My next week on the Italian Riviera, was filled with hope and opportunities of enjoying Italian life. After a week of gaining the courage to speak any of the language that could be heard above a croaky whisper, I was told that I have ‘bellissimo Italiano’ skills, by my breakfast waiter. I’m a perfectionist and really make an effort to speak with the correct pronunciation, because for me, I believe it shows effort and respect for the culture and its people. So I was stoked to hear that I was on the right track, by an Albanian migrant.
Italy has thrown me some great train tales and this week had turned into the one of persistent men stories. I was walking along the boulevard hoping to take some pictures of the rows of outstretched loungers and matching closed umbrellas. I could hear some footsteps quickly approaching from behind; so I stopped and poised my phone toward the town, to let them carry on.
I nearly got a fright when a man in his mid-fifties popped up beside me, cocked his head and started rattling off a bunch of questions and phrases. I let out a confident “Io non copisco Italiano.” To which came a string of Italian sentences with a couple of English words thrown in here and there, as he stepped closer and closer, into my personal space. From what I could understand, he was asking; where I was from, what I was doing in Varazze, telling me that I was beautiful like the scenery, that he’d like to take a picture of me on his phone, and that he’d like to take me for coffee. “Non” came my swift reply on repeat. Every step I took back, he moved in, until he was in my face and I hurriedly said “Ciao”.
I gapped it out of there, weaving in and out of strolling pedestrians. I reached the marina and started composing pictures of the boats. I could feel something brush up against my shoulder. There he was again with his smile revealing crooked yellowing teeth… all up in my business. I was polite but ignored his requests to accompany me to the restaurants around the harbour and tried not to stare at the piece of food sticking up from his pock marked nose. Once again I buggered off with haste, hoping that he wouldn’t follow me like a stray cat.
Sunday at the marina was abuzz with fancy gold watches, the clip clop of heels and the relaxed clink of glasses between friends. I decided to treat myself and dine with the richies, amid the car club display of Ferraris and Porsches that were lined up in front of the sparkling launches and yachts. Hoping I would slip under the radar with my Ted Baker trousers and my salty breeze swept hair, I was pegged back down to earth by nearly choosing a table with dried scraped dog shit, under one of the chair legs.
Finally, a salad! The crunch and greens that I’d craved… a large Caesar with chicken and a glass of pinot grigio that had some ‘good legs’, slipping down the glass after each sip. I watched the passersby with their real Gucci handbags, 70 degree platforms with slim fit jeans and most curiously, an adult son showing affection toward his mother in a way that a boyfriend would dote on his girl, back home in NZ. There is however, a lot to be said for a well-fitted blazer and a pair of mind-blowing pants.
Just by looking, you could tell who owned the yachts and who wanted to own yachts. The Porsche sales people sat casual yet aloof, encouraging potential customers with well-kept hair and tanned legs. The man was a European version of a car salesman back home; fitted jeans with a jacket slung across his shoulder, propping up a pole and looking longingly into the distance, thus screaming potential for a photo shoot for an eau de parfum por homme ad.
It was with a sly smile that crowed across my face, that I had noticed a leggy blond in her casual Sunday’s best and platform wedges. She was taking serious interest in the latest model Porsche for sale, with her husband and daughter. She was also the first Italian woman that I’d seen with a visible panty line. Pride in appearance is paramount here, and if she knew, I doubted whether she’d had left the house in that attire.
The rest of my meals that day had gone downhill. There was the enticing sounding swordfish that was bland and overcooked, followed by the gelato from an angry old woman who had no patience for my non English speaking attempts. Her store was empty and she had no one else to serve. It did not taste good.
On Monday I had begun the week with the day trips in mind and making a pact with me to enjoy my last week in Italia. I decided to incorporate some exploration with some fitness, so I took a walk around the coastline to the next town over, Cella Ligure.
The road jutted out, interrupting the craggy cliff face into the sea. I passed by an abbey in the hill, a nun poised with a camera out to the sun-flecked ocean. I spotted sunbathers in conversation, draped over big black rocks, and a set of abs repainting some beach bungalow rooves in preparation for the summer crowd. The village was serenely lazy, with some folks out meandering and the retired resting and admiring the day. I stopped to watch a pointer dog that had stopped to watch an insect. His statue stance had the old biddies swooning and cackling at the scene.
