Island of Elba, off Tuscany and to Rome
Jun 23, 2006
|Left the Dolce Tuscana Country Inn on Sunday, June 4 and headed for Piombino, along the Mediterranean Coast. Ferry to the Island of Elba (Isola d'Elba) about 10 miles off the Tuscany Coast. The island is about 20 miles long and perhaps 10 wide. Kidney shaped.
Napoleon was sent here in a strange kind of imprisonment. He was from Corsica, a larger island that is now part of France, and which is easily visible from a high point on the NW coast of Elba where, coincidentally, Napolean had a residence and camp. Napoleon communicated with his compatriots on Corsica. While on Elba, Napoleon improved government and public works. Shortly after arriving, his Corsican friends came to Elba in force. He and they left, and re took France, then most of the rest of Europe.
The island rises steeply from a crystal blue Mediterranean Sea. To me, the countryside looks like Santa Barbara, but is slightly more lush,less sere and dry. North and east facing slopes are covered with chestnut and live oak forests. Lots of birds sing from high up in the trees, sheltered by the leaves. Paths are steep. We see a family of wild mountain sheep--dark brown with small horns. Lots of wildflowers. The south and west facing slopes are of three kind of macchio. Like chaparral. Sages and other aromatic flowering plants. Three kinds of rock rose grow wild, flowering wildly. So does lavendar, a native broom, and many, many other wildflowers. Again, many birds.
When the wind dies down, we get in kayaks and paddle from stunning cove to cove. The town of Marciana Marina where we stay in an ocean front hotel was raided for years by pirates. The townsfolk moved the town up a very, very steep hill. As in Tuscany, there is very little development outside the towns themselves. Like the Tuscan hill towns, old Marciana is walled, built from stone, and has tiny narrow twisting streets with no cars or motorbikes. A wonderful place. Our kayak instructor, Gaudenzia Coltelli, was born here. We meet his mom and sister.
Over four days, we paddle most of the western quarter of the island. Some coves are reached only by boat. Larger coves have hotels and beach front bars. A very civilized way to spend time at the beach. I swim in the crystal blue sea and watch anemone, thousands of tiny blue and silver fish, and the ebb and flow of kelp in the gentle current. There is very little movement in the tides.
Days start reasonably early with a big hotel breakfast served until 10:00, then kayaking with picnic lunches enjoyed on the rock or sand beaches and coves, then cocktails along the sorrento from 7 to 9 or so, then a late dinner and bed.
There is not a great variety of sea birds. There are many gulls, a few cormorants. Flycatchers inhabit the beaches and cliffs. So do very discrete little birds with beautiful songs that last all day. There is a greater variety of birds in the forest, but many hide in the thick leaves of tall trees. I found a bird book in Italian. It is a help, but some families are new, and since the birds hide out, I need to meet somebody who knows them by song, or knows when and how to identify them in flight, or perched. They sure sing sweetly, and in great numbers.
Anna Paola Fadda and Gaudenzio hosted our little group (Harriet, Nona and Marilyn from San Francisco Bay Area, Annette, from Hartford CT who had to leave in Tuscany to fly home to work, Juliet Langman from San Antonio, TX and me) at his house for dinner. Anna Paola is an incredible cook. She is studying art history at the university on Sardinia. I asked what period. She said,
Anna Paola is the Michaelgelo of Mediterranean cuisine. We enjoyed all kinds of seafood, from octopus to mussels to fresh fish. Each dish was prepared with fresh, grilled or roasted vegetables. There was a pasta dish. Surprisingly, until Anna Paola's feast, we have enjoyed little pasta or salads, and until Gaudenzia bribed a local pizza restaurant owner to make gigantic fresh California salads for us, very little fresh vegetables, salads or fruit. It all grows here, perhaps it is served at lunch,when we are enjoying picnics on beaches. Italians make wonderful wine, so far the red wines we enjoy come from Sicily and Tuscany. Like Napa reds. Slightly lighter and a tiny bit less alcholic. We have a variety of after dinner digestifs from Sicilian to a lemon variety made on Elba.
On Sunday, June 11, the ferry takes us back to Piombino. Everyone takes off in different directions by car or train. Harriet and I catch a train from Cecina to Rome. We easily find my new apartment at Via della Mantellate 15, in Trastevere. Harriet helps me get things straight with the owner and rental agency--like a working shower head, better sheets and towels, rugs for kitchen and bath, etc. A huge help. Then gets me oriented to the Tevere (Tiber River), Campo Fiori, Piazza Navona, Corso, and my own Trastevere neighborhood. Harriet left Tuesday, June 13 for San Francisco.
I will report for now, from Rome, longtime capital of the world, and now a place that counts itself as one of the great centers of humanism on earth.