From the archives July 29, 2007
The road though the Cilento National Park hooked me. I want to linger. Forests, greenery, cool, peaceful. It is the kind of experience one can only hope to have in Italy, or anywhere. But the coast is calling, as is Calabria. We will have to touch the sand when we get there. The trail goes straight through the Sila.
Calabria is a strange place. I do not advise American tourists to go there on their first trip. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Calabria. But you cannot pack your wash-and-wear assumptions about the way the world is from an American-based set of ideas.
Calabria is its own reality, and if you don’t mind what happens, then you can become immersed in a world of color and spice, folklore and music. The rest of Italy sometimes makes fun of Calabria, for her poverty and her backward ways. The Calabrese say, that impression, while not correct, serves well, to keep away some of the riff-raff.
The beaches, the water, the sun, the breeze. Elemental ways. If you don’t mind. Paradise for those who can turn the tempting serpent of their inner chatter box off long enough to take in the Now.
After a long and winding drive through the Sila, Cosimo, our host, was waiting for us at his trattoria. A short man with one eyebrow and piercing, beautiful eyes. Like a sunflower stalk, Cosimo stands on this earth anchored, confident. A very happy soul.
Immediately he starts rapid-fire talking to me in Italian, and for some reason, I understand almost every thing he says. Maybe it’s the accent, like my Nonna Lucrezia’s. He excuses himself to talk to his fishermen out in the sea.
Italy has a strange cellular reception configuration. I should ask David about this, he knows more about that than I do. I imagine, for the trade involved, the brokers and restaurant owners on the shore need to be linked up with the fishermen, in order to gauge their commerce in fresh seafood.
A plate of gamberi came out from the kitchen and Cosimo opened a bottle of a white Mantonico.
Crisp, cool, fresh, I knew I had to pace myself. This was just one of probably many courses. Antonio from the winery would be here in 20 minutes, he wanted us to taste his new wines in the ambience of Calabria. It had been a few months since we tasted the wines at Vinitaly, so I was anxious to taste them again and in such a wonderful place.
After a meal that regenerated our road-weary souls, we sat along the shore to the song of the waves lapping by our feet. Peace. We had gone from forest to coast in a few hours. The only hot thing we suffered through was the grappa al peperoncino. This is Shangri-la, sans serpente.
What do I love about Calabria? Well my trips there from the past have great memories.
The figs, the eggplant, the peppers. The farm made cheeses, the exotic honey, the green hills, the innocent rustic character of the region. Even though the trattoria is along a strip of coast, the heart of the place is in the hills, among the wild things. That’s what makes Calabria so alluring.