Through the wide-open windows came the sound of a car horn blasting the first few, famous bars from the theme of The Godfather. Waking from a deep sleep, I giggled. I wasn’t expecting to like Calabria. In all of my travel research, this most southern area of the boot was portrayed as the dirty whore cousin to the other, more ‘respectable’ Italian regions.
But like it I did.
A small, converted convent overlooking the old city of Tropea provided our very brief lodging, complete with Byzantine carvings of St. Francis and an honor bar stocked with good grappa and Amaro. The crystalline waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea below offered a cool respite from the midday heat, its rocky beach lined with umbrellas shading Casper-white tourists from northern Europe and very bronzed, beefy Italians in teeny bikinis. The warm water was incredibly clear, giving new meaning to the adage ‘swimming with the fishes.’
We roamed timeworn alleyways and peered into dark, long neglected cavernous spaces, its cool air smelling of old earth and mold; partially boarded up by those who quickly abandoned the old city for more modern digs.
Colorful laundry hung to dry from overhead balconies. Intimate pieces of clothing flapping in the afternoon breeze resided next to Madonnas encased in glass and adorned with plastic flowers, her exalted perch carved directly into the ancient stone buildings.
Wooden produce stands lined the streets into town, manned by toothless men in white, starched tank t-shirts. Ripe figs and assorted varieties of citrus plucked from surrounding gardens were plentiful. Freshly dug Tropea Torpedo Onions, a local delicacy, were strung together like old-fashioned Christmas lights, bulbous and brightly colored, and hung with evident pride.
I filled a bag with several strings of dried, fiery Calabrian peppers for smuggling home, their seeds to be planted in the garden, inviting easy recall of the charms and warmth of Calabria.