In Italy, 2004, I visited the town of Iseo, which nestles into the southern shore of Lake Iseo. It was a Saturday morning and the lake was peacefully placid with fishermen silently sitting on small motor-boats half-a-mile out. Gulls skimmed and darted across the surface, then flew back to land where they squabbled and pecked around lakeside restaurant patios.
There was a second-hand market in the town centre, with bric-a-brac stalls cluttering the square in front of the town hall. Just my kind of thing. Crockery, cutlery and pottery were the goods mostly on sale, although more interesting to me were collections of epees and world war two pistols. Then my eyes chanced upon a bookstall and, being an addict, I headed straight for it.
At first, all I could see were Italian books. That was no surprise. Nevertheless, as I glanced across the rows and picked out the occassional picture album to flick through fading pictures of Lake Iseo villages in bygone times, an old, black book caught my eye, precisely for its inconspicuousness. I reached to the back and pulled it out, reading on the hardback cover:
‘Passport to Britain’
It was a school textbook, with the front cover designed as an old British Passport and a child’s name scrawled across a lighter part in red biro: ‘Frango Gasparri’. It was published in 1974, with thick pages and scores of stereotypical English photos: Thatched cottages, swans on the Avon, The Henley regatta, Big Ben etc. Then there were pages of text, with some individual words numbered to give the Italian translations at base, followed by grammatical structure boxes and lots of gap fill exercises. I scanned some of the texts, reading such classics lines as:
‘The loss of the thirteen North-American colonies, which in 1776 rebelled against their mother country, was compensated for by the victory over the French in 1815.’
‘John (Lennon) is the only Beatle who has bookshelves in his house’
Sport in England is a form of moral training. Tennis is considered a girl’s sport rather than a boy’s sport. All true cricketers must be gentlemen. Golf is a favourite for middle-aged people.
You must not refuse a cup of tea, otherwise you are considered an exotic and barbarous bird without any hope of ever being able to take your place in civilized society’.
(my italics all)
How times have changed! I bought the book.