Tales of a wandering lesbian

Posts from — June 2010

Not-so-free beach

I spent a couple of afternoons on free beaches in Salerno.  Carmine had pointed to a few of them on our first day orientation drive around the city.

“How are the free beaches?”  I’d asked.  The idea of paying to sit in the sand is a foreign concept to someone from Oregon.  The beaches in the state are all considered public.  All of them.  Every grain of sand.

In Salerno, however, probably 80% of the sand is contained within fences and barriers, cordoned off into color-coded parcels marked by striped umbrellas.

Early into the trip I’d decided to take a run over to one of the free beaches that was halfway between our apartment and downtown Salerno.  It was about a 20 minute run, perfect on a hot day.  I packed up my towel, water bottle and book.  I left anything valuable, including my camera and ID home.

When I returned with my aunt, a week or so later, however, I made sure I had my camera.  The scene was just too rich to miss.  I’d risk it.

The walk to the strip of beaches took us through the underground passage for the under-construction train station, along stretches of abandoned private beach resorts, and past an ancient lighthouse.

The day was really quite hot, and the humidity was pushing us into the realm of uncomfortable.  We laughed as we walked past a disembodied room fan on the sidewalk.

The Ant was a trooper throughout the trip.  Whether walking too far along the beach, or dragging a suitcase over the bridges of Venice, she only occasionally asked me if we were there yet.  Today, though, I could sense that she was wondering whether I had sent her on a death march.

“We’re almost there,” I said, pointing at the cabanas we were passing on our left.  “We just have to go past these ones with red roofs, then some blue ones, and then the other red ones.”

Almost there.  What it really meant was that I knew where we were and where we were going.  Not that we were, actually, close.  The Ant knew this.

“Okay,” she nodded.  I knew she wasn’t convinced.

Forty-five minutes, and several water-stops later, we were there, at the free beach, staking out our spots, and taking in the scene.

Free beaches are free for a number of reasons:

  1. Nobody cleans up the trash that is washed up or left behind.
  2. There is no shade.
  3. There is no fresh water, either for drinking or washing.
  4. Beach vendors are allowed to walk along, and peddle their wares to anyone and everyone, relentlessly.

The vendors are easily enough dealt with.  A simple, “No, grazie” said firmly, and often, even over the top of the low-toned pitch, will almost always work.  It’s just that the process has to be repeated every 2-7 minutes as a new vendor, always a young man, and almost always a dark-skinned African immigrant, wanders by, tries to catch your eye, moves in close, and presents his product.  Sometimes it’s beach toys.  Other times clothing, or bolts of fabric.  Once in a while it’s jewelry or small pieces of art.

They start in Italian, then move to English, or German, or whatever language they determine will garner the most response.  With each firm, “No, grazie” I lament my inability to connect on a human level.  Eye-contact always prolongs the interaction, serving as a kind of affirmative response to their wares.

In the US, I will usually take the time to look a street vendor in the eye before saying, “no thanks.”  But here, in a less-familiar place, I feel unable to do so.  And saddened by that reality.  I also feel humbled.  As I listen to these men, watch them comb the beaches for the few Euro they will make each hour, I am incredibly humbled by my ignorance.  And my privilege.  That’s not a word I use lightly, but it feels apt here.  I speak one language.  I know a few words of Spanish and a few of Italian.  Not enough to get by selling garments on a beach.  My fear of misspeaking gets in my way.  Yet these beautiful vendors speak unabashedly with me, passing through their rotating vocabulary, hoping to hit on a language familiar to me.  And here I sit, with the great good fortune to say, “no, grazie.”

Today, though, the vendors were light, leaving us room to take in the vignettes unfolding before us.

What I had found most interesting on my first trip to the beach was the gender dynamic that was so heady.  The boys were in one area, and the girls in another.  There was one girl that ventured into the area up against the paid beach wall where the boys had claimed the shade.  She had a bemused look on her face the entire time. Crouching inside the protection of her towel, as though she wasn’t sure how she’d managed to put herself there, and not entirely sure it was a good idea.

