The Italian Wedding

Friday, July 4, 2014

Insert standard blah blah blah about lack of bloggage here...  I've actually been working!  I just opened a challenging show that kept me busy through all of June, hence the radio silence. Though truthfully, I wasn't busy for ALL of June.  I did take a quick break at the beginning of the month.  'Cause you know how sometimes you just need a few days on the Italian Riviera? Of course you do.  After eight months in Russia, I'm very happy to be back in London, that's certain.  However, one of the lovely things about living in London is how easy it is to get OUT of.  A two hour flight from Winnipeg will get you perhaps to Toronto or Calgary or maybe Chicago if you're feeling daring.  A two hour flight from London will get you most of Western Europe.  France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and, of course, much of Italy.

I was pretty excited when I got my friend Jeremy's save-the-date email while I was still up to my eyeballs in Russia.  The notion of jetting off to attend a weekend wedding in Italy reminded me that there was a better life waiting for me to dive back into it when I got home and was a much needed pick-me-up that helped get me through those last hard months of hard graft in Sochi.  And what better excuse than to witness the happy union of my good friend Jeremy and his lovey Italian fiancé Paola?  (Astute Go Stay Work Play Live readers will remember Jeremy from previous posts about cheese and football.) (Those were two different posts, thankfully.  The mind reels at the notion of combining the two in any kind of cohesive way... "And here comes Wayne Rooney up the middle challenging for the net... But wait, what's this?  He seems to have slipped on a large wheel of Camembert and he's lost control of the ball.  Such a shame since he'd already negotiated the Gouda and the legendarily devilish Port Salut...")

As I'm currently enjoying a freelance (semi-slacker) lifestyle, I booked myself and extra extra extra long weekend, found a reasonable hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure - Paola's home town and the base for the weekend's festivities - and got a cheap flight to Pisa.  After a reasonable train ride from Pisa, I was happily ensconced in the very friendly and eminently pleasant Hotel Minerva, which I highly recommend the next time you've got a wedding to attend in the Porto Fino area.

Portofino, playground of the rich and famous.  Most of the guests stayed in Santa Margherita, where hotels were more reasonably priced, though there was a much lower chance of bumping into George Clooney.

Understanding that people would probably want to see some of the area while there, and keen to make their guests feel welcome, Jeremey and Paola organised a walk on Saturday, for which we were warned to bring sturdy shoes, plenty of water, and swimming clothes.  It all sounded quite promising.  Especially the part where we took the bus to the starting point at the top of the ridge, instead of slogging all the way on foot.

Here's the view from our starting point in the village of Ruta.

The scenery was undoubtedly lovely, and about a dozen of us set off from Ruta around 11am, heading down to the coast at the Abbey of San Fruttuoso, which is only accessible by sea or on foot.  However, on a continuum starting with "pleasant amble" and ending with "Bataan Death March", this walk was rather uncomfortably farther towards the Death March end of the spectrum than I think many of us were expecting.  Especially those who had ignored the advice about wearing sensible shoes.  Luckily the Abbey proved to be a worthy target, if only because there was time for a swim and, more importantly, a choice of cafés serving beer and lunch.  I had the local Ligurian specialty, trofie with pesto.  They're a little twisty shaped pasta not miles from fusili served with basil pesto (which originates in the region) and small bits of cooked potato.

One of many pictures of food from the trip.  View that all at the Flickr set, here.

Oh yeah... and the abbey

After the Abbey we climbed back up over another ridge and descended again into Porto Fino, then on to a swimming spot a bit further on for a quick dip, and then finally dragged ourselves back to Santa Margherita with enough time to shower and rest a bit before seeking out supper.  Unsurprisingly, great food was a bit of a theme for the weekend.  Despite the fact that we wandered around town Saturday night for a disspiriting amount of time before finally finding a restaurant with an open table, the fare when we were finally fed was fantastic.  I developed a real taste for the local anchovies, which are nothing like the super salt tinned variety (though those are good too).  Served fresh and marinated in a squeeze of lemon, oil and vinegar, they were light and lovely.  Equally excellent was the other local pasta speciality, pansotti with walnut sauce.  And the gelato.  Oh, and I was introduced to cantucci vin santo, a dessert sort of thing that involving little crunchy biscotti that you dip into a glass of strong dessert wine.  And... well I could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that basically nothing that passed my lips that weekend was less than memorable.

Despite dire weather forecasts, the wedding day turned out warm and sunny.  The church of St Giorgio is impossibly picturesque, perched on the peninsula at Portofino.  It's tiny, a bit rundown in a wonderfully appealing wabi-sabi kind of way, and utterly perfect.

