I’m in Atri again, sitting on a bench staring out across an alluvial plain, which rolls romantically down to the sea. The sun is setting. A beautiful wind is rustling the horse chestnut trees in front of me – who’d have thought they had conkers in Italy. Everything is bathed in a deep treacly light. This is one of the finest views I know. You can see for miles from up here across a series of olive green ridges. Little white houses with red roofs cling to the hillsides, and as the sun sets, a dusty mist descends. They’re letting off fireworks in a village somewhere in the mountains. At this time of year, every town and village has its own “sagra”, a festival which brings everyone out onto the streets to dance, listen to music, and share the local pasta delicacies.
I don’t feel very well. I’ve eaten too much rich food and the exhaustion of the last few months must be finally taking its toll.
It’s been a day of weather extremes. This morning felt like the hottest day we’ve had here so far. We went to the beach, and floated around on lilos, flicking cold water onto our stomachs just to try and keep ourselves cool.
There was a suspicious dark patch in the Northern sky which Nathan noticed first. A few minutes later all hell broke loose. A panicked tannoy announcement told us to “close your umbrellas,” and suddenly everyone was running around, the beach staff were knocking deckchairs to the ground and the life guards were raising red flags and blowing whistles to get people out of the water. It was like a scene from Jaws. And then the winds came, which turned the beach into the site of an intense sand storm. Everyone ran for cover. An entire beach of people found themselves sheltering in a tiny bar area as deckchairs and towels started tumbling around and a storm surge immersed the front row of parasols in angry sea water. The waves, which have never been more than little watery hiccups on this holiday, were now crashing onto the shore like exploding cans of Coca-cola. One thing I’ll say for Italy: It knows how to stage a storm.
When it looked as though the weather wasn’t going to turn fine again anytime soon, the sun-seekers began to leave the beach; battling through whirlwinds of sand to reach their cars as the rain started to fall and the lightning flashed.
Roberto, the beach owner, who has very much taken us under his wing, ushered us into a room where a table was laid out for all his staff. The metal hatches were battened down and huge plates of delicious-looking pasta appeared as if by magic. There is some embarrassment associated with being vegetarian in Italy. The Italians tend to assume things like chicken and fish are not really meat. In fact, someone told me yesterday that she was “almost a vegetarian” because she “didn’t much like pork.” The pasta which came around today had a distinctly sea-foody vibe. It would have been rude to ask for anything else, so I opted to keep quiet and munch on a few pieces of bread. Of course, as soon as I was spotted, the all-too-familiar noises of horror began, and Roberto’s wonderful wife vanished into the kitchen and arrived armed with a Caprese salad, a plate of vegetarian ravioli and some kind of cheese and tomato flatbread toastie.
Of course, because this is Italy, the storm vanished almost as soon as it had started. The only sign of it ever being here is a glorious freshness in the air and the sight of a number of trees which had been blown across the road on the way back to Julie’s. I wish I didn’t feel so tired though. That would be nice.
Pepys got up extra early 350 years ago to supervise the workmen who were building an extension on this house. He was pleased to see how many of them there were; “many hands” he wrote, “make good riddance...” Pepys went with William Batten to Deptford to pay off some ships and returned to London on The Thames after dark, a lantern lighting their way. Very romantic.