While island life in Ischia does not usually make sense to me, it does make lovely scents that are carried through the air like a gift from God. In fact, a walk in Ischia can make you fall in love with the place if for no other reason than the delicious smells that both relax and excite you at the same time. It’s no wonder that Baby Boy has a hard time falling asleep when we push him down the streets of Ischia in his stroller. He’s intoxicated by the scents traveling up his nose just like the rest of us.
Rounding the corner at Dolce Sosta, the coffee bar that takes credit for inventing the Bacio ice cream cone – a scoop of hazelnut gelato covered in a thick layer of firm chocolate – you take in the aroma of the baked rum and cream of pastries that are works of art. Their sweetness is quickly tempered by the ocean breeze that suddenly and unexpectedly dances on your cheeks as you head toward the shore. That combination of salt water, sand, and coconut sunblock immediately brings you to long summer days no matter the season. The salt of the sea hangs in the air just about everywhere you go on Ischia.
Had you walked in another direction, you would have picked up the woodsy scent of pine that washes over the pine tree forests, known as pinete, where children are almost always frolicking and older folks are reading a book or pressing pause on their life for just a moment. Or you might have smelled the sweet lemons that are the polka-dots of the landscape here. Their taste is like no other you’ve eaten. When you cut into an Ischia lemon and the juice squirts in your face, you smell happiness mixed with delight. And you’ll be tempted to bite into it like an apple. That’s not a mistake. People eat some of these lemons with a bit of sugar on top as though they are grapefruits. They’re that good.
When there’s a chill in the air, you will catch the aroma of burning wood coming from the natives’ homes. It’s sweet as honey and makes you feel warm, snuggly, and slightly old-fashioned. Some of the Ischitani will grill bread on that wood they are using to keep warm. The browned pane smell is as comforting as Nonna’s embrace on a winter’s night. The crunch of the bread is a song that will stick in your head as long as the deliciousness – especially if mixed with local tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil – lasts on your taste buds.
Of course, amid all this goodness lie the smells of modernity. The natives scooting along on their motorini, which unleash bursts of smoke and gas, produce charred air that lingers and mixes with the cigarette smoke coming out of the mouths of many of the natives lining the street outside their store fronts and homes. These puffs of gray clouds land on your being in stark contrast to the rest of the island’s perfume. Sometimes, it’s overpowering and depressing but in a second you’ll catch another sea breeze and you’ll forget all about this particular island smog.
Walking past the San Pietro Beach and toward the tennis courts, you will smell the few patches of grass you’ll find on property around here. As a landscaper’s daughter, this is the smell that often chokes me up. Those green blades put out the natural musk of papa’ and home and everything wonderful and special about my family’s existence. If the owners of those tiny lawns happen to be cutting the grass, the scent is even stronger, as is the pull of my American home.