The rest of the girls were traveling in packs, venturing into the water, and out again, inching closer to the boys that were playing soccer in the foamy sand.  Interactions between the genders were punctuated by raucous clashes:  sand kicked at a girl, and the resulting screech.

More interesting, though, was the interaction between the boys.

It has taken me a while to become comfortable with the overt sexuality that is part of Italian culture.  It seems strange to some people, that the country that is home to the Vatican is so sexually charged.  Yeah, it’s a little weird, but it’s there.  And on the beaches, the sexual electricity that lies just below the surface was almost alarming to a kid who grew up in a country like the US.

Laying on my little towel, I peeked from under my hat and over my sunglasses to watch.

The four boys in front of me looked like they were maybe 19, maybe 20.  Old enough to have the bodies of men, but still awkward in their bravado, adjusting their tiny bathing suits, and opting to let the sun reflect off of their wet bodies, rather than towel off.

They would take turns hoisting their well-tanned bodies from the sand and diving into the sea to cool off.  They would emerge, and with a well practiced move, brush the water from their hair to good effect, leaving it spiky, erect, interesting.  Then they would lie down next to each other to let the sun dry them.

The girls would scamper around the sand, pretending not to notice, adjusting their equally tiny suits and making sure the ball they were kicking around would drift into the boys’ line of sight every so often.

For their part, the boys seemed honestly disinterested in the girls.  They took more interest in each other, leaning on each other’s shoulders, laughing together.  At least most of them.  Twice I watched as two older-looking guys came over and asserted their dominance – physically and directly.

First was someone who seemed to be a friend.  His towel was positioned with the other 3 in front of me.  In his racy red suit and shaved head, he was more muscular than the others.  Throwing all of that muscle on top of one of the smaller boys, he crushed his body into the other, almost the way a wrestler would dominate an opponent.

Hips ground into the other, arms pinning the smaller boy’s arms above his head, the bigger boy laughed into his ear as the others watched.  Then, when he’d decided the emasculation was enough, he rolled over onto his own towel, and all returned to normal.  Except for me.  I was a little scarred.

About a half hour later, as I was just getting over the first exchange, a much older and bigger boy with a tattooed leg, and longer shorts made his appearance on the beach.  He was apparently known to many on the beach.  “Nicola!” came the cries from different areas.  It wasn’t clear to me whether he was loved or feared.  Only that he was known.  He made a wide circuit, strutting from group to group, his soft body a contrast to the younger, more athletic boys.  His tattoo a brazen one, taking up the entirety of his left calf.

After spending time with the group along the wall, and kicking the soccer ball out of the group at the water’s edge and into the ocean, he came over to my boys.  Only one of them was on his stomach.  Nicola headed straight for him, and dropping his body down, placed one knee roughly in the other boy’s lower back, apparently trying to separate his hips from the rest of his body.

The boy screamed, actually screamed as Nicola pinned his arms to his side and laughed.  The others looked nervously over, but they only watched as their comrade struggled fruitlessly to move out of the hold, crying out, “Nicola, basta!”  When he decided it was enough, Nicola released his hands, and pushed off of the boy, up to a standing position, still laughing.

The boy did nothing.  He lay there, and adjusted his suit.  Nicola greeted the others.  It wasn’t a friendly greeting he received.  Just a nod and maybe an embraced hand.  Not like the hugs and heads leaned onto each other’s shoulders.  This boy, this bully was both enforcer and violator.  His presence was accepted, expected, but not appreciated.

Nicola walked away.  He had no towel.  He had no group.  He had no girls looking slyly at him, or boys welcoming him.  I didn’t see where he went as I gathered my towel and book and headed out.

On the way home from our beach excursion, the Ant and I stopped for an emergency gelato.  Along the dingy street that led to the underpass, we ducked into a nondescript bar with a dark-browed man behind the counter.  He peered at us, clear strangers in this locals’ bar.

