Left Bunny poses under the Moneglia train sign when we arrive; right iconic view of Moneglia mountains and the sea.
Today I managed to kill a mocha coffee pot – forgot to put the water in, all the gaskets melted - and I opened a jar of fig jam that actually could have been used next year – pure gluttony. This was after a walk to the beach area. All completely refurbished, including a handrail down a new staircase to the rocks. The original access to the beach had become a hazardous walk on broken concrete slabs, dotted with rebarb spikes, after a winter erosion issue caused by overbuilding. For several years the small rocky, basically private beach, had been used only by those willing to brave the then dangerous path. The usual Italian bickering over who would pay for the costly repairs delayed things and locals found a way to use the beach all the same. The rocky beach always appealed to me and I would hold my breath as I walked the precarious path to get to the tiny, secluded beach for a short swim in the choppy water and a late afternoon sit on the rocks to enjoy a brief bit of cool sunshine thanks to the ocean breeze.
Various views of the new walkway to the private rocky beach of Rospo, Casa Jazayeri.
My real delight was, and is, the shower area. With careful attention to timing, when I am here, this is my shower. Outside, overlooking the sea, each evening with the sun still slightly high in the sky, I make my way to this private space and enjoy showering outside in the elements.
With a mind to this sort of bliss, I come to Moneglia, in particular to Rospo (literal translation bull frog), and most specifically to Casa Jazayeri. Liguria, the Italian coast of heaven, location of the summer place of our generous friends Mary & Mehdi Jazayeri. One year we watched as a fire department plane came back and forth for hours fetching water to put out a local forest fire. The first year we came together and fell in love with Vernazza, one of the five terraces for which this area is famous, as the entire town pitched in to recover from a massive mud slide. That year we found Cheo wine and the Belforte restaurant with Andrea our favorite waiter. Since then we have been back together only once, and I return each year to this place of total bliss.
Some things have changed, there is even a taxi in town now, and still it has the feel of an Italian seaside town of the 1970’s. Yesterday when I arrived, I flitted from Claudio’s shop where I bought wine, fresh milk and cheese, homemade salty pies (a local specialty), and olives (famous in this region). Next to Ornella at the greengrocer where I bought local figs, super fresh peaches, lettuce, tomatoes, radicchio, lemons, and giant bouquets of sage, local basil, & parsley.
Basil and sage. I had used all the parsley by the time I took the photo!
Before my final stop I left everything I had bought so far, plus my wheelie bag & yoga mat, at il Centrale. True to its name, this place is the center of town. Owned by a local family, open all year round, it is the meeting place in Moneglia proper. Entering the spacious inside bar area, I looked immediately toward the parrot who resides there. He was conspicuously absent, and I let out a yelp of surprise. One of the sons who owns the place was quick to re-assure me, the bird is fine. He was taken home to comply with Covid-19 requirements for space and social distancing. With all the fans he attracts, his presence had become an issue of compliance and he was comfortably at the home of owner Dad. With a sigh of relief I asked if I might leave my bags while I made my last purchases and return for them, and an apero, in a short while. Warmly he agreed and I gratefully deposited my supplies and set off for my last stop.
Farinata. Having grown up on the chickpea, the ceci my favorite of all legumes, farinata is for me literally a slice of heaven. Bread with basically three ingredients, ceci flour, water, and olive oil. It is a masterpiece of simplicity and it is famous in Liguria. Here, in Moneglia, Castellucchio is my favorite purveyor of this delight. For the first time in nearly a decade of coming here, there was not a line to purchase. I entered the nearly empty shop as a fresh tray of farinata was being pulled from the oven. Baked in giant round aluminum pans, this farinata is crisp on the outer edges and soft towards the middle. Eagerly I ordered 3 pieces, one a crunchy bit of the side, another soft middle, and the third with a bit of both. This shall last me to the end of tomorrow the shop woman and I agreed – noting it was now 6pm. Along with my beloved farinata I bought a strip of focaccia – also a local legend – focaccia bread with soft cheese baked in and 3 almond paste cookies. Now my shopping complete, I went back to bar Centrale for an evening apero.
