Italian souvenirs by Mirino
It's revealing how memories are so often 'punctuated by the palate'. Or is this limited to only those more orientated by their stomachs? Whatever, quite a few places spring to mind and make me close my eyes and smile blissfully again. 'Fisherman's wharf' in San Francisco, for example, where we ate lobster and 'sour bread' (as good as Parisian bread) with superb Californian wine, all served without any fuss in a homely atmosphere. Unforgettably good. Then I also remember the little restaurant del Lago di Garda, Italy. After driving up from Bologna we had found a hotel and I had asked the manager where we could eat reasonably well for lunch. He directed us towards a big lake side place that on closer inspection I wasn't too enthusiastic about. I suspected that between the hotel and the restaurant there was some sort of reciprocal back scratching arrangement. But just behind the hotel there was a bistro that looked cosy and far more inviting. So that's where we went for lunch. When we arrived, the young owners, the wife clutching the baby, were having a full blown row. We were the only ones there and felt somewhat drawn into this typical, Italian, family intimacy. The only time they stopped arguing was briefly when they served us, smiling charmingly as though everything was perfectly normal and sublime peace reigned. In a way this must have been so, because we were served with two, open grilled, different kind of trout from the lake which were absolutely delicious.
A favourite restaurant in Sanremo, always springs to mind. Another family trattoria in the old, covered gallery part of the town that one climbs the steps to. I always ordered the same dish because it was so good. Spaghetti ai frutti di mare.
It was decided that we should go there on one of my birthdays. My girl friend and I, my daughter, one of my sisters and her companion. I was in great spirits, even though we were blocked in traffic jams most of the time going. My sister's companion wanted to pee and as we had decided to follow the coastal road, there was little opportunity for him. Being endowed with a black sense of humour, this added to the hilarity of the occasion for me. He was understandably less amused, but when we eventually got to the restaurant he was fully rewarded for his commendable patience and control. Having done the necessary, finally relaxed with the glass of cool, red wine in his hand, his face shone with relief. Real contentment is always relative to the extent of discomfort one is previously subject to.
I ordered my favourite dish and we had a very splendid evening meal together. A little too much of the cool red wine perhaps, which helped me drive back like a champion. (My sister remarked on how safe she felt with me driving, whilst my companion, laughing hysterically, was completely terrorised).
Sanremo has an excellent market. A huge choice of fresh Mediterranean fish and everything else you could ask for. There's nothing nicer than to buy a few 'cuore di bue' (oxen heart) tomatoes and basilica, slicing and dressing them with a 'filet' of olive oil and pepper. Even without the Mozzarella, it's a treat of a meal. Summer in the south is that. The smell of basilica and tomatoes. Glorious salad days.
Apparently much of the original, well preserved village dating from the 16th century still remains (Pigra Hill). I also recently discovered that it was the famous Sanremo Musical Festival that inspired the Eurovision Song Contest which began in 1956. That this would be considered one of its more positive accomplishments is perhaps a matter of opinion, yet it's a good indication of its influence clout.
The last time we decided to go to the little restaurant in the old gallery of Sanremo, we were most disappointed to find that it was no longer there. A Moroccan restaurant was there instead. Yet another sign of the times?
When a place seems to become a small part of one's life, a sort of haven one identifies with, it's always sad to lose it. But then one always retains the essential, the good moments. Those very special memories, 'punctuated by the palate'.
Text and photo 'un petit coin de Sanremo' © Mirino (PW) December, 2009.