“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.”
From the lovely shine of Provence, we took a windows-open road trip through the French Riviera, then bumped into Monaco until we at last found ourselves in the Italian Riviera.
We overnighted, twice, in Santa Margherita in a hotel by the sea. One side of our room opened up to a balcony covered by yellow-and-white stripes that flapped a bit in the wind. We ate pesto pasta, giant full-bodied prawns in olive oil, pizza with artichokes & Parma ham. And the muscles in white wine and olive oil, oh we wrote home about them. We were offered more than our share of fluffy pastry deserts filled with sweet custard and not-so-sweet frosting.
The wine, my dear… the Italians have such a way. We drank a ten-year-old Barolo served by not one, not two but three darling Italian men. One brought wines from the cellar, our choice. One polished the glasses and the decanter. One man poured, drop-by-drop, the wine into our glasses and with it served the most luscious plate of cheese and salami.
We shared a bottle of Montepulciano in a little nook-bar and listened to techo in at least three languages chosen personally by the proprietor & played from his iPod. He also served us a plate of salami and cheese that still haunts my hungry dreams. And the hand-polished glasses: I will only serve a drink in this way these days.
We downed a bottle of Merlot in Monterosso al Mare that basically tumbled into the bottle from the terraced vines above us, served by the family that made it. With it we ate caprese salad and thin, breakable breadsticks before getting onto the last of the trains back to our hotel. There we napped a bit, to be rested for dinner of course.
In the Italian Riviera, also known as Liguria, we basked.
Bask again in the sun of the beach, rocks under our feet and nothing but sky and sea to dare us. Bask again with our feet in the Mediterranean as little boats bumped the rocks and blue was the color of the memory. Bask again as we chatted with hand-talking shopkeepers while eating cones of sea food (small mix, for me). Bask again as we sat on our balcony and watched lovely Italians stroll on high heels, slick jackets, gorgeous purses. Bask again as the train pops from the tunnel into the sun, and back into the shade of the mountain.
The trip was to see France, but this delicate and tasty dunk into Italy was simply resplendent, luxurious, lively and life-affirming. What I took with me, from Italy, was a skill for slower-than-usual basking, arm-in-arm walking and a delight for what’s next.