A quiet beach is a sanctuary. In the evening in Ischia, when all the chairs are closed and the sand is cleared of debris, you walk. You might even dip your toes in the sea. The night breeze tickles your face and whips your hair. You squeeze the hand of your beloved. Or pull your shawl close to you. Along with clear beach, your mind clears. Looking out into the darkness of the sea, you recognize that everything is bigger than you. For a moment, you feel as though you have been swallowed whole. Then, you look down at your feet. They are dug into the sand and the tip of a wave splashes them. Things begin to come into focus.
Now, You Can Think
All around you is peace. This is your chance to get lost in your thoughts. You can focus on whatever issue is of the utmost importance in that moment. Maybe in the still of the beach you will find answers. Most importantly, by spending this time with yourself, you will better understand who you are. Maybe you’ll figure out what meaning life has for you.
Island life stands still. The ocean waves crash onto the shore. It renders everything else – perhaps, most of all, the people – motionless. The scalding sun beats down on them like the rhythm of a Metallica drum. So, the cool waters lure them like the sirens of Greek mythology. When they have had their fill and they return to the shore, they sleep. It’s a deep rest brought on by the soothing lullaby that is the sea.
Visions of floating green hills and crisp blue skies visit their dreams. When they awake, they are met with a pink and orange sunset, the type you’d imagine described in a romance novel. The perfume of roses and bougainvillea hangs in the air. Indeed, you don’t have to stop to smell flowers. They hit you right in the face. They’re intoxicating. As day turns to evening the breeze forces the beach babes to cover their bronzed, oiled skin. But a bit of beach remains in their locks well into the night. Any suitors who approach will surely take it all in. More intoxication.
Crazy Time on the Island
Night and day, it all runs together. Visitors lured by the island’s charms find they sleep until noon, eat dinner at 10 at night, and frolic well past dawn. While that may seem like madness under normal circumstances, it perfectly suits them on the island. When the sun rises and they still find themselves on the main drag, steps away from the beach, they think nothing of it. It’s as though this happens all the time. No matter they stole a kiss from someone they barely know. Or danced on a pole. Or went topless on the beach. The heat, the surf, the endless beauty all around them make it natural and therefore acceptable.
For the tourist, this is fine and well. What happens on the island is the stuff of a locked journal. It’s an adventure to be cherished but not oft repeated or discussed. For the native, the island’s charms, which bring them livelihood, could very well kill them. Where the tourist welcomes lazy days and wild nights, the native must avoid both. Yet, the scent of the sea, tremendous heat, and unavoidable tan flesh has the power of hypnosis. If they are not careful, they can be dragged into an eternal spring break. Responsibility be damned.
Even if they manage to unwind themselves from the tentacles of the island, the stillness can get them. Or at least it’s a murderer of their ambitions. Those who stay, perhaps find comfort in the known. A few rise above on the home shores and find success running a restaurant or hotels or stores or entertainment venues. Or they become professionals, the type of people every society needs. There’s definitely a simplicity to island life, and the appeal is easy to understand. It’s that sense of security that keeps college grads behind the bar serving drinks and 50-year-old sons clutched in mamma’s arms.
In the Little Pond
Of course, the smallness of the place keeps everyone contained. They are confined to the labels they long ago inadvertently agreed to don. And they are kept at a distance from the outside world. It is feet they must walk and not miles. So, they play their roles. Some play them well. In fact, many find contentment in this smaller life on an island. Others remain like stiff sand sculptures unable to break free, suffocating. What is ironic is also sad; the very beauty of the island, what draws visitors to it, is the poison that can keep some of the natives from ever moving.
Nonetheless, every now and then, the sun peeks out from the trees. The crashing waves wakes up the mind and stirs the soul. That’s when the native fights the heat and pushes the stillness. And that little world spins and spins. Then, something remarkable happens. There is movement, there is life, even for the original dwellers. Finally, tourist and native alike get to reap the rewards.
This famous Italian proverb about love may seem obvious. But many of us try to control love and the whims of our heart. It’s more difficult to navigate than we ever imagine. Yet, we keep trying. This saying, “L’amore domina senza regole,” is a reminder of our impotence. Love is greater than our instinct to rule. There’s no getting around it, in fact. Whatever is in our heart holds the most power. It’s useless for any of us to fight those feelings. We are better off accepting them. Of course, we have to realize that without rules, anything can happen.
