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Report 1204: Zig and Georgia's Trip of Gifts

By zig from Kentucky, USA, Fall 2006

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Page 8 of 18: 9/29/06: Sarzana

photo by

at L'Enoteca La Corte

L'Enoteca La Corte, P.San Giorgio N.10, Sarzana:

At the bottom of the walkway there was a trellis-covered courtyard with two or three single tables and one long table set up to accommodate eight or nine. There were four people sitting at one of the single tables, laughing and talking, and smoking like chimneys. A handsome sandy-haired waiter met us with a (no kidding) long white apron tied around his waist and a towel draped over his forearm. He bowed slightly, smiled pleasantly, and said something to us in Italian. I told him (in terrible Italian) that my Italian was terrible, “Parla inglese?” “Si,” he replied, “a little.” That was a relief. Sarzana is not a tourist mecca and I was afraid we’d be more than usually dependent on our “Thousands-of-expressions-you-need-to-travel” Phrase Book. Trying to find the right expression quickly is not easy, and trying to make an Italian passerby just stand there while you thumb through a phrase book is not recommended.

He sat us across from each other at the end of the long table. We showed him our little map with Henrry’s shop circled. He said he knew exactly where it was but that we were now entering siesta and he wouldn’t be there. That meant we could have a guilt-free leisurely lunch. Have I told you I love Italy?

There were interior dining rooms, dark and gloomy and filled with smoke the way a bar is supposed to be, but the courtyard we were sitting in was very sunny and cheerful with little flowerboxes. The surrounding buildings were brick and there was the sound of construction in one of them. Our waiter apologized for the noise but said it would be siesta soon for the workmen as well. Because of the surrounding buildings and the fact that we had walked down a winding path to the courtyard there was no traffic noise at all.

Our waiter was very pleased to be serving an American couple and wanted to know where Kentucky was. I drew a rough map of the US. He knew where New York and Florida and California and Texas were but was seemingly impressed that people actually lived there in the middle of the country. I didn’t know how to tell him that more than half the US population now crowds the coast line, our middle is becoming depopulated.

He excused himself and went back into the kitchen. When he came back he said he had to tell the cook that we were there. A few minutes later we saw the chef come out, ostensibly to visit the walk-in freezer located just off the veranda, but I didn’t see him bring anything back out. It looked more like he wanted to see if we “looked normal.” I guess we looked normal enough. They really don’t see many tourists in Sarzana.

We asked the waiter about the specialties. He recommended the local meat plate so we got that as antipasta and then ordered tagliatelle with fish sauce for primo. With bread that was plenty to eat so we skipped ordering a secondo. He brought us separate plates and we shared everything. No problem. He brought us the house wine: an Italian chardonnay and it was wonderful, light and fruity but easily able to hold its own with the meat and cheese.

And oh the meat! He was right to be proud of it and had to tell us the story behind each and every exquisite slivering. Not that we could understand his charming mixture of English and Italian. There were two kinds of salami, one “regular” and the other made from wild boar. There was prosciutto (“NOT from Genoa!” he insisted) sliced more thinly than a sheet of paper. There was pork sliced the same way that looked, for all the world, like raw bacon. There was American beef also sliced raw. There were several kinds of cheeses. I recognized Brie, but none of the others. I was surprised that there wasn’t any gorgonzola but that is evidently a Venice thing. With the crusty bread and a large decanter of wine I didn’t care if they ever brought the pasta primo.

But he did, and brought more bread and butter as well. The taggliatelle was good, but al dente in Italy (at least in Sarzana) is more dente than al. If I fixed my pasta that way in the states people would complain that they might chip a tooth. I think we’ve gotten used to mushy pasta, and that’s a shame. When you eat pasta with some substance you know you’ve actually eaten something. For one thing, you have to chew it. When was the last time you had to chew your spaghetti? See. We overcook our pasta.

We had coffee, but no dessert. A little cup of mud. Delicious mud, but mud. It was served with a tiny spoon already in the cup. I could tell the coffee was strong before I sipped it. When I took my spoon out of the cup it breathed a sigh of relief. After coffee the waiter took our picture. You can see an assortment of champagne bottles behind us, ranging in size from a fifth to one that must have been three feet tall! The bill came to €43. We gave him a €7 tip and one of our Kentucky postcards, making this the most expensive meal we had, by far. He walked us out to the street to show us which little alley to take to find Henrry’s shop.