Just as I arrived at il Centrale the skies opened and the earth received a deluge of rain, fast and furious. Childlike, I stood in the safety of the inside terrace as the heavens poured down and I sipped a gin & tonic, both ingredients locally made. As quick as it came the rain stopped and I enjoyed a pleasant half of an hour literally sipping in the moment. Federico arrived right on time in his taxi van and whisked me and all the packages off to Rospo, generous home of the Jazayeri’s. We chatted as we snaked through the dark tunnel which connects Moneglia to the surroundings. He had nearly had to close his embryonic business, only started last year, he was the first local taxi in town, and he had done extremely well in 2019. With the Covid-19 situation in Italy in 2020 he was in peril, and only in late June did he feel he had enough business to continue. A kind, jolly man, Federico’s service is an enormous benefit for me personally. Previously coming here by train meant a 35 minute walk up and down hill with my bags after 5-6 hours of train travel (depending upon connections) and a frenzy to buy supplies when I arrived. While the reward was worth it, knowing Federico is here to literally carry the bags, is a game changer.
All that shopping I had done would last me most of my stay with the exception of fresh farinata and a sea product which could only be procured in the morning. These things I could carry back myself easily. With all his trials, Federico maintained his price of 10 Euros, and I gave him 5 extra as a sign of solidarity and appreciation. Small things can make a big difference, help where you can and all that. Swiftly he carried all my bags to the door, and we agreed I would see him again when I left Friday, and maybe even before.
Now I had really arrived and Casa Jazayeri welcomed me as graciously as ever, even if it had been empty, for nearly a year.
Bunny enjoys the sunset upon our arrival at Casa Jazayeri.
In the evening light I opened up the house and thanked it for being. Slowly and randomly I settled in; opening all the windows and doors carefully ensuring they were propped open with various items used specifically for this purpose. Turning on the electricity, turning down the bed I would sleep in, tables and chairs to the giant terrace, unpacking the groceries, filling the ice trays, wine in the freezer to be ready for dinner, gas on, etc. etc. With the basics done I took a moment to contemplate the spectacular horizon over the sea and consider what I wanted for dinner. A simple spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, radicchio, basil and tuna. Noting the need for more olive oil, I set about my preparations languidly. Around 9pm I sat down on the terrace with 2 candles, my kindle open to The Last Man, a glass of local white, and a bowl of spaghetti. Bunny and I were in our element. Finished, I did the minimum clean up and took myself off to bed with my kindle and the same title. Almost immediately the sound of the sea lulled me to sleep.
The first time we came here I was so excited I wanted to do and see everything. Having not yet been to the fabled five terraces I was set to explore them all, I wanted to be on the move. Looking back now I have a special appreciation for my husband Claudio. All he wanted to do was relax. To have no schedule, enjoy the sea, a siesta in the afternoon, and be. I hounded him to do something! It is no wonder he has only been here one other time. Since then I have been here with my mom, with my friends Mariejeanne and Alice (illustrator of the Bunny Chronicles), and several times on my own. Each time I have slowed my pace and this time in particular, I find myself reflecting on that visit so long ago with Claudio. Blissfully happy to be here, I am content to hang out, listen to the sea, read, write, take a nap, sip wine. Age, wisdom, meditation? Whatever the case, it is nearly 4.30 pm and I am considering a short book read and a nap.
Helicopters are an everyday occurrence where I live, used to transport building materials to rooftops, haul out heavy machines, and even deliver the town Christmas tree to the piazza, and I have come to seriously appreciate the skill of these pilots. The helicopter itself is a miracle, nature copied, each time I behold one I see a giant dragonfly. That they can hover above the earth at far and extremely close distances without crashing to the ground is a compliment to both their design and their pilots. Yesterday, returning from La Secca, my favorite swimming beach in the area, it seemed the entire town was watching a helicopter hover on the highest local peak. A hair above the trees the pilot kept the whirling chopper blades steady while what looked like a person, was gently lifted into the belly of the beast. There was a common electricity in the air from the beach itself, along the coast road, and right down into the pedestrian area of town, everyone seemed to be on pause watching the scene. The entire situation endeared me all the more to Moneglia.
