Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Italian Island trip excerpt from my book

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 traveling 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.

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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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expresso machine

expresso machine
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click on picture to glimpse Roses lime

my mother

my mother
my mother's pizza tuscany




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