Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Day 21: Bordighera

The sun has returned this morning and we have another very pleasant breakfast outside on the lungomare. After breakfast, we walk around the point to the port and up the hill through through the lovely pine-tree shaded park that overlooks the water. Then we are off to Hanbury Gardens...a botanical garden that had been started by an English merchant in the late 1900s on his estate near the French border just past Ventimiglia. It had fallen into disrepair before taken over 25 years ago by the University of Genova. It sits on a steep hillside that runs all the way down to the Mediterranean and it has an extensive collection of plants from all over the world. Many of the plants are either tropical or desert--both of which do well in this microclimate...close to the sea and sheltered from the cold by the Apennine mountain range. There are lots of flowers and fruit trees as well as exotic plants and it is a pleasant walk down the side of the hill through the gardens, past the very grand Hanbury villa that sits in the middle of the estate.

At the bottom, there is a busy snack bar and picnic area where we rest and prepare for the walk back up the hillside to the entrance. By now, it is after noon and it has warmed up, making the climb somewhat arduous. We don't pay as much attention to the different plants on the way up as we had on the way down....getting to the top is the main priority at this point. We drive back over the French border to Menton...the plan is to find a place so I can have moules mariniere for lunch. We park in one of the many public lots and sit down at one of the restaurants with outdoor seating along the beachfront promenade. It is a great setting for a lovely lunch...spoiled only by the fact that the food is not very good....mussels are small and overcooked and Diana's salad is very ordinary. But we enjoy the view and the weather, and after lunch we walk into the center of Menton to find some dessert.

This part of Menton is very reminiscent of Vieux Nice....lots of shops, bars and restaurants and lots of people out walking, eating and shopping. It is a little too bright and a little too clean and a little too perfect. In one square, there is a "performance" taking place--French teenagers lipsynching, miming and dancing to really bad American pop music to the enthusiastic enjoyment of their friends. Down the street, we stop to watch a ceremony being held at a memorial to the resistance....there are veterans dressed in uniforms carrying flags and well-dressed dignitaries laying wreathes at the memorial. After the wreath laying, the participants sing a partisan anthem and then the Marseillaise....which is all very moving. Next to the resistance memorial, there is an olive tree planted in memory of the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

Before leaving, we buy some very good pastries at a patisserie and then get caught in a massive construction-related traffic jam on the way into Ventimiglia. When we finally make it back to Bordighera, we sit in the sun and watch as men driving tractors work to reclaim and clean up the beach.

We drive up to the old city for dinner and eat at a very attractive trattoria called Magiarge--one of the Slow Food recommended places in town. We can't get a table outside in the square so we eat inside in one of the beautifully decorated dining rooms. The menu is written on a blackboard and it turns out that there are only a few menu options that are really appealing. The young staff all speak English very well...I think that one of them may actually be an American but we never get to find out.

In spite of the limited choices, Diana has one of the best meals she has had so far on the trip....tagliolini with mullet (great pasta and very tasty sauce) followed by roast rabbit with crispy and flavorful roast potatoes and some cheese from Lombardia with honey. My choices are not as good as hers...marinated fish fillets served on a fava puree and a fish soup from San Remo--like bouilliabaise but "without the pieces"--served with croutons and aioli. However, my dessert--a chocolate chip baverese (a cross between a pudding and a mousse) with a coffee sauce is terrific. The wine--another Vermentino--goes very well with the food. All in all, it was a successful dinner and we enjoyed the trattoria very much. We drive back to the hotel and watch the sea from our balcony for a while before closing the shutters.

Diana's Book List

D: I've read some good books on this trip which I'm happy to recommend. You wondered what I was doing while Jim was off scouting out restaurants for dinner, right? Or while he was working. Or writing these reports. Or while he was sleeping. Well, I read:

Old Boys by Charles McCarry. The latest (I think) by the former CIA operative who Washingtonians think is better than Le Carre. A good read.

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. Essays about travel (with some illustrations) focusing on writers or artists who have defined certain places - e.g. Wordsworth and the Lake District, Van Gogh and Provence- that I found delicious.

Torregreca by Ann Cornelison. Nonfiction account of her years in Southern Italy, in the '50's, close to where Carlo Levi was exiled. Engrossing.

The Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle. A winner. A wonderful work of history - of race, Detroit in 1925, Clarence Darrow for the defense.

Garlic & Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. The 3rd volume of her memoirs, covering her 6 years as the NY Time's food critic, including reviews and recipes - entertaining.

Glory in a Camel's Eye: Trekking Through the Moroccan Sahara by Jeffrey Tayler. The author fulfills a lifelong dream of doing this very difficult trek - but the book didn't do it for me. Although he spoke Arabic, had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and studied the history and culture of the area, he was an unsympathetic (though brave) narrator.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk. A novel exploring the tensions between Western modernity and fundamentalist Islam in contemporary Turkey. Excellent!

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. Wonderful! We had gone to hear him speak when Politics and Prose brought him when this book came out, but I'm just now reading it - a memoir of his family, his childhood in Jerusalem in the 40's and 50's, Israel and indeed the Jewish people. Highly recommended.


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