I’m in Italy this week to celebrate the birthday of my sister Judy. This will be my third trip here with her and a rotating cast of relatives, and it’s a bit different from the others.1
Past visits have been working trips of sorts, with a lot of posts and even more pictures,2 but I’m determined not to do that this time. I’m going for something like To Catch a Thief, with Americans relaxing on the continent, reading in the chaise longue by the pool, dining and partying with the smart set, all punctuated with pleasant piquant adventures. Still, some updates are called for, so here we go.
On my last flight into Milan, I was surprised to see a rather otherworldly sight as the plane went over the Alps, with the clouds forming a floor and the mountain peaks sticking out above them. I didn’t get photos then, but this time I was ready, and I got a couple of photos of the view, just at dawn:
Judy and Lew met me at the airport and took me to their B&B in Chiavari. After settling in I lay down for an hour, and later on Friday we headed downtown for passeggiata, dinner and gelato.
The passeggiata is the Italian version of a promenade, or “walk in the park.” (Think “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!) It’s a rather public stroll, sometimes in a park or town square; here in Chiavari, it’s on the lungomare, or waterfront. We tourists lack finery, but we can do some opportunistic people-watching.
Italians seem to take more care with their dress than we do, and style is on display. You have the impression that people selected the parts of their wardrobe with care, even with casual dress. That sweater over the shoulders? It was selected thoughtfully and then draped for just the right effect. Judy says that Italians keep fewer items in their wardrobe, but of higher quality. My Costco cargo pants just don’t seem to make the grade. And my Merrell hikers are functional and comfortable, but certainly not stylish.
About one party in five seems to have a dog. Grassy spots are hard to find, and not all the people have those little plastic bags. Pedestrians seem to take the unfortunate results for granted. You learn to watch where you walk.
Kids seem to have a bit more freedom here, and there seems to be less hovering than we see in the States. We observed some parents who were seated in the park overlooking the waterfront, while children played on the breakwall rocks. They were scampering up, over, and around boulders as big as them, with no great signs of concern.
Motorbikes are everywhere here; they zip in and out of the auto traffic, and sometimes onto sidewalks as well. And of course, they accelerate like anything. Lew and I saw the unusual sight of a car losing an encounter with a motorbike. A parked car was making a U-turn, with a car blocking his lane–probably hoping to take his parking spot. A motorbike going in the same direction accelerated to his left around the traffic, crossing into the empty oncoming lane, and clipped the bumper of the turning car, knocking off parts of plastic bumper and light. An inch either way, and the accident could have been serious–or no accident at all!
This was all exhausting work, and we needed a lovely dinner at Luchin, followed by gelati at Gran Caffé Defilla, which has a lovely chocolate fondant sans zucchero that meets Judy’s needs for sugar-free desserts.
On Saturday John and Elaine joined us from Soglio, where they have been staying at Loconda del Sale (the “Salt Inn”) in Soglio. We worked on photo records for a while and then headed to the shops around the Piazza Mazzini. Many of the shops are on the street level of Renaissance palazzi straddling Via Martiri della Liberazione. Here’s a look down one of the colonnades.
We saw a movie theater getting ready to open the latest Bond film, No Time to Die, which was filmed partly in Matera, where we visited in 2019. So we noted the show times for tomorrow and went off for dinner.
By this time on Saturday most places required reservations, but we found tables at an Indian restaurant, named (of course) the Taj Mahal. We enjoyed the food there and had a hoot at the Kama Sutra Beer they served John.
We started Sunday with a tour of the Abbey of San Girolamo (St. Jerome) of Cervara, a 14th-century Benedictine Abbey that is now a part of the Portofino park system. Pictures aren’t allowed in most of the parts and since the tour was in Italian we didn’t necessarily get a clear idea of what was what. (I picked up an English brochure.) But the place is lovely, right overlooking the sea, and it’s worth a look on their website or the Wikipedia article. Here’s a photo of us on the courtyard.
The next day, we headed to the aforementioned Cinema Mignon–a modern theater in this 15th-century building–to see No Time to Die.
The theater is small, seating a few more than 150. The seats are offset so that each head is between the seats behind them, and it’s quite clean and comfortable. The “clean” part may get some help from the absence of the big concession hall we’re used to. Items are available from vending machines, but there are no mountains of popcorn and rivers of soda. I didn’t see anyone actually eating or drinking during the film.
A couple of observations reminded me that Italians take their film seriously. We paused at a display with artifacts from a Cannes Film Festival years ago, something that I’ve never seen at an American multiplex. And they are screening Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 Breathless.
We enjoyed the film, although none of us would claim to understand just what was happening or why. You’ll read no spoilers here. I definitely plan to see it again in English.3
After the film we made a stop at Ipercoop, which probably means “hyper-co-op.” It’s a department store, perhaps closest to Target in scope and style. In 2019, when we were staying a half hour away in Soglio, we made several visits, and now we’re staying about five minutes away. We arrived near their closing time, picked up some supplies for dinner, and headed back to the house to cook an actual meal. Rather pleasant, actually.
This update was intended to be published on Monday, but it was not to be. Lew, John, and I took a nice hike, just barely staying dry. A strong thunderstorm hit the area later in the day. That didn’t seem to interrupt our connectivity, but the same glitches that affected Facebook back in the States affected my web host, and I wasn’t able to publish.
As I hit the “publish” button this morning, it’s 7:30 on Tuesday here, and we’re getting ready to take the train to Genoa. We hear there is a tour of art! in Palazzos! Surely there is gelato there as well. Ciao for now!
This is the first of two parts of my journal from this trip. Feel free to check out Parte Seconda.
You can find Judy’s view on her blog at https://blog.judithlavezzi.com/.
- If you’re interested in seeing some past trips, you’ll find the 2013 trip here and the 2019 trip here. ↩
- I’m still trying to put them into better logical frameworks. ↩
- These mentions of the language barrier aren’t the stereotypical American whining. People here who say they know no English still know more of our language than we know of theirs. Almost everywhere we go we find people who speak English well enough, and they seem to enjoy using English. We have basic greetings, and we try to be cheerful and polite. The natives seem to appreciate the effort. The language deficiency is ours, not theirs. ↩