Travel and Culture

Alf in Italy – La Spiaggia – Part 2

Dec 12, 2016

It’s only a short drive to the beach along the Strada Provincale 30, a narrow, sinuous, twisting, road that mostly follows the ridge before dipping into a valley before heading toward the sea. There is a common stereotype of Italians as would be Formula One drivers with only scant respect for road laws. A mayor of Napoli is reputed to have said, “Green means go, and red is just a suggestion.” Tonie’s car is something diminutive and French, with less doors than passenger capacity.

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I contort my way in to the rear seat and unsuccessfully search for a seat belt so I put that into the optional road rule category. As we head downhill toward the coast Tonie and Sandra are having an animated discussion. We race to the first bend, brake at the last second and, unrestrained I slide across the seat. Regaining my balance I see that Tonie has let go of the wheel because she needs both hands to make a point. She jerks the car back into line just before the next twist. I slide the opposite way. There is a short straight. Nothing coming. So Tonie turns to Sandra and continues her story. She is looking directly at Sandra. The car is still flying forward. In the back seat I am the only one looking through the windscreen. Again just as she is about to drive straight through a hairpin bend and take a shortcut through the undergrowth. Why worry, at the last second moment the wheel is given a jerk and we are back on course. The car slips though the bend. Oops, too fast! Stamp on the brake pedal! The only laws that apply are Newton’s so I lurch forward into the back of the front seat. Italian drivers may think they are F1 candidates but none are as capable as Tonie. She can pilot a Renault Clio without looking at the road.

We have survived until we reach Silvi. Tonie is looking for a parking spot. There’s one! Just back there on the opposite side of the road, across a median strip. She launches the Cleo into reverse against the traffic then swings through a gap in the median strip but is facing the wrong way on the opposite side. Doesn’t matter. Tonie thrusts backward again. She’s driving the wrong way in reverse. Securely parked, as she turns off the ignition, I am certain that the Clio lets out a sigh of relief to have got here in on piece.

Nearby a couple of gypsy motor homes have just arrived to set up camp. The Roma people and their tribe of sun burnished kids are sorting through chaotic piles of stuff trying to create order. There is an unkempt vacant allotment bordered by seaside scrub. We walk to the beach. To the right across a river mouth is the Grande Albergo of Montesilvano. Left is the lower rise development of Silvi Marina. I consider the beach. Not aristocratic. Both sandy and stone scattered and almost deserted. Not the place for a beach establishment but it suits Tonie perfectly. The sun shines with warm intensity and it’s free. Find the best spot you can, lay on the sand and work on deepening your tan day by day. Except for Sandra and me. We have the sort of fair skin that burns instantly with any exposure to the sun. Tonie says I look like “un cadavere”, a dead body. So we attempt to put up an umbrella to protect us but we can’t drive the pole into the stony beach. We are rescued by a couple sitting nearby who drive one hour from their village every day to roast themselves on the sand. They are portly, sixty-ish and so darkly tanned that they would draw disparaging comments for ardent supporters of the racist Northern League. He is covered with an increcedible growth of black, luxuriant body hair. He leans on the pole and it slides through the pebbles. We sit in the umbrella shade and look at the sea while Tonie stretches out on a towel like a lizard soaking up the sun. She is totally motionless roasting her skin to blackness.

Watching Tonie bake in the sun is like watching paint dry, so even though it’s very hot we head off on a beach stroll toward Silvi. Everyone we pass on the beach is in the same catatonic state. No one is even reading a book or magazine as they absorb ultra violet rays. These people are soaking up so much sun they could power small domestic appliances. How can they stay so still for so long? And why are there so few people on the beach. We leave the beach and walk back through the town along a pleasant tree lined street. Not much sign of life here either. Then I realise that it’s lunchtime and most have left the beach for lunch and will return later in the afternoon and of course no one will go into the water until an hour has past. Being in the sea with a stomach full of undigested lunch could lead to disaster.

