Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exiled like Napoleon to Elba Island, Italy

Isola d’Elba is where Italians go to unwind. This remote island, one hour’s ferry ride from the Tuscan coast, is also popular with French tourists due to its Napoleonic history. This was helpful to me since I have a bad habit of lapsing into French (my second language) when trying to speak any foreign language.

Following his abdication in 1814, Napoleon and his personal guard of 600 men were exiled to Elba. Napoleon ruled there as governor for 300 days, trying to improve the lives of islanders while secretly planning his next invasion.

 This was Napoleon's drawing room.

Napoleon’s home and gardens are now a museum, Villa dei Mulini a Portoferraio.

A steep path down from Napoleon’s enclosure led to a sand and pebble cove, Spiaggia delle Viste.

A passing clipper ship matched the timeless setting.

Although Le Viste Restaurant and Bar (phone: 0565.914405) is a more recent addition,
the hospitable owner spoke some French.

Why did Napoleon want to escape such paradise to wage yet another war? After his defeat at Waterloo, he was exiled to a more remote island in the South Atlantic. I can vouch that even his troops lived well on Elba as we stayed in their breezy barracks. This was our bedroom view at sunset (opposite side of the lighthouse from Napoleon’s garden.) The first photo was shot from the bedroom at sunrise.

Here’s the kitchen view at sunset . . .

And at dawn.

I spent hours just watching the light change as boats sailed into the harbor.

To reach Napoleon’s cliff-side residence, one climbs up the many steps of Portoferraio.

Residents and their guests can drive
straight from the ferry terminal
through buildings . . .

Swerving around the toes of matrons 
chatting on their doorsteps 
and squeezing 
through openings 
so narrow 
auto insurance 
was a good investment.

This road sign amused my learner-permit son.
Our host made the turn in 3 points
7 points
some car paint.

In late June we were staying with my friend Anna (right of me), who went to high school with me in New York City before moving back to Italy. Even after so many years, we easily picked up where we left off. This photo was taken by my husband.

On our last night we dined at Le Vista . . .

Watching the sun set . . .

Over mainland Tuscany. This is my kind of exile.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reading A Room with a View in Florence

Our view of San Lorenzo from our room at the Hotel Paris, Firenze
Hey, I’m back! I’ve missed you. This past month I’ve been traveling in Europe with my family. Our 21st Anniversary found us in Florence (or Firenze in Italian.)

Remember the 1985 film adaptation of A Room with a View? Recalling Lucy Honeychurch’s despair, I’d booked a room with a view (#336) at the (confusingly misnamed) Hotel Paris. What could be more romantic?

Henry Laurence
One click later, E. M. Forster’s original novel was downloaded onto my Kindle (most classics are free.) We popped mini bottles of Prosecco and pulled our chairs to the open window. Henry read out loud, with all the right accents, this Edwardian tale of class snobbery and passion.

The best lines and scenes from the movie were lifted directly from the book, although the cinematic Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) was more spunky and outspoken than her literary model. The novel was both more subtle and satirical. It was surprisingly timeless and humorous.

Like Lucy, I had traveled to Italy from the English countryside. 
 My British in laws had rented a house in Somerset to celebrate their 75th and 80th birthdays. 
Happy Birthdays, N&T!

Our view of the Duomo from the Hotel Paris, Firenze

Out our Tuscan window,
church bells rang
and a horse-drawn carriage
clopped down the road
towards the Duomo
(our view with a craned neck).

Forster’s prose rose
above the din of American tourists.

(Snookie had been filming
Jersey Shore on location
only the week before,

My parents in Fiesole

Borrowing a page from Forster,

“The first fine afternoon drive up to Fiesole.” 

We joined my parents,
celebrating their 50th anniversary in Italy,
for lunch in this hill town overlooking Florence.

My dad and I might look Italian,
but we’re native New Yorkers.
From him, I inherited my love of Italy
and passion for exploring the world and photography.

View of Florence from the Pensione's terrace 
As we waited for lunch at Pensione Bencista in Fiesole, dark clouds gathered over Florence ominously.

 Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed over the Tuscan hills.

My sixteen-year-old son, an experienced mountaineer, 
pointed out that metal chairs under a canvas awning offered little protection from electrocution.

We moved inside as the rain lashed sidewise, whipping the olive trees into a frenzy and pelting the vineyards. Lunch was deliciously seasoned by the wild weather. From my mother, I inherited my love of storms and artistic skill for capturing them. The thunderstorm over Fiesole cut short our excursion . . . just like in A Room with a View. I thought of the poor Italian girl (evicted from the carriage for kissing the driver) and George (by his reckless choice) walking the five miles back to Florence. It could have been my son and I, had we set off sooner as planned.

View of Florence from the Uffizi Gallery
Hours later, the sun returned, basking Florence in that particular golden glow of Tuscany. Our best meals were at L'osteria di Giovanni and at Zibibbo. If I could eat only one type of cuisine forever, it would be Italian. Sometimes life is as rich and full as classic literature . . . at least in Italy.

South Harpswell, Maine
Maine in summer isn’t bad either. Our first week back, we drove down to Estes for lobster rolls and local brew on tap (the Italians don’t really do beer) by the sea. Then I fought jetlag to take my daughter and her friends to the midnight premier of Harry Potter (awesome!) Evenings find us enjoying sundowners on our deck after work. Friends stop by to chat and there is wifi. It is good to be back home.