The Italy vaccine controversy was gripping the country when I arrived in early summer. Now, the government has made vaccinating your children compulsory.
Parents must have their children vaccinated against 12 diseases, including measles, or face a hefty fine. Children who are not vaccinated up to 6 years old will not be accepted into state-run schools. Parents face fines up to $8,380 for children over 6 who are not vaccinated. And repeat offenders could lose custody of their kids all together, according to NPR.
What Motivated the Decision To Force Vaccinations
I wrote about the debate that was going on earlier in the summer for the Our Paesani column on ItaliansRus. Some of you chimed in with your comments on the Italian Mamma Facebook page. In June 2017, as a measles outbreak plagued the nation, the Italian government was wondering out loud about what to do. More than 3,000 measles cases have been reported in Italy in 2017. At least 35 people have died from the disease across Europe, according to a July 11 story in BBC. In fact, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory for Italy as a result of the numerous cases.
Much like Americans, Italians politicized vaccines in recent years. Specifically, the 5-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, suggested vaccines were a prop of the pharmaceutical industry. More recently, this populist political party has taken a page out of the U.S. It has spouted the idea that vaccines lead to autism, which has not been proven. Indeed, in 2014, the political party proposed legislation that linked vaccines to various illnesses, including autism and allergies, as reported by BBC.
The Current Situation
People started to believe the malarkey. Why shouldn’t they? The pharma companies have been pretty greedy. Certainly, vaccines have some side effects. With all the noise, it’s hard for parents to know what to believe. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time doctors were wrong. There was a time when these folks were pushing cigarettes and diet pills. So, the rate of vaccinations for measles dropped to 85 percent, which is well below the threshold of 95 percent. That threshold is what scientists say helps stop the disease from spreading among those in the general public. As long as 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, then the disease is pretty much finished.
Italy has reported more than 3,000 cases of measles in the country in 2017, so far. Making vaccines compulsory is an attempt to address the outbreak. Of course, it also could prevent other illnesses from spreading. The issue has become a cause for parents of children who have weak immune systems. They are pleading with officials to back off trying to appeal or weaken the new law. Still, parents on the other side of the debate continue to protest. They say this law takes away their freedom to choose.
A happy Monday in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy, isn’t hard to achieve. The fact is that the natives long for Mondays in the summer. All the tourists come for the weekend, so they are catering to whims all weekend long. “Put the umbrella over here.” “Per favore, bring me a prosecco.” “It’s 1 a.m., I’m buzzed, and I locked myself out of the villa…again.” True story. These are just a few of the antics with which the natives of a beach lover’s paradise have to deal.
On Monday, many of the travelers go home. Often, the natives get a reprieve. Things are just a little slower until they hit Thursday again. So, Monday is met with pleasure. An American with an office gig, I have a hard time getting used to this upside down calendar. But every now and then in Ischia, I give in and head to the beach on Monday morning. It’s like starting the week off with meditation.
While my American colleagues are still snoozing, I’m taking a dip in the sea. Or with my feet dug in the sand, I’m writing in my journal. The views are spectacular. For a writer, it’s a way to discover inspiration. You can close your eyes, zone out, and conduct some introspection. The ideas flow from there. Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate this form of recharging yourself. Join me on this fine Monday morning in pictures.
A Place in the Sun
This morning, we changed up our beach routine. We headed for Luigi a Mare, which is both a beach front for renting lounge chairs and a restaurant. The plan was to spend some time on the beach first. Then, we would walk to the back and eat one of the sublime lunches at the restaurant. Our friend is a chef there. He sent over a delightful apperitivo. That’s a small pre-meal bite, usually accompanied by an alcoholic beverage. Those who know me are probably wondering if I partook. I definitely ate the cheese and chips. But I left the alcohol for my husband and the chef to enjoy beachside. Still, I’m sure many of you are imagining yourselves sipping prosecco while drying off right about now.