We smiled our hellos, and moved toward the unpromising gelato case.  The flavors were meager, and clearly not house made.  But we were in a bad way, so it would have to do.

As soon as he saw us move toward the case, he melted.  Whether we reminded him of family members, or he just liked gelato, too, he patiently waded through our butchered Italian, and soon enough we had lovely cones of respite.  We sat in the cool shop and ate quietly, the World Cup showing in the background.

When we stood to leave, the shop-owner called to us in a friendly tone, and we waived, the familiar, “Ciao!  Grazie!” tossed back and forth.

In the now-short blocks home, we walked, looking down the alleys that led from the ramshackle street to the beach.  I pulled out my camera to capture a boat I’d noticed before.  And, as I raised the camera, something caught my eye.

“Redfish.”  The white name scrawled along the dusty red hull of the rowboat rang out to me, the name of the lake and the beach where I’d spent my childhood summer weekends.  The place where I’d played with the boys and watched the girls.  The little boat smiled back at me, playful and comforting.

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June 30, 2010   1 Comment

Unexpected beauty

Our trip to Salerno was a scouting mission.  An attempt to find interesting towns where the Ant could retire.  We spent our time taking day trips around the region, with days off in Salerno.  The days off were mostly days of rest, the two of us lounging around the apartment, or heading to the café down the street.  Food was always a part of the equation, whether pizza from our favorite place, or fried balls of stuff from a cart.

On one of our days off we decided to explore Salerno’s history.  We knew three things about ancient Salerno.  First, it had an important duomo.  Second, it had a big castle.  Third, it had some medicinal gardens.  We were most interested in seeing the castello, which overlooked the city from a big hill, so we took the bus into town and started walking up.

Our map, which wasn’t topographical and only showed us streets, indicated that it would be feasible to walk to the castle.  We picked out the right road and wound our way through the streets of medieval Salerno.  We happened upon the duomo, which seemed much more interesting in the guidebooks than in real life.

The dreariness of Salerno was only slightly less here.

Up, up, up we wound, the streets getting narrower as we walked.  Somewhere along the way we began to wonder if we were still on the right road.  So I ducked my head into some kind of a historical center, and found a beautiful young woman who seemed to be waiting to help us.

“Mi dispiaci, no parlo bene, l’italiano.”  I smiled my usual greeting, noting her abrupt movements as she came over to us.

“English?”  Like so many others, she’d guessed right.

I handed her our little map and asked where we were.

“Oh, mmm, allora, mmm.”  She muttered as she looked at the paper, turning it around on the counter we were leaning over.  She located our position on the map, after a good bit of studying.

“What are you looking for? Il giardino della Minerva?”

“The Castello,” the Ant and I answered together.

The woman looked at us.  “No, no, no.  It’s too far.  It’s not possible.”

The Ant and I exchanged dubious looks.  We wanted to see the castle, but we weren’t especially up for an impossible climb.

“But the gardens are very close.  Very beautiful.”

The Ant was nodding fervently.  “Okay.”

Our guide folded up the map and handed it to me as she led us to the door.    “Walk up here, and keep going, always forward.”  Good advice.  She returned the amused smile I flashed her.  We thanked her and headed up the hill in the direction she had pointed.

The Ant turned to me with a wry look on her face.  “Well you certainly do know how to find them.”  A little embarrassed, I chuckled and looked at the cobblestones we were walking.  Yes, it seemed I did know how to walk into a shop and find a helpful, pretty girl.

And she was right, it wasn’t far, but it’s not likely we would have found it without her instruction.  The undulating streets of this part of Salerno were a bit maze-like, due (as we would find out) to the fact that it was built on the side of a cliff.