True to my word, at my last writing I retired with my book, Samarkand by Amin Maalouf. This book has been on my reading list for years and happened to be on a shelf here are Casa Jazayeri, naturally I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening with it as my sole companion. When I did take a break to make some dinner, freshly made another version of the same spaghetti with vegetables and tuna as the night before, I stopped midway and went to the seaside for a shower. Evening bliss welcomed me, and my sun kissed skin was all the happier for it.
Left Bunny enjoys the view at our shower paradise; right the sea view.
In the upstairs flat there is a Milanese woman who will always be seen with full make-up and who vacuums a minimum of twice per day, sometimes three or four times. As I can barely find my way to sweep and do the minimum of chores in this paradise, I am amazed with her attention to routine and order. This year there seems to be an addition to the family, a baby boy named Pietro. I am sure of his name as they repeat it about 1000 times a day, usually followed by the word NO! In true Italian style he is up until after 11 pm and there is much crying until around midnight, sometimes even in the wee hours of the morning. It may sound as if I am complaining, in actual fact I am not, it is comforting to have people about, and I find the privilege of observing human behavior satisfying.
In fact, at this time of year the place is usually quite full, and I am glad for it as I like to sleep with the bedroom doors open to the sea breeze and feel all the more comfortable (and safe) with lots of people around. Even with Covid-19, the place is relatively full of Italians, plus some Germans and French, and even the odd Swiss (like me). This morning a phone dived onto the terrace outside the bedroom, landing on its protected side luckily for its owner. Next thing the cute young Italian woman with the flat up and next to Casa Jazayeri peered over, “Mi scusi, un'ape mi ha spaventata” (Excuse me, I got scared by a bee). We giggled and she came outside to collect her phone.
Another day unfolding. Having spent most of yesterday in and around Moneglia, I am inclined to stay ‘home’ today. Yesterday, awake at 4am with my missing tooth, more precisely the hole formerly known as my tooth, throbbing I set off early yesterday for Moneglia in search of relief. True to form I took with me my backpack, ready for whatever adventures awaited me. As I walked up the hill on the walking path to town, the other way being through an old railroad tunnel suitable only for cars, I marveled equally at the sea stretched out endlessly to my left and my body which took the hill without a hard breath. Even with a throbbing mouth, the splendor of the sea and my good fortune to be here overwhelmed me as it always does on this walk. Descending the hill and into the shady forest path that leads directly to town, I noted the new handrail and shrubs edging the path and made a note to share the news with Mary. In fact, I have been gathering tidbits to share, in an effort to give Mary & Mehdi the feeling that they too were here this year. As Covid has them stranded in the US, I sacrifice myself as their proxy here in Moneglia, wink wink. .
Castellucchio, my favorite farinata place, is literally the first store I greet as I saunter under the arch and enter town. Aware that my first mission was healing and pain relief, I took one look at the line and thought best to join it later. However, when I passed Massimo’s fish shop and noted that they had fresh sea asparagus, I had to stop and buy some. While there I took the chance to ask Massimo if he knew of a dentist. He directed me under the portico next to the cartoleria - literally paper shop and in Moneglia this one is synonymous with the 1970’s ‘drug’ stores in America where everything from thread to children’s toys are sold in a space the size of a postage stamp. Hopefully, I headed there, stopping along the way at Claudio’s for local olive oil. With that in hand, I went directly to the dentist, and found them to be closed.
Ever optimistic I went next to the pharmacy where Angelo, owner and pharmacist himself, suggested me the other dentist in town and if not to come back and he would set me up directly. Less hopefully and still optimistic, I marched off to the other dentist about 200 meters from the first and found them as well closed. Back to Angelo at the pharmacy, now there was a line of surgically masked people of all ages waiting. Taking my place in line I took the chance to use my internet connection and communicate with friend, this always makes me feel better. Quickly it was my turn in line, as I entered the shop Angelo was about to leave for his coffee break, seeing me he went back behind the counter and made a point to help me before he left for his break. Five minutes later I was outside with antibiotics, pro-biotics, and a powerful ant-inflammatory agent made from bromine (lucky me, same active ingredient in the pineapple which makes it both anti-inflammatory and an agent against cellulite). It seemed relief and healing where on the way, only I needed to take one, wait, eat, and then take the others.
