Thursday, June 27, 2013

Italian adventures

I could happily live in Italy. It's just that little bit random and haphazard, nothing quite makes sense, but it's okay, because nobody expects it to, it just is. Everything just is. It's quite wonderful.

I'm back on Elba, the beautiful island I discovered last year, although this time I am on a different part, Rio Marina, on the Eastern side of the island, facing towards the mainland. It's a nice little town, not much more than a village really, although it does have a port where the ferry from Piombino calls several times per day. The houses are set on the hillsides, sloping steeply down towards the port where the shops and restaurants are concentrated. There is just one small supermarket, a handful of panetterias and a few restaurants. I suspect the restaurants, gelaterias and coffee bars are somewhat less numerous in the off season, now it feels like a town just waking up for the summer, like a household of people getting ready for work and school.

I love the sleepy feel of The Rock, it may be a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean, relying largely on tourism, but it doesn't have the glamour of Sardinia, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's laid back and relaxed, more than a little bit sleepy, and it feels precisely like what it is; a large rock, isolated from the mainland by a few kilometres of beautiful clear blue water. My perception of time here is utterly lost, I haven't the faintest idea what day it is, and only due to the particularly enthusiastic symphony of bells just passed am I aware that it is around midday. The bells are a particular peculiarity which will leave me forever checking my watch for the time! From where we are on the hill, we can hear two bells. There is the simple chiming of the clocktower above the beach, which marks out the quarter, half and three-quarter hours by 1,2 or 3 chimes, and on the hour it strikes out how many hours. The other clock, which I am yet to discover the location of, but I believe to be inland somewhere, is a little more comprehensive. It strikes out the hour in a nice, deep tone, followed by the 1, 2 or 3 strikes for the quarters past the hour in a slightly higher pitch, and provides a definitive notification of midday. There are two complicating factors to this system of telling the time. The first is that I rarely observe when the bells start, and so cannot count the chimes accurately, meaning I often get the hour wrong (although I usually manage to catch up in time to find out how much past the hour it is). The second complication lies not with my ability, but with the bells. The deeper, inland bell is quite accurate, it marks the hour right on the hour, within a few seconds of my watch and phone. The belltower by the beach, however, seems to struggle. I believe that it simply loses time, because today it seems to be almost accurate, while the last few days I had observed a discrepancy between the two clocks of almost five minutes. A final confusing factor, which I have just observed, is that they do not both always mark the quarter hours. The 12.15pm bell was simply two chimes, and just now (12.26pm) there was one solitary chime, but I could not have said for certain which tower it was. I should find out soon, because hopefully the second will chime properly.

Luckily there is no fear of me being late to anything here, for there is nothing to be on time for! However it is quite fascinating observing the bells.

Hmm. Perhaps the inland bell only chimes the hour and half hour, but not the quarter hour. It was perfectly punctual for that time.

Other than observing the bell-ringing & timekeeping, I have also been enjoying the beaches. Rio Marina itself has two small beaches either side of the port, neither of which I could really recommend, although one of them does have a set of fresh-water showers, which I thoroughly approve of. To compensate for the small, tourist-filled shores by the sea in Rio Marina, there is a simply stunning little beach nearby, only ten minutes walk from the beach with showers. It is a lovely little cove, quite enclosed, with steep rocky sides coming down to it. The beach is pebbles, spreading outwards to the sea and becoming larger smooth, round stones. The water is absolutely crystal-clear, with little fishes swimming around, a few sea-urchins to make sure you don't put your feet down, and the very occasional colourful jellyfish to keep you in touch with reality. It is, without a doubt, the nicest beach I have found outside of New Zealand. It doesn't have have waves, that is true, but for a rocky beach that is a good thing. It is just beautiful. Hopefully I can rouse myself to taking pictures one of these days...

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