~tasto ai mare (key to the sea)~

April 19th, 2008


Scusi? Quanto Costo? We began the next morning at the Balôn market in Borgo Dora. A bust as far as fleas go, but great for people watching, especially after I left the fellows at a cafe, because the sweet Antonio would not leave my immediate side, tho I am both older and taller than he is by some distance.

He knew what I learned quickly: a woman traveling without a man in Italy–Turino anyway–is a walking question mark. I got a lot of attention, but none that was aggressive, though some that was accompanied by accordion.


We had heavenly gelato at Caffè Fiorio, once known as café of the pigtails, as it was also frequented by gentlemen aristocrats during the 1800s. Then it was time to hit the road, but not before polishing the finger of Christopher Columbus, whose home town of Genova we were about to descend upon. A woman who saw me checking out this bas relief came over to explain, “Fortuna!” A lady can never have enough fortuna, especially from the big navigator himself…


The rain brought the plants up like crazy–the highway was lined with clover fields fat with chomping sheep and nearly green with yellowness.

When we arrived in Genova, we discovered it is, ummm….a seaport town: gritty, loud, crowded, and industrial, but otherwise perfect! We sailed south on to Nervi, down the the Ligurian Riviera. We met on Nerve, we overnighted in Nervi, in a villa we passed along a tiny side road which enchanted me so much Ali broke his usual ‘never turn back’ rule to rent a suite in the self-proclaimed “oasis of love and passion for life and all the beautiful things life embraces.” Mistake Numero Due!


Hotel Villa Pagoda was built in the early 19th century in an Oriental style by a wealthy merchant from Genova who had fallen in love with a Chinese lass and wanted to woo her. Much of it’s original splendor remains, from the original Murano chandelier to the Carrara marble floors.

I felt like Queen of the Nereids, until I found her in the garden.


Amphitrite/Salacia (depending upon what side of the Greek/Roman divide you wake up on), was seen dancing “with liquid feet” (according to Greek poet Bacchylides) by Poseidon/Neptune, who then hounded her to the end of the oceans until she became his main squeeze. (maybe he should have just built a pagoda?) She is often seen in a chariot pulled by seahorses, crab pincers adorning her temples. Her offspring included dolphins and seals.


We dined above, while below there was a wedding. In the main hall they played Fred Astaire singing Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek. The day before we watched Fred and Ginger dance this same dance from 1935’s Top Hat at the cinema museum. More dancing! More champagne!

Later we tried to walk to the sea and found instead a locked door at the end of a secret corridor. We returned to the hotel and I discovered all a lady must do is ask, and she will be handed the Key to the Sea (it really said this on the chain, Tasto ai Mare). Fortuna!

The Anita Garibaldi promenade (see postcard above) runs along the rocky shore for a mile, from the old harbor to Capolungo Village. On this full moon wild sea night, it was dotted with smoochers tucked in every shadow. You can walk right out into the ocean along a low path. We watched the moon vanish and reappear only as a reflection that came chasing towards us. The water sparkled and salt droplets hung in my hair.


We wandered along the shore and then back up through tiny passageways to the land of crumbling villas. This area was an eccentric bohemian paradise until the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Hemingway began the celebrity flood that swallowed everything. In April however it is still the off-season here; it felt like we were the only people on earth. Us, plus some well-buzzed locals in this charming pub (that is sea on the right)…


The scent of night-blooming jasmine and the song of the loudest (but secretly shiest) frogs filled the air. When we followed their song to the source–a pond just beyond the gate of the villa below–they were instantly silent. We hid and waited, but to no avail.


It was a splendid night I will not forget.

Egyptian priestesses (I learned at the museum) danced the cosmic patterns of night and day, and at funerals, danced in grief. Here is some Fred and Ginger for you, dancing for Fortuna, and the Sea.

One Response to “~tasto ai mare (key to the sea)~”

  1. […] For me, it’s the wild that calls most: Spain’s northern coast, Galicia, and more than anything, southern Andalusia. I’m thrilled about the cities too, but my best memories in recent travel (Ravello, the tiny towns along both southern coasts of Italy, Venasque, La Coste, the enclaves above the Côte d’Azur, Nervi!) are of the smaller nooks in the classic romantic countries. So my homing pigeon instinct points to the Pueblos Blancos of Seville, Cádiz, Córdoba, Málaga, Granada… […]

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