Alf in Italy – A mid summer’s night, PescaraFeb 26, 2016
It’s August: hot, humid, the still air smells damp. It is evening and the temperature has not started to drop. Paola is driving us to Pescara for dinner. Perhaps by the sea it will be cooler and more comfortable. We wind downhill toward the coast along the serpentine county road, past vineyards trained pergola style, olive groves, farmhouses. Ever present behind us is the mass of Grand Sasso and the Apennines. On a hill to the north is Atri, a village dating back to the Romans, perhaps beyond. On a hill to the south Citta’ Sant’Angelo, medieval Centro Storico and a marvellous view across hills to the sea and city. There are ploughed fields, patches of wood, a farmer driving a tractor home, hills separated by streams, slopes sculpted by erosion. This idyll is being rudely prodded by fingers of urban housing creeping along the ridges. But this is not manicured Tuscany. This is real, true, honest Italy. Here the good and the bad are both on display.
Under the Autostrada and we are in twenty first century, urban Italy with crazy traffic on an inadequate road system, supermercati with sprawling carparks, apartment buildings of various degrees of architectural merit. Here’s yard full of concrete garden statues. “What are you looking for Signore? The Seven Dwarves? Mussolini?” Both are displayed by the roadside. We turn toward the beach. We are going to eat fish. Living in a coastal city, the Pescarese adore feasting on fish and so there are many beachside restaurants serving seafood. It’s to one of these that we are going tonight. We park and walk into the restaurant. There is no relief here. It’s still sweltering even though the restaurant is right on the beach.
There’s a teenage girl there to meet us and I presume direct us to our table immediately. There are many vacant tables and I am not yet used to eating at Italian dinner time. Sandra’s aunt once said as we were heading off to dinner, “Why have we booked for eight o’clock? Only waiters eat then!” Now I’m put out if a restaurant offers me the 6.30pm sitting. “Don’t you have a table at a civilised time?” We can’t sit at those vacant tables because they are not for dinner. So we wait. There are diners waiting and vacant tables but no chance of them getting together. My stomach rumbles. It’s 9.30pm when the owner nods to the girl that she can sit us down. We study the menu and call her over to take our order. No, this is wrong. Only the padrone (owner) can take orders. What is she here for? Possibly this is a case of providing a job for a family member who has no hope of finding work otherwise. Youth unemployment is an intractable problem in Italy
Fortunately the food is good: mantis shrimp, cuttlefish and monkfish. The conversation in Italian is beyond me so I look around. At a window table opposite is a distinguished looking late middle aged man who looks exceptionally satisfied with life. He seems to be enjoying his brodetto immensely. The much younger woman he is with could have something to do with that. The enticing smell of the fish soup drifts over our table
Taking a sip of Trebbiano I lean back in my chair. The television is on. I impale a piece of monkfish with my fork. The action on the screen catches my eye. The couple in the movie are undressing each other and have fallen on the bed and are now going for it with gymnastic enthusiasm. Don’t they care that a whole restaurant full of people is watching? Makes a nice change from the news. At Signor Pleasedwithmyself’s table they seem to have the same plan for the night. Over a digestivo she takes keys out of her bag and drops them in front of him. Subtle! With a twinkle in his eye and just a hint of a smirk he slides them into his pocket.
Even though it remains hot and humid the shutters are pulled down and there is not the slightest drift of moving air. The heavy atmosphere is uncomfortably warm and stuffy. The idea of walking out straight into cooling the sea is appealing. The wind rises and it begins to rain. No one moves to throw the shutters open and let in the cool, fresh air. To me this would be the sensible thing to do. Everyone is hot and uncomfortable inside. Relief in the form of cool air is outside. Sensible to me but not to Italians! Moving cool air is a dangerous thing. A “corrente d’aria”, a draught could flood the room with cool air. This could cause a “colpo d’aria”, a chill, which in turn could cause a fever. Apparently it’s better to risk heat stroke than suffer a fever. No one seems willing to alleviate the heat by letting some moderating air into the restaurant Losing patience, Sandra takes unilateral action, jumps up and begins to throw open the shutters letting in a refreshing breeze. The temperature drops 10 degrees. No one gets a chill or develops a fever.
As we leave the rain is now pelting down and I am going to drive back home but I have not driven this car before. Where are the lights and where is the wiper switch? Visibility is about 20 metres. Slowly we crawl along sloshing along a road that is now a river. At least we are cool. Out of the city we creep along the serpentine road through the storm. Streams of muddy water surge across the road making it impossible to see were the edge is. We arrive home glad to be refreshed at last. We walk through the door into a sauna. Every door and window is tightly shut and just to be certain the shutters are closed as well. Instantly reheated and perspiring, we race upstairs to our room. Risking chills, fevers and who knows what other dangers to our well being we open the windows. As I lean out to push back the wooden shutters a fresh, soothing “corrente d’aria” washes over me. I’ve never been so pleased to put my heath at risk!
Follow me, AKA Sandra’s husband, on my journeys in Italy as this sometimes bewildered Anglo-Saxon tries to understand this beautiful, complex, contradictory, frustrating and absolutely fascinating country.
(Written by Alf)