Monday, August 29, 2011

Beach Trekking & Tracking

In the spirit of summer, especially of Agosto Italiano, I am sharing some snapshots of the favorite Italian past time in this sizzling month.

There is definitely a huge beach culture in Italy and each person has an opinion (often differing) on which beach is the best and why. The cleanliness of the water is usually the first of the reasons for which a beach is or is not raccomandata, but there are also thoughts on the type of beach: white/black sand or stone, private or public and stabilimento or bring-your-own.

Stabilimenti are privately run areas of the beach where you have to pay for the parasol (umbrellone) and the beach chairs (lettini). It also usually gives you access to showers and changing rooms. All matching colors and equally spaced areas, a stabilimento is proof that Italians can be organized when they want to be. It kind of makes sense that the setting for this is at a beach.

Here are some pictures of practically all of these different types of beaches. I visit them indiscriminately because growing up in the U.S. mid-Atlantic with the closest beach being 3.5 hours away and situated on the cold, brownish, murky Atlantic Ocean, I rarely see any of the Italian beaches as anything less than glorious.

Stone Beach: Guardia Piemontese, Calabria

Stabilimento Only: Santa Marinella

Stabilimento and Bring your Own: Anzio

Public Beach: Monte Argentario

Private Beach: Conca Azzurra, Sorrento area

Resident-Only Beach: Lido dei Gigli

If you are curious, like I was, about where these beaches are located in respect to one another, behold the map below. I have covered quite some ground in the last three months! 

Beach tracker
Do you have any beach recommendations, inside or outside of Italy?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Singing to your home

I grew up in a house where Pavarotti, not Elvis, was king. (How are we not Italian?) Anyway, when I went to Sorrento this past weekend, all I had in my head all weekend was the beautiful, folkloric song, Torna a Surriento.

Even though it is surmised that the song was written to inspire the Prime Minister to make a return visit to Sorrento and give help to clean up its dilapidation, to me, it is more a song of loyalty to one's hometown and a crying out for how hard it is to leave. I think there has always been a part of me that has wanted to feel this connected and impassioned by my hometown.

Whether you do or do not about your own, it is inspiring to hear someone else's love for his/her own. Just listen. Words and translation below.

Torna a Surriento / Come back to Sorrento

Vide'o mare quant'è bello! / See the sea, how beautiful it is!
Spira tantu sentimento. / It inspires so much feeling,
Comme tu a chi tiene mente / Like you, who, to whoever you watch,
Ca scetato 'o faje sunnà. / you make him dream while he’s awake.

Guarda, guà chistu ciardino; / Look, look at this garden
Siente, siè sti sciure arance. / Smell, smell these orange blossoms.
Nu prufumo accussì fino / A scent so delicate
Dinto 'o core se ne va... / goes into the heart...

E tu dice "I'parto, addio!" / And you say, "I'm leaving, goodbye! "
T'alluntane da stu core... / You're leaving (walking away from) this heart...
Da la terra da l'ammore... / From the land of love...
Tiene 'o core 'e nun turnà / Do you have the courage not to return?

Ma nun me lassà / But don't leave me!
Nun darme stu turmiento! / Do not give me this agony!
Torna a Surriento, / Come back to Sorrento!
Famme campà! / Give me life!

Vide'o mare de Surriento, / See the sea of Sorrento,
Che tesoro tene 'nfunno: / What it treasures at the (its) bottom,
Chi ha girato tutto 'o munno / One can travel the worldwide
Nun l'ha visto comm'a ccà. / and still never see anything like this.

Guarda attuorno sti sserene, / Look around at these sirens,
Ca te guardano 'ncantate / Who are watching you with enchantment.
E te vonno tantu bene... / and they love you so much...
Te vulessero vasà. / they would kiss you...

E tu dice "I'parto, addio!" / And you say, "I'm leaving, goodbye! "
T'alluntane da stu core... / You're leaving this heart...
Da la terra da l'ammore... / From the land of love...
Tiene 'o core 'e nun turnà / Do you have the courage not to return?

Ma nun me lassà / But don't leave me!
Nun darme stu turmiento! / Do not give me this agony!
Torna a Surriento, / Come back to Sorrento!
Famme campà! / Give me life!

Friday, August 19, 2011

August in Italy

August. I have never seen a country more completely shut down than Italy in August. Where cars used to be parked on sidewalks, in bus lanes and in between trash cans, this is a month where there are blocks of empty spots. Bustling neighborhoods become row after row of gray metal gates with signs saying "Chiuso per Ferie." And tourists become isolated in the Center, left alone in the city to encounter the perhaps one or two grumpy Romans who are stuck keeping the Tabacchi or Bar open during this month of rest. 

It isn't hard to understand why though. There is always a week at the end of July or middle of August when for seven straight days, a blazing sun rises high in the sky. Temperatures climb to well over 90 degrees (32+ Celsius) with nights not much cooler. The usual light breeze in Rome evaporates, and the heat just gets stuck between the buildings, bouncing back and forth between them and enveloping all those who walk in its path. When your country has 4,722 miles (7,600 km) of Mediterranean coastline, why wouldn't you flock to the beach to escape these conditions?

