Once again I am on the lake honing my far niente skills. The days are overcast and a heavy mist softens the air. I relish the view at all hours here in Argegno, my little town. Days start dark and overcast and grow lighter, luminous. When the sun finally emerges from the clouds there is no better squintfest than Lake Como.
Day I: Cappuccino with a View
The strict order of Italian food and drink is finally starting to make sense to me. There is a level of exertion that comes with living in the hills. You don’t want a milky cappucino sitting on the stomach at midday. On the other hand, the noontime Prosecco is just the thing to refresh and engage the palate before a meal – perfetto.
Lunch is always a plate of tortelloni with butter and salvia (sage). My friend Chris arrives from Hamburg with a newly minted German palate and really gets into carpione – herring with bits of onion, carrot and a hefty hit of vinegar. We both enjoy bresaola, dried beef sliced thin as paper that looks delicate but packs robust flavor and amazing chew.
As always, I am scanning for George Clooney whose Villa Oleandra is a mere few miles up the road. Ah, George, I’ll bet you love the lakelight as much as I do. It’s quiet here waiting for George, which makes it even easier to far niente. Except for the buzz of a passing Fiat or hiss of a cappucino machine, the volume is blessedly low.
Day II: Sapore and Style
In a small roadside trattoria that I assume is a grab-and-go I am surprised to see six or seven small tables. I order the day’s special, zuccha ravioli. A school bell in the kitchen signals the one-man waitstaff, and oh my – what a pleasant surprise. Here are five glistening mezza luna full of creamy yellow squash and cheese.
A couple argues at a corner table. There is yelling as she stands and puts on her coat as if to leave. Somehow, they end up laughing – marriage, Italian style. A quintet of fashionisti arrive in slim black jackets and eclipse my attention. Fascinated, I order an espresso and pretend to watch the TV over the bar.
Day III: Fashion and Other Tragedies
Downtown Como is a little chilly. People are bundled in gray and black, the lone sartorial flash the red sole of a Louboutin shoe. La Louboutin drags a Shih Tzu accessorized with tiny up-do, rhinestone collar and leash. Stylish gentlemen wear scarves, foulards and more scarves as the venerable necktie disappears. The irony is not lost that I observe its demise from Como, the epicenter of silk.
Day IV: Vegetables and “Roots”
I visit the Mercato Coperto, the crowded indoor market in the heart of downtown Como. Behind mounds of bright fruit and vegetables, the space is grim but scheduled to undergo a much-needed renovation in 2013.
Around the corner in the old Chiesa di San Francisco is an exhibition by painter Paulo Maggis. The work is arresting – oversized squares of color with faces that haunt the grand, ancient space.
Day V: Giro D’Italia
Still waiting for George who is rumored to zip around the lake by motorcycle. We nail a prime spot in our little Argegno café and find ourselves in a blizzard of cyclists, weekend warriors who behave as if it’s the Giro D’Italia. Buses and cars snake behind them for kilometers. Drivers are annoyed, clearly.
The locals have taken to running in packs around 5:00 which at this time of year means almost total darkness. They run in the same direction as the traffic, a total no-no, wearing black. It is terrifying. I write the emergency number for the Polizia on one wrist (113) and the Carabinieri on the other (112) which makes me feel somewhat better.
Day VI: Unseasonably Warm
The power in my apartment is quirky. Running two appliances at once can plunge you into total darkness – washing machine and dishwasher or oven. I am a repeat offender and slow learner, but owner Barrie Webb is always accessible, happy to coach me from his holiday abroad. Each time I trek to the outdoor fuses I am grateful that it’s unseasonably warm and Barrie is such a champ.
Day VII: The Fine Art of Lingering
Each evening we dine at Ristorante Barchetta in Argegno. I love the crespelle – rich, creamy and loaded with mushrooms and Bechamel. You want to stop after the first course, but of course you don’t. It is porcini season and the chef’s offerings like the Tagliolini ai Funghi are earthy and delicious. We laugh. We linger. The handsome proprietor sends us a complimentary grappa. This must be la dolce vita.
Day VIII: Slots and Slow Food
Coke and slot machines are among our ugliest exports and they are everywhere. Italian slot machines emit a hellish dinging and bonging just like ours. Gamers don’t pause to count or even pocket their loot, moving on to the next machine, never looking up. This is not la dolce vita.
We move on to Cernobbio, a sleepy lakeside village with a chic shopping scene and no slot machines that I know of. We admire handcrafted wood furniture and sophisticated palette at boutique MdL Manifatture del Lago. I find tiny spice mills celebrating my friend Marco Bechi’s Slow Food Siena movement – the ubiquitous and charming slow-food snail.
Day IX: Bellagio Off the Beaten Track
Secrets of Bellagio begin with hanging a right at the top of the hill instead of the well-trod commercial left. You’ll head away from shops with unctuous proprietors who ask if you wish to “chat,” toward gorgeous gardens and villas off the beaten track. We turn a corner and there’s a lovely lakeside bench and secret beachy bella vista. Ah.
Day X: Arrivederci
We ride the funiculare very high above Lake Como to Brunate and share lunch on the balcony at Trattoria dei Bracconieri. We drink the last wine and savor the last bresaola. The view and the fare are delicious in equal parts. The sun is brilliant – a big fat poignant arrivederci.
Day XI: Tears, Tagliatelle and Vermentino
Not so fast. I am bumped off my flight in Milan. I spend Thanksgiving clutching a bottle of Vermentino and crying into a bowl of tagliatelle. But I guess there are worse fates than being forced to savor an extra day in Italy, non e vero? •