Summer is a season Italians look forward to—beautiful weather, attractive tans, relaxation, time off from work and school. Cities tend to empty out, spilling over to the beaches that seem to come alive overnight.
It’s the time of year that if you don’t have what’s considered a healthy tan, the assumption is that you aren’t feeling well. The first time I remember hearing the word “mozzarella” bandied about with reference to skin color was at a language school in Sorrento. The teacher basically pointed at me in a matter of fact manner and compared my complexion to mozzarella cheese. Now, as much as the Italians treasure their fresh mozzarella oozing with that delectable velvety liquid, it still felt vaguely like an insult. I suppose the argument could be made for the creamy white beauty of a time when a tan was equated with common laborers, but we weren’t in Edwardian England.
On occasion when the word “pallido“ (pallid) reared its ugly head, I wanted to pull aside my collar and show my evident tan line. But even if I were to spend more time in the sun, the 30 SPF would still hold me back from blending with the masses.
Vacation time is prized – no matter if you have it as compensation for a lucrative job or as a perk of unemployment. You earn it either way. Everyone has the right to luxuriate on a lounge chair under the Italian sun on one of the country’s countless picturesque beaches. You need time to develop that deep tan.
Of course, the real estate can be expensive in the more desired locations of an Italian beach. Those lounge chairs lined up like soldiers, umbrellas straight and tall, aren’t cheap and are under the watchful eyes of diligent concessionaires, who after payment will direct you to a specific location, keeping in mind that choice seating is reserved for regulars with season passes.
Some stabilmenti (establishments) will have an area for those who don’t want to pay for the chair and/or umbrella. For a basic entrance fee you’ll get the use of a bathroom with shower and changing facilities as well as a beach area on which to throw down your towel. The chair with umbrella, however, gives you that solid home base. It lifts you up off the ground—not just you, but also your personal items, as you observe the Italians meticulously hanging their bags, articles of clothing and shoes on hooks, handles and support rods of the large beach umbrellas. The Italians seem to do this instinctively. They are also at home with manipulating the lounge’s ingenious moveable section that covers the face and working the little string that allows for the raising and lowering of the backs of a certain model chair. As a guest in their country, you can’t possibly do all this with the grace and style of the locals.
With a drink from the bar or a plate of pasta with clams at the facility’s café or nearby beachfront trattoria, however, you’ll feel as though you’ve arrived. You’re on vacation and you’re with the beautiful people on an Italian beach. To immerse yourself further, you may also take in a festa (celebration, festival) or sagra (also festival or feast, usually centered around a particular specialty or food in season), but I’ll leave that for another time. I apparently need to work on my tan.
The cover photo of the gorgeous Italian beach with crystalline water was taken in Tropea, Calabria, a fascinating region in the toe of the boot. Would you like to know more about this beautiful, lesser-known area? Check out Calabria: The Other Italy, my nonfiction book that explores daily life, culture, history, the arts, food, society and tourism of Calabria, Italy.
Food festivals are popular throughout Italy. Read about a festival dedicated to the mushroom held by a community in the hills of Calabria in my blogpost Mammola and Mushrooms.
Sign up below to receive the next blog post directly to your email for free.