I’d made sure to come back at a reasonable time, because I had made friends with my hotel cleaner. A few days previously, I’d come back to my place and she was busy changing my sheets. Covered in a small sweat from my walk, I’d waited for her to finish. She came and nattered to me as I had enquired about her day. She was a sweet wee thing from Romania, who’d been settled here for fifteen years, and was quite partial to talking up a storm. She’d invited me to come shopping for an outfit to wear to her son’s communion, in Genoa this afternoon.
I donned a pretty dress and bright pink lipstick, for the occasion. Romania had bought along her bag carrier and driver, her Sicilian husband, a local policizia. He didn’t speak any English, but she made up for it with excitable conversations with me, that made her laugh and interpret to him. He would grin and I would smile, happy that my humour had translated cross continent.
I was taken through the narrow streets of old town and given the low down on the culture and the growing amount of illegal immigrants who continued to sneak into the country and overload the system. We covered up and entered a famous church, with hushed tones and quiet notes of thought. In Venti Settembre, we dragged the husband through boutique stores and I helped Rom pick out an outfit while she gushed at our new found friendship. When we left, Rom pointed out a famous TV magician who had walked passed us in the street. Husband had played it cool, while I had been preoccupied by looking into a deli at its treats.
I was invited to their place for dinner and of course I said ‘Si, grazie!’ Rom introduced me to her father who could only speak Romanian, and her son who spoke Italiano, Romanian, and a handful of words and phrases in English. He was excited to have a guest, as he taught me some Italiano while he pointed out what he was doing in his mafioso Playstation game. Rom apologised for the state of her home, which was perfectly fine, but was delighted to show me every nook and cranny with a great big smile.
I was served a taste of Sicilian dessert vino, ever so sweet and moreish. At the dinner table, we had spaghetti con pesto al fresca, with bread and cold cuts.
“You don’t have to eat it all,” she said, as my hungry belly hoed into the pasta.
I wondered why everyone else had left straggly spaghetti bits on their plates. She removed the plates and went off to the kitchen for a while. So I politely picked some massive olives, bread, cheese and prosciutto to gnaw on. I was full and my glass of vino o bianco was empty. A plate of pork chops and a large bowl of salad was placed centre table and a glass of champagne in front of me. I had the smallest chop and some salad. Rom offered another, to which I stretched back into my chair and was given some more wine. I was dropped back to the hotel, full and slightly tipsy.
The next day I woke to a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I rested, having felt ill. Sicily thought he’d fed me too much vino, but it was more than that, it was me feeling light-headed and tired. I stayed in bed all morning, which is difficult to do when you can see the Riviera sunshine and a cloudless sky outside.
By lunchtime I’d peeled myself out of bed and decided that I should catch the late spring sunshine, at a strip of non-paying beach. A place where the locals would bring their towels and not spend euros on a beach lounger and umbrella’d spot. Plucky salespeople that had traipsed the promenade would step around the outstretched legs, trying to sell their wares; stacks of sunglasses, armfuls of handbags, and occasionally this weird mini sewing machine that looked like a stapler slowly stitching thread powered by a snapping hand motion. Who knows why the feck anyone would want or need that crazy little device, especially while they are enjoying the warm rays, at the beach? I wondered what their hit rate was for sales, as I nestled my head into my sarong and avoided their “Bella’s!” and eye contact.
Dinner was a pick me up picnic in my room. A scoffing of chips, followed by bread sticks smeared in leftover soft cheese and wrapped in prosciutto strips, finished off with bread sticks dipped in a cheap Nutella version with a white section called crema. If I didn’t feel sick earlier, my stomach felt poorly for ravishing that food. Back to bed I was, even though I could not stop myself from eating the crema.
Well into the swing of mini adventures on the Riviera, my next blog will fill you in on being stuck in a fanatic football finale crowd and continue with more stories of being stalked by old men.