Just outside I sat down on a bench, of which there are dozens along the main street of Moneglia for the express purpose of taking a load off anytime, and of course people watching. Here I took my first does of pro-biotics, as directed before food and far from the antibiotic which was to be taken after food. Without another thought my feet took over and led me like homing pigeons to il centrale where I ordered a shakerato. This uniquely Italian treat of coffee shaken with ice just like a martini, and then served in the same glass as a martini, is super refreshing and just what I needed. As I considered my next move, a vision of fried seafood swam before my eyes and before I knew it, I had deposited my purchases, including all the meds (minus two small tablets for post lunch) and the heavy bottle of olive oil, on the couch next to where the parrot used to sit. From il centrale I headed off to La Secca for a swim and my annual plate of fried sea fruits (literal translation from the Italian frutti di mare).
The walk to La Secca is along the coast, up a small path which winds around a hill and spits you out on the beginning of the stretch of beach which is La Secca. It is a longish stretch with only a small part occupied by the ubiquitous Italian beach chairs and umbrellas, yours for the day for a mere 25Euros. Once, to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday a few years ago I got a chair with umbrella and spent the day. It was the first time I had the fried sea fruit plate, and since I come back for the food every year. This is as well one of Mary & Mehdi’s favorite places to lunch and it is thanks to them that I know about it. For me, this is also my favorite place to swim in this area without taking a train. My all-time favorite place to swim is Vernazza, and I was not up to a train on this trip. Having been here before, I knew I was running a risk not having a reservation for lunch, and I went sheepishly, directly to the restaurant also named La Secca, and in charge of the chair rentals too. Indeed, totally packed and the woman at the ‘desk’ told me to come back in 30-45 minutes and maybe something would open. Now for a swim.
Wandering onto the beach I spotted some mature woman sitting happily under their perspective umbrellas on their own chairs. Enthusiastically I asked them if they minded my leaving my things there. “La spiaggia è libera per tutti, signora, certo!” (the beach is free for all dear, of course). Deftly I slipped on my bathing suit bottoms – it is relevant to note that in Europe nearly universally, people change on the beach in a discreet fashion, and equally discreetly, no one looks or watches, I love this – slid off my dress, tucked everything neatly in my backpack and skipped directly into the sea. Ahh, total bliss to feel the salt and sun on my skin. Frolicking for a few minutes in the sea I thanked my lucky stars for this chance. Fully cooled off I walked up and down the beach, generally enjoying the sea and a bit of people watching. It was a perfect day to be at the sea. Eager for my fried sea fruits I made my way back to the restaurant.
As I imagined, they were still full, and I knew that waiting there was the only way to even hope for a table. After about 30 minutes, I was seated, at a table not on the sea – these are reserved for regulars, defined as people who rent chairs by the month or the season. Like many things in Italy, there is a hierarchy and a walk in client is about as low on the list as it gets, so really, I was lucky to get a table at all. That said, the food was delicious, I ate every last morsel with the exception of the delectable sardines. Their little bones being too much of a risk for my already infected hole where a tooth used to be, I took them with me for the neighbor cat who enjoyed them as a late night snack while no one was looking.
Top fried sea fruits; bottom left Bunny with said fruits, gazing at the sea; bottom right Bunny and our second shakerato of the day - that is pure foam, no milk!
The service was scant, I even resorted to using the paper tablecloth for the debris from my fish, as the customary bowl for this purpose was never delivered to my table. One to make the best of things, I sipped my wine (with ice) and read an entire article in the New Yorker (about natural wines) in between bites and staring at the sea. Enchanted by the scene and the food I agreed to a piece of homemade cake with fresh apricots and an almond crust. This treat was outstanding, so rich, I finished it with my coffee at brunch today (one cake two days of taste joy).
Thoroughly pleased with my meal and the overall experience, I went to pay before taking another swim. Possibly fatigued from a long day, the same woman whom I had spoken with before was now surly and the price was higher than I was expecting. All the same I paid with a smile and left a tip for the young man who had waited on me (the son-in-law of the chef). As I wandered back to the open beach, I made a mental note, next year, reserve a table in advance.