Inside the unassuming gates of the garden, we paid our euros, grabbed the 4 page, single-spaced, English-language info pamphlet on the gardens and started mulling about.  The pamphlet told us that these gardens are recognized as the first medicinal gardens – ever.   The sense of peace and calm inside the gates was beautiful.  We spent the next hour or so wandering through the three levels of the gardens, snapping pictures, taking video, smelling plants, trying to identify some of them.  Plants strange to that part of the world, like Taro, materialized in the boggy beds around fountains.  Fish swam in pools with lily-pads.  I’m not sure if we saw any other visitors to the gardens.  It was like our own, private playground.

The gardens are built on the site of natural springs, so the entire location is filled with channels bringing water to the myriad of beds and fountains.

The terraces were connected by a staircase that was built as part of the outer wall, on the side of the cliff.  It treated us to spectacular views.


As we reached the top level, the woman from the admissions office came up behind us to tell us they were closing for lunch.

I grabbed a couple of last pictures and we made the climb back down to the gate.

We hiked back out toward the duomo, winding back through the streets where people live among a remarkable history.

We hadn’t eaten in something like 2 hours, so we were starving and stopped for a calzone at the first place we came to.  The Ant had something meaty, and I had something that equated to a salad in a calzone.

Much like the gardens, and the woman who led us there, it was quite unexpectedly lovely.

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June 28, 2010   2 Comments

Return

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

The sea stirs me.  As a child I heard stories from the mouth of my grandfather.  Of the beauty of the sea.  Of swimming in the open ocean, and deep-sea diving.  He was a Navy man.  Part of a submarine rescue crew.   The sea meant adventure, danger, death.  For him, a man who had seen and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, it also somehow meant peace.

***

My trips to Italy have been beautiful, discovery-filled experiences.  Great stretches of self-reflection punctuated by moments with new friends.  During a stay in the beautiful city of Lucca, a new friend suggested that we drive to Viareggio, a coastal city frequented by VIPs. This cloudy, off-season day, it had the feel of Coney Island in the movie “Big.” Many shops were closed, the beach vacant, and even the dark-skinned vendors that usually harass passers-by with their counterfeit goods seemed unconcerned with us, busy contemplating the vast, empty beauty of this place.

We made our way to the harbor and walked along the great jetty that extends from the city out into the water.  Fishing boats lined the way, their masts standing tall against the grey backdrop and giving rise to a stark picture.

The Madonna stood atop a pedestal in the harbor, high above all, eternally blessing those who venture out, welcoming those who return.

I took a moment to think of my Grandfather.  A man who had returned.

Yes.  The sea stirs me.

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June 28, 2010   2 Comments

Cultural exchange

The Amalfi coast is definitely known as a place to see in Southern Italy.  In the months running up to the trip, every time I mentioned that I would be in the south, I got the question, “will you see Amalfi?” or the command, “make sure you go to the Amalfi coast.”

Like the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast is known for its jewel-like villages clinging to the coastline.  We decided that the best way for us to experience the towns would be by boat.  The boats that serve the cities up and down the coast are great.  Varying in size and fanciness, they take travelers the direct route, on the water, from one city to the other.

This was a new form of transportation for us, requiring us to locate the ticket office, dock and slip.  A stop by the information office insured we were headed in the right direction.

Once on board, we scoped out the best seats:  ground floor, starboard side, toward the front – just opposite the helm.  This gave us a good view of the coastline, and the captain, who was very friendly.

I think he liked the Ant.  In the way only an Italian captain can look, this guy was both weather beaten and stylish.  His face was worn, under his designer sunglasses, and metallic trainers distracted from the flesh-toned medical sock running the length of one leg.  He kept leaning out of the cockpit, pointing to the coastline and throwing out the names of the towns.

“Cetara.  Positano.  Atrani.”


Along with the towns, their majolica-tiled cathedral domes blending together, we were treated to views of ancient lighthouses, and caves.

Finally, our captain friend leaned out and said, “Amalfi!”

Amalfi.  That was our destination for the day.  First on the list:  cappuccino.