Usually an adamant opponent of air conditioning, I change my vote during this particular week and praise the invention when I am in it and I crave it when I am not.

Perhaps the greater torture for me during this week is that the battle with my nemesis, the tiger mosquito, escalates to even higher levels. Tiger mosquitoes get excited and revved up by the heat and go prowling for sweaty, sweet-smelling humans. I am a walking mosquito-pheromone. So, in August, this usually means that mosquitoes will munch on my face as a snack while waiting for the repellant smeared over the rest of my body to wear off so they can have a proper meal on my legs or arms. Like paper cuts, you wouldn't imagine something so small to be such torture. But they are.

It is a month in which it is hard to stay motivated, either in body or in thought. Both seem to have taken cues from their surroundings and hung out their own "Chiuso per Ferie" signs. As one who grew up in the U.S., this usually just makes me feel lazy. But with each successive August in Italy, this feeling in me is fading.

As we all know, it is nice to shut down sometimes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Two Nights and a Day .5 in Calabria

My last post was about the tumultous and stressful journey, but perhaps like a good metaphor, the difficult ride brought me to a place of peace: in this case, Calabria.

The two nights and day and a half there were precisely the defaticamento I needed- the medicine to return me to un-tiredness as I recently put it. 

Calabria reminded me of three important lessons:

1) Sitting still. The entire weekend was about sitting, talking and eating. It wasn't about sightseeing. It wasn't about discovering a new city or about any one event or physical activity. It was about being happy sitting perfectly still in one of two places: at the house or on the beach. And I was indeed that: perfectly happy.

2) Enjoying good company: In the world of a type A personality and endless lists, sometimes spending time with friends and family as part of a community gets overlooked; it doesn't always make the list. Though this wasn't my family, I definitely felt a part of it, temporarily adopted for the weekend. We were welcomed, hosted and included as family members and it was a nice reminder about why reunions and family get-to-togethers are so important for balance. 

3) Being present: It tends to be a habit in most environments, certainly in the most of the conversations I have gotten into in the U.S., to talk about the future: plans, career direction, where to live, what to do in the coming years etc. This weekend, I noticed that the questions about my future rarely came up. The ratio was 10 adults to 2 kids so it wasn't just that everyone's hands were full. I think there is something about having small children around that generally makes talk of the future not as omnipresent. Who knows: maybe it is because people intrinsically realize that being a baby has a time limit. Watching children grow for the couple years of their lives physically embodies the feeling that "time flies." So perhaps people don't want to talk about the next year because the newborn  will be gone. The baby will be walking. The toddler will all of a sudden be in school. It is nice to be fully in the moment: not to seize the day by doing everything humanly possible within those 24 hours, but to just be present and enjoy that particular, August 13. 

(In truth, one topic about my future did come up: "Quando farai bambini?" i.e. "When will you have kids?" I let this one slide... after all I was with a southern Italian family. What could I expect?) 

Other Lessons from Calabria

  • A fruit called cedro: The big, fat wrinkly lemon/limes here are a different type of fruit altogether called a cedro. One blog elucidates that the main difference, aside from some physical aspects, is that lemons (limoni) grow on trees and cedri grow on bushes.

  • Sea Urchins are tasty: Apparently you can eat the inside of a sea urchin. I did not. I'll blame it on the fact that I am a vegetarian instead of blaming it on my cowardliness. The others vow it is delicious though.
  • Speedos are still king: Though generally speaking, speedos are quickly disappearing off of the face of many Italian beaches, in Calabria, they are still distinctly popular. You know what, why not? If girls can wear boxers, why can't guys wear speedos? I would put boundaries on this particular right however. Running on the streets in a bright red speedo and nothing else but running shoes, as we saw one man do on the streets of Guardia, is a bit over the line... rule of thumb: speedos should generally remain in the vicinity of water.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just the Way You Are

This post is for all of you who have ever watched Under the Tuscan Sun or Roman Holiday and coo “I love Italy. It’s so magical there.”

A sunny August weekend and we decide to go to Calabria. Train leaves at 16:39 on a Friday afternoon.  Being even a little cautious/paranoid, I decide 1 hour and 39 minutes is enough to get to the main train station about 5 miles away. I decide to leave at 15:00.

That state of most of Rome's public transportation
15:04: I leave only a few minutes behind schedule and I am quite pleased with myself when right as I step out on the street I catch the bus that cuts out my 15 minute walk uphill.

15:12 I make up my four minutes of delay with this unexpected lift; I walk the rest of the way to the bus stop, passing by a broken down bus on the side of the road.  Uh oh, I think, Bad omen.

15:14 A lady at the stop mentions that she has already been waiting there for 15 minutes. We wait another 15 together and watch as two buses of the other line go by.

