Fior di latte gelato is a creamy base flavor ice cream in Italy. Well, I guess I should not classify it as “ice cream.” Anyone who has read my recent article for the Our Paesani column at ItaliansRus.com knows there is a big difference between ice cream and gelato. In any event, it’s a cool, delectable treat. In my opinion, it’s much better than vanilla gelato because it’s lighter and fluffier. Oh yeah, gelato can be fluffy.
Gelato is my drug of choice whenever I’m in Italy. I should just get it injected in my veins. I. just. can’t. get. enough. So, I decided a long time ago to learn how to make the stuff in my own kitchen, even when I’m home in the United States. Seriously, I’ve become an expert at making French vanilla.
Every year for Halloween, my cousins expect me to make pumpkin and for Christmas, I better have the gingerbread. Fior di latte, however, was always the goal. And I kept getting it half wrong. Then, one day the stars aligned and fior di latte happened. Miracolo!
Now, I want to share the recipe with you. This is based on the recipe provided by Misya.info, an Italian site. I’ve adapted the recipe for Americans who know nothing of the metric system measurements. And I’ve also provided my own explanation.
Recipe for Fior di Latte Gelato
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of sugar
1 stick of vanilla (or 2 tsp of vanilla extract)
Put all the ingredients in a pot under medium heat on the stove. Stir until the sugar melts. I like to use a whisk to get some air into the mix. Then, shut off the gas. Let it cool. Remove the vanilla stick (if that’s what you used). Place the mixture in the refrigerator for eight hours or overnight. Finally, mix it in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Editor’s Note: I have found that it is really important to freeze the base of your ice cream maker well to get best results. I use the ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid. I try to keep the freezer less full when I’m freezing the maker, and I might even lower the temperature on the fridge.
Fresh mozzarella, as Americans know it, is not even close to the real thing. For starters, it is sold in plastic wrap in the refrigerated section of your supermarket or deli. The real stuff comes in a double plastic bag and is filled with water that turns white from the milk leaking from the mozzarella. It’s nothing like the traditional mozzarella (think Pollyo string cheese and the like) used in the United States.
How to Tend to Your Fresh Mozzarella
You’re never supposed to refrigerate it. First, you open the bag and pour its entire contents into a bowl. It sits in the liquid. Then, the bowl remains on your table or counter until you finish eating it. Some Italians (myself included) own a special ceramic bowl. It is a regular bowl on the bottom, but the cover looks like a half moon. It sits on top of the bowl, so that you can see the drowning mozzarella underneath. The half moon cover has holes in it to drain the liquid when you lift the mozzarella on top to cut it. Many of these bowls are handmade and hand painted. Mine comes from Ischia, of course, and it features the island’s famous lemons.
Eat It Fast
Now, the mozzarella won’t taste fresh unless you eat it right away. You risk the mozzarella souring if it is left out too long. If it gets less than fresh, most Italians will put it in the fridge and then use it to cook. They’ll add it to baked pasta or la parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana). Frankly, any recipe that calls for melting mozzarella is going to include the fresh stuff. That other stuff we call mozzarella does not exist here. Indeed, the fresh mozzarella is a big difference between pizza in Italy and pizza in the United States, even New York.
Truthfully, however, most pieces of fresh mozzarella never make it to the point of souring. They’re just too irresistible. When you cut into one of those big balls of fresh mozzarella, the milkiest cream oozes out. The texture is soft and even somewhat creamy. And the taste is slightly sweet with a touch of tang. It is best served on its own with a hunk of bread. Or you can pair it with deli meats, such as prosciutto crudo. Of course, the most popular way to eat fresh mozzarella is in a Caprese salad. This is a salad of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, and salt.
Where Does It Come From?
Also, in the United States, we classify mozzarella as cheese. In Italy, it is not considered cheese exactly. It’s in a class by itself. Many distinguish between mozzarella and cheese, in fact. The best fresh mozzarella is believed to come from the Campania region, specifically Naples. Artisans make the fresh mozzarella largely by hand, and it’s truly considered an art.
In the United States, at least in the Northeast, you can pick up some decent fresh mozzarella in Italian specialty stores. I hear it’s near authentic at Eataly. Also, local Italian American delis often make the real fresh stuff. Personally, I can attest to the authenticity of what you’ll pick up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Still, most of the time what you’re getting is a cow’s milk based fresh mozzarella. Occasionally, it’s the real deal with buffalo’s milk.
Another Story in Italy
See, mozzarella in Italy comes from buffalo’s milk, not cow’s milk. In fact, you’ll read “mozzarella di bufala” on the package. There are some variations worth sampling. You can get smoked fresh mozzarella, known as mozzarella fumigata. Or you can taste fior di latte (flower of milk) mozzarella, which offers the same creamy, milky deliciousness. But it comes from cow’s milk. Often, this version comes braided and is therefore known as treccia. Whichever version you choose, it’s all delicious.
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.
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.
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.