Mediterranean Summer – on the road ‘write as you go’ diary of summer wanderings throughout Italy and Southern Europe

isole-eolie
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You’ll see no Rome, Florence, Venice or Taormina in this diary. Instead, I’ll take you to small unknown places of rare beauty often harbouring next to territorial or industrial diseases, ‘ugliness’ of various kind that makes Italy the cradle of the best and the worst. I was taken to these places in the long hot Italian summer by chance or simply by getting lost, always the best way to travel for the non-‘holiday-package’ traveller.

This is not an itinerary, a tourist guide or a suggested tour. I just happen to be in those places and I want to share my sensations and the ideas they evoked in me with you. To make you feel these spots the way I felt them. Even in the frenzy of XXI century life, this is an attempt to recollect emotions in tranquillity through my inward eye.

What is summer for the Italians?

First of all, for most of us, summer is a state of mind. Summer means another kind of approach to life, work and love. It means freedom, escape and holiday. It means the beach, an all-Italian shrine, an iconic place to spend the day, parallel to British clubs. Italian lidos occupy almost all of the never-ending stretch of beaches that defines the Italian peninsula; they provide all the facilities you need on a hot sunny day, it is the place of love and romance, of tanning and swimming, of families’ shouted arguments and couples’ psychodramas. It’s one of the best observation points for the sociologist.
If you know where to look, summer may also mean far-away stunningly beautiful solitary beaches and maritime rocks or alpine high elevation trails where you feel the sublime immensity of nature and the smallness of man, where you feel light and free, mingled with the universe.

– and for me?

lerici-golfo-dei-poeti

Golfo dei Poeti

In recent years, because of the climate change, Mediterranean summers have also stretched in lengths. In my mindset, May Day is the beginning of it, it is my first summer’s day that usually takes place in the narrow beaches, small seaside villages and surrounding green hills of the Golfo dei Poeti, the Poets’ Gulf, in Liguria’s Riviera di Levante, the area in which Lord Byron and P.B. Shelley lived, loved and died – and made it famous. More and more often, summer stretches to Halloween: if it is sunny, I finish my summer in the same place and in the same way, feeling the sun still warm on my skin, swimming in the cooling waters, cycling uphill from Lerici in the shade of the maritime pines, admiring the shining La Spezia gulf from above in the late afternoon sun stretching to the mystical village of Porto Venere, a hamlet that seems to have sprung from John Martin’s visionary brush. Behind the gulf, you can catch a trembling glimpse of le Cinque Terre still crowded with American tourists who, strangely enough, include this location in their modern tour. And, as far as I am concerned, the last summer’s day ends with a fresh seafood dinner in the central piazzetta. Driving back home, I shift my mode to winter and enter another reality.
The peak of summer is August, a month that hangs suspended, almost unreal. Cities are deserted, services and shops closed, big factories and small businesses shut down, streets almost deserted. Parliament is closed too, and democracy can wait. It’s a ghost town feeling, a limbo of suspension. The minority of citizens who have remained in town are at home to stay out of the inland big heat, the majority are on the popular beaches, sometimes so crowded you cannot see the sand and the water.
My attempt to run away from it all has taken me to our land’s end, the coastal village of San Vito Lo Capo in Far West Sicily, in July, from where these notes are written. Beyond the crystal clear waters and behind the surrounding mountains, Africa is waiting. It is really the end of the continent, and a good starting point to tell the tale of the different places where summer has taken me, from the Maltese islands, where we begin our journey, to Provence in Southern France, same waters but two separate Mediterranean worlds. 
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