains.

"Please don't mention the gigolos," Massimo said shortly before we posed for a group picture which he may cradle in his hands in later years with mixed emotions.

Later that night, I was sitting in the Thermal Park in Montecatini when I saw Massimo cycling home. It was a few hours after our visit to the spa. I waved as he freewheeled down the hill and he jauntily waved back. This, I thought, might be the last time he would ever feel so carefree.

When the morning came, Montecatini would be known, not as good place to lower cholesterol or beat constipation, important and vital though these services are. No, it would be known as an emerging market for the hitherto undeveloped sex tourism demographic of women in their 60s.

Remarkably, Montecatini continued to extend their hospitality even after the story broke. Any trip to Italy will remind you that Ireland got a raw deal when interpretations of Catholicism were being handed out. The Italians managed to stay devout and to believe they were devout while developing a perfectly relaxed relationship with sex. The Italian rarely seems consumed with guilt.

Paddy knows guilt and he suppressed every sexual urge with drink and when the urges appeared anyway, he pursued oblivion. It was his own drinking therapy, an holistic solution for the mind and body which he took, at considerable personal cost, in spa towns and regular towns around the world.

So we shouldn't have been surprised that the Italians shrugged when the stories about the horniness of Montecatini broke across the world. They see it as a good thing. And, if it also lowers your cholesterol, it may be more fun than eating eggs.

dfanning@independent.ie

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