February 07, 2007
Signorina Marina checked us into our rental apartment in the clifftop complex she owned with her brother, and, as she completed the paperwork, waved toward the window and her brilliant stretch of the Italian Riviera. She gave us our key. And two bottles of wine.
One red, one white, in unlabeled plastic carafes with tiddlywinkish stoppers. Language is no barrier against communicating the truly essential, which anything involving wine is, and our Englitalian exchange established that this was literal house wine, made on the premises from grapes on the premises – we’d seen the vines climbing the slope next to the driveway and crawling the arbors erected as sun screens over the parking lot and adjacent ping pong table and bocce court. Our check-in bottles were complimentary. When we emptied them, we were to bring them to reception, where they’d be refilled for about three dollars. Welcome to paradise.
We turned the key in the door of our unit, and paradise got better. We found ourselves in a sun-filled aerie with a tiled terrace that hung over the Mediterranean. Below us, mahogany boats skipped over silver waves, thin people browned themselves atop rocks that poked from the sea, vineyards, orchards and olive groves marched up every mountainside, and Moneglia, a medieval hamlet turned tourist town, buzzed with beachgoers, shoppers and cafe-lingerers. There was no reason to move. We could take in this whole sun-drenched swath of the world from our hilltop perch.
Mike and I quickly fell into a routine of sitting, sipping, staring, and little else, while Adam and Dana explored the complex and its grounds and polished their ping pong skills, often playing with a German girl on holiday with her parents. Their unit sat behind ours and looked onto the parking lot and ping pong table. In Moneglia on a month-long stay, they’d chosen to economize and forego the sea view.
We made short work of Signorina Marina’s free check-in bottles and, while we enjoyed the red, it was the white we presented most to reception for refills. Pressed from Vermentino grapes that grow in the steep, sea-kissed vineyards that arc from Genoa southeast to Santa Margherita Ligure – an arc that includes Moneglia and Signorina Marina’s family vineyards – the wine’s crisp kick partnered perfectly with the slice of sultry dolce vita we feasted on from our terrace.
I went off-campus once a day, to buy a chicken. A store in Moneglia sold whole roasted birds, and I’d head down into town about four to get today’s and reserve tomorrow’s. I’d supplement the chicken, which we’d pick on for a full day, with bread and olives from narrow, ochre-colored shops that lined Moneglia’s pedestrian zone.
“Mom, there’s a bag of stuff hanging on the door,” said Adam one day as he left to play ping pong. I investigated and retrieved a plastic sack filled nearly to bursting with fresh apricots.
Nearly every afternoon for the rest of our stay we’d find a bag of apricots dangling from the doorknob. “More apricots!” Adam would shriek as he laid the newest delivery on the kitchen table. The kids loved them straight up and on the run. Mike and I assimilated them into our languorous sea-viewing sessions, pairing them with our landlady’s young, label-less Vermentino. Ahhh, Moneglia. Glorious view; happy children; open spigot of almost-free wine; tasty chickens cooked by somebody else; juicy fruit delivered by anonymous produce fairies.
I decided the Germans were the apricot-gifters. They had no terrace and no view, so no reason to hang around their apartment. Each morning about ten, they’d set off to hike, sporting backpacks, boots and serious socks. We, in bathing suits, would look up from our terrace onto the mountainside planted with orchards and vines and see the family ambling amidst the agriculture. I figured they’d befriended a landowner who let them pluck his apricots and they were using the fruit to pay Adam and Dana back for playing so much ping pong with their daughter.
Near the end of our stay I saw the German father in the parking lot, and I thanked him for the fruit: “Danke sehr fur die Aprikosen.” He shook his head: “Nein, nein! Nicht von uns. Von der Schwester!”
Signorina Marina, the “sister,” had delivered the apricots. We learned she owned not only the vineyards that produced our free-flowing Vermentino, but all the groves and orchards we’d been looking on. She owned the mountainside.
And she enjoyed sharing sips and pieces of it with her guests.
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