15:29. I begin the process of analyzing Rome’s Catch 22: Wait another 15-30 minutes for the current bus (which I can’t afford) or risk it on a potentially quicker but more circuitous route which could also involve a 15-30 minute wait (which I can’t afford).

No bus in sight, we opt for the tram: usually the fastest, most reliable of the mezzi. Except this time. It crawls. It goes at a speed to intentionally catch all the red lights. I realize that this is not just in my head or Murphy’s law. The tram IS intending to catch all the red lights because there is another tram ahead of it that it can’t tail. Two trams one right after another:  the “coffee break” phenomenon of public transport.  No buses come for a very long stretch and then 2 or 3 come together. Why? Because of a collective bus driver coffee break. That’s my personal theory anyway.

15:45 We get to Largo Argentina and I remember something I had noticed in my earlier jaunt in the city: the streets were too quiet. Largo Argentina, a virtual de facto bus terminal, and 10 minutes go by without a single bus.

15:55 Oh crap. Scioppero, I think. A sunny Friday in August: what further explanation could I need for a bus strike?

16:08 The 4th of about 15 buses that are supposed to stop at Largo arrives and it is the one to Termini. As to be expected, it is a rolling sardine can. I see people’s faces smashed up against the windows before seeing the bus number.

Side Note: Living in Rome almost five years now, I have allowed the pugilist in me to go free in this city knowing that I’d never get anywhere otherwise. However, in this case, I know though that no amount of pushing would get me and my luggage on board. Doors barely closing, I nervously watch the bus leave.

16:12 Two more buses go by- neither one full, neither one to termini. Just I am contemplating Plan C, (figuring out if any taxis would be free on the day of a scioppero) the 40 express train to termini comes by and I position myself in the spot that I would be first among the pushers.

16:13 Success! I am one of the lucky few who gets on and has the privilege of being pushed up against the metal pole between 3 male strangers, my foot 1/3 on the ground, 1/3 on someone else’s foot, 1/3 under someone else’s foot.

16:16 I know what heat stroke feels like.

16:22 I think the bus will tip because of the weight.

16:29 I get shoved in the wave of people getting off the bus.

16:34 I push pass the summer masses to get to Termini's Binario (Track) 13.

16:36 On the train! I examine the damages: my once beige pants now stained with black from other people’s shoes, a soaking wet black top, and hair that I put up so I don’t have to realize the extent of its dinginess.

16:39 The train leaves. I sit and think: I had risked heat stroke, dehydration and whatever infectious disease might be caught from close proximity with strangers all to get on a 1920’s train for a five hour  train ride with no air conditioning, no water or food anywhere on board and never mind electrical outlets or internet. And this was first class mind you!

 P.S.  The train stopped 1.5 hours later because car 7 was on fire.  Somehow that only caused a half hour delay…?

Moral of this Story: People who are married will tell you that real love is not loving someone on your big fancy wedding day, or at the romantic dinner on your anniversary. It is not when they give you the fat, shiny ring on your finger or a bouquet of flowers on your birthday. It is waking up in the morning with them when they have come down with a cold, when they have filled your trashcan and maybe bed with Kleenex, when they have a splotchy face from a fever and bloodshot eyes from blowing their nose and ask you to rub Vicks on them.

If you look at a someone during those terrible times and can still say I love you, you have found it.

Italy, you’re a mess, but I love you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Returning to Un-tired-ness

I am back in Rome and enjoying the normal life here that I love so much, a fact you may have noticed from my past blog posts on strawberries and oranges.

However today's fascination came from a word that showed up on the screen of the cross trainer on my first day at a new gym in Monteverde: defaticamento. It is one of those wonderful, untranslatable words. In context, the English equivalent is cool-down. My time was up on the machine and this Italian cross trainer instructed me that it was now time for defaticamento.

When literally translating the meaning of the word though, it is more like "un-tiring-ness" which is amazing. And to me this had more meaning than just the five minutes after a work out. These last two days have been my defaticamento, a time to un-tire myself.

I thought that my last month back in the U.S. might have been time for that. It turned out to be quite the opposite however. With 1 day in Baltimore, 1 in Washington DC, 4 more in Baltimore, 2 in Toronto, 5 in Montreal, 3 in Baltimore, 1 in Annapolis, 1 in Washington DC, 1 back in Baltimore, 6 in Charleston, 1 last one in Baltimore and then a flight to Rome.

My first week back was also a whirlwind with two birthdays, a wedding, an engagement, a birth and a pregnancy announcement (none of these mine by the way). So yesterday and today have been an unwinding, an un-tiring-ness.

And as I do in lovely Roma, my relaxation has been to soak in the warm sunshine, to breath in the dry and breezy air and to walk around the windy streets of which I never tire.

Eleven hours of sleep and roman sunshine and I feel like I am awake again and ready to tackle the one area that I haven't traveled to much lately, the workings of my mind...

But perhaps I'll have to get a gelato first to be fully energized for that journey. Cioccolato fondente seems a promising fuel for the trip.


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