Pasqua

Today is Easter and I expected everything to be closed. But no. The town is full of weekenders so the shops are open. This gave me the chance to buy some very expensive shoes. Sorry that is my only photograph of the day, but I didn’t bring my ipad to lunch.

We ate on the water, across from the Sanremo Yacht Club. A leek flan and deep fried lamb chops, with a tuscan rose. Cathy had a frito misto. Not bad–Ellie was very happy with the lamb bones. Then went to a caffe and had an ultra rich pastry with coffee. Then a nap.

This evening we went to the Sanremo casino, built around 1900. Very pretty art nouveau details but they did not allow photographs. They gave me a 5 euro chip in exchange for my 3 euro coat check, which I bet on black in roulette. I lost. End of gambling.

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Ventimiglia

I had heard, while in France, about the Friday market in Ventimiglia and it was mentioned in my guidebook. So I thought it might have some interesting crafts or other unusual goods. The town is only 10 miles from Sanremo, and the drive along the sea was scenic and we passed the remains of a Roman Colosseum. But once in Ventimiglia, we were in parking hell and managed to bang up the car while circling endlessly looking for a spot to park. The market itself turned out to be the kind of junk that you see at a typical New York street fair. At least the setting was gorgeous (photo).

We salvaged the outing by walking around the town, visiting the covered food market, a 16th century church and then had lunch in a fabulous restaurant that I had read about in a French travel magazine. You could call it a graduated shrimp lunch. We started with tiny shrimp from Venice, about the size of a thumbnail, sautéed whole, with shell, rather like soft shell crabs. Crunchy and delicate. Then we had grilled gambera, a little larger than jumbo shrimp, served with a dip of artichokes and tiny white beans grown nearby. I followed up with a pasta with local spiny lobster, which was about half as big as an American lobster, without claws. It, too, was grilled, in butter, and the pasta was flavored with it, along with tomatoes and roasted garlic. I wanted to try dessert but my tummy couldn’t take any more deliciousness.

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Italy and France

I went to the tourist office today to see if they could help: I got a 70 euro bill for the autostrada because we couldn’t find the entry ticket. The woman there was so nice. She called the traffic authorities, spent half an hour on the phone with them and perhaps straightened things out. (We eventually found the ticket).

Not to trade on cultural stereotypes, but it is true that Italy is a more welcoming place. Maybe it’s because I don’t speak the language that people are so eager to help. In France, they treat me the way they treat one another, with a shrug of indifference. Here, people walk you to where you’ve asked directions to. They are constantly stopping me to admire Ellie (never happens in France). And the cultural norms do seem intact. The food in Italy is consistently good, even in the tourist traps. In France, it is much more variable in quality, especially the meat, which can be tough and gristly. And the shops here. The clothes, the food markets. The merchandise is abundant, beautifully displayed, high quality.

And the aesthetics of living in a culture where 2000 years of art and architecture are around every corner. In France, you drive for 20 miles out of your way to see a renaissance church. Here, there is a 12th century duomo on every corner, or so it seems.

I really like Sanremo. It is a real small city, not just a faded resort. And not so faded either. Miles of sand beaches, with boardwalks and promenades and funky little bars on the beach. 150 restaurants in a town of 50,000 people. A daily covered market with dozens of vendors selling local fruits and vegetables, or prepared foods, or cheese or olives. One stand only sells varieties of legumes. An old town of windy streets from the Middle Ages in one part; gaudy Victorian hotels and an elegant Edwardian casino in another.

The apartment is in a modernish building, probably from the 70s. But the floors are all marble, all the ceiling fixtures have elaborate moldings, the ceilings are high, the terraces are red clay tile, and the feeling is of living in a palazzo.

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Genova

Well, I’m finally connected, via 3G. So I can post this picture of the church of San Lorenzo in Genova, where we spent the day. Wandered through parts of the city–the sidewalks are tiled in marble. Had a very nice lunch in the old city–pasta with broccoli and anchovies and veal arrosta. Then Cathy drove the autostrada back to sanremo where we picked up good pizza for dinner. Hmm. Pasta and pizza. I could live on this.

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Santa margherita Ligure

S. Margharita is a lovely old seaside village , though seemingly geared exclusively for tourists and weekenders. In fact, one shop has a branch in the Hamptons, which this reminds me of.

For dinner, we had pasta: pansoti with salsa di noci (pasta stuffed with chard and herbs in a walnut sauce) and Troffie (long and curly pasta) with pesto, green beans and potatoes. Breakfast at the hotel was pastries and espresso. So much for healthy Italian cooking.

Below is the garden of the hotel and the seafront.

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Portofino

Today we drove up the coast past Genoa to Santa margherita di Ligure, where we are staying in a hotel with wifi. Arrived in time for lunch of langoustine pasta and fried calamari. Then we took the bus to Portofino. Berlusconi and Agnelli have villas here, but off season it’s not crowded and probably the loveliest town I’ve ever seen. Judge for yourself from the photos.

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Lost in Taggia

Cathy and I are now in Italy. In case you were worried, we have no Internet connection so can’t post. Right now we’re in an Internet cafe.

Today went to the hill town of Taggio. Just as scenic as Eze but absolutely no tourists. Cathy and I got separated and wandered the steep hills looking for each other. Eventually connected at the main square.

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La Joie de Vivre

Last day in Antibes. Spent fittingly at the Musėe Picasso. He worked here in the late 40s/early 50s. And expressed his happiness in a painting called la Joie de Vivre. They didn’t allow photos in the museum, so the photo below is of a postcard.

It pretty much expresses how I feel about Antibes. Despite all my bitching about the weather, it has been a glorious month. We finished the morning at a one-star Michelin restaurant, where I had a super female duck (cannette as opposed to the male canard) and Cathy had fish.

See our happy faces below.

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Tour d’Antibes with Cathy

Cathy arrived last night, after a full day of train riding from Heidelberg to Strasbourg, to marseille and finally Antibes. We were up late talking and drinking wine.

Today we walked to the sea where we had coffee (photo). Then to the marchė, a few stores and ended up at Le Jardin, where I had eaten earlier this week. (Photo) Weather was fine and glorious in the garden.

At the marchė, there was a guy grilling socca in a clay oven. This is a specialty of Nice made from chickpea flour and olive oil. Interesting, but not something I’d want more of.

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Sunny day

People have complimented my photos, but i really can’t take credit. It is the light.
The light of the South of France is a cliche. Great painters, even writers have been moved by the clarity of the sky, the soft shadows, the sparkle of glimmering sea. It is a different light from other Southern climes, Florida, say, or the Caribbean. It doesn’t glare, it suffuses. It makes objects stand in relief, not blasting them, overpowering them. It is clear and enveloping, not something to take shelter from.

Today the light stands in contrast to the days of rain. It is not supposed to rain in Antibes. It is said to be the driest zone in France. And yet we have suffered through monsoon-like downpours, day after day.But as if to wish me a gentle goodbye, today is clear and bright.

Ellie and I had lunch in the aptly named Le Jardin. Right in the middle of town, but with a hidden garden. It was heavenly. As was the lunch. Beignets of red and yellow peppers. Magret de canard with foie gras. Accompanied by a local rosė and, I confess, finished off with a coffee and Armagnac.

No photos, sorry. Tomorrow Cathy arrives so we will have someone to document Ellie and me.