I was told when I booked my four-night airfare from New York that I had to pay 100 euros for the tour’s choice of either a water lesson or an additional adventure: personal transport between boats, trying a small boat for the first time in Rome or the seas of the Adriatic. It cost me more than I’d hoped.
But the 80 euros for a personal tour – if it could have been combined with a water lesson – would have saved me more than 200 euros from the prospect of the one-hour rental. It was so obvious in hindsight that had I known beforehand, I would have ordered the personal tour, and paid for the lessons on its own, to keep the whole thing going – sharing a meal while I was at it.
Before flying to Naples, I had done a little research, reading about the sensuous experience of fly fishing on the water, diving the waters of the Grand Canal of Venice or the immense stretches of Mediterranean turf, where the pressure of the waves blows from bottom to top and big fish are the norm. None of those experiences felt natural to me, so I went online and jumped over the technical and expensive tourist tropes of Italian “adventure tourism” that promised you a mystical experience.
Whether it was the practical joy of riding my own bike in Bari, driving my own car in Rome or sleeping in a small, slightly ramshackle structure, I was trying to find the simple and the easier that Italian culture is, the quieter and the slower and the more thoughtfully wrought.
Take the boat tour to the Northern Drusilla, the stretch of water off the coast where my friend Nick led us – not because it was thrilling, but because it was the most fun part of the day. Or his campsite, close to where he was camping with a business partner and their families. Or the fact that I chose the local cafe in Pisa, the Hamburger Café, not because it had close Wi-Fi or fancy lighting fixtures but because I like coffee in the morning.
It wasn’t that Italian food was harder to eat or smell. It just wasn’t as visually stunning, splashed with our names and faces as delicious as it was in American or Chinese cuisine. Or it was less expensive.
When an American was having fish in our little fishing town in Northern Italy, I felt like he was eating crab or shrimp or scallops or filet mignon, but even though the fish had the texture of a vitamin C tablet and little of its flavor, it tasted delicious. When you look directly in people’s eyes, and you see their eyes and expressions, they’re our eyes and expressions, it’s mesmerizing.
The pleasure of both making and eating a whole, fresh baked torte would give an American pause.
But it would be meaningless to elaborate about Italian cuisine, for I would soon get back to the joys of someone else’s exquisite food – if I were lucky.
(H/T Elaine Constantine, the founder of visititaly.com)