Back on the beach I made my way for a rocky alcove to disrobe and leave my things in a seemingly secure spot. As I slipped into my bathing suit bottoms the woman to my left said, “Signora, mantiene la distanza!” (ma’am maintain the distance!) in a rather argumentative tone. Calmly I assured here I was not staying, only leaving my things and popping into the sea. On and on she went insisting. Eventually I thanked her and popped off. As I stepped into the surf, I thought to myself, all that talking was more dangerous than just being quiet and letting things be. This was in fact the second time I had encountered this Covid temperament (my term for this kind of harassment). The first was at the Castellucchio where I buy farinata. After my success at the pharmacy I had gone back there to get my fill, groaning as I took my number, 22 and they were on number 6. Happy to enjoy a bit of shade I waited my turn about 30 meters away on a bench in front of the church. Ear cocked, checking the number board every few minutes, still when they called my number, I was unable to get there fast enough before they went to the next one. As I approached the door, mask in hand, a woman accosted me yelling how I should be paying attention, how rude I was for making them wait, AND not even wearing a mask! Fixing my mask to my face I looked her in the eye and said, “Signora, lasciamo perdere, ok?”(Ma’am, let us leave it, ok?). She gave me the evil eye and went on muttering to anyone who would listen. Unfazed I bought my fill and moved on.
In the same spirit, after my frolic in the sea, I gathered my things and went a bit further down the beach. Here I tucked everything up and took advantage of the wide expanse of the beach to do some Qi gong. The beach is actually one of my favorite places to do Qi gong, sunshine, the sound of the sea, sand under my feet, every sense Is engaged.
Left the strip of sea where I enjoyed a swim; right top, the sea welcoming at La Secca; bottom right a view of the entire coastline from this perspective.
It was as I walked back towards Moneglia proper that I encountered the helicopter scene mentioned earlier. To celebrate the day I had a glass of francicorta at il centrale. Lounging over it with another article in the New Yorker, I noted that it was that time of day when everyone is either still on the beach or at home taking a nap. There is a distinct rhythm in Italian beach towns in the summer, when everyone is sipping coffee, when everyone is at the sea, shopping, taking a nap, eating, when the before dinner apero happens, there is a dance to it. It is a dance, and everyone knows the time of the music and the steps. As my mother has often reminded me, I live my life by my own tune, and it was about 45 minutes before anyone else came to il centrale. Soon after I set off for the walk home, content to take it slow, enjoy the view, and arrive in my own time in my own tune.
As I write it is round two of vacuuming upstairs and about time for me to take an early evening swim, and shower.
Trains are amongst my favorite forms of transport. When living in the Russian Far East I spent many happy hours traversing by train. My favorite was the night train between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. So civilized, in both directions one gets on the train in time for dinner, which can be served in your compartment or in the dining car. As well, for both, one arrives at a civilized hour to start the day, complete with a cup of tea before you disembark. En route from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok at about midnight there is a stop where old women sell homemade cakes, savoury pastries, homemade pickles whatever is in season. In winter with snow falling, under a blanket of white, I would always get off and buy a big chunk of cake and have it with a cup of tea for the pure delight of the experience.
All this comes to me as I whizz through the Italian countryside on a train. The trip from Moneglia to Milan goes along the seaside for about the first hour and I love to stare out and see the people sunning, swimming, living. There are no stops for food and no sleeping berths on this day train, and I love it all the same. Across from me is an elderly French woman, elegantly she was fanning herself with her ticket – the a/c does not exactly give maximum cool. She was hesitant at first, and then the heat overtook her, and she gratefully accepted my Spanish fan. Covid has its place on the train too, two for one seats. For the price of one ticket you really get two as alternative seats must be vacant. For me this is a windfall as I have been known (in Turkey) to buy two seats on a long haul bus to have extra room. Before I left, Claudio suggested I check my train as some people had found themselves ticket in hand and not allowed on trains in Italy. All this because when this change in capacity had not been considered. So far, smooth sailing and I am nearly home.
