The bang of fireworks sounded as though they were going off in our bedroom as my son and I bid farewell to Ferragosto 2017. My husband was already off to work at a nightclub in Ischia, Italy. There, tourists and natives alike would keep up the celebration until the wee hours of the morning. Dancing too close. Drinking too much. Celebrating just enough.
A Delicious Start to Ferragosto 2017
But before the holiday could be over, it had to begin. In Italy, the start of every celebration is all about the food. Tourists who visit the island for Ferragosto, Aug. 15, can expect the hotel to go all out. Restaurants are also keen on marking the occasion. My husband works for the 4-star Hotel Continental Mare, so he graciously took photos of the spread and scene for us. This way, you can see just how to launch a holiday that is a mix of secular and religious sentiment with just a touch of indulgence. Just look at that carved squash with sunflowers splashed across it.
Ah Salute! Cheers!
A flower of a watermelon graces the banquet table holding glasses waiting to be filled with refreshing drinks. I can only imagine the wine was flowing. But what strikes me most about the picture is what gets me every time in Ischia. That view of the sea and greenery all around combined with that ocean perfume transports your being. The divine beauty is intoxicating. There is nothing more to say.
One of the most delightful aspects of any Italian meal is antipasto. This precursor to the meal always offers lovely little surprises. Italians often call it “sfizioso.” It literally translates to “delicious,” but it’s more than that. The word refers to the food being more than delectable. It suggests it is addictive. Indeed, often antipasto can be like a drug – at least for me. And I can make an entire meal of it. I’m not a wine drinker, but I live among them. They all love to pair their vino with the littlest bites. Certainly, antipasto is the perfect way to kick off a party.
Ship as centerpiece is a fitting decoration on the island of Ischia. This table brought guests the treasures of the sea. Ischia is famous for its coniglio Ischitano, a rabbit dish that many a native family eats every Sunday. But it is an island, so the seafood is must-eat as well. These are the freshest clams, mussels, octopus, etc. you’ll ever eat. Seriously, I dream about the stuff when I’m not here. That’s not an exaggeration. Aaaah, now you want to sail away to Ischia. You with me?
NOTE FROM EDITOR: My husband works for Hotel Continental Mare, and he was working when he took the photos. I just want readers to know that this is not an objective review or anything close to that. This is merely an opportunity to see the preparation for the Ferragosto celebration and the beauty of the hotel’s view and its offerings. Not bad, eh?
A walk in Ischia, Italy, a small island off the coast of Naples, is often remarkable. The cobblestone streets you still find in many places stands as a stark juxtaposition to the yachts in the port and the designer clothes on display in the stores. Whenever I’m walking around, I find myself wondering what this world must have been like for my ancestors, even my father who spent his childhood here. They lived without the luxuries the natives of today know. Yet, they still have much in common with their modern counterparts.
For one, the “bella figura” lives on. I’ve tried many times to explain “bella figura” to non-Italians. And I’m not sure I have the right words. But here I go again. First, it literally translates to beautiful figure. People say they want to “fa bella figura” or “make a beautiful figure.” What they are really saying is that they want to make a good impression. They want others to perceive them in a good light.
They Judge the Book by Its Cover
Sometimes, they are referring to avoiding embarrassment, such as a slip of the tongue or falling in front of everyone. Other times, however, they are simply referring to looking good while walking around. Every hair needs to be in place. Their shirts must be crisply ironed. And they would never walk around in sweats. Flip flops are only permissible if they are walking that one block to the beach here in Ischia. Breaking these rules could mean failing to make the “bella figura.”
So, when you take a walk in Ischia, you have to be perfectly coiffed and wearing your best clothes. You don’t always have to be dressed for a formal wedding. But even your relaxed look should be planned out and designer if possible. This is the reason I am often recognized as an American. I used to wear flip flops everywhere. And I still don’t mind going outside the door in a comfortable T-shirt and lounging pants.
Still, when in Ischia, I try to conform. I’m more aware of what I’m wearing, what I look like. In addition, I’m careful about what I say and to whom I say it. Sometimes, I fail at the bella figura. I chalk it up to my Americanness. I always feel relief at returning home to America, where few care this much about this stuff.
