The landing strip lay in the sea. From the air it resembled little more than a slit in the ocean’s surface. To my surprise it didn’t increase much in size as we approached it from an easterly direction. Once safely down and stepping into the arrivals hall at Cristoforo Colombo Airport in Genoa I was reminded of Mark Twain’s first visit to the city and his impression of it. Although the ocean at the city’s feet sparkled, the city struck me as rather grimy and perhaps a tad too industrial – but what else can you expect from one of the world’s oldest port cities?! Jumping into a car due west I didn’t get much of a chance to validate my misgivings.
My real destination was a sleepy seaside town halfway between Genoa and Monte Carlo called Borghetto Santo Spirito. I was on my way to visit my family who warned me that theirs was a town for old people and if that wasn’t enough, it was recently named the ugliest place in Italy. As you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to get there.
Now if you want a bit of beach action it would be advisable to rent a couple of deck chairs – if there are still any available at this time of year (the regulars rent them on an annual basis which makes things a little tricky for the outsider). In August the beaches here get so crowded that you can hardly turn on your side without forcing everyone else around you to do so at the same time. That said a great sense of community prevails and, if your Italian is up to scratch, you won’t be lonely for long although you might still be the only pale looking person around.
The sea here is surprisingly cold compared to just a little down the coast towards the Cinque Terre region, but still refreshing and pretty clean – especially in the early mornings. With plenty of lifeguards on hand swimming far out is easy and safe – depths range from around five meters pretty far out and there are always an array of buoys to hold on to should you get a cramp or the sudden idea that taking a rest might be a good idea.
Like with most worthwhile beach towns there is preciously little to do during the day except sit back, sip on whatever it is you want to sip on and watch the world go by. Come the night however the town becomes alive with restaurants, bars and an array of nightspots to suit one and all. I was lucky enough to attend two separate food festivals called “Sagras”. The first Sagra I attended was held in little neighbouring town called Toirano of which the old centre had been cordoned off from traffic to create ample space from which to prepare and serve an astonishing selection of local (cheap but great tasting!) food and wine. The festival was separated into a vegetarian section as well as a meat section and, being an ardent yet slightly confused carnivore, I found myself stuck in the vegetarian section for most of the night. The second Sagra was held in a forest clearing high up on a neighbouring hill overlooking the bay. The wine and food here were even cheaper than the first time around and I certainly made up for not having had any meat by having one of the most delicious Tripe (lovely?!) dishes I had ever tasted.
For those who can’t wait for such nightly festivities and who like to get a bit of retail therapy done while getting first degree burns and digging their toes into the sand the constant flow of beach peddlers, selling anything from beach towels down to the most expensive designer wares, must seem like something sent from above. Almost all peddlers are immigrants from North African countries such as Morocco and Ghana (incidentally also the name of the local peddler “Godfather”). I am tempted to say most of these peddlers are the same illegal immigrants which the present rightist government of Silvio “Ill Duce” Berlusconi is trying to keep out of Italy. Curious as I am I decided, in all earnest, to try and steal a couple of shots of the peddlers in action. This turned out to be a mistake. Everything went fine for about an hour or so until one peddler caught me with my camera trained on him – mistaking me for Inspector Gadget. To merely say that he was a little upset would have been an understatement. Dropping his bag he briskly walked over to me, crouched down on both legs and demanded, in near perfect Italian, that I delete the picture I had taken of him (well I guess that’s what he said seeing as I don’t speak Italian..). I deleted the picture to appease the man – it had been a rubbish shot anyway. He eventually left mumbling something about how disgusting this and that.
The experience stayed with me for the remainder of my time along the “Italian Riviera”. I can understand the suspicion and fear. Some of these immigrants have gone through so much to reach these shores – the slightest threat (real or imagined) could seem like the end of the world to them; a world into which I had slipped into so effortlessly only a couple of days before; a world from which I eventually exited again as if I had never been there. To some extent this is what attracts me to Italy – every time you go there it feels just like the first time.
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Through the grapevine: Bordeaux