One of my favorite things to do at the beach in Ischia is to watch the boats – sailboats, motor boats, row boats, yachts. They are sometimes completely still in the middle of the sea. Seeing the island by boat is something I’ve done a number of times. And it is always remarkable; you always discover some new nook or giant rock protruding out of the water or patch along the shore. However, when you’re on the sand looking out at the boats, you can use your imagination. I like to make up stories about where the boat is going or where it has been. Of course, you can make endless speculation about who is aboard.
First Small Bite
“Crudo” means raw in in Italian. This is how many people like to sample Ischia’s fresh shellfish. I am not the biggest fan. But my husband “cooked” the shrimp for me by drenching it in lemon. It wasn’t bad. My husband devoured it with a big smile on his face. If you’re into it, then Ischia is the place to eat it.
On this lovely little tray, we received salmon, breaded swordfish, and a lightly dressed salad of thinly sliced octopus with fennel, tomatoes, and capers. It was perfect in its simplicity. My favorite of the three has always been the breaded swordfish. But I found the salad slightly tangy and refreshing on a hot summer day. You easily could make a whole meal of this antipasto. We split it in two. Already, we were feeling full. But who could resist the “primo piatto” that was still to come?
Treasures of the Sea
My favorite meal in Ischia is any pasta dish with clams. While I love to eat clams in the United States, too, the taste is entirely different here. It’s better in Ischia. Obviously, here all the fish is fresher. You often see the fisherman lifting the goods out of the sea and handing them over to the chefs cooking for you. These beauties are called vongole veraci. The small size and two little tabs attached to each give away their identity. They are sweeter and lighter than any clam I’ve eat in the U.S. This gives a distinctly different taste to the pasta. Unlike in the U.S., Italian clam pasta recipes never call for anything but clams, its juices, olive oil, and maybe light seasoning.
Aglio olio, which means garlic and oil, is the standard meal in a pinch in Italy. Everyone knows how to make it. However, this version includes a bed of raw shrimp under the traditional pasta. My husband says it brings new life to an old favorite. I don’t know about the taste because I’m not the biggest “crudo” fan. But the presentation is sublime.
The Sweetest Ending
In a previous post, I explained how these cannoli will be the death of me. But I will die a happy, happy woman. Honestly, cannoli are not usually my thing. But these are traditional like the ones in Sicily, the originals. That means the fried dough shell is stuffed with a smooth ricotta filling. But the base of the ricotta is goat’s milk as opposed to cow’s milk, which is all we know of Stateside. You will eat these cannoli and think of nothing else. Getting your next fix will become your life’s goal.
The best New Jersey day trips are the ones spent with loved ones. They are inclusive, so even young children can participate. And they offer something different from the norm. While the state often gets a bad reputation, it provides endless opportunities for both studying and enjoying life. As a Jersey girl, born and raised, I have had the chance to visit all these places. Nowadays, I bring my son, niece, and nephew. What makes these little adventures the best for me is their ability to spark the imagination. They are educational and fun all at once. And they make for the perfect time out during the summer, when everyone is a little freer.
Here, you can pick your own fruits and vegetables in season. Also, special events to honor holidays and celebrations are draws for the whole family. During many of the events, kids can go on a hay ride, ride a little wagon train, jump in the moon bounce, and climb stacks of hay. They can also ride a pony and visit with the farm animals. In addition, there are always holiday appropriate activities like picking pumpkins at Halloween and searching for eggs at Easter. Sometimes, you can tour the apple cider mill and see how it’s made. The samples are delicious. In July, there is a strawberry festival and a blueberry festival . In August, you can participate in the Peach Harvest Festival and Jersey Fresh Harvest Festival. You might consider the pancake breakfasts. On Farm Fun days, the little ones can do pretty much all those special event activities. When you tire of the farm, the quaint and charming Chester neighborhood awaits.
Turtle Back Zoo offers another opportunity to get close to nature. At this small zoo, kids can take a train ride, spin on the carousel, and see some impressive animals up close. The tortoises, penguins, and giraffes are favorites with most. Now, lions have joined the mix. The sea turtle rescue area is educational. You see the recovering wild sea turtles and get educated on how zookeepers help them. Another good time is the aviary, where you can feed parakeets. They land on your feet and hand. Careful not to roll over them if you have a stroller. Of course, TBZ also offers the chance to ride a pony.
