Blair's Tuscan host heads for Scotland - and here's why he'll feel at home

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY, as Tony Blair moved into the luxurious estate of Prince Girolamo Guiccardini Strozzi on stage two of his Tuscan holiday, his political host was looking forward to his own annual break. The minute the Prime Minister leaves his territory, Vannino Chiti, president of the Tuscan regional government, will be off - for a fortnight's bed-and-breakfasting in Scotland.

Mr Blair is on his 20th visit to Tuscany, each trip grander than the last. Mr Chiti, by contrast, has never been to Scotland. His friend Tony has helpfully checked his itinerary for him, but a suggestion by an Italian newspaper that the Tuscan president might be enjoying free hospitality in return for Mr Blair's welcome has been met by a lawsuit. Mr Chiti is paying his own way, OK?

As the Chiti family samples Edinburgh, Glasgow and the B&Bs of Perth, Inverness and further afield, it will be able to test the conclusions of a recent Scottish Affairs Select Committee report which complained of a "Fawlty Towers" culture, of overpricing and "sticky linoleum". That might not be the only shock: just think of all that rain, and the capital's famous foggy "haar" blotting out the summer sun.

But the Chitis, who plan to spend their first three days in Edinburgh, may find more that is familiar about Scotland than they expected. An early visit to Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse, where David Rizzio, adviser to Mary Queen of Scots, was murdered in 1566, will remind him that the Italo-Scozzesi have been here a long time. As a study in the Scottish monthly Caledonia concluded, they are "a fascinating community of 30,000 souls whose influence on our nation over the last 200 years has been out of proportion to its size".

Indeed the Italians occupy a proud place in the history of Scottish nationalism - Rome was the birthplace and final refuge of Bonnie Prince Charlie, leader of the failed 1745 Rising.

For refreshment, Mr Chiti should visit the Continis of Valvona and Crolla, the famed Edinburgh deli, which is gradually weaning Scots off lard and on to olive oil. If he is homesick for porcini, he and his family could join the deli's annual fungus hunt around Lothian forests.

And he could have no finer cultural guides than from his own community. Who better than that grand old Italian/Scottish thespian Richard Demarco, co-founder of the Traverse theatre, to show him around the Edinburgh Festival? Perhaps the celebrated Scottish sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, whose family ran a Leith ice cream shop, will offer his welcoming hand.

In Glasgow, where the Guilianos already had a chain of 60 cafes by 1900, Mr Chiti, his wife and 17-year-old son will find evidence of the Art Deco introduced by Italians in the 1930s. They may also meet Italo-Scozzesi originating from Barga, a quiet Tuscan town overlooking the river Serchio. "Tallys", they used to be called in Scotland, whereas east coast Italians, originating from Cassino, south of Rome, were known as "Tonis".

It may be that Tony Blair, during his many visits to Tuscany, has enjoyed the fruits of the "Tallys" from Barga who laboured in Scotland. One 40- room establishment, known as Villa Castelvecchio, was built there from money sent home in the 1920s by Italo-Scozzesi ice-cream kings.

Mr Chiti should then drive on a little further west to the coast to Largs, where Pete Nardini, father of This Life actress Daniela and head of the family cafe business, will surely offer him an extra scoop at Scotland's most famous ice cream parlour.

On then to Oban, where the Chitis can admire a west coast skyline bizarrely broken by a replica of the Colosseum, built by a local banker, John Stuart McCaig, in 1897. Fortunately for Oban, McCaig's Tower, which was supposed to have statues of dead McCaigs in the apertures, was never completed.

But to learn the whole story of the Italians in Scotland, the Chitis must motor to the far north, to Orkney. There they will find the famous frescoed "Italian Chapel", whose white-columned entrance was built on to the gable end of two Nissen huts by some of the thousands of PoWs held there during the Second World War.

It may also be where the Chitis learn of days when Italians were not so comfortable in Scotland. They had always been regarded as suspicious long before war: ice cream parlours where the sexes mixed were considered morally questionable in Edwardian times. But Mussolini's declaration of war in 1940 left Scotland's Italian shops wrecked by looters. Their owners were imprisoned or deported. Less than a month after Mussolini's declaration, more than 400 British Italians were drowned when their prison ship, bound for Canada, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Irish Sea. Scotland's latest Tuscan visitor deserves a more lavish welcome, akin to that offered in his home to the British Prime Minister.