Castello Aragonese is connected to the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, by bridge. In fact, the town around this medieval castle is called Ischia Ponte, which translates to Ischia Bridge. It is a stunner. You simply can’t take your eyes off the place. From afar, some will mistake it for a mere cliff. But it’s an actual castle carved into a cliff, and it’s full of history and stories to tell, if you just listen closely.
You can still visit the castle and walk through it to see what life inside may have been like for its various inhabitants. When you step inside, you’re entering another world. The hard rock facade, the ancient walls that whisper of the past, set the stage for the island outside its gates. Mainly built between the 14th and 17th century, the castle has ghosts as far as I am concerned. And every so often I get the urge to visit them. They are deliciously haunting.
The castle had served as fort, love shack, church, and prison. Historical figures, such as Vittoria Colonna, resided there. So did monks and nuns. In fact, you can still see the catacombs, frescoes, and altars of another time. And there’a Torture Museum featuring all sorts of devices that had been used to wear down humanity; I call it the dungeon. You can see ancient winemaking tools lying around. You can only imagine what went on here.
History swallows the island. And the juxtaposition of a monastery next to the Torture Museum next to a love shack is fitting for Ischia. After all, Ischia is everything and nothing at once. Most are swept away by the headiness of this place. The scent of the flowers growing in every nook of the castle is intoxicating. Then, there is the vision of tomatoes growing in one of the gardens. But the view of Ischia Ponte and the sea is enough to move you into a fantasy.
Of course, there’s no denying the beauty all around you. Pastel homes dot the lush hills nearby. Waves crash on the rocks agains the bridge. Often, you’ll find sunbathers perched on the rocks. Boats rock feet from the castle. A coffee bar at the feet of the bridge buzzes with tourists and natives alike; some say it’s the best espresso on the island. Every so often, newlyweds come to take their wedding photos out front. (My husband and I did.) You will feel invisible when the sun sets and sinks into the ocean, and you’re standing toward the top of the castle.
Today, you can stay at the castle as a hotel guest. If an overnight stay isn’t in the cards, you can also visit the museum. I’ve done both, and it’s always a true journey. But you don’t even have to enter the gate to take in the “bellezza.” It’s a must stop for tourists because few photo backdrops compare.
Biting into Ischia Italy peaches is like tasting a little piece of Heaven. That sounds like an exaggeration. But words can hardly describe the sweetness of the fruits you’ll find on this little island off the coast of Naples. Indeed, the island is known as L’Isola Verde or The Green Island for its lush vegetation. All around you in Ischia, you see green hills and the emerald sea. The island is an inactive volcano. As a result, its naturally thermal soil and waters draw tourists. But it’s the soil that counts when growing delectable fruits and vegetables.
What You’ll Find Here to Eat
As a result, you won’t want to miss these peaches. Lots of people eat them just like this. There are actually three varieties in the photo – red, yellow, and white peaches. Another favorite way to enjoy them is in Italian wine, which soaks in the fridge all day. Then, natives drink the wine with dinner and eat the peaches for dessert. I think of it as Italian sangria.
But peaches are not the only stars of the summer season. Soon, you will also find figs, which pair nicely with prosciutto. It’s a good alternative to cantaloupe and prosciutto, which has become popular even Stateside in recent years. In the early summer, the natives enjoy apricots. They’re actually a pretty big deal around here and seem to be much more available than in New Jersey, the Garden State. You won’t find many blueberries. But wild strawberries and frutta di bosco (fruit of the woods) are widely available in early summer. When fall hits, the grapes become abundant. With the grape harvest comes winemaking, which is actually quite celebratory here. People gather for picnic meals and to harvest the grapes. They call it the vendemmia, and it’s like a holiday around here.
This Italian proverb about sunken ships makes the same point as the saying, “backseat driver.” Another familiar similar one is “Monday morning quarterback.” And how many times have you said, “Hindsight is 20/20”? The point is that it’s easy to tell the future after it has already happened.
While I shared this Italian proverb here, the photo has nothing to do with sunken ships. Indeed, it’s a beautiful sailboat. I photographed it many summers ago while lying on the beach in Ischia Porto, the capital city of Ischia. On this Neapolitan island, you will often spot lovely sailboats and luxurious yachts. Sometimes, a VIP shows up on shore, too. Still, my favorite spot to be is right on the sand taking it all in.
