Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not in the least bit interested in canals and barges. So how come I’ve allowed myself to be drawn into this world to such an extent that I’m arranging twinning between a canal museum in Italy and two in England?
Gonzoogling, as everyone knows, is the word for the canal equivalent of train spotting, hanging around all day next to locks giving superfluous advice.
In my little Italian town of Montebello Terme, there’s a museum of canal and river navigation.The canal was contructed over 700 years ago to transport stone from the local volcanic hills to pave Venice. I’ve grown friendly with the enthusiastic 80 year-old director of the museum, the last bargeman, and when he began to worry last year about funding drying up, he asked if I could help. International recognition, we agreed, might help to boost the profile and hence, possibly, its funding.
Step in my friend Clare, regular visitor to Montebello and canal fanatic. A month ago, I stayed with her in Oxfordshire and we visited a couple of canal museums, at Stoke Bruerne and Devizes. It turned out that they too could use extra publicity, and I could clearly see what all three museums had in common as well as obvious differences like the fact that in England canals are now big business for tourism. In Italy, apart from cruises along the Brenta Canal, barging has just about disappeared, though the canals are well maintained.
The museums have now exchanged information and letters of intent. In Montebello Terme there have been the usual meetings where the Culture Representative stands up to say “due parole” (two words) and an hour later she’s still on her feet talking about the advantages of twinning.
The English are “doers” and Italians are “talkers”.