I wake up this morning -- our first night a rural beach town after a week in busy Florence -- and roll aside the shutters. Squinting, I see a hazy, calm morning outside. But I don't want to look just yet -- my eyes weren't ready for this after a 9-hour slumber. It's the best sleep I've had in a week. In Florence we had to close up the windows and shutters and use the air conditioning, as the noise of every conversation and argument and dropped bottle and zippy motorbike from the busy street below echoed up to our second-floor bedroom as if it were happening right there. But here, there isn't even air conditioning if we wanted it. So this morning, I breathe easy, with no hint of the pain of a dry throat.
I head into the kitchen to look for the Moka pot that's surely there; I find two. It's a ritual I've had for two weeks now: Rinse out the pot -- never soap, as that would get rid of the layer of coffee oil that die-hard Moka pot fans proclaim is necessary for the proper function of the pot -- fill the bottom with water, put the coffee into the basket and gently tap it down with a spoon, screw on the top of the pot, and put it on the stove. As I start the process of puttering around the kitchen while waiting for the coffee to boil, I open the door in the kitchen and look out. A man sits in a chair next to the neighboring stream which I wouldn't have guessed held fish. Two women a few houses down are already out on their balcony, perhaps taking their morning espresso with the morning sun.
We have a leisurely breakfast, then pack up and head to the beach. We're surrounding by all types of groups: Small families, big families, groups of couples, groups of singles. We were warned it would be crowded on this last day of August and therefore the end of the European holiday season. But by our standards, it's hardly crowded -- there are enough people milling around to provide constant people-watching, but few enough that no one ever encroaches on your sand space.
The beach is beautiful: fine sand, calm surf, orderly rows of tents and chairs. Behind us the skyline is that of the Apuan Alps, whose marble has provided material for Italian sculptors for centuries. Many people complain about the private beach system in Italy, but we decide we don't mind it, as we're quite happy to have the comfortable chairs, sun umbrella, beach bar, and facilities at our disposal.
We're instantly calm when we land in our chairs -- this is a vacation we've anticipated for weeks but that only took shape a few days before it started. We have nothing close to the tan (or physique) of most of the people around us who are leaving today after spending weeks here. But we find peace at the sea nevertheless -- the license to people-watch, read a book, nap, stroll, run, socialize, keep to ourselves. After a couple of hours, John decides to go into the water. He likes to float in the sea; when I join him a half an hour later, I quickly spot his head and two feet undulating in sync in the water. The beach is relatively empty now; it's lunchtime in Italy, and that's not taken lightly. Many people return to their hotels or villas or homes for a feast.
Unremarkable hours pass, perhaps a little too quickly. Soon it's nearly dusk. We start to talk about evening plans, but it gets complicated, so we just go for a walk on the beach. Nearly everyone is gone now, and we don't understand. The sun is falling into the sea and the light on the water is phenomenal. The day's heat is gone -- it's perhaps even brisk. This is the best time to be walking along the beach. Finally we see a woman just arrive, strip down to her bikini, and walk straight in the water to her waist. She knows what a precious time of day this is. When we finally make it back to our beach, we realize the woman has been walking just behind us in the water -- what a fantastic way to exercise.
We head back to our house, a spacious apartment about two kilometres from the beach. After showers and a quick bit of research, we head to the nearby town of Pietrasanta, which we learn upon arriving was a brilliant choice, no matter that it was random. It's nearly 9 p.m. and the town's main piazza is alive with people and light. We're anxious to look around but we're also hungry. We quickly settle on a restaurant based entirely on the fact that the people at its outdoor tables are grazing on antipasti that includes a huge basket of salami -- at least 10 different kinds. It ends up being a good choice. We take our seats in the restaurant's side garden and settle in for what ends up being a two-hour, three-course affair, including, of course, the antipasti, a pasta course, and a meat course, washed down with a bottle of the restaurant's delicious house red.
We leave the restaurant entirely too full. Just a couple of doors down we gaze into a gallery at a perfectly clear sculpture of a telescope. It takes a minute to register that I'm looking at it through an open door -- the gallery is open. In fact, most of the galleries in town are open, despite it being past 11 p.m. on a Sunday. Indeed, more people are strolling now than before, including Italian women decked out in designer dresses and towering heels. We take in the art, most of which is amazing. The piazza and a local church have been taken over by the gigantic works of Mexican sculptor Javier Marin -- eight horsemen mounted 10 feet in the air march through the center of the piazza; three huge sculpted heads are perched around the square; the church displays human forms that require much more thought and introspection than we were able to give them. It's absolutely phenomenal.
We later learn that the town is quite famous for its sculpture displays, and its studios house the likes of Fernando Botero and others. There are many marble quarries in the nearby Apuan Alps and much of the stone ends up in town workshops where artists produce new sculptures or replicate the masters. We're also overwhelmed by the town's duomo, or cathedral, San Martino, whose roots go back to the 13th century. Its marble columns, frescoes, and paintings leave no doubt that we are in Italy.
One gelato later, we're in the car heading home. There we quickly get ready for bed, completely exhausted by our day of relaxation. We fall into another slumber, so we can wake tomorrow and do it all again.
*Disclaimer: I actually am reading Francis Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun right now, hence me pretty much ripping off her writing style.