We hadn’t had much in the way of breakfast, opting instead to catch the early boat.  Now we needed to find a pastry shop that we liked the looks of.  We walked through the town square, past the cathedral, and into a shop with pizza and baba in the front window.

“Due cappuccino, per favore.”  I walked over to the pastry case to see what I could find.  “E una di queste”  I pointed to the bready things that looked like popovers.

“Normale?” asked the proprietor, a round man with shaggy white hair.

“Si.”  I had no idea what the alternative was, but the cream-covered plates in the case looked a bit over-the-top.  Even for me.

He pulled one of the pastries out and put it on a plate.  Then he drenched it in some kind of liquid from a stainless steel bottle, and handed it to me.

“Grazie.”  I took my prize over to the Ant who was waiting at the bar for the cappu.

“Look at this.”  We both stared at it in awe.  We didn’t know what we had, but we were appropriately excited.

Baba is a regional pastry that is drenched in rum.  Not so much my bag, but it was tasty, nonetheless. With our cappuccino in front of us, we settled in for the caffeination we so desperately needed.

“Buon giorno.”  The young man behind the counter was smiling at us, looking up from cleaning the marble slab.  He looked curious.  “Where are you from?”

The familiar question was slightly amusing.  He’d guessed the language, surely he could guess the country.

“The United States.  America.”

“Si, si.  But where?”  Ah, he’d already figured it out.

“Idaho, Oregon.  The west.”  Sometimes people have heard of Oregon, but almost nobody knows Idaho.  Even in the US, Idaho, Iowa and Ohio are interchangeable for the vast number of Americans.

“Ah, but you are Italian?  You look Italian.  I think, you look Italian, but something is not right.”

“Yes!  Our family is Italian.”  We’re more than happy to share this information with anyone who shows an interest.  It gives a little cred.  (I’m sure the “not right” was our shoes.)

“You stay in Amalfi?”

“No, Salerno.”

He shook his head.  “Next time you stay in Amalfi.  This is my town.  I show you.  You will be here tonight?  You come back, I will be your tour guide.  I will show you everything.  Right now I have to work, but tonight, you come back.  What are your names?”

He was animated, looking intently from one of us to the other, sincere in his interest to show us his town.

“Kristin.”

“Leslie.”

He repeated the names.  “Lezley.”  He worked it out, the name an unfamiliar one.  “Kreesteen.”  My name, so close to the Italian equivalent, is almost always converted to Christian.  I went by “Kris” a lot the last time I was here.  It’s not something I accept very often in the states, but in Italy, it seems to fit.

“I am Nicola.”

We both repeated.  “Neecola.”

“Kreesteen, you will return tonight?”  He was grinning, awkwardly, but determinedly.

“Forse, Nicola.  Forse no.”  It was possible, though unlikely.  I didn’t want this sweet boy to get his hopes up.  They were definitely on the rise.  Flattering, but hard to have to manage his expectations while we stood there drinking cappuccino.  “Torniamo a Salerno.”  We would be going back to Salerno.

Done with our coffees, we pushed the cups toward Nicola and smiled.

“Kreesteen, I hope you will return tonight.  I will hope to see you.”  Apparently his expectations weren’t going to be managed.

“Ciao Nicola.  Grazie.”

We stepped out of the shop into the sunlight and walked back to the cathedral.

“Wow, he liked you,” crooned the Ant.

“Yes, he was very sweet.  I hope he’s not too sad when we don’t come back tonight.”  I really don’t like making sweet boys sad.  It’s usually the sweet ones that unwittingly fall for me, developing puppy-dog crushes and making me squish their hearts a little.

The cathedral was on our list of things to see, so we walked up the zillion stairs to the entrance, noticing the colorful rice bits strewn everywhere, and a hunky guy with a messenger bag.

