It’s characteristic for me to complain about summer – the heat, the humidity, the closures in August, and so on. It’s no secret that summer is not my favourite season, at least not here in Italy. That said, the season has its advantages, and this year was a particularly memorable combination of travel, pandemic, and major life events. Here’s a summary of the season’s highlights…
This was our first real getaway after the lockdown. We rented a woefully underpowered motorino and explored the (blissfully empty) cost from Positano to Cetara, sweated copiously while ignoring the hotel clerk’s advice and walking between Minori and Amalfi (which I recommend, if sweaty but gorgeous potentially deadly situations are your kind of thing), tried and failed to spend an afternoon sunbathing at the beach (beaches in the age of Covid are complicated), ate pasta at every opportunity, drank too much local white wine, and took a spur-of-the-moment day trip to Capri.
If spending hours pedalling a bike up some very long hills sounds like fun to you, then I highly recommend the giro del parco d’Abruzzo, a 108 kilometer loop – with 1800 metres of elevation gain – through one of Abruzzo’s most beautiful national parks. I had been wanting to cycle (but also dreading) this route ever since Valerio first told me about it, partially because I am competitive and wanted to prove that if he could do it, I could do it too, and partially because it actually sounded like fun, in that sort of twisted is-it-fun-or-is-it-torture way that seems to go hand-in-hand with a lot of sports. Anyhow, at the beginning of July we cycled the giro, and I surprised myself by finding it less challenging than I expected, and also by actually still being able to use my legs the next day.
The birthday weekend:
Valerio and I have our birthdays within a couple days of each other. This year, we drove up into Umbria to spend the weekend at a countryside palazzo with vineyards, a view over the hills near Orvieto, and – importantly – a pool. The first night there, we were the only guests. The storm that was predicted never materialized, and we ate a quiet dinner on the terrace with one of those ridiculously perfect sunset views, the kind that feels too beautiful to actually exist without a helping hand from Photoshop. If that sounds nauseatingly romantic, you’ll be relieved to know that the spell was broken the next day by a gruelling mountain bike ride featuring dust (so much dust), sweat, and swarms of horseflies repeatedly biting my back.
We bought an apartment! Writing this makes it feel like a quick thing – like a single event – and not like the long, drawn-out, frustrating, multi-step, often incomprehensible, simultaneously stressful and thrilling process that it was. Anyhow, we bought an apartment, we drank a bottle of champagne in its surreal, echoing emptiness – and then we immediately sent the construction company in to tear down a bunch of walls and rip up floors and cut giant gashes through the ceilings.
Admittedly, heading to one of Italy’s popular beach destinations during the week leading up to Ferragosto, and also during a pandemic, was potentially not our most intelligent choice ever. But I wanted – quite desperately – to spend a week lounging on a sandy beach and staring out at the sea, and I also wanted it to be a place we could easily reach by car. The “easily” part turned out to be less than accurate when we got stuck in hideous snarls of pre-Ferragosto traffic the whole way down from Rome into Calabria, but Tropea fulfilled the sandy beach/sea-staring part very nicely. I had booked us an umbrella and two sun beds in prima fila for the entire week, as well as a vacation rental apartment with 360-degree views from its rooftop terrace, so the fact that the rest of the beach was ridiculously crowded or that every restaurant we tried in town was completely mediocre (if not flat-out terrible) was more or less irrelevant. We enjoyed the sunset over the sea from our terrace while eating too much ‘nduja and soppressata.
We spent so much time in Anversa degli Abruzzi (where Valerio’s family has a house overlooking a startlingly green valley) this summer that I’ve started to feel like somewhat of a local – the old ladies no longer stare suspiciously at me and the barista knows my order. I spent many mornings working from one of the bars in the town’s main piazza, held Zoom meetings from the house’s back terrace (Valerio’s grandpa occasionally shuffling into the background of the video, a fig once dropping onto my keyboard in the middle of a call), and hiked up various mountains as soon as the weekend rolled around.
The apartment (part 2):
Obviously I can’t talk about torn-down walls and ripped-up floors and leave it at that. We are currently past the phase where it looks like something terrible happened inside and in the middle of the “reconstruction” phase, where the pipes and wires have been placed and covered, the holes have been closed up and the walls are being smoothed out. But with no flooring, no doors, no kitchen, no bathroom fixtures, nothing that makes the apartment, well, actually livable, we are still far from the “move-in-ready” phase. I am dreaming of a day when we don’t need to make snap decisions about the position of a bathroom fan or have animated discussions over exactly where an electrical socket needs to go.