~a question of home~

June 22nd, 2008

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“You really can’t go home,” Ali said. We were standing in the dark in front of the summer apartment in Senigallia once owned by his parents. All his childhood and teenage summers were spent there, or in the two treasured movie theaters that are now a car showroom and a casino.

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We stood staring up at the dark window of apartment now owned by someone else, listening to the bocche game on the new sand court behind us. At least all the changes weren’t for the worst.

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He found a postcard from the sixties featuring the first apartment they rented on the shore. We waded into the Adriatic sea at that spot too, and climbed up on the long rock embankment. I gathered shells for Ali and found what he identified as a rays’s egg–possibly an Raja Undulata–also sometimes called the Mermaid’s Purse.

It was the first two days of our nine-day trip down the east coast of Italy and up looping up to the west. That night we trolled along the boardwalk and admired the “glass pearl” (as Ali says) fashions of the Northern Italians who flood the beaches of this port town of the Marche region, province of Ancona. White Denim is what I’m saying: white denim with fraying slashes cut into carefully careless patterns. Everywhere.

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The sleepy seaside town Ali recalls has become an incredible holiday scene: endless streams of people wandered about, drinking, smoking, eating gelato and watching the bands performing on at least five large, fully lit and amplified stage platforms. Music echoed off the old buildings, layering over other melodies, and filling the night with a buzz of excitement. My favorite was the female jazz vocalist who sang a smoky version of Smells Like Teen Spirit in front of the fountain where Ali and his brother Stefano often “found” their ice cream money back in the day.

The night was so hot that an illicit one a.m. swim in the hotel’s rooftop pool was mandatory and relished.

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We had a haute lunch at Uli Assi in an early celebration for my birthday (it was the following day.) Ali had the seven course menu which included smoked spaghetti and clams, fish soup, and a dish called “risotto and sea.”

I had Monkfish with eggplant caponata and it was incredible. The chef kept bringing “little gifts” for me along with Ali’s courses, such as fresh whole anchovy on toast with tangerine jelly. You cannot say “No, I don’t eat anchovy” to such sweeting offerings, so I didn’t and the fish was really good.

He was a very charming man who relished a chance to practice his English with us, deferring only once to his companion—the so-called English expert—who served my lunch with the sincere proclamation, “Monkey Fish!”

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The second evening we drove to the tiny hilltop town of Corinaldo. The swifts swooped and cried in their aerial plankton hunt, the dogs were wild, and the local men gathered at the one pub with an outdoor television, watching a match in Euro2008. It was a bit like a ghost town.

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The following day–my thirty-ninth birthday—we hit the road, waving a sad goodbye to Ali’s childhood and it’s sea of enchanted monkeyfish.

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