Coffee harborside at a tiny bistro table on the sidewalk right in front of our hotel, I Tre Merli, and just a few feet from the water’s edge. Movements only from that cheeky seagull eyeing me and my breakfast onion focaccia, and from the small dogs trotting beside their owners. There were the harbor pilots sipping espresso in their flip flops and board shorts and reading the morning’s paper, the day-trippers consulting the water-taxi schedule to San Frutuosso and glancing at the dock, where no water-taxi is anchored (the sea’s probably too rough and the taxi won’t run today).
Coffee was brought out in a white carafe with a side pitcher of frothy milk. I could sit for hours here, absent-mindedly pouring more coffee and milk into my cup and gazing out and across the harbor of Camogli, watching the cliffside town slowly, ever so slowly wake up. J and I were easing into our day, too. Making the most of our mornings meant sitting at this very table for as long as it took, and then wandering back upstairs to our room to gather water bottles, sunblock and head out for a day of hiking over the hills and coastline stretching south of Genoa, the Riviera di Levante of Italy’s Ligurian coast.
I was wistfully reminded of northern Italy’s aperitivo one night in DC’s Maxwell Park. It was early evening on a Saturday and every bar seat was comfortably filled by people like me and J who were there for a pre-dinner drink. But as I glanced around, I noticed amongst the wine and water glasses that there wasn’t a small plate or bowl of snacks in front of anyone. In contrast, my pre-dinner experience in northern Italy was “aperitivo,” a civilized few hours around sunset enjoyed with a selection of meats and cheeses, crusty bread, olives or other bites, served alongside your cocktail or wine.
Aperitivo purportedly got its start in the capital of Italy’s Piedmont’s region, Turin, where Antonio Benedetto Carpano concocted vermouth. (And where J and I had two lovely pizzas sitting outdoors at a café, excited but fighting off the beginnings of jet lag – having just landed from the U.S. – and before catching our train to coastal Liguria.)
And there we were the next day, at an open-air seaside bar in Camogli, on the Ligurian coast, where aperitivo included an eclectic mix of potato chips, bite size sandwiches, pickled vegetables, and hummus. All of this came unbidden with a glass of sparkling wine and the server insisting, yes, snacks come with your drinks, and yes, they are included in the very reasonable price. How have I not known about this sensible tradition? Google translates “aperitivo” to “appetizer.” Which doesn’t do it justice. Italy’s aperitivo was a revelation; a truly smart way to enjoy your early evening.
On an early summer evening we made dinner for friends, who brought dessert. They were flying in a few days to visit some of the very same parts of northern Italy J and I did a few years ago. Just hearing “Piemonte,” “Alba,” “Barolo,” “Liguria,” filled my heart. I started talking in that enthusiastic tone of someone who has just gotten back from a trip and still feels close enough to touch it. That experience was essentially the force behind this blog.
She’s Italian and grew up in Turin (widely-claimed home of aperitivo); keeps a place on the Ligurian coast in Sanremo (or San Remo). Fly into Nice and it’s a short drive across the French-Italian border, on the Riviera di Ponente, Coast of the Sunset. (I stayed on the other side of Genoa, the Riviera di Levante, Coast of the Sunrise.) We had homemade tiramisu for dessert and homemade limoncello for our digestivo. A drink of grain alcohol, lemon rinds, and sugar, it burned the back of my throat. The limoncello was poured mercifully into tiny shot glasses. The rest is now hanging out in our freezer. I admit to being a little afraid to bring it out.
So, I’m going back to Italy with maybe a few new posts and have split my very first post – written just over a year ago – into two. I’m finally heeding (somewhat) my teenage niece’s comment that my blog posts can be too long.