Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saturday Stroll - To Summers Past

Saturday stroll is a little late this week, mostly because it lasted until Monday. Yes, we took a long and much needed weekend away. Arriving home late Monday afternoon, there was the unpacking, laundry, a zillion updates to make to the website, and a thousand RT thanks to make on twitter before I could actually sit down and compose my thoughts.

With the unseasonably cold and rainy May we had this year, I thought we just might have another week or two of spring left to explore the city, but it went from chilly to scorching with a snap of the finger. And as soon as it gets this hot, all strolls are off and you either run and duck for cover or join the rest of the Neapolitans in a four month long celebration of the sun. One of what I call their five religions, God, family, the sun, the sea, and football, and not necessarily in that order, they don’t hide from the sun, they bake in it.

Whether out in their boats which fill the bay like a thousand Navy sailors decked out in their summer whites, or basking along the shore line, sun lovers appear sometimes as early as April and stay as late as November. Along Lungomare they crowd into the few small public beaches, one at Rotunda Diaz and one at Piazza Vittoria, or bask on the characteristic white rocked reefs that dot Naples shoreline.

Rotunda Diaz - Before the Crowds

Along the Posillipo coast they flock into the famed bagnos (bathing beaches) – Elena, Sirena, and Ideal or the Marechiaro bagnos at the Capo Posillipo where for €10.00 or €15.00 you can rent a sun bed and umbrella for the day.

Early Morning at the Posillipo Bagnos

Then there are the private beaches hidden in the many coves along the Posillipo coast, which is where we spent our last four summers. Each day we made the long and arduous journey across the street to a gated residential area known as Villa Martinelli. Not really a “parco,” Villa Martinelli is more an odd collection of turn of the century palazzi (five or six story tall apartment buildings), the more modern condos built around the 1960s or 70s, and the remains of Villa Mazziotti and Villa Cappella, which eventually became Villa Martinelli, from which the area takes its name.

Villa Martinelli in the foreground and Villa Mazziotti in the background

Perched along the shear tufo rock cliff, this conglomerate of old and new buildings make their descent from Via Posillipo to the water’s edge, which by my estimation is some 20 stories down or more. And into that cliff, the product of pure Neapolitan ingenuity, an elevator shaft was installed, our primary transportation to our summer hideaway. For € .20 you can cram three people into a tiny and sometimes unlit box to make the long descent through the cliff, that is, when it is working.

Otherwise, it is a long trek down a windy and narrow one lane road with five hairpin turns, where traffic runs in both directions, and car horns and mirrors at each bend direct the traffic. Strolling down the hill, either on the street or trekking down the three staircases that span the levels of the road is a fairly enjoyable walk with spectacular views. Making the journey up in the sweltering 90+ degree heat when the elevator is not working – well that’s another story.

Once you reach the bottom of the road, it is just one more staircase to the final destination, a Pompeii red two story building with bright blue doors set at the center of a wide cove, home to some 50 or so little cabinas (cabanas). Fairly rare in this city, they are larger than the typical changing room type cabana you might be familiar with. Almost tiny apartments really, they have a bathroom with a shower, a small kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator, and room enough to cook and change clothes. And while the two of us might have felt a bit cramped, most cabinas are home to families of eight or more.

The Villa Martinelli Cabinas and Villa Mazziotti

Most of our friends in the neighborhood have a cabina at Villa Martinelli, so every weekend is like going to beach with your large extended family. Moms and dads, grandfathers and grandmothers, and tots to teens gather to worship the sea, the sun, and of course there is fabulous food, great wine and animated conversation. Fresh cozze (mussels) harvested right from the sea are thrown into big pots to cook and served in the classic manner, either with lemon or pepper; pans of Pasta al Pomodoro (tomato) simmer on the stove; plates are piled high with fresh balls of Mozzarella di Bufala; crumbs from crusty fresh loaves of bread litter the tables; jugs are filled with ice cold white wine and peaches; and fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, cherries, and in late summer, Indian figs top it off. The smells and tastes of summer.

There is a definite rhythm to Villa Martinelli that repeats itself each weekend during the summer and everyday during ferie (the summer holidays in August). Families start to arrive mid morning and the kids head immediately for the water. The men pull out the tables, chairs, sun beds, toys, and other beach paraphernalia while the women put the groceries away. Next, the men head out to get mussels and the occasional polipo (octopus) while the women start cooking. Emerging from the water with overflowing netted bags of mussels tied around their waists, they all meet up to clean them. Lunch is usually served around two, three courses followed by fruit, dolce (dessert), and of course caffè. Then it’s a nap or a swim for the adults and play time for the kids. In the late afternoon you’ll find groups of men and groups of women playing cards in the shade.

An amazing summer routine we were very fortunate to be a part of. So why give it up, you wonder? Well we really haven’t… we have a standing invitation to Villa Martinelli with just about everyone in the neighborhood. But this year we wanted to do something a bit different – head out and explore the many fabulous destinations that are just a short ferry ride away, the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, and maybe even journey to some other beaches around the Med. Our first jaunt this weekend took us to our favorite island in the gulf, Ischia. And in fact, we enjoyed it so much we are heading back there again next weekend. So next Saturday stroll we'll take you to our favorite hideaway on Ischia, and after that who knows where you'll find us next. 

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