A good meal, a beautiful warm sunny day in Italy, and good directions to where we wanted to go. We still managed to get lost, of course but not so lost I needed my road sign photo. And anyway, being lost in a small Italian town is being lost in a small Italian town. Even school children come home for siesta. Henrry wasn’t likely to be back in his shop before 4pm anyway, so I draped my jacket over my shoulders the way Italian men do and we strolled. We found a 12th century church and then a 13th century castle. We took lots of photos of each other on the moat walls and then planned on dropping back into the little winding streets but saw a handsome young woman opening the portcullis. She was talking earnestly to another couple and we tried to slip behind her into the castle. “No, No, No” she wagged her finger at me. I think the castle must be used as the backdrop for various large wedding parties and so forth. I think she was the real estate agent. Anyway, she had a very expressive finger. A pretty smile too.

Henrry was a nice young man, very friendly and open but his glass looked more interesting on the web than in person. His more intricate designs used something akin to stained glass overlay with its “stick-on” lead and liquid color smeared on plate glass. His painting wasn’t any better than mine but he seemed to find the same price limits I do. He didn’t know of anyone else making interesting glass.

There’s no doubt the serendipity of Bern’s Glassmaler was more fortuitous than this planned meeting in Sarzana but life is like that isn’t it? The interesting bits of life happen in spite of the plans we make that don’t work out. We’d planned to walk part of the Cinque Terre but because of siesta it was now getting late. Walking along the cliffs in the dark didn’t seem like a good idea so we just took the bus to La Spezia and caught the train back to Santa Margherita. It was a much cleaner train this time.

We had a car all to ourselves except for a very pretty dark-haired young lady with a terrible cold who got on the train at the first stop after us. She sat somewhere behind us. I could hear her sniffling and blowing continually. At the next stop a handsome young man got on the train as well. He offered some simple greeting as he passed the young woman (he ignored us). She croaked a reply. He sat a few seats away from her (I could see their reflection in the glass). We all road in silence for 15 or 20 minutes then the young man got up and moved to a seat across the aisle from her and asked her something. She replied with something that he must have somehow interpreted as encouraging, so for the next 20 or 30 minutes he talked and talked and talked. She gave very occasional polite monosyllabic replies but was obviously (obvious to me, at least) feeling terrible and wanting to be left alone. She had no desire to be entertaining and engaging, nor even to be entertained and engaged. She just wanted to be lying down somewhere warm, perhaps in a big terrycloth bathrobe with a pocketful of paper handkerchiefs, cup of hot tea, dry biscuit, and maybe a glass of orange juice. A mindless book close by would be nice for when she woke up from a nap if she cared to read. Finally, this painful tableaux came to an end when we arrived at her stop. Before she had a chance to get off a middle-aged man got on. They apparently knew each other and chatted briefly. He noticed immediately how bad she felt and said something consoling. She replied to the effect that it was nothing and he offered her some sort of advice that she smiled at. In that instant I understood why younger women could really be attracted to older men. Young men, driven by testosterone perhaps, must sometimes be very hard to put up with.

It was dark by this time and worried that we’d miss our stop, Georgia had me get up at each station to look for the sign to be sure we hadn’t passed Santa Margherita. And this milk-run stopped at each and every station along the coast. “Yes, I know the train schedule I’m holding says Rapollo is supposed to be three minutes away from our last stop and it’s been three minutes and the train is stopping and Santa Margherita is supposed to be 30 minutes away but it’s so dark outside and I can’t read the station sign so could you please get up and look out the open door to be sure this is really Rapollo? Please?” Wives are clueless as to what middle-aged men must put up with to keep the peace.

By this time Lisa’s memorial cold had taken a pretty firm grip on me. I’d already soaked my second handkerchief of the day. It felt awfully good to pull into our station; just one quick trip to the gelateria for fortification and then our “stairway to the stars.” That prediction turned out to be perfectly true as it happens.

(to be continued)

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