The need for environmentalism or going green is evident once you step on an island driven by tourism. What’s the allure of such an island? The natural beauty all around you. That’s what brings the people to the yard. If you lose that shine, you are left with nothing. While my arguments are based on the time I spend in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, this is probably true for any island or anyplace of the sort.
For starters, you need to understand the climate of the place. Of the four climates represented in Italy, Ischia falls into the “Mediterranean climate,” according to climatechangepost. It is joined by the country’s other islands and southern Italy. This climate is “characterized by mild temperatures and moist winter,” the site adds.
The entire country is facing challenges. “Because of its geographic heterogeneity, Italy has seen a diverse set of events linked to the recent changes in global climate levels,” according to Italyun.esteri.it. “In some areas, there has been an increase in natural catastrophic events, such as landslides in mountainous regions, floods, and rising sea levels in areas…”
Another website, the Local.it, outlined in 2015 all the ways Italy is already suffering from climate change and how it could get worse. Three of the challenges directly relate to the islanders in Ischia. Here are the dangers the outlet warned about that are already influencing life on the island:
Rising Coastal Waters
Conservative estimates suggest that sea levels could rise by 1.5 meters by the end of the century unless people take action, according to the report. The article goes on to suggest that Pompeii and Herculaneum, Unesco World Heritage sites not far from Ischia, could be wiped out. Presumably islands could drown, too.
“Higher global temperatures cause higher rates of evaporation, change the way air moves, and affect the amount of water vapor the air can hold,” according to the Local.it. “That might not seem like much, but on a global scale it is disrupting weather systems and causing violent and unpredictable events, such as storms and droughts.” Ischia has had its fair share of ugly rain storms. Some of them have caused devastating landslides that have injured people. In fact, one landslide killed an entire family except for the mother, who was badly injured. During the winter of 2016-early 2017, the island experienced a touch of snow that actually stuck for longer than a second. Not normal, not good.
Indeed, we are in the middle of a severe drought in Italy right now. We did have a little rain yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, but it hardly was enough to eradicate the problems. Besides the water shortage extended droughts could cause, they also damage the grape harvest. While Ischia is not completely reliant on its grapes for wine making, the island’s wine business is well known enough. Italian wine, in general, is a cultural staple found on the tables of most homes. But it also is a big draw for tourists. Well, the Local.it cites a 2013 study by Conservation International, which suggests that drought could actually wipe out grapes in Italy “if trends continue at the current rate.” Yikes!
Local Economy Demands Environmentalism
Some leaders in the United States argue that going green comes at a cost to business. They say sometimes the cost is too great to justify. A few still try to say that climate change is a hoax. Ridiculous. Now, some of them are trying to turn back the clock and return to an era of unfettered fossil fuels and the like. But islanders like the ones on Ischia should never follow their lead. They need to protect their turf because it’s all they’ve got.
I’m not sure Ischia keeps stats on how many people survive on tourism. But I can tell you that even the professionals I know here – lawyers, doctors, accountants – would have no work if it weren’t for the tourists and tourism. And the other 90 percent of the people I know are either students who rely on parents who are in tourism or are in the tourism industry themselves. They own hotels or work at them. They own restaurants or work at them. They own stores or work at them. You get the idea.
But Are They Getting the Message?
A few years ago, the island confronted a major scandal. A number of hotel owners were found to be throwing human waste directly into the sea. Often, you would see foam and even garbage washing onto shore. Some people got sick. Some people got in trouble with the law for their part in the scheme. I’d like to believe the islanders have straightened it all out, learned their lesson.
Honestly, I just don’t know. I will say that the water seems cleaner. Most of the people with whom you speak talk a good game when it comes to going green. Nowadays, everyone recycles (by law). But you will see the recycling bins at beaches, hotels, entertainment venues. I know for a fact that it’s someone’s job to pick up those containers and bring them to the town for recycling. So, there’s that.
Of course, everyone around here has been living the organic lifestyle since before it was trendy. Most people have their own gardens. They never use pesticides or anything unnatural. There are no GMOs. Actually, the laws regarding food production are so tough that you won’t find hot dogs or bacon sold in Italy. The preservatives prohibit them.
Also, there’s just a feeling of desire on the part of the people. The natives seem truly sad to hear that the sea that gives them life could be sick or ailing. Anything less than pristine, in fact, seems unacceptable. Frankly, their life demands a more symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s not just about the money. It’s not even just about the future of the world. It’s about their personal present.
