Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Friday, July 18, 2014

alberto, francesco, giovanni...and a whole lot of lemons.

I'm standing amidst ten-metre tall lemon trees, snapping photos, inhaling deeply and trying to take in every inch of this place. Dark green leaves, give way to mango-sized, bright yellow lemons, that are just hanging around.


I have fallen in love with lemons...and Alberto. I lean my head back, running my eyes along the strong Acacia timbers embracing each tree in a protective frame; as if strong arms are cradling each lemony-full branch. These trees, some nearly 100-years old, producing hundreds of lemons a year, have become my obsession. We are in an old lemon greenhouse, Alberto and I.


I would love to say that I was alone with Alberto, that he only had eyes for me, and that we've run off together like in a movie, but that would be a lie. First off, I was with my mädels (my group of girlfriends who I hang out and travel with) and so I had to share Alberto's attention with them (sigh). Secondly, he's Italian, enough said. But a girl can dream. I'm getting carried away though. The Italian names send my mind into flights of fantasy. Alberto. Much more romantic than the actual man standing in front of us (he was about 68). But, as Alberto, his richly tanned and wrinkle-eyed face, animated and gentle, proudly showed us a childhood photo of him holding a crop of lemons, I fell head over heals....for lemons.


"Lemons were gold", Alberto told us, "after the war when there was nothing here in Limone." This is a town perched on the edge of Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake, omniously being pushed by the mountains from behind. This area had been hit hard during WWII - very little was left, but the greenhouse and lemon trees survived. After the war, four lemons would buy a kilo of flour and a kilo of sugar; seven lemons would buy you a trip across the lake.


Even before the war, each young soldier would be given three lemons a day, to ward off diseases such as scurvy. Alberto's passion for lemons has rubbed off on us, as if a slight lemon breeze was swirling around us. We stand above the greenhouse and absorb the view.



It is market day in Malcesine, so we decide to have a look, crossing the lake on a tourist-filled ferry. We don't need to use lemons.


Vendors are here, offering every type of leather article you can think of, along with sunglasses, scarves, jewellery. Small shops dot the passages where you can find cheeses, pasta, olive oils, pestos, many delicious flavours of gelato...


and Luciano. As we amble through narrow, cobbled lanes, we come across a very small studio. Three of us veer off from the rest to have a peek in the dark, crowded room. Eyes, hands, breasts, backs, trees, mouths, water greet us from photos covering every inch of wall space. Beauty. Then all of a sudden, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn as a small man repeats quickly, "I touch, I touch, I touch". It is Luciano. I stand still, hoping this unusual situation will change before I need to react. What does he mean? The thought crosses my mind, "is this how he recruits his subjects?" But, in the end, it turns out all Luciano wanted was to squeeze past me...his English really needs improvement.


After us girls share a light lunch of platto freddo della casa and prosecco, we cross back to Limone.


Towards evening, after we have freshened up and gotten fancy (more white pants and maxi dress, less bikinis and shorts), we make our way up the steep, narrow streets, above Limone, towards Osteria Livino...and Francesco. 


Through the Guardian newspaper, I received this geheimtipp (insider tip); a rustic garden restaurant dotted with olive trees, serving down-home Italian excellence, high up on the mountain.


Francesco did not disappoint. Homemade spinach-ricotta ravioli in a sage butter sauce (yu-um, let me tell you), fresh spaghetti carbonara like I could never make at home (gg's favourite meal), and bruschetta, antipasta, and cheeses; along with an Italian World Cup soccer match. Bueno!


Later when I stole a moment of Francesco's time, stealing him away into a dark corner....sorry, again, the name carries me away into a fantasy far exceeding any reality. Let me start again: Later when I stole a moment of Francesco's time, as he quickly poured one beer after another for a thirsty table, he told me that the osteria had been in his family for a long time. He had grown up among the pasta-making, serving, laughter and hard-work; eventually taking it over from his father twelve years ago. Mementoes of labour from long ago dot the osteria's gardens.


Food has been an almost constant subject during our days in Italy; as anyone who has been here has already experienced. The Italians know how to eat well. Before we left, I made sure to duck into a macellaio and buy the perfect souvenier for great guy: Sopressata salame.


And for your sweet-tooth, gelato won't be your only poison here. The lightest, lemoniest cookies scream your name as you pass by. You will need to introduce yourself to: Brutta Ma Buoni, Amaretti, and Crumiri (just to name a few). Oh, the names...makes me salivate just typing them.


As evening moves into night, we amble back down the hill amidst laughter and selfies, towards Garni Gian Martin...and Giovanni. 


Located in Piazza Garibaldi, the centre of Limone, Giovanni, his brother and father have worked hard over the past eight years to build up their small, perfect boutique hotel. 


If you're looking for comfort, cleanliness and a giovanni...this is where you need to be. He will grant all of your wishes, as he repeatedly mentioned to us! 


Limone enchanted me; the food, the view, the lemons. The perfect 3-day break from reality.


From slow, early morning jogs along the lakeshore to lemoncello nightcaps before bed and with all sorts of delicious sights and sounds in between, Limone satisfied all of my senses. From now on great guy has a new name: Francesco. Bella Italia!


P.S. When life gives you lemons, find your giovanni, alberto or francesco and squeeze tightly.
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Friday, July 11, 2014

public viewing...a pride of fans.


To say that the term ‘public viewing’ is common here in Germany, would be a major understatement. What many in North America would associate with the public viewing of a head of state’s body before it is buried, means something altogether different here. Since 2006, in Germany and now beyond, the term means to watch a sporting event in public with hundreds or thousands of others.


I can’t express how ubiquitous the term 'public viewing' is here; on billboards, flyers and signs, in every small village, town square and light post. Public viewing. Football. Beer. As weathered and worn as the most diehard football fan feels today, after weeks of cheering their team on, so do the signs look.



But public viewing sure is fun. The wrinkled, leathery face watches beside the acne-pocked face, beside the black, red, gold painted face and the tattoo-ed face. Everyone comes together for football.


Great guy and I have been watching most of the Germany games just down the river from our place, in a biergarten on the Rhine; underneath massive oak trees, sitting at long beer tables with ‘new friends’. The atmosphere is excited, jovial, friendly, anticipatory, and let’s be honest, sometimes unbelievable (7-1 what was that??).



As rumours spread that Tuesday's semi-final game was some NSA joke or Moriarty hoax, we were stuffed in a carpenter’s workshop focused on a flatscreen set up in the corner; rain pouring buckets outside. A friend was celebrating her birthday and rather than call off her party, she decided to set up a TV. Everyone has football fever right now (okay, one or two people don’t but I haven’t seen them since June 13th) so planning an event on game night means very few positive RSVPs.



I mentioned to this particular friend how great it has been to watch the games outside, especially watching teens stand with hand over heart the moment the national anthem streams through the loudspeakers. She said that national pride is a new thing, again only since 2006. Before that, and as she was growing up, no one would have sung the national anthem loudly or flown the German flag proudly, painted their faces brightly or covered their cars patriotically. That even the Empire State Building was lit up schwarz, rot, gold is a sign of healing times, for this country at least.


Then to hear, above the sobs of Brazilians, the German fans in a stadium far away singing ‘Oh ein Tag, so wunderschön wie Heute’ (what a day, so wonderful as today) warmed my heart on a rainy, grey evening. The coming together of thousands of strangers (German ones anyway), in one place, singing the same song - why doesn’t that happen more often, and without costing millions to organize?



One great thing that doesn’t cost money, is public viewing. When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 game tickets had sold out so quickly, even the cleverest lioness on the prowl couldn't get her teeth on one. So world cup organizers petitioned FIFA to allow the free public broadcast of games around the country. No licensing fees, no entry fees; young and old, boy and girl, family and friend - everyone could come together and watch. Thus the term and tradition were born.



That Germans have misused the term ‘public viewing’, which is translated inexplicably into German as ‘rudelgucken’ (pride or herd watching), and made it their own doesn't seem to bother anyone. It has only gained in popularity, and led to some very creative soccer viewing opportunities. In Frankfurt a huge 2-sided screen was erected in the middle of the Main river, allowing 50,000 fans to watch the World Cup games from both riverbanks.


In Bingen, a few metres off of the Rhine boardwalk, being rocked ever so gently by passing freighters, is another amphibious public viewing screen. Rows and rows of flag-draped tables wait in anticipation for fans to sit on the terraced bank in front of the screen. Needless to say (but I’ll write it anyways) for Germany games, this area is packed like a herd of starving lions around a water buffalo carcass.



And then, in the wee hours of every late night/early morning final whistle announcing Germany's victory, fans drive through the streets obnoxiously honking their horns like they're celebrating their own midnight wedding. For all of those people who could care less about soccer, I hope that you have left the area (and by this I mean, head to Italy, France or Spain), because on Sunday it will be a late, great, loud night, once again. Go team!



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