Thursday, May 15, 2008

Italy in the summertime, when the weathers fine!

Well, the days are those of summer already, although the "big heat" hasn't arrived yet. The mornings are still blissfully cool here. The new lime-green tendrils of the grapevine and wisteria over the pergola have been bursting forth, and now the lovely leaves give us shade in the courtyard to have summer lunches out there, to drink a glass of wine in the evenings after work. Evenings that now last until 10pm. Bliss! The good life al' Italia. We can now sit up on the lakeshore on those long evenings and watch the pinky sky as evening closes in.
Its time to start thinking of that Italian obsession - getting away to the sea. As soon as spring releases us from winter, that is the talk of every meeting, every gathering. Where to go?
I call to mind our recent summer holiday on the island of Ischia close to Capri.
The metro jolts to a stop, you both peer out and see the sign, and so climb down into the intense light and humid air of the platform. You go down the stone stairs and walk down to the port, through a town grown shabby at the edges, but charming all the same. You sit on some stone steps while you await the next boat, the waves climb the stairs and lick at your toes, washing way any trace of Milano. Amante sits behind you stroking your hair, as you point out the islands on the pale blue morning sea “Can you also see Sorrento and Capri from here, is that it?”
You get onto your big boat when it arrives with all the others escaping the mainland for the day or weekend. The ferry noses its way out of the bay and heads for deeper waters, spray leaping up the sides of the boat and blowing in the wind, as the cliffs of the mainland are left behind.
You settle near the rails on the boat, the wind playing in your hair, in front of you there’s a large group of Italians and in the middle of them there is a guitar player. They sing traditional songs probably learnt in childhood. Amante knows some of the words and sings softly along with them, you watch the cliffs which are full of caves.
The island is before you. You disembark in a small colourful port set in gentle basin with boats that look like toys floating on it. The flat Mediterranean sea, no crashing waves, the whole scene is suffused with that smell of sea and sun. The breeze carries something of Africa, that hot dry earth smell. While all around exotic plants, palms and lush foliage grow. It’s a mix of all the exotic locations, part Greece, part bleak Cyprus, lush Africa, the lemon trees of Sicily, a ridge of mountain hidden behind wispy clouds with white houses built on the lower slopes like Cape Town. It seems like another country although it’s in Italy, and it is, it’s Ischia! Nature doesn’t respect borders.
You take a long walk, to your agriturismo, thankful you packed light. Climbing endlessly up a winding road through vineyards and lemon groves, with a sea of three shades, indigo, azure and turquoise surrounding you. After an hour, the road seems to wind on forever with the sun beating down on your head, and so you climb on a bus heading in that direction since they all circle the island. When the driver tells you to get out, you clamber off, and immediately there’s the traffic and noise, cars and motorbikes racing around the ring-road again. You leave the main road and start walking up a track that heads up the mountain. Apparently the agriturismo is one and a half kilometres further up, the path is walled in on one side by a pumice stone wall, and then you stumble upon a farm-like sort of gate. You go through it, and walk like trespassers through a vineyard and an orchard of very low lemon trees which give a lovely lattice of shade from the sun. You still haven’t seen a sign and aren’t really sure if you are on the right track. The track then goes around some very gnarled olive trees. Suddenly there are some buildings ahead and a fierce dog rushes out at you, it’s a pastore abruzzese, a huge white breed you know well from Tuscan farms. A breed of dog dedicated to protection, so you both stand like chess pieces waiting for him to make the first move, trying not to flinch too obviously when he rushes at you. Amante makes calming, friendly noises but it doesn’t soften him up. After ten minutes of his ferocious barking, a cleaner comes out with her broom and mops and chases him off. Slightly shaken, you ask if there is anyone home because you need a cold beer, and she points upstairs to the terrace.
Upstairs is a large sun-washed patio with four tables set for lunch, looking out over sea and mountain, it’s glorious. You set down your bag and a couple come out to greet you and give you an icy beer, and then a hand-written menu which says they serve a cold plate of salumi or bruschetta. You order both, and then stretch out your post-winter legs in the spring sunshine, and there isn’t a thing to worry about, so you drink in the fresh air and views. The dog has done his job and now lies snoring in the sun.
On either side of you, two German couples arrive to do the same, you listen to the strange words and understand only that the beer meets their approval. The hosts have already told you that Germans make up the majority of visitors at this time of the year, they are certainly quieter than Italians as they too set about soaking up the sun.
Your lunch arrives, and like all real Italian specialities, the secret of a good bruschetta lies in the quality of the ingredients. Large slices of toasted home-baked bread, perfect sweet plum tomatoes, new virgin olive oil, garlic and some fresh oregano, perfection.
It’s time to take a walk to the sea, where people say hot thermal springs bubble up on the beach in the rock pools, producing a natural spa. On the other side of the island this has been made more commercial, but here apparently the bollente, or boiling water, is open to all.
When you finally get down the millions of stairs with aching knees, you arrive at a rather empty pebble beach. There’s a small wooden restaurant perched above halfway up the cliff, with a deck. You de-robe and climb into the shallows which contain rock pools, natural Jacuzzis if you like, where the water comes boiling and bubbling up from the sea bed. You are enveloped by the slightly sulphurous smell, and are joined by assorted northern Europeans of advanced years, bathing their arthritic limbs, and oohing and aahing as a jet of unexpectedly boiling water scalds their ample behinds. Not an Italian to be seen, other than Amante that is, who now, rather uncharacteristically for an Italian, sets out on an epic swim right out into the sea in frigid water. It’s still early spring after all.
When he returns and jumps back into the steaming pool, the Germans and Dutch are impressed and they tell him so. You are impressed and you tell him so, while the assorted women admiringly take in his muscled body. “Strong man, like a beer” (sic) they say. He laughs, you have never seen him as a bear, he is not chubby enough, perhaps it’s because he’s quite hairy.
Eventually you have enough of the hot puddle and you go exploring. Riding on Amante’s back into the icy sea, you go to investigate a cave the sea has carved into the rock. As he pulls you along, you tell him that he really must look like a polar bear right now with its cub on its back.
The cave is smooth soft rock, and the size of the average bathroom. You are alone in it, all over the floor of the cave are tiny holes through which a hot jet erupts when you least expect it. You lay around entwined in each other’s arms. It’s like a scene from one of those black and white films from the sixties, a ‘Roman Holiday’ kind of film. The tension from travelling is stripped away, and you seem to float along carried by steam rather than water. You start to talk about living in this cave. This could be your permanent bathroom, your own sauna. You love bathing and Amante watches with pleasure as you revel in it, he knows how many hours you spend soaking in a bath. “Bello.” he says with a sigh. “Over there should be our kitchen with boiling water, then catch some fish and eat very well, and when you are tired of fishing, you go climbing up the hill for some buona bruschetta e birra”. “Do you agree?” he asks. You agree. Your limbs feel as if they are pieces of string, not the heavy tired legs you brought down those thousand steps with you. In a small pool in your cave home, a tiny crab and a shrimp have set up home, the odd couple. The water is cool in their pool, there is no steam vent in there to cook them. At the front of the cave where you sit side by side dipping your toes into the sea, you have a lovely view out of the cave right across the bay. “Even winter would be a breeze here with built in heating,” I say.