“Did you see him?”  I asked the Ant.  “Go back and look.  He’s hot.”  The Ant is single, and Italian men are fun eye candy.  Even for a big-ole lesbian like me.  In the states, 90% guys looking like this would be gay.  And I love my gays.  So, even though I usually make a point of not giving false hope to my family by talking about cute men (I’d once gotten a call from my sister, chastising me for telling my mother that I was going to have my “gay husband’s” baby.  “What, exactly ,did you tell Mom?!”)  it had been fun to point out the extra-yummy ones to the Ant and see if she agreed.  She doubled back and took a peek, pretending to take in the building.   This one was a little to smooth for her.  So we headed inside.

The art and architecture inside was fine.  We saw beautiful, delicate columns, and an over-the-top tomb decorated in marble and gold.  Most of it we passed by without much consideration, as our stomachs began to churn.  Cappuccino and rum-soaked baba wasn’t really enough to sustain us through much sight-seeing.

Back in the street we considered where to go for lunch.  We’d seen pizza, but nothing had really grabbed us.

“We could always go to Nicola’s place.”  The Ant was smiling and looking at me out of the corner of her eye.

“Yeah, we could.”  I wasn’t up for too much in the way of game-playing.  “But let’s not.”

Amalfi isn’t that big of a town.  We walked up the main street, away from the water until it became distinctly un-touristy.  Good for a peaceful walk, but not good for food.  Back into town we jogged, the hilly street propelling us downward.  We dismissed take-out places, in favor of somewhere we could sit, rejected the feel and price of several, and climbed a set of stairs to an interesting prospect, only to find it closed.

“Nicola would like to see you.”  I didn’t respond to the statement from the Ant.  “You know you’re not going to live that down for a while, right?  But it’s only because I love you.”  She was nudging me affectionately with her shoulder.

“You love me, so you taunt me?”  I answered sharply.  The lack of food had pushed me over the edge.  “It’s not so fun for me.  Here, this place looks good.”

Finally, we’d found a pizza place that passed muster.  We sat in the courtyard, and I breathed a little.

“I’m sorry I snapped.  It’s just difficult.”  I felt like I owed her an explanation.  Like I wanted to give one.  “Think what it’s like to have beautiful, kind, sweet boys take an interest in you.  To have them flatter you.  And then to have to embarrass them, or to break their hearts just a little.  Over and over.  It’s not so fun.”

She was looking at me with big eyes, nodding faintly.

“And then imagine what it’s like to be me, knowing that, every time a guy hits on me, whether it’s Nicola, or a gas station attendant, that my family wishes I’d accept.  That they wish I would say yes.”

Both of us were tearing up now.

“It’s hard.  And it makes me unwilling to do things like point out hot guys.”

We paused to order lunch, both of us breathing deeply, knowing the conversation was a good one.  A hard one.

We talked about the day, years ago, when I had come out to the Ant, the concerns she’d had, and the great journey of acceptance she’d traveled (she loves the gay men almost as much as I do).

Our pizza arrived, and we were more than a little happy.

The food was beautiful and really good.  We were so hungry that we even ordered dessert.  A gorgeous pine nut torta with strawberry sauce.

The rest of our day was filled with a tour of the paper factory, given by another sweet boy named , Rafael, and a hike to the nearby town of Atrani.

The Ant and I were gentle with each other.  I didn’t snap again, and she didn’t mention Nicola.  We simply walked together through the sweltering day, shared a giant bottle of water, and went home to make dinner.

We didn’t talk about boys again until the next day, when we were walking to the bus station.

“So, I’m thinking,” the Ant started, a look of determination on her face, “that in this journey of acceptance I’m taking,”  I looked at her, interested to hear the rest, “that it would be good for you to tell me when you see someone who is cute.”   Okay, I could do that.  “Like you could say, ‘she’s really attractive’ so that I could get an idea of what type you like.”

Oh!  She wanted to know what type of women I liked!  Wow.

“I mean, maybe don’t go on and on about it, but…” she was a little flustered, her brow furrowed and her hands extended.

