Mushrooms, Motorcycles & Il Mare

Today we went to Liguria. That’s on the northwest coast of Italy, also known as the Italian Riviera. We started at nine when Diego from Radio Alba came to the house to join us, and got fully going once we’d collected Rachel from the train station. Still, we had some errands to run. First, we ran a matchmaking attempt. Eric was thinking maybe Diego would hit it off with the pretty owner of a shoe shop en route, so he asked us ladies to pretend to shoe shop. Like we had to pretend. Hah hah, Eric. I didn’t see anything I wanted, but Rachel found a great pair of sandals, which gave Diego plenty of time. I don’t know if the girls will pan out, but Rachel loved her shoes. After that, we went to Savona where Eric dropped off a couple of CDs with a local deejay (Eric has worked in radio for many years). You can’t just drop something off here, though – there has to be “un caffe” afterwards. That’s simply how things are. It would be antisocial, and therefore rude, to do otherwise. After a coffee with the Savona deejay, we passengers were clamoring for the beach.

A few minutes later we arrived in the seaside town of Noli, with a plan for lunch. It is a charming town, with bakeries, churches, gelaterias and lovely old streets. We even managed to find some parking, which was not easy. I have picked up a new phrase: “it’s all a matter of cuio” (I am sure I am spelling that wrong). Basically, in Italian, that word means ass, as in your behind. If you have style/good luck/ panache, well, you have cuio. When you find good parking, the proper thing to say is “que cuio!” I don’t know if that translates, but maybe you get the idea. Once settled at the beachside restaurant in Noli, we had salads and a fish and vegetable sort of tempura. All this was right by the Mediterranean sea, the restaurant being connected to the beach, complete with umbrellas, changing rooms and matching chairs. Unlike at home, there are many private beaches in Europe. Here, you can use the public (free) beach or a privately owned piece of land where you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and your own changing room – you keep the key. That runs about fifteen Euros, though. Conscious of our friends’ budgets and plans, we headed back to the car. But not before we walked around town. We stopped for some gelato (I had red grapefruit and coconut flavors) and to sample the pannetone at the bakery. It looked like rain and there was some brief thought of simply staying in Noli, where we had parking and a little sun left, but we had an appointment. No flaking!

Up the road from Noli, in the town of Varigotti, we met Paulo and a couple of his friends. They had a sort of half-tent and a beach umbrella set up right by the sea. By now, the sun had gone and it looked like rain. It was plenty warm enough thanks to the humidity, though. I went into the sea and enjoyed the clear salt water. But it began to rain and Paulo’s friends called it a day. The rest of us came in from the water and huddled under the half-tent with Paulo, waiting it out and hoping. Luckily, it quit after 25 minutes. Seizing a good opportunity, I stretched out and had a nap: warm, quiet, and peaceful – all you could ask for. But if you sleep on a beach full of pebbles, you get weird rock indentation marks all over your legs.

Eventually, I woke up, and it was looking like rain again. We packed up. We had to walk about a mile to the car. Apparently we had some cuio because we got a spot at all, but not so much to avoid a long walk uphill. Of course, this being Eric, he ran into someone he knew on the way there. And this being Italy, it was obligatory to stop and chat for at least ten minutes. There is no getting around it – and it’s just rude if you try. Socializing is one of the things that makes Italy, Italy.

It was dinnertime by now, after 8 PM. Everyone was excited about going to a custom chocolate maker’s restaurant for supper. Rachel, who studied at the Cordon Bleu, had recently done an apprenticeship with the place and arranged for us to have supper at their restaurant. Rachel loves good food and told us all kinds of stories about the artisanal processes used by the owner (internationally renowned chocolate master Silvio Bessone), the quality of the food, the relationships with the South American chocolate farmers, where the mushrooms came from, you name it. Mouths were watering. Anticipation was high. At long last, we were a mere 10 kilometers away, and it was about 20 minutes until closing time. But then we got a call from Paulo. His brand new Triumph motorcycle was all out of oil and he was stranded. We had to turn around. The clock was ticking on our dinner and it looked unlikely we’d taste its reputed delights. Rachel called the restaurant to tell them and ask if we were too late, and they said no, come on, and asked what we’d like for supper. Our arrival time was pushed back to 9:20 which frankly seemed optimistic. There was some concern that we were putting the kitchen to too much trouble, and everyone but Diego thought it would take more than a few minutes to solve this problem. Back we drove to the nearest petrol station to buy oil for the gas & oil mixture that runs Paulo’s Triumph. Unfortunately, it being a new bike, Paulo had no idea which oil we needed, which took about ten more minutes to work out. Ten kilometers back from our previous position we found Paulo, got the oil into the bike, and started it up. Onward! Food! But wait – where was Paulo? Could anyone see his headlight? Turns out he likes to keep to the speed limit, and since he’s new to the bike, I guess I can’t blame him. But it was getting later and later, already past our arrival time with 20 kilometers left to go! What to do? And how would Rachel’s good name at the place be preserved? The only thing for it was to keep going. We eventually arrived at 9:50, fifty minutes after closing (!). They greeted us warmly, hugged Rachel, invited us in and proceeded to serve us an incredibly tasty meal. Whew! The first antipasta was unforgettable: a piece of tender beef carpaccio (raw) with intense partially dried porcini mushrooms. We had other excellent appetizers, a very fine porcini mushroom ravioli, and a gnocchi in cheese sauce that was quite good. Then our main course came, and it was slices of the largest porcini mushrooms I have ever seen. I had to take a picture – it would be asking too much for you to believe me without some kind of proof. At home these mushrooms would be $60 a pound and would be 1/5th the size, if that. I believe we probably would have had $1000 worth of mushrooms if this meal had been served in California. The taste was good, but because they were breaded and deep fried, the flavor didn’t come through as much as one might like. Still, it was quite a treat. We had a lovely chocolate mousse for dessert, made with the custom roasted chocolate of the house. Senora Bessone said there was still time to visit the shop and buy some cocoa powder and nibs, and I did that. They sell chocolate too, in large blocks and all made up into all kinds of sweets, but that would never get home unmelted. We were in the town of Sanctuario di Vicoforte which is famous for its large cathedral; it has the largest elliptical dome in the world. I would have taken pictures, but we were way too late arriving for the church to be open. On the way out, we found that Paulo’s engine light was still on and there was some fluid under the bike.

Finally after a long drive carefully following Paulo, we got to the turnoff for Alba. He decided he was okay to get home and we parted. When we finally got home it was almost two in the morning. Diego and Rachel stayed up and talked with Eric and I, being a stick in the mud, went upstairs for some rest. Rachel stayed with me in the guest room for the night since there were no more trains for Torino. All in all, a great day with new friends!

I think you should know more about Rachel and our fantastic chocolate experience. I’ll close with a link about her and Senore Bessone.

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2 Responses to Mushrooms, Motorcycles & Il Mare

  1. Meggi Raeder says:

    oh yeah, civilization and shopping. I am glad you are enjoying Italy with all its good food and wine!!
    Happy travel, Meggi

  2. Rachel O'Kaine says:

    Brava!! It was great meeting you Jennifer…stay in touch…and enjoy your next adventure in Argentina!

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