Emily said...

I'm there....
I'll think of you two when I'm taking the 'Aglio Express' train to work this morning.
Lovely images.


Italy expat said...

Don't envy you on the Aglio express, are you taking a holiday?

Anonymous said...

I went to Ischia once, it's lovely with its cristal water, its food and warm people. Unfortunately I missed the swimming, hairy bear!

AmyEmilia said...

Your writing really takes me there. Thank you! :)

Italy expat said...

you'll have to visit Italy again soon Amyemilia

Anonymous said...

Romance and Italy, the dreamed combination of many!
I really enjoy reading your blog about Italy: I'm very proud of reading such pleasant stories about my country. Go on, it sounds great

AmyEmilia said...

We talked about coming in November again. The weather wasn't too bad. Hopefully the exchange rate will be a little better.

Italy expat said...

November's great with autumn still around let me know I can suggest some things to do and wines to taste.

Como the beautiful

Como the beautiful
walk near the lake

Hidden Italy, the places we visit regularly from Tuscany to the lake district above Como.

When I became a resident in Italy in 2001, I already knew how visitors liked to praise her places, food and art.
I had visited many times as a visitor myself, and been enchanted.
This site is rather designed to show the hidden Italy, the real Italy experienced by it's residents.
The events of the year, from registering as a resident, to celebrating Christmas, Easter and many other festivals, buying a house, working, banking, and still enjoying its beauty, are to be found here.

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My favourite writings on Italy

  • Italian Education/Cara Massimina Tim Parks
  • Where angles fear to tread E.M. Forster ISBN0140180885
  • A small place in Italy ISBN0330338188
  • D.H.Lawrence and Italy ISBN 0140095209
  • The Italians by Luigi Barzini Touchstone books ISBN 068482500