“No, I won’t talk about how I want to slap her ass or anything, but sure.  That would be fun.  Kind of like a cultural exchange.”

We looked at each other and laughed.  It wasn’t enough that we were traveling through Italy.  This would be our cultural experience:  eyebrows lifted toward hot women, and fingers covertly pointed at yummy guys.  And not another mention of Nicola.

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June 22, 2010   3 Comments

A day at the beach

After a culturally significant trip to Paestum, we were ready for a day of rest.  The weather had been getting gradually warmer and sunnier, a challenge for my afternoon runs, but gorgeous for a bit of beach.  Salerno sits on the gulf of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The water is warm, salty and blue, blue, blue.  The colorful umbrellas of the pay-to-play beaches called a siren song, inviting us to enjoy a lavish day in the Italian sun.

We gathered our books and towels, donned our suits and slathered ourselves in sunscreen.

The owner of our apartment, Carmine, had pointed out his favorite private beach and the underground passage that would take us from the bus stop behind the apartment directly to the crosswalk in front of the beach.  Beach bags in hand, we decided it was time for a mid-morning snack to prepare us for the sea.  Like every morning, we’d made our espresso in the stovetop Moka pot and heated our croissants in the little toaster oven.  But we weren’t sure what kind of food we’d find at the beach, and we didn’t want to cut the day short if we got hungry.  I like to eat, but I also like to swim.

Considering and rejecting the possibility of carrying a pizza box with us, we stopped by our local coffee shop for a cappu and pastry.  We’re good at ordering and eating these things.  We’re not so tidy with it, however.

This view would become a familiar one to us, and to our patient waiters and waitresses.

Once full of pastry, we located the underground pass-through and descended the stairs into the passage that used to serve an out-of-commission train station.  The entrance was obscured by an orange construction barrier, its walls plastered with colorful posters and littered with graffiti.  But it provided a valuable shortcut over the coming weeks, allowing us quick access to gelato and sand.

Carmine’s beach, Karsaal seemed to be a favorite for many locals.  With a large parking lot, fancy sit-down restaurant, fine pool and pretty beach, it was much more full than many of the others we’d walked by on our adventures in Salerno.

Along with mothers and children, grandmothers, and men strutting like peacocks, we followed the after-church rush through the gates.  For 15 Euro a piece, we had the run of the place.  Lounge chairs, umbrellas, pool, cabanas, and some of the best people watching, ever.  We headed to the waterfront and chose a couple of lounge chairs under an umbrella on the small black and white rocks.  We watched the locals for a bit, and I dragged one of the fancy chaises that littered the beach over to our camp.

The built-in shades were amazing.  For the next couple of hours we bathed in the sun, swam in the sea, and watched the scene unfold in front of us.  Spettacolare.  Sailboats danced across the bay, competing for our attention with the sea of humanity dancing on the sand.  A pair of men, lounging in their tiny swimsuits, and gold chains, gestured wildly, emphatically trying to convince each other of their position on some unknown topic.


A young buck of a man who looked like a statue of a tattooed Roman god strutted back and forth from the water to his chair, lovingly arranging his girlfriend’s towel on the matching chaise.

Despite our best efforts, the morning pastry was wearing off.  We’d missed the lunch rush, watching families disappear from the sand, and reappear with sandwiches.  I ventured out again and again, taking advantage of the deserted sea.

Eventually, we agreed it was time for food.  We packed up, smiled our goodbyes to the tattooed god and trudged up the stairs in search of a pizza.  Our first attempt was the restaurant.  It was short lived.  Walking along the patio above the beach, we peeked at the people who were dining.  They weren’t eating.  They were dining.  In dresses and white linen pants.  My hula-girl camo boardshorts weren’t going to cut it.

So we doubled back and hit the snack bar.  They had colorful industry signs for gelato and snacks.  And an empty case that looked like it might have held real food at some point.  I sidled up to the bar and braved a question, “qualcosa para mangiare?”

