21 April 2013

LIFE: A Chiavari Morning

CHIAVARI, Italy  -  It’s been an interesting end of the week. Had coffee at Lino’s Thursday morning with Barbara, an old friend from my Genova Nervi days. We kind of lost track of each other after I moved to Milan, but you wouldn’t have known that if you had been listening in on our conversation that morning. Then a friend of hers who was on her way to a zumba lesson stopped to say hello and decided to stay and have a coffee with us. Lovlina, who is from California, is getting ready to move to Miami as her husband, who is from Chiavari, makes his way up the corporate ladder of the cruise ship company he works for.

 Lino's Coffee Shop
In the fifteen years since I lived in Liguria last, not much has changed. Most of the American women I knew back then were in Italy because they had married Italians and in Liguria because those Italians were sailors, most of whom worked for one Italian cruise ship company or another.  Before Lovlina left for her exercise class, we all agreed to meet next week and go into Genova for lunch at a new Mexican restaurant that recently opened near Christopher Columbus’ house, which incidentally is a fake – the house, not the restaurant.

After Lovlina left, Barbara told me another friend of hers bottles and sells her own olive oil, and if I would like some she would give me her name. I jumped on that one. I really like Ligurian olive oil and if you can get it directly from the source, well all the better. She said she actually has two sources; one for Ligurian olive oil and another for Tuscan olive oil, so if I prefer Tuscan olive oil she would give me that information as well. 

 Street Outside of Lino's
Sitting there at that moment, at a table outside of Lino’s, on an most adorable old street with the warm Mediterranean sun shining from above and the sound of seagulls in the air, all I could think of is I must be dead and this is heaven. And then it got even better. She told me about the cupcake store.

Cupcakes, especially those piled high with pastel colored frosting and highlighted with tiny sugar flowers and sparkly sugar dots are a novelty here. Italians don’t go in much for sweet snack, they don’t munch and crunch cookies or cupcakes in front of the TV, they think cookies are breakfast food. In fact you can find a wide variety of Italian cookies, really tasty ones, right next to the Weetabix and corn flakes in any grocery store. For Italians, eating cookies anytime past 10 AM is kind of like an American grabbing an open box of Cherrie O’s to munch on. Come to think of it, I know people who do that, so maybe a bag of raw oatmeal would be a better example, but you know what I mean.

 Cupcake Flowers from the Cup Cake Store
Barbara said the cupcakes at the cupcake store were beautiful to look at, but they don’t taste like American cupcakes. She has a particularly unique point of view as she was born in Chiavari but spent most of her formative years in San Francisco, giving her a perfect perspective from both sides.  She said she thinks the reason Italian cupcakes don’t taste like their American counterparts is that they lack American flavor enhancers and artificial ingredients. 

She may be right. A mutual friend of ours, also American, likes to enter local cake baking contests, which she usually wins. The Italians simply swoon over her super moist chocolate fudge cake and heavenly angel food cake not able to imagine, not even in a million years, that they are eating the oh-so-popular boxed creations of every baker’s friend, Betty Crocker brought directly from the United States. The Italians have a word for what she does, ‘furbo,’ it translates as clever.

Pretty Cup Cakes at the Cup Cake Store
I didn’t make it over to the cupcake store until Friday, which is market day in Chiavari. Not the best day to venture out as there are always so many people crowding the market stalls, and unless you are there to shop it’s best to stay home. But I wanted to talk to cupcake store owners and find out why they decided to open a cupcake store now, in this economy. But the shop was so packed with customers I couldn’