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Our hot and sweaty return walk through Silvi seems endless. We pass shops selling holiday tack, beach gear, bars and wonder if there is a government subsidy for opening a pizza joint. The many hotels have names like Hotel Florida, Hermitage Club Hotel and Spa and my favourite, Residence Le Dune Citta’ Mediterranean. We wander on past Camping Lake Placid, a camping area complete with its own lake which is an odd grey green colour. This weird coloured water hasn’t stopped a few of the happy campers from dangling a line in the hope of hooking who knows what. It’s doubtful that anything could live in this pond of what looks like dilute slime. Of course fish are released into Lake Placid so that keen camping anglers can have a bit of sport with them. I suspect that your stomach would not be placid if you ate one.

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Opposite is a small stadium, one of the great examples of the concrete brutalist school of architecture. Totally concrete, it looks as though it has been cast in one piece. There has been no attempt to soften the lines with a curve or a change of texture. It reminded me of an abattoir. We are glad to get back to the umbrella and rest. As we rest an African hawker dressed in tribal clothes approaches. He has brought his own music and has a bag filled with gear that every beach goer is desperate to buy. Temporary tattoos, scarves, towels, sunglasses and he’ll even give a massage. He offers cheap jewellery. “It really is d’oro giallo, signori. I’m Muslim; we are not allowed to tell lies.” We are so impressed that we buy towels. He pockets the money and helps himself to our grapes and strolls off accompanied by African music. Not long after Tonie takes pity on her hot, tired guests and takes us to a bar. Cold beer does its work. A bar on the beach, a cold drink, shade and a wide sandy beach. This way the azure Adriatic, that way the lush green hills. The concrete, bitumen and traffic of Silvi is easy to ignore.

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On another day we are on the beach at San Vito where Paola and her friends used to take a tiny house for the summer. The regular spot on this beach is at the far northern end tucked between a low hill that slopes to the sea and break water and stretching over the sea from the point is a trabocco. With Franco’s tent for shelter it’s a quiet, peaceful spot. A somewhat motley group of non-Italian tourists emerge from a bus and stumble awkwardly down to the beach. Fair complexions and a complete lack of style shows that they are out of place. Especially to the Italians. I’m happy to sit back and watch the antics. They walk onto the beach in dowdy street clothes and survey the scene. Gli Italiani survey them in turn waiting to see what they do next. Unexpectedly they perform a dance routine. It goes like this. Take a towel and wrap it around your waist, put your hands on your hips and begin to wiggle, your trousers or skirt fall off, kick them away. Next shove one hand up between your legs grab your knickers and toss them on the sand. Then, and this is the tricky part, pull up your bathers without exposing the slightest hint of pubes. This East European version of burlesque will never catch on. When the squirming and one legged balancing act is over they head towards the water, men dressed in what looks like the nappy that Kirk Douglas wore as Spartacus in 1960, the women similar but with a singlet attached. Our group view them with disparaging looks but the objection to this group goes beyond lack of fashion sense. This is a small scale version of the objections that Venetians express. From almost anywhere in Europe it is possible to take a cheap bus tour to Venice, spend a short time gaping at the sites, perhaps dressed for the beach, spend as little as possible, and toss the uneaten part of your panino in a canal and leave. This type of tourism is a huge problem for the most visited sites. You can understand why when sitting at your solito posto patch of beach this invasion is not very welcome.

The beach in Pescara is many things. A place to socialise, for those who live close by it’s the large backyard they don’t have, a way to entertain kids through the long summer, a place for display in a sort of seaside passeggiata, a tourist destination and a place to declare your status to the world. Or if you are like some of the people l know it’s quite central to their lives. They wait impatiently for summer to come so they can enjoy being close to the water appreciating the view, enjoying the company of friends and relaxing in the warmth. Paola puts succinctly, “There are places where you feel at home, where you know you belong. This is mine.”

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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)

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