The girl looked back at me and pursed her lips, looking at the empty case.  “Un attimo.”  She disappeared into the back of the shop and reemerged with a middle-aged woman, who was carrying a good amount of sas in her mane of auburn hair.

“Di mi,” she commanded.  Okay, but tell her what?  I tried again:

“Qualcosa para mangiare?”  We were just looking for something to eat.  The people outside were eating.  Was she the keeper of the food?

“Si.  Panini?”  I nodded.  A sandwich would work.

“Formagio, salume?”  She ran down the list of ingredients, shrugging.  “Prosciutto.  Cotto o crudo?”

I looked at the Aunt.  “You want ham and cheese?  Cooked or raw?”

“Cooked.”  She was nodding.

“Cotto,” I confirmed.

“Uno?”

“Due, per favore.”  There was no way we were sharing today.

“Okay.”  She turned to walk away.

“Pero, sono vegeteriana.”  I didn’t want ham, cooked or not.

She turned halfway around, and looked at me, challenging.  “Quindi?”  So then what the hell did I want?  “Formagio?  Pomodoro?”

“Si, si.  Buono.”  I get pretty thrilled when it comes to food, and my excitement about the sandwiches this woman was about to make was starting to show.

She turned to face me fully, “buonissimo?” she asked, an amused look on her face.

“Si.  Buonissimo,” I said, smiling and giving an affirming hand gesture.

She nodded, closed her eyes briefly, and disappeared into the back room.

While we waited, we cruised around the little shop.  We looked at the gelato, and perused the bags of chips, deciding we’d probably need some of the “Wacko” brand.  A few minutes later, the auburn food commander reappeared with two wicker baskets, and two beautiful sandwiches.

The girl at the register looked at her, and the commander told her how much to charge us, shrugging as she apparently pulled the number out of thin air.  Perhaps this wasn’t where the locals were getting their sandwiches.

The little patio outside the shop was empty, and we chose a table closest to the view.

On closer examination, it was clear that the sandwiches we’d seen in people’s hands weren’t these.  Those were more like pre-packaged deli sandwiches.  These were not.

I’m not so sure how it is that we came to have these spectacular sandwiches.  We didn’t see any others like them.  We gobbled them down, along with the un-spectacular Wacko chips and a decent, no-color-added Fanta orange soda.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the pool, by the edge of the turquoise water, rimmed with mahogany cabanas, more lounge chairs, and people in colorful bathing caps.  I’d been looking forward to a dip and a swim, but first I thought I’d let my lunch digest.  Safety first, you know.

We sat and watched the kids running around the edge, the lifeguards yelling at them, the girls tucking their hair into the swimcaps.  The boys tucking their hair into the swimcaps…then the Ant noticed it.  Everyone in the pool had a cap.  90% of them looked the same:  yellow with a white racing stripe.  Maybe we needed a swimcap to go in the pool?  Interesting.

I pulled out my little dictionary (I bring it pretty much everywhere – even to the beach) and looked up swimcap.  “Cuffia.”  The Ant had seen a couple of girls picking up yellow and white packets from the front desk.  I gathered change, practiced the word, “coof-ya” and walked to the desk.

“Ciao,” one of the women was looking at me with a friendly smile.  The other looked like a puppy that someone had kicked.  “Una cuffia?”  The puppy woman looked at me like she didn’t understand.  The other responded.  “They are all done for the day, I’m sorry.”

“Can I swim without one?”  She looked shocked.

“No, I’m sorry.”

Back at the pool, I watched the swimmers taunting me.  In their colorful caps, they lazed about, up and down the lanes.  Teenage boys splashed each other.  I was quarantined to the poolside, my short hair a menace.

As we packed up, I reviewed what I’d learned that day:  if you’re hungry, ask someone to make you a sandwich; also, along with my little dictionary, I should always carry a swimcap.  These were valuable lessons for someone who likes to eat and swim.

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June 20, 2010   No Comments