Day of Pasta and Roses

A lumpy crossing we had of it. I spent most of the time lying down to offset the nausea, having failed to put my wristbands on soon enough. Both of us were none the less thankful to at last be underway, all the more so as we were forecast to leave a rainy day in Stabia and head for sunshine on Ithaca. As I lay down Vesuvius glowered at us beneath rolling black clouds; it was raining on Naples too, but ahead were bright skies. Unfortunately as I surfaced four hours later when we reached the calmer waters of the channel between the islands Ithaca itself was under a towering black cloud. The air temperature dropped dramatically and we both donned our fleeces. Matters did not improve as we came into port and it started to spit with rain. A marinera was ready for us, wearing a bright white cap, but looked keen to withdraw back to the shelter of the office. Unfortunately for him another boat was following us in. We made a decent go of our first docking of the season; we were secure front and back so our chap headed off to bring in the other boat as we were finessing the lazy line. John was at the bow pulling us in and I was motoring slowly forward against the rear dock lines when the engine cut out. John came back, filthy but satisfied and I broke the news. John knew straight away what had happened. Something had become wrapped around the propeller. We both looked over the stern and realised it was the lazy line; we could see it through the water looping up from the dock to our rudder. We were joined in our survey by the marinera, who was equally glum and shook his head. We all agreed our arrival had appeared to go so smoothly, but there was the line and Lyra had a firm grip on it. “We will get a diver” he announced, shrugged, sighed and headed back to the office. Well we had planned to stay here a few days. The people in the office were very nice about it. John went in first with the paperwork and the boss, Fausto, sent him back for me, to have a coffee. We were both gasping for a cold beer, but it seemed churlish not to take them up on the offer. They were in the middle of a revamp, workmen and wires all over the place. Fausto took us away to the new coffee bar, an area of tables and sofas set out under stretched sails at the end of which stood the bar, mainly empty but with a large glittering coffee machine. He made us coffees powerful enough to put hairs on your chest and sat chatting about the new plans for the marina. It certainly looks more beautiful every time we come and they have always been extremely helpful to us. We came away buzzing and headed straight past Lyra and on to the bar of the Hotel Calise.

By this time it was well past lunch, but they bring such a variety of beer snacks as to constitute a personal finger buffet. We fell on the warm sausage rolls and pizza squares, crisps peanuts mini ham rolls and tiny bruschetta with a vengeance. School had turned out and a party of children were running to and fro in the square, tumbling up against the portentous body of the local priest, a huge man with glasses and a long black cassock. They pealed off in front of him as he made stately progress across the front of the hotel and into the church next door, smiling benignly at them. Moments later they all reappeared, strung out behind the priest in a dancing Pied Piper column disappearing into the mouth of the hotel, closely pursued by three mums. They came back out in twos and threes carrying ice cream cones and ranged themselves on the tables opposite. Priest and mums re-emerged also with cornets and they all sat chatting together, teasing one another and laughing. The children finished eating first and were off again, whirling like swallows in a game of tag. There was a holiday atmosphere to it all and we had to remind ourselves it was only Thursday. Sunday morning and we ran into the children again, or very nearly did, though on this occasion they were very dignified and orderly.

We had spent the previous two days revisiting favourite haunts, Ischia town on Friday and the garden, La Mortella, yesterday. In an effort to try something new we planned to take a taxi to Forio, the harbour with the long beach one overlooks from La Mortella. We decided this over a yummy croissant at La Calise, where the square was decorated with flags for Republic Day. There was to be a speech this evening by the newly elected mayor. We had to go back to Lyra to slather ourselves in sun cream for the day and fell into conversation with our neighbour, who flies the R.A.F. service personnel’s ensign. An obviously very experienced sailor he was phlegmatic about our recent attachment to the lazy line, ‘everyone does it at least once!’ He made us feel rather better by telling of when he had left his boat on the pontoon to return to England and had the marina call him, “Hey Frank, your boat it is sinking, but not to worry, we are pumping!” He has sailed in Greece and Croatia as well as Italy and was off to visit family at their nearby villa. On hearing our plans for the day he very kindly offered us a lift to Forio. He had a small Fiat parked across the street from the marina. I climbed in the back and John road shotgun. It was very hot and stuffy, so they wound their windows right down. That was the first mistake. We set off, started to turn right into the service road and came up short in front of a procession of children, dressed all in white, the girls in long dresses, each solemnly throttling a trio of long stemmed white lilies held in front of them. I think they were chanting or singing as they processed, but it was hard to tell because of the torrent of abuse coming at us from the lady in charge. She wanted us to reverse, but by this time we had been flanked by a second file of children coming slowly but inexorably down the other side of us. We had to sit there, half turned into the road as they slowly swept by. Frank apologised profusely in Italian, but the lady ended the discussion, with a rather rude gesture. “Oh dear”, said Frank with a smile, the children kept straight faces and eyes front. The priest had obviously trained them well.

After that the rest of our journey seemed uneventful, even with the hairpin corners and oncoming buses. Frank was even kinder than we though, because Fario was well beyond the turn off to his sister in laws villa. He dropped us by the port and we headed to the harbour to look at the boats before striking up into the town. A standing band was playing in the little square and the main street was lined with the arches of filigree lights they use for the festival in Lacco Amino. After exploring we went back to the sea front and found a table for two in a restaurant called Romantica, a name that brings back memories of our flotilla holidays in Greece. There were pots of red roses on the table, the food featured Roman speciality dishes, the first time I have associated romance with the toga and tunic brigade. I chose tortellini in broth followed by baby linguini alla limone, and John had a salad and then spaghetti with seafood. It was all very good. I was just on my first lot of pasta, (there being rather more tortellini in the broth than I had expected), when a large family came from inside the restaurant and began to fill a round table in the corner beside us. There were rather more of them than there was table, but they kept coming and a rather imposing lady with a commanding voice organised the waiters to sidle more and more chairs past us. In the end I was sitting virtually amongst them, with my back to the table. The woman set up a loud banter with an equally loud man. John and I tried to sidle our table slightly forward and were helped by a waiter, so we were still very close, but not quite so overwhelmed. We had just finished our main courses and our plates cleared when the waiter brought out their pasta dish in a huge earthenware pot. It smelled fantastic. There was a great roar of approval, mobile phones were brandished and the waiter proudly displayed the contents to be immortalised on phone. The waiters spread plates on a side table and began dishing it up. The pasta was the muscle bound spaghetti that looked to be fresh, but every so often a large bony lump of what looked like an oyster appeared. John and I speculated to each other that it might be ox tail. The fulsome lady turned to me and touched my arm – we were still very close – to explain it was a very special dish. I smiled, nodded approval and said “Aroma” in what I hoped was a manner that conveyed how impressed we were by the smell. I turned back and John said I think you are being given some. Sure enough a small plate was set down between us, rabbit in cooked with notes of sage in the sauce. Reader it was wonderful. Despite having eaten three lots of pasta I mopped the plate clean with bread. Obviously we thanked them profusely. She thought a moment to find the English to tell us it was rabbit and said I should order that next time rather than tortellini. The waiter looked horrified, I think at the prospect of having to cook a whole rabbit for two, but I smiled and said we would bring the family.

That evening we were too full to eat again but went to the jazz bar in Casamicciola as the population and their dogs washed around us, greeting each other, hugging and kissing. We could not hear the address of the mayor for the general air celebration and chat, but later back on Lyra we found we had a front row seat for the spectacular firework finale in the colours of the Italian flag.


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