Francesca visits Villa Arbusto on the island of Ischia. © Photo by Antonio Gerenini
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Chapter Twenty-Nine – Ischia through New Eyes
Feeling compelled to show me a similarly good time to the one I showed him in the States, Tony served as my boyfriend and tour guide on my first trip to Italy since we became an official couple. Even though I had seen Ischia a million times before, Tony was showing me sides of the island I never knew. For starters, I was staying with his family in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital and gateway. My family, on the other hand, comes from the other side of the island, the towns of Barano and Buonopane. Ischia Porto is supposed to be the sophisticated “city,” whereas Barano and Buonopane are more the “country.” The people from Porto usually had less menial jobs than others, whereas those from Barano and Buonopane were peasants who worked the land.
My time in Ischia before dating Tony was usually spent gathered around the kitchen tables of my relatives eating or hiking to Buceto, woods where my family had land that they used for planting grapes for winemaking and other vegetables for selling. Our cousins who lived in Ischia would take us on a giro d’isola, which meant we’d all pile into one of their compact cars that seats four to five max. We’d be sitting on each other’s laps and passing icons of Ischia – from the rock shaped like a mushroom in Lacco Ameno to the church of Soccorso in Forio – while sitting on each other’s laps stuffed like sardines in the car.
Rarely did we ever get out of the car during one of these trips. We always visited the island in the winter because my father was a landscaper and that was the only time of year he could take time off. You might think that Ischia, an island, would be a delight in the winter. You’d be wrong. It’s bone-chilling cold there once November hits. There’s lots of humidity due to the vicinity of the ocean. Although the temperature doesn’t drop nearly as low as it does in my native New Jersey, it feels like you’re in a freezer. You feel cold to your bones. None of the homes are heated. Homeowners use fireplaces and electric heaters, and they might use a heating system for a couple of hours in the morning or evening but not all day, nor will it be as high as ours. My brother, sister, and I would all sleep huddled in the same bed, and we’d wear sweat pants, sweatshirts, winter coats, and wool hats to sleep sometimes. We were quite the vision.
With Tony, I was having a different experience entirely. I was only spending significant time with the family members he knew, namely Roberto and his girlfriend Lisa. Before I was like a native whenever I was in Ischia, but now I was a true tourist. Tony took me to see Villa Arbusto, a museum about the island’s history. And we went out to dinner to restaurants that were both romantic and authentic, showing off the island’s cuisine (beyond what my relatives make in their home kitchens). I also met a whole new set of people, some of whom I’d grow to admire and many of whom would not turn out to be who I thought they were.
Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.