It’s a warm day in July during this year’s summer vacation, which is longer than usual since our daughter Sophie has finished high school and taken a European trip with a group of teenagers to celebrate four years of nearly perfect grades. The day begins with a phone call from the internet company tech guys who are about to arrive to install a wifi connection in our house. We’ve managed without wifi for the 12 years we’ve been coming here, making do with phone connections when the signal is good at one corner of our house, or at the beach. Occasionally when Sophie has had to access the web for homework, we’ve driven around neighboring towns with the laptop open, on the lookout for an unlocked signal.
Since Sophie will start college in a month, Jesse may begin to do some of his work here, I need connection to post blog entries, and we’ll hopefully be spending more time here in the coming years, the moment has arrived to get connected. The world is in tumult in these days– a failed coup in Turkey has led to uncertainty in the government; the Republican convention in the U.S., followed by the Democratic with scandal and dishonesty rampant in both; increasing gun violence in the U.S.; and what seems to be a new terrorist attack somewhere in the world every few days, it’s hard to know how much news we really want. Our town is peaceful and slow. We feel sheepish only worrying about what to make for lunch, how to stay cool in the punishing heat, why the sage plant isn’t flourishing.
The two tech guys show up on schedule. They’re young, handsome, competent and know enough English to solicit our answers on the decisions that need to be made to install the antenna. Our antenna has to make visual contact with a larger antenna in a town some 10K away. Because our gigantic, ancient oak tree is blocking the view, our antenna can’t be tucked away on a corner of the roof. Rather, it is anchored to the front of the house, right above the window to the pantry. It’s gray plastic, about the size of a dinner plate and to get the router wire into the house, the tech guys drill a hole into our 24″ thick walls with their 60 cm. drill bit. It’s painful to watch and the antenna mars the unsullied surface of the front of the house. But such is the price of technology.
We don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for the installation and one year’s service, so they follow us into town and have a coffee at the bar while we clamber up the hill to get money from the Bancomat and stop at the bakery for some bread for lunch. The bar, of course, is where many important transactions and interactions take place. So, sitting at a table and counting out the money to pay these guys is nothing unusual. After they leave and we’re enjoying one of nature’s perfect breakfasts– a jam-filled brioche (una marmellata) and a cappuccino, we’re joined by Festim, a highly skilled Albanian muratore (construction worker) who’s done a lot of work at our house and is currently building a 50-meter wall for some Americans restoring a house in the next town over. He tells us with some wistful envy of his cugino (cousin), Tony, who lives in New York. It’s unclear whether Tony owns a pizza shop, delivers pizza, or works in maintenance at LaGuardia Airport, but he’s got an American passport, a fidanzata (girlfriend) and a cell phone. We take his number and promise to reach out to bring greetings from his cugino who now lives in Italy with his family.
Also dropping by for a conversation is Marcello, the geometra with whom we’d worked on re-mapping our property when we were buying the house and who’s now a good friend. It’s hot and he asks if we are planning to build a swimming pool at our house. No thanks, we say, too much trouble– we’ll stick with the town pool. Somehow talk turns to gardening. “Ehn,” cautions Marcello, “Un orto fa più problemi che una piscina.” (a garden makes for more trouble than a swimming pool) Paolo, the owner of the bar, has now joined in, and talk turns to the weather, the heat, and when/if the public pool at the Girasoli agriturismo will open. We’ve heard that today’s the day– we’ve been driving past everyday to see if the gate is open. So we take off in the car and barrel down the hill. The gate is open! But the smiling owner is there and wags his finger at us. “Non oggi, ma domani, sicuro.” (not today, but certainly tomorrow)
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is blaring, it’s 12:30. We go home, throw on our bathing suits and take off for the beach. It’s about a 45 minute drive that will get us there just in time for lunch. The beach at Porto San Giorgio is typical Italian. Big umbrellas and lettini (beach lounge chairs) in close rows on a sandy beach gently sloping down to the Adriatic. It’s not as clear or blue as the Mediterranean, but it’s buoyantly salty, refreshing, clean, calm, not too deep. The lungomare is lined with concessions and we’ve been eating at Quadrifoglio, our favorite, for 12 years now. They know us as “Brooklyn” since Jesse often bikes to the beach proudly wearing his Brooklyn Chewing Gum jersey with the colors of the Italian flag. It’s always interesting to see how it’s spelled when “Brooklyn” is written in the reservation book. The restaurant is owned by a friendly pair of young men, twins. We’ve watched them grow up over the years, get married, have babies, remodel the restaurant. It is the best spaghetti vongole, calamari fritti, pesci grigliati and insalatone con mozzarella fresca e tonno that we’ve ever had– we never tire of it. We end our meal with cafe del nonno— a creamy, drinkable coffee sorbet served in a champagne glass– the perfect digestivo.
Satiated and content, we waddle down to our lettini, read or nap for a while. I like to swim laps along the shoreline, midway between the jetty and the water’s edge. Today it’s windy and the water is a bit choppy. Swimming north is like being in one of those lap pools with its own current– you’re working really hard and getting nowhere. Swimming south with the wind gets you three blocks along the shore in no time. Sophie likes to collect beach glass with which she makes jewelry; Jesse goes for a jog. It’s crowded, noisy and completely peaceful. No one minds being within such close proximity to others. The tranquility is only broken at exactly 5:30 every day when for some reason the radio is blasted throughout the beach. It’s mostly ads for supermarkets, laundromats, cleaning products and upcoming local feste (holidays). It lasts for 20 minutes, we sleepily try to understand the Italian and barely notice when it stops.
I love the ride back from the beach. We’re a little sun-blasted, tired from swimming, sticky with saltwater and sand. The car windows are open wide, the radio’s on, we’re anticipating a shower, soap and another good meal. Heading toward the mountains and away from the sea, the air begins to cool down, especially when we start the upward climb to our town– it’s approaching sunset and the heat’s not so brutal.
After we’ve all cleaned up, I make a zucchini/pecorino frittata for dinner, plus there’s that potato focaccia I got for lunch that we didn’t eat. We eat outside on the loggia, watching the nightly spectacular sunset. Around 10:00, we drive into town for a gelato. We walk up the steep, cobbled road, through the Porta Marina and the Portarella to the main piazza. It’s the last day running Bar Centrale for Corrado, who’s had the bar for as long as we can remember. He’s off on a different leg of his life’s journey. We’re sad to see him go and sad to see that the simple neon sign above the bar’s arched arcade has already been removed. So much change in one day!
We wander with our gelati over to the parco giochi (playground) where a few children are running around, their parents are chatting on the benches, and the old guys are playing their cutthroat bocce in the corner. Up on the Terrazza Belvedere where there’s another makeshift bar, a few people are having drinks, the teenagers are pairing off together deeper into the park. We’ve heard the guy who runs this bar will be taking over Bar Centrale. It’s a quiet evening, we don’t see anyone we know, so we head home. And then everyone in my little family turns on their devices to see the news and update podcasts and email– we’ve now got internet! Change comes to our town and our quiet casa in campagna. The next day we go online and together watch the speeches given by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention. It’s good in its way to have heard these speeches– each one inspiring– and to be reconnected with our imperfect world. Our daughter will go to college and we’ll be able to see her face across the ocean when we’re here. Change comes to our house, our town– life goes on.