It is September 1957. I arrive in the north Italian city of Brescia and am taken to my first lodging, a noisy hotel called I Promessi Sposi**. Everything is new and strange and I am exhausted and vulnerable after a thirty-hour sit-up train journey that has left me bum-numb.
It turns out that I am not the only one has been engaged to teach at the local Scuola Interpreti: there is also a venerable Goan who introduces himself as "Professor Vaz" and invites me to share his table at dinner.
We have dinner, I forget what, but what I do remember is that he advises me to dilute my red wine with water. Me! After three years of mega pissartistry at university, where I have drunk enough beer and wine to refloat the Titanic. But, confronted by elderly professoriality, I meekly submit and accept a great dose of aqua minerale in my vino.
To be honest, it's not a bad drink, and I always try to have such an adulterated glass at least once every five years in honour of old Vaz. But not tonight. Tonight I want it hard and direct and unforgiving.
**If you haven't read I Promessi Sposi, the seminal 19th century novel by Manzoni, don't worry: it's like not having read Dombey and Son, or Crime and Punishment in the original. In fact I did read it and was proud of myself for having done so, the way you can be proud of breaking the world record for swallowing a quantity of hardboiled eggs without vomiting. Me and Cool Hand Luke both.