Last week we went to Lake Garda in Italy: our first sunny holiday for fifteen years (the last being a week in Turkey during our first year at University when we both decided that we loathed pool holidays. But with each passing year my longing for a sun lounger has grown a little, until this year it reached desperation levels). We stayed in a little town on the lakeside named Salo. My paper piecing came with me. For the first four days it stayed in its bag, until I had acclimatised to dipping in and out of the pool, baking my limbs in the sun, eating frozen yogurt twice daily and feasting on huge mozzarella and tomato salads. I had almost forgotten about it, until suddenly it felt just the right thing to use my sunhat as a bowl and sit poolside stitching pieces together.
Salo was beautiful, but my family teased me that this was just the first stop on Florence's World Tour of Supermarkets, for it was Italmark that really captured my heart. I love foreign supermarkets. The delight of seeing aisle upon aisle of exciting new biscuits, sun-warmed and misshapen vegetables, and curious breakfasting possibilities somehow makes me feel impossibly happy. Being vegetarian makes for a particularly enjoyable game of hunt-the-meat-substance on any ingredients lists and it's nice to feel one's Italian vocabulary of obscure food stuffs growing with each visit. I made a highly controversial deviation from my usual puritan breakfast of greek yogurt and instead treated myself to a vanilla yogurt with an upper layer of sweet and gelatinous (but gelatine-free!) lemon mousse that melted in my mouth. When I woke this morning without it to look forward to I felt rather bereft. I made a point of fitting in a trip to Italmark each day and on the final afternoon my husband photographed me outside the shop for posterity (and he says to officially record the first stop on the tour).
We played a point-scoring game as to who could speak the most Italian words during the holiday - my little boy won on the grounds of speaking with adorable enthusiasm, the most authentic accent and not an ounce of self-consciousness and so was permitted to do some biscuit choosing from the shelves of Italmark on the final day as his reward. My husband and I had downloaded an app for our phones which helped with phrases and pronunciation. I was delighted to find a section covering dating and enjoyed confusing my husband with phrases enquiring as to whether he'd like to go to a nightclub with me (Andiamo in un locale!), complimenting him on his handsomeness (sei molto bello!) and more surprising phrases which I was amused to find in an app clearly intended to supply only the basics needed to get by.
Salo is beautiful, with an incredibly long promenade flanked by elegant gelato cafes and pizza restaurants, and backed by a mish-mash of narrow, house-crowded streets.
And windows holding cats.
We walked for hours every day and time was punctuated by gelato stops and finding shade. I took few clothes but, humiliatingly, my family did count ten pairs of shoes lined up beneath my chest of drawers. This pair was my favourite and most-used.
Today, as well as the yogurt and lemon mousse, I am missing the pool. I asked my husband if he might like to dig out the garage to make our own indoor version. He said no, but he's such a restless creature that I'm hoping if I leave a spade out on the patio he might suddenly set to work on it one day.
On the way home from the airport we took a diversion to see some friends and got lost in tiny country lanes. As we bristled the car side with brambles to pass by a rare car coming in the opposite direction, I felt unexpectedly elated to be back in England: people smiled, mouthed thank you and acknowledged other signs of life, where in Salo I had been stunned by how cold and unsmiling people were. Their reserve isn't characteristic of other parts of Italy and felt quite shocking. One day we took a ferry across the lake to Lazise, a more commerical lake-side town, where we were rewarded with smiling inhabitants and little shops selling nick-knacks which delighted the children - they bought turtles with pleasingly wobbly heads.
My own head also feels pleasingly wobbly for having had a lovely, sunshiney break.