One of the reasons I decided to break my move to Italy into two parts – rather than staying in Dublin until I’ve published my thesis – is that I wanted to take advantage of beach season. Goodness knows I could use a little sunshine after a year in Ireland.
I like to head to the beach early in the morning, before the heat’s too strong, so I can feel extra accomplished, even if the writing goes sour later on. I watch the families and the waves. I paddle around in the sea. I lie on the sand and hold my hand up in front of my eyes like the sun – marveling at the fact that in two short weeks I’ve gone from the color of mozzarella to the color of bread crust. Food metaphors; a sign that I need to eat something. But what does one eat on an Italian beach?
Up and down the boardwalk, I see signs like these. Beach shack menus, supposedly – but they sure don’t look like the beach shack menus I know. Risotto al mare. Lasagna. Penne all’arrabbiata. Ravioli di pomodoro. Have I stumbled into a beachside oasis, where limp red hot dogs and greasy clam strips are replaced by sophisticated Italian classics?
I check the prices. 5.50 for everything. What fresh joy is this?
So I prance down a flight of concrete steps into the first beach shack cafe I find. The tables are square, covered with blue plastic tablecloths, and there doesn’t seem to be a waitress in sight. I go to the counter, where a couple of tanned youths are manning the till. I order a plate of tortellini con panna e prosciutto. The boys tell me: Good. Now sit anywhere you like.
I choose a table facing the beach. Blue umbrellas as far as the eye can see. La Maga Circe smoky in the distance, behind rolling clouds. The sand, yellow, and the children at the table next to me pointing to the poster of ice cream selections on the wall, begging their parents for a cremino. Which sounds great to me, too. Perhaps after my fine Italian beach dining experience.
The tanned youth from the till is back, holding a plastic plate. Atop the plastic plate is a steaming plastic bag, emblazoned with a cartoon picture of tortellini con panna e prosciutto. The youth sets down the packages in front of me, and pulls a pair of scissors from his apron. He slices the bag open, and steam pours out as he turns it upside down and empties the creamy contents onto my plate. This all strikes me as extremely cheeky – 5.50 euro my ass! – but I say grazie and begin to eat. Since it’s Italian frozen food, it’s still quite delicious and I finish it quickly.
It’s 12pm so I head back to the apartment and fire up the computer. My stomach feels as though it’s twisting in knots, spasming each time I take a breath. I try to type but the knots in my stomach tighten and eventually I’m forced to retreat to the bedroom and lie down in the cool dark.
Yep. That’s beach food, all right.