My last full day at Casa Jazayeri was total bliss. Having promised myself, after a full day out and a shaky tooth, a day of total flow and rest I did just that. Yoga, meditation, Qi gong, a long lazy breakfast looking over the sea. From breakfast complete with iced coffee for the tooth, I rolled onto the adjoining lounge chair and continued Samarkand. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea to walk to town after dinner. Having laid in supplies I had plenty of food to eat before leaving and besides I enjoy watching the sunset over the sea while I eat. For now I was in my element with a book and a breeze. Next thing it was nearly 6pm and I had been alternating between reading and writing for most of the day, time for a bit of movement.
Shower essentials packed and best bathing suit on I made for the rocky private beach just below the flat. Usually the water at this beach is a bit rough for me, and getting in and out requires some maneuvering, so I was only considering a quick dip before my ritual shower. A delightful surprise awaited me, the water was flat as glass, totally calm. Aware of my good luck I made my way in and swam about for a while. Fully cooled I plucked my way out on the slippery rocks and sunned myself to dry like a lizard. It was then I heard it “Pietro, no!”. The disembodied voices of the people upstairs materialized to me in human form, there on the beach. For a while I watched them play in the water. Mother dipping Pietro in the water and father echoing his squeals of delight, they all seemed happy and relaxed in the outdoors.
As I considered making my way to shower, a slim figure came up to me, “What was that dance you were doing today?” It took me a moment to realize that it was the young woman of the jumping phone. “Qi gong”, I replied. There ensued a conversation about yoga and where she might find some Qi gong instruction, and overall one of those interactions that leaves me feeling full of gratitude and good humor. Now, fully content with my visit to the beach, I headed up the new walkway for the bliss of my final full nature shower of this visit.
Left Bunny fully enjoying nature seaside; right the clear, flat turquoise sea inviting me for a swim.
Back in Lugano, equally beautiful, just different. Essentially, I came back to do my radio show, and to celebrate the birthday of our friend Carolyn who has returned after a 5 year hiatus. Monday morning I as well camped at the dentist door, desperate for relief. It was slow coming and had me another week in Lugano.
On more than one occasion I have read that the key to being a writer is to “keep your butt in the chair”. In other words, sit down and write without distraction. It is a week I am back in Lugano and every day I promise myself that I will do this, and I do not. Tomorrow, 15 August the famous ferragosto, after the radio show, I will get on a train for our next adventure in the Dolomites where Claudio and out family of poppets await us. Today, I am keeping my butt in the chair until I complete my tale.
In the end I never went to Moneglia for dinner, with childlike delight I stayed at home each evening and read Samarkand, listening to the sea. Casa Jazayeri has a mosaic lamp in the main room, it glows softly and casts a dreamlike light. Each evening as the sun set, I switched it on, the final element in the stay at home seduction. Book in hand I enjoyed every evening quietly on my own.
Leaving Casa Jazayeri is bittersweet in every way, and my concern to make sure that all is properly ‘closed up’ helps to keep me focused. Ensuring all dishes are clean and dry, gas off, all items stowed in their proper place, all my things packed, windows properly closed, and at the last moment electricity off. Pleased with myself that this was all done with calm and attention I took my things out to the shady part of the bend to await Federico, magic taxi to the train station. Twenty minutes late Elisa, Federico’s wife, zoomed up in her Smart car. Intrigued and glad I had only a small bag, we stuffed it in and zoomed off. Along the way Elisa explained to me that Federico was stuck in traffic. Having taken someone to the airport in Genoa early that morning, it was now 2.45pm, he was still in return traffic. She went on to explain how the new bridge in Genoa was causing all matter of problems as the roads around were not ready etc. etc. I was slightly pre-occupied at the timing of my train, and if I would make it, and she was so jolly and full of cheer. On our 12 minute ride to the station I learned a great deal about she and Federico, their (his) son, their cat, her being a teacher, etc. In the end I thoroughly enjoyed her and her energy. The entire experience reminded me that all the preparation in the world is only as good as my daily meditations, which open me to be present and enjoy the moment.
Voila! I made to the train and proceeded on my return journey with a heart full of gratitude. Soon off for mountain adventures, I look forward to my next visit to Casa Jazayeri.
Written as a thank you to Mary & Mehdi Jazayeri who offer me/us this unique space in which to relax, with special acknowledgement to Claudio and Begüm Bunny who have been so much to teach me to relax.