Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Postcard: Italy

Ah, summer vacation. Northern Germans usually head for either the North or the Baltic sea – where it is an average of 60 degrees and you wear an average of three layers to the beach. I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin home of Lambeau Field - synonymous with frozen tundra - but we still had real summers, i.e. at least four consecutive days of 80 degrees or more, at least four times somewhere in between the time school let out in June and when we went back in late August.

Determined to get my summer this summer, we packed up the kids and flew to Bologna, Italy and from there we drove an hour east to the Adriatic coast to a small beach town called Lido degli Scacchi. Never heard of it? There is a reason for that: of all of the beautiful spots in this maganificient country, all of the ancient hilltowns, rugged beaches and raging cities – Scacchi is NOT one of them.

The coastline here is flat and uninteresting unlike its cousin coast, the Mediterranean. Highrises built in the 1960s are eyesores that newcomers have to contend with and locals don’t notice anymore. As Ingo observed, sitting on the balcony of his nonna’s tiny apartment as we surveyed the tenacles of the television satellites protruding from every other balacony except ours, the unfinished facade of the apartment building across the way with its clover shaped brick and wrought iron fencing, the laundry hung out on lines stretching across the narrow alley ways, „It’s a little bit like the Gaza of Italy – without the fighting.“

So what’s the draw? Ingo spent his summers here as a kid. His grandmother, who is from the Veneto, the region around Venice, wanted a place where she could spend summers on the beach – surrounded by people who spoke with a familiar accent. So she bought the place, or rather, it was offered to her husband to settle a debt, back in the early 70s. And Ingo’s family has been spending the summers here ever since. And after a typical northern German „summer“, I was not as concerned with coloseums, countryside and the west coast as I was with warm sun, a sheltering umbrella and ideally a few good meals.

After our first morning on the beach, we hit up a little hole in the wall which smelled of a fryer and was decorated with bottles of white wine on shelves on either side. We picked up a few white paper bags filled with fritti misti, literally, fried mixed, a mixture of calamari, squid and shrimp breaded and fried and finished with a squeeze of lemon – as simple as that. Henry spent about 20 minutes chewing on one piece of calamari before he finally gave up and left it in tatters for a grateful dog to feast on. A valiant effort and an encouraging sign that my budding gourmet has adventurous tastebuds.

Later that night, we stopped at a little place for a local specialty, spaghetti allo scoglio, literally, spaghetti on the rocks. Named for the rocks installed as breakers that sit out 100 meters from the shore, these boulders are also full of scavengers – mainly kids and birds - looking for crustaceans that bind themselves to the surface. It’s like a spicy spaghetti frutti di mare – but with twice as many clams, muscles and shrimp.

On our last night in Scacchi we were invited to dinner by old family friends of Ingo’s. He and Simona and her sister Irene grew up together over those summers and it was lovely to sit in their garden and listen to stories of their childhood and catch up on stories about our own children. Dinner was an informal make-your-own tacos, Italian style. Piadina are a kind of cross between a pita and a tortilla and when you use them to wrap cheese with salami, prosciutto and grilled vegetables like zucchini and eggplant, you have an Italian quesadilla of sorts called a piadina. It is the region’s answer to a panino – basically the same but on flatbread.

A little pinker, a little heavier and a lot better prepared to deal with the rest of the 60 degree summer, we arrived back in Hamburg late Sunday night – sandy, sunburned and sated.

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