AC is not the first place in Jersey to come to mind when you’re planning to hang out with kids. After all, the casinos are what make the place famous. But you’d be surprised to know that there are actually some fun things to do with kids, even on the Boardwalk. For starters, there’s a beach. The adults can take turns watching the kids and playing the slots. Also, there’s shopping galore. Outlets are within walking distance, and a mall is right on the Boardwalk. Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a fun museum with outrageous, unbelievable exhibits. Of course, the most popular place for kids is the Steel Pier. This amusement park is historical and offers a ferris wheel, other rides, and delicious treats. Nearby White House Sub Shop, with its V.I.P. following, offers a menu of sandwiches made with homemade fresh bread. Don’t forget to pick up some salt water taffy for the ride home.
Truly, all the shore points offer a good time. But Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant offers something special. Besides the usual carnival rides and games and snacks, such as fried Oreos, visitors can visit the aquarium right on the beach. It’s small but the kids will be wowed by the wildlife, including penguins. Then, of course, you can always splash in the ocean and build castles in the sand. A couple of the Boardwalk restaurants serve the kids’ meals in a pail replete with shovel. Few can leave without indulging in soft-serve ice cream to boot.
Singing the praises of LSC is hardly difficult. This interactive museum makes science and technology come to life. One exhibit teaches about the Hudson River and some of the creatures that call it home. Another gives you the chance to see a working honey bee hive up close. The Skyscraper exhibit helps kids understand what it takes to build tall buildings. There, you’ll also see some 9/11 artifacts. The Infinity Climber gives kids a chance to jump and climb in a suspended, multistory play center. Warning, moms and dads, you might be terrified when looking up at your kids roughhousing in the sky. During the summer, the little ones will love digging in the sand to search for dinosaur fossils. There are always interesting traveling exhibits making an appearance. Pick up some astronaut ice cream and an LSC pencil that changes colors in your hand at the gift shop. Or you can just snap a photo of your crew wearing astronaut helmets before leaving.
Many people don’t realize that Liberty State Park is in New Jersey. From here, you can take a boat to the statue and Ellis Island. The New York skyline is in the background and the park makes for a beautiful backdrop for photos. Of course, visiting the statue, climbing inside it, and learning about the country’s immigrant roots is momentous. Finding artifacts people brought from distant lands and tracking down your own ancestors who passed through are among the highlights.
MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA / FAMILY TRAVEL – VIAGGI
An Ischia Italy beach day can change the way you think. The intoxicating scent of the sea lures you like the sirens of Greek mythology. When you first squish your toes into the hot, soft sand, you think you’re walking on fire. So, you get your ballerina on and tip toe, tip toe, tip toe to a lounge chair. A tall, dark teenager leads you to the perfect spot nearest the sea. Exhale.
Your son is ready to jump in. But you’re l’Americana. So, you first cover him in cream and sheathe him in a rash guard. Then, you warn him of the dangers of going too deep. You tell him to stay close to his father and never go past the buoys. Just then, your husband whisks away your baby and takes him past the buoys. Inhale.
Who cares? You’re at the beach…on an island…in Italy. Pull up a lounge chair. Exhale.
Other children are running in the sand. Or they’re trying to catch waves. A few are making rocks dance on the water. An Italian mamma in a skinny bikini is bouncing a naked baby on her hip. She covers him with a blanket in the hopes that the sound of the sea will help him drift off to sleep.
Teenagers are finding excuses to climb on one another, forming human pyramids in the sea. They are young and pretty and seem to know it. Bronzed and carefree, they are like the personification of hedonism. For a moment, you are both nostalgic for your own youth and jealous you never experienced being a native of an island. Then, they topple and crash onto one another with a thunderous flop. Suddenly, you recall that youth truly is wasted on the young. And the island limits where you can go. Next, one or two of the young couples steal a salty kiss. You lean back and the mind wanders.
These are not the youth of your America. They are distinctly different. Italian children are less tame, far less controlled. Many of the babies – boys and girls alike – are nude. They splash and pee with wild abandon. Little girls as old as 8 wear no bathing suit top. An American lawyer I know once visited and would not allow his wife to photograph the beach for fear it would be considered child pornography Stateside.