See what I mean?  And that castle you can just see further up on the left?  That's Castello Brown, site of the reception.

The ceremony itself was simple and bilingual, conducted by a tag-team duo that included the local Italian priest (who looked a bit like a sexy Mr. Bean, especially after the ceremony when he took off his vestments and put on sunglasses) and an imported vicar from London who could have come from Central Casting.  Jeremy even said part of his vows in what sounded like very credible Italian.

Obligatory wedding photo.  See what I mean about Mr. Bean?

The reception was at the aforementioned Castello Brown, further up the hill.  In fact, climbing up and down hills was a consistent theme of the weekend, and the wedding day was no exception.  (People who live their whole lives in the area must have thighs of steel...).  It was a casual reception which allowed the guests to mingle and chat and linger for unseemly amounts of time at the tables of food, which was (broken record time) excellent.  Prosecco was served, of course, along with a really pleasant sparkling red wine. (Yes, sparkling RED. Though Jeremy has pointed out that it's actually called frizzante.) And there was a table of local proscuitto, served in that European way where the whole leg of the pig is displayed on a stand and paper-thin slices are carved off one by one.  And of course there was a whole spread of cheeses which culminated, late in the evening, with the unveiling of a particularly brilliant and decadent form of mozzarella called burrata.  It's made from regular fresh buffalo or cow's milk mozzarella that's formed into a sort of pouch and filled with more mozzarella scraps and fresh cream before being closed up again. This turns it into a rich gooey mess to be scooped up with bread and it is amazing.  Really, you should all go seek out some burrata right now.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

There was even a demonstration by the head catering guy, who made a fresh batch of traditional Ligurian basil pesto with a mortar and pestle.

Monday, the day after the wedding, was a quiet one in which I tried unsuccessfully to visit the Cinque Terra.  I say unsuccessfully, though I did actually get to Monterosso by midafternoon. I got a late start not because I slept in, but because I faffed around uncertainly for far too long before finally getting on a train, then arrived late enough that I was worried about making it back to Santa Margherita in time to meet up with the gang for pre-dinner drinks.  So there I was, on a sunny day in Monterosso preparing to do the hike to the next town along the coast. But really was quite hot and it was quite late, and the place was positively crammed with tourists because it was a holiday in Italy.  And so, despite the effort of getting there, and the absolutely unforgivable notion that I would come all the way to Italy and make it all the way to the Cinque Terra and then think "Meh, not today", I did in fact think, "Meh, not today", got back on the train, and went back to Santa Margherita.  (Arguments, abuse, death threats, etc... from anyone who's not been to Italy, let alone to the Cinque Terra can be addressed to

Cinque Terra
Here's what I missed. Meh.

Then again, I did have a pretty cool evening, which started with a ride across the hills above Santa Margherita on an electric bike.  They have an excellent cycle hire scheme in the area which includes not just standard issue tank-like hire bikes that you see all over, but also a good number of bikes equipped with electric motors that assist you when you're pedalling.


It's disconcerting at first, since the motor kicks in automatically, so you've got to be on your toes.  Nonetheless, it's really the only way to go in such a hilly area.  This was brought home to us after we'd breezed across the ridge to a cliff-side bar to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean.  A couple of drinks in we wondered what had happened to one of our number when he finally arrived, late, sweaty-faced and worn out, because his particular hire bike turned out to have a bad motor and he'd had to cycle all the way there under his own steam. We were all heartily impressed with his fortitude and didn't even blink when he ordered two beers at once and settled down to take in the view.

Which was not bad.  And was followed by the longest downhill cycle EVER.  I think I pedalled three times in about 5 km.  And then we went for dinner.  Of course.

Tuesday morning it was back to real life in London, but not before a quick pitstop on the way to the airport in Pisa.  I may have missed the Cinque Terra, but at least I can tick this one off the bucket list:

There's an interesting sociological study to be done at the Leaning Tower having to do with the division between people who have their picture taken holding the tower up and those who appear to be pushing it over.  Fascinating.

After that I had just enough time for one last scoop of gelato before getting the bus to the airport and diving head first back into work, from which I've just resurfaced.  It really was a great weekend: a real treat to see a part of Italy I've never visited before, a chance to hang out with good friends and eat fantastic food, and, most importantly, an honour and a pleasure to be part of such a happy event.

Congratulations Jeremy and Paola, and best wishes for a long and happy life together, filled with love, smooth sailing, and mozzarella.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

A fairy tale wedding in a dreamland. You can always go back to see the bits you missed.

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