To Their Health
The sea is the source of their income because that’s why tourists flock to Ischia. It is also a food source. The delicious seafood is another draw for visitors, but it’s also how the natives nourish themselves. A filthy sea means bad seafood. Obviously, bathing in dirty water could also cause physical illness. For centuries, people have come to Ischia for its thermal waters, which have healing powers. Imagine if instead of healing, the water began hurting. I can’t imagine it either. Or at least I never want to.
Even if investing in green efforts cost some money up front, the business owners in Ischia have to recognize what it could cost them in the long term. Just imagine the scenarios described by those other publications and reports. Climate change could literally wipe out Ischia. The island known as l’isola verde or the green island for its lush vegetation could end up losing its grapes or other crops for that matter. And that beautiful sea, the heartbeat of the island, is at risk.
So, you see, we have no choice but to concern ourselves with environmentalism. The island life depends on it.
Ristorante Bar Dai Tu’ is a small eatery perched over the sea on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy. Located in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital, the restaurant offers delicious seafood in an ultra romantic setting. I would love to inform you about price. But this is southern Italy, where the prices are never set in stone. If you know the owner, you pay one price. If you don’t, you pay another. That’s just the truth. Still, from what I’ve gathered no one has ever been gouged here. So, we can call it affordable. Whatever you call it, you’ll be calling the food delicious.
Essence of Romance
See those lights in the photo? That is the restaurant. It looks like a tiny shack, but it’s absolutely charming. The inside features an arched doorway to the kitchen and long farm tables. But the luckiest diners score a table on the terrace outside. The lovely breeze and the view of the sea make Ischia all the more alluring. I was there with my husband, his entire family, and our son. But my sister-in-law had been there with her husband for their anniversary and raved about the pumped up romance level, especially when seated outside. The nice part is that some “romantic” restaurants are elitist. Or they’re so fancy that you feel uncomfortable. This is not like that at all. The restaurant is casual and beachy, so it does not come off as stuffy at all.
See the Seafood
Of course, the best part of the restaurant is the food you are served. Seafood in Ischia is hard to beat. It’s super fresh since this is an island. It never has that fishy smell or taste like you sometimes experience in the United States. At this restaurant, you can experience the sea’s treasures and a touch of sweetness to boot. You won’t be disappointed. Discover the plates my group sampled:
Shellfish is my absolute favorite whenever I’m visiting Ischia. The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is in “saute.” This is when the juice from the shellfish, white wine, olive oil, and some seasoning, including garlic come together to form a broth. The mussels and/or clams sit atop a shallow pool of this broth. And there are always pieces of grilled, crusty bread adjoining them. I’ve shared with friends visiting the island; they always tell me they want to drink vats of the stuff. It’s seriously addicting. When I’m not in Ischia, I dream about it. This version at Dai Tu’ was one of the best I’ve had.
Served still warm, the octopus are boiled to make them soft for this salad. I’ve had this kind of salad cold, too, which is just as delicious. This warm version was doused with olive oil and lemon. The ruchetta (known to Americans as arugula) was particularly spicy, which was a nice contrast to the mild octopus.
This plate of fried fish was the very reason we headed to this restaurant. One of the people with us was having a craving. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of fried fish with “spina,” bones. And I don’t really know how to clean these fish well. So, I mostly steered clear of this dish. But it included a few types of fish, including merluzzo, a mild white fish popular on the island. My husband enjoyed this dish and gave me a few bites of his. It was truly delicious, especially with a spurt of lemon. It made the flavor pop.
Normally, these kinds of eateries disappoint when it comes to dessert. After all, the emphasis is on the fish. The sweets are an afterthought. But this place has it all. For starters, the presentation is gorgeous. The light, fluffy cheesecake is served in a bowl made of cookie crust. Then it is topped with homemade sorbet and sauce. I believe it was a wild berry sorbet and topping. Everyone at the table was envious of those of us who ordered this.
It was divine. The sorbet was refreshing and cut into the sweetness of the creamy cake. That bit of crunch from the crust was just perfect. Others at the table ordered tiramisu (in a cup) and panna cotta. They were all satisfied with their dessert, but I focused on the cheesecake. I didn’t even feel the need to taste the others. It was the cherry – err, wild berry – on top of a delicious night.
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.
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.