Still, one of the little girls toddles over to your son and asks to borrow his shovel for building palaces and pools in the sand. He gleefully obliges. A friend for a moment is better than none at all. Despite the language barrier, they get along well. Pointing and hand gestures work. And they look at each other in wonderment.
Then, of course, the place is teeming with adults. The amount of flesh on display takes some getting used to for those of us from comparatively puritanical America. The natives, in fact, mock your one-piece bathing suit and shorts. You once wore skimpier swimsuits. But now you’re a mamma of a certain age. You like your cover up covering up things. Of course, the damage the sun can do is another excuse – err, reason – to hide skin. But the sun is life in Italy.
So, natives have a different take. Some of the men, especially the older ones, still wear speedos. It’s hard to avert the eyes. The image of a banana hammock burns into your memory much like Vesuvius at Pompeii. More modern men wear a regular bathing suit. Of course, theirs are shorter than yours. This is not the place for board shorts. While Jersey Italians are spraying on their tans, Italian Italians are doing it old school. They drench themselves in sun. Many still use oil. They shimmer like diamonds. Nearly naked diamonds. They jeer you for your milky white skin and 50+ sunscreen. Don’t even get them started on your kid’s rash guard and long swim trunks.
Even the nonne (grandmas) wear two-piece bathing suits. Many don bikinis that leave little to the imagination. Let’s just say you are seeing more than just the cheeks on their faces. The foreign women are even less reserved than the Ischitani. Finding tan lines intolerable, they go topless. Some are old and wrinkly. Others are young and perky. They all take your breath away.
Ischia Makes You Feel Sexy
Even among those who work on the beach – delivering drinks or renting umbrellas – there’s a casualness. It’s as though the heat makes it all right to be in various stages of undress. While closing your eyes, you have a revelation; what’s beautiful is the acceptance of all shapes and sizes. Because it’s hot, everyone can uncover herself. It’s permitted. There’s a freedom that comes with this acceptance. Removing shame of the flesh is actually empowering in a way. But your Americanness prevents you from fully appreciating it. And you can’t bear showing too much of yourself in Ischia. It takes a kind of courage you’re not sure you have.
An ad once suggested Ischia was where you eat, you drink, and you “whistle.” The latter is in quotes because it is a euphemism for sex. Some, however, say it just points to the laid-back vibe of the island. The heat and scent of the sea and all that natural beauty certainly have their influence. You’re suddenly lightheaded. You notice your husband swinging your son into the sea for one more run. The sunlight is bouncing off his curly locks. Sure, he’s gotten older as have you. But his midlife paunch and a few gray hairs don’t change the fact that his green eyes are twinkling. He’s Italian. He’s yours. And he’s friggin’ sexy.
When he comes over and brushes your hand as you offer him his towel, you still feel electricity. It’s time to head for the restaurant on the beach, just behind you. Tonight your son demands a chicken cutlet and fries. And you’re having linguine and clams. The Ischia sun is setting in the background. The sea breeze lightly caresses your face. Your husband gives you the look. And your son begins to fall asleep in your lap while twirling your hair. It is the end of a perfect day.
An Ischia Italy postcard calls your name. Can’t you just picture yourself diving into that picture? On this Neapolitan island neighboring Capri and Procida, you will find many beaches that allow you to escape everyday life. While falling asleep on the sand, you will dream long and hard. Anything will seem possible. You’ll feel stronger and prettier. There’s something about a lazy day on the beach that is inspirational. It’s almost like going to church. You’re renewed.
Italian wedding vows are classic. If you marry in the Catholic Church in Italy – like I did nearly 9 years ago – then you say the same stuff. You just say it in Italian instead of English or whatever your native language. But now that I’m a veteran Italian wife, I decided the vows should be longer and more specific. Most of all, they should be honest. Don’t let these newlyweds go into marriage thinking it’s always going to be cannoliand prosecco.
What Italians Should Promise to Their Beloved
I,___, take you,____, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold…But first we must make a few promises. Say them out loud, get them in writing, and never risk divorce.
The Mother-in-Law Guarantee in Italian Wedding Vows
I promise to remain your husband/wife despite your mom’s constant criticism of my
I also promise to stay with you no matter how many times your mom tries to have me taken out. No matter how many times. (It bears repeating.)
I promise to have you, hold you, and feed you prosciutto on a regular basis. We will always choose fresh mozzarella over that cheese that passes for mozzarella. It’s the real Reggiano-Parmigiano in our house. May the tomatoes always be fresh, and the lemons ever growing on our tree of life. By the power vested in Nonna, we will never ever eat sauce from a can or jar. Never. We must linger over our meal at least once a week. Sundays will be for pasta forever. Every now and then, we’ll get spicy in the kitchen, too. And there’s always room for gelato.
Our love will always come before my job. The kids will come before everything else for a little while, but you get it. I will never come between you and your family. You will do the same for me. (Again, this is how it will be no matter what crazy our mothers display. The crazy is pretty much guaranteed, and I accept that.)
How to Argue Like an Italian Couple
We recognize our passion might be overkill in an argument. So, we promise to take a time out from fighting when the hand gestures start getting nasty and the normally loud voice gets even louder. Certainly, we will compromise and apologize to each other first. But we also promise to apologize to our neighbors for whatever they end up hearing. Let’s face it, they’re gonna hear us. Of course, no one makes up like an Italian. And we promise to keep making up like that for the rest of our days. We can apologize to the neighbors for that noise, too.
As we grow old and get fat together (after the foodie promises that’s a given), I will still find you sexy. I will continue to compliment you. Your mind will always attract me. Of course, I will grab your ass every chance I get. Yes, oh, yes, we will always have sex, and I’ll be a generous lover. This I promise you from now until death do we part.
Giardini La Mortella in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples, gives visitors some tranquility. The beautiful plants and flowers provide the backdrop for a leisurely walk. Even though you sometimes have to climb steep steps, you feel at ease. There are waterfalls, whose natural music is welcoming. An aviary filled with majestic birds catches the eye and elicits gratitude for nature. When you’re feeling down, a piece of lemon Caprese cake will lift you up. I ate it a decade ago, and I still remember it. Every so often, the gardens become a concert venue. I can only imagine how delightful it must be to hear the strumming of a violin amid all this beauty.
The gardens are the creation of Susana Walton, the late Argentine wife of British composer Sir William Walton. Designed by his is the home to both subtropical and mediterranean plant life. Many of the species are exotic and not easily maintained on the island. In 1956, Susana Walton turned to landscape designer Russell Page, who envisioned a plan to include the view of the sea and the volcanic rock formations naturally in the garden.
A Tour of La Mortella in Photos
Located in the town of Forio in Ischia, the gardens are displayed in two levels. The lower level is called the Valley, and the upper level is known as the Hill. From the top, you can take in the view of the stunning San Francesco beach in Forio. In the Orchid House, you will find some beauties. In fact, there is an orchid hybrid that was created in honor of Susana Walton because of her passion for gardening and contributions to the community.
The Old Man
Take a Seat
On the other hand, one of the most memorable parts of my walks through La Mortella is this olive tree. It is hundreds of years old and truly spectacular.
Truly, seeing this chair carved out of a tree stump is a whimsical touch. Indeed, there are many objects like this at La Mortella.
When you turn a corner, and see this life-size alligator figure amid these short cascades of water, don’t be frightened. Simply put, it’s a touch of humor.
After you have photographed lots of plant life, you might opt for a selfie. This bamboo makes for a lovely backdrop.
When Water Falls
Just when you think you can’t be any more relaxed, you hear this – the sound of running water. The various fountains around the gardens are as beautiful as they are soothing.
Let the Light Shine
This little nook in the gardens is typical of Ischia. The wall, fountain, and moss harken to the island’s beginnings. Known as L’Isola Verde or the Green Island, Ischia offers many scenes just like this.
Being One with Nature
In fact, gardens like this are a perfect fit on the Green Island. While religion is not at the forefront of the images in the gardens, there is a spirituality that resonates. Statues like this capture the mood and make for an appropriate accent.
La Mortella is a great place to take a stroll. You can unwind and witness breathtaking views worthy of photographs. Even if you don’t have a camera, you will carry the images in your memory for years to come.