Monday, August 10, 2009

Forte Dei Marmi on the Italian Riviera

From Florence, we headed to Forte Dei Marmi, a lovely seaside town with exquisite villas tucked behind walls on tree lined streets. After settling ourselves at the Hotel Pigalle a simple, summery B&B only one block from the heart of this fashionable seaside town on the Ligurian Sea we headed to the town center where, at an outdoor café, s little girl of around four approached our table with a pad and pencil, and pretended to take our order. She set off for the table next to us where she encountered a baby in a high chair and decided she’d rather play with the baby.

We’d come to Forte Dei Marmi so Bill could meet some of Vittorio’s good friends and enjoy the sea air and relaxed atmosphere. Giuliano took us and his wife and 12-year-old son to one of the exceptionally fine seafood restaurants in the area. Wanting to share the sea’s bounty with us, he ordered our meal. The first course, was also a first for me -- individual plates of raw fish: tuna, oysters, sea bass, and squid. Granted, the presentation was wonderful and I did my best to enjoy the “fresh from the sea” quality, but I much preferred the shrimp cooked in a delicate base of oil, that followed, a pasta with teeny, tiny clams (found only in the Forte dei Marmi area), flounder with artichokes, and pear, lemon and berry ice. We even had dessert, crème brulé with delicate cream-filled pastry shells.

The following day, in response to his question “What would you like to do tomorrow?,” Giuliano drove us toward the Cavi di Marmo -- the Carrara marble quarries -- stopping on the way at the old mountain town of Colonnata. The bells for Sunday Mass were ringing when we arrived, but we’d not come for Mass, though it was Sunday, nor for the famous Lardo di Colonatta (seasoned lard) produced there, but to view a large block of marble depicting the dangerous “lizzatura” system of transporting the immense blocks of marble down the mountainside via a series of wooden tracks that claimed the lives of many miners. The mines themselves were awe-inspiring -- a working mine more than a mile deep within the mountain, and the “blindingly white sunken amphitheater” where Michelangelo chose the marble for his famous Pietà.

At a restaurant near the Carrara seaport, Giuliano treated us to another feast, this one entirely of cooked fish: tiny octopus, a large fish with lacy red fins and great bulging eyes, varied fresh vegetables in herbed oil, and for dessert, seared strawberries and vanilla ice cream layered in paper thin pastry. When he dropped us back at the hotel, we were so stuffed that we fell onto our bed and slept until 3:30 that afternoon.

Having the evening to ourselves, Bill and I walked in the cooling dark along streets lined with high class shops and beautifully dressed Italian tourists. We bought fruit, bread, cheese and wine to eat in the quiet of our hotel room balcony and were savoring our rustic feast when the hotel manager, who’d been yelling (and I mean yelling) into the phone at the front desk came outside to cool off, noted our feast and the drying socks we’d draped over the terrace wall, shook his head in disbelief, and stormed back inside, leaving us convulsed in laughter and providing one more memory to savor at will.

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