Just two minutes from our door is the Mediterranean Sea. We can hear the surf breaking on the shore, especially on days when the sea is roiling and waves are high. Chinks of sea can be seen from our bedroom window when I open the shutters every morning. To reach the actual beach we must walk a block to the seafront, then descend 109 concrete steps on a winding staircase. Going down is no problem; returning home UP those 109 steps, that mysteriously seem to get steeper and steeper as one ascends, can be a killer.
On the beach there is a restaurant with a fake-thatched roof that juts out over the water. A few steps further down, in the direction of the Saracen tower, is a coffee bar (very good espresso for 70 cents). They offer full restaurant service on the weekends, specializing in seafood (naturally). Small shells are abundantly scattered about on the beige sand.
Ubiquitous are the stabilimenti. These businesses erect ordered rows of umbrellas and chairs - colorful shadings to be had for a price. These represent the only ordered anything in Italy, by the way. They also include little changing cabins and cold-water showers, along with snack bars or full restaurants. Francesca pointed out to us the few small expanses of free beach open to anyone. These are dismal, unkept plots of sand with trash and doggy doo-doo. No umbrellas or chairs unless you haul your own down the 109 steps. No shade; no showers to rinse off the salt. We have inquired about the prices at the stabilimenti closest to us. The lure of shade and the prettiness of the well-tended rows prove very enticing after an hour of roasting on the shabby public plot.
Sunscreen is rather costly here, and the SPFs available are lower than we normally buy. Bottles containing lotion with an SPF rating of 2 and 4 are common; why bother, I say. Anything with a rating of 20 or above is clearly marked “per bambini”. Only kids and foreigners would consider it necessary to have real sun protection. The sun worshippers bake and burn, toasting themselves to a golden brown, oblivious that doing so makes their skin look leathery. One friend of Francesca is frequently found in various poses to maximize sun exposure, despite surviving cancer a few years ago. Sunscreens also contain a high proportion of strong scents, making me gag when I try to find one senza profumo. Finally, after much searching I located one at the farmacia in Anzio and forked over gladly the 14.00 Euro for a small bottle (SPF 20, thank you).
As for swimsuit fashion, anything less than a bikini cannot be tolerated, apparently. I have seen only about 5 one-piece swimsuits thus far. Irregardless of body shape, overhanging bellies, saggy boobs, or cellulitic backsides…it matters not, bikinis are the choice. The surprise is not how truly awful some of them look in their bikinis (which many of them do), but how utterly confident they are that they look good. If they are wearing what is in, they must be attractive. I don’t have such self-assurance. While I sport a two-piece suit, I am fully aware of my deficits and where I am sagging.
Immigrant salesman, referred to as vu compru, troll the beaches hawking everything from fresh coconut and watermelon slices, to sunglasses, t-shirts, beach towels and jewelry. They haul around heavy loads in the hot sun, trudging through the sand for miles. On the streets, small trucks drive slowly through the neighborhood with loudspeakers perched on the roofs announcing services such as knife sharpening and shutter repairs. Giorgio tells us they are not worth the money (and that he sadly has learned by experience).
These are the tell-tale signs of a beach resort on the Mediterranean. It is a different life than most of Italy, which is why so many flock here in the summer, for a taste of something different, something more casual, more colorful. Indeed, the atmosphere is much more casual than usually seen in an Italian city. Romans, normally well-dressed, come here and wear flip-flops, shorts, tank tops, wild colors and big sunglasses. They are careful to re-dress themselves in their city clothes before returning home, though. There is a carnival-like atmosphere, with beach parties on the weekends, karaoke nights, aerobics classes and beach volleyball. Ice-cream bars and granitas, the Italian version of a snow-cone, can be purchased from carts at the water’s edge. Jolly voices, barbecues smells, and music waft through the neighborhood. It’s like a holiday every weekend. Then Sunday night arrives and the Romans clog the roads northward. Some will spend a week or a month here during the August holiday season, and for that month we know that we won’t be able to find a chair or patch of sand to rest upon, but for now the weekdays are back to a quieter, less-crowded tempo.
The nice thing is that most of the tourists here are Italians, coming for the sun and surf. The majority of shopkeepers do not speak English and we are the oddities, the few Americans to hang around for an extended period. It’s a good way to hone our Italian language skills, even if it means I must do so in a two-piece swimsuit.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider