The Crossroads of Ventimiglia


In the taut political thriller, The Day of the Jackal (the 1973 film featuring Edward Fox and an exacting contradiction of unexpected and inevitable, as opposed to the 1997 version featuring Bruce Willis and a series of ill-advised wigs), the Jackal stops briefly halfway through the film and at Ventimiglia on the border of France and Italy to decide if he’ll continue with his now exposed plan to assassinate Charles De Gaulle or disappear into the foothills of Liguria with half his fee and a remaining plot that’s mainly about driving a sports car through the woods.

This is the role that Ventimiglia plays for the majority of those who visit it — it’s a crossroads for travellers between Nice or Marseille in France and San Remo or Genoa in Italy, either by train or in a car with a cleverly disguised high-powered rifle welded into the catalytic converter. And accomodating little Ventimiglia performs the role with resource and renown, offering a positively massive daily outdoor market of local bread and wine and cheese and sausage and fish and preserves and all manner of provision to prevent starvation from setting in during the lengthy odyssey to the next major station, about 30 km in either direction along the Cote d’Azur. For the French and Italians living within commuting distance the market also provides housewares and clothing and shoes and knock-off DVDs and a fine family afternoon, particularly on Fridays when the market is at its most colossal.

And if that’s all you see of Ventimiglia then you’ve made good use of it but missed the great utility of Ventimiglia’s other half, the medieval fortified hill village across the rushing Roya river, aloof from the frenzy of the modern crossroads, quiet and still and well-suited to reflection on the wisdom of pursuing a political assassination. A significant part of the appeal of ancient Ventimiglia is that it’s entirely overlooked by all but those who live there, including the Italian families who come for the working class beach facilities, and so just across the footbridge from the bustling market town is a closed, cool, dark sanctuary of a village with streets more like corridors and overlapping public and private spaces.

The old town is built onto the hill overlooking newer Ventimiglia and the sea so it’s a healthy incline up to the main square and the aged and experienced San Michele Arcangelo. Likely you’ll have the 11th century church entirely to yourself should you need a moment to reflect on which direction this seductive crossroads will take you, or should you just need a sit-down in the shade before deliberately getting lost in the eccentric, labyrinthic passages leading eventually back down to the river, the beach, the ice cream parlours of modern Ventimiglia, the market and eventually, alas, the train station and the decision you’ve been putting off since you discovered this city’s spiritual and sedate better half.


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