Tales of a wandering lesbian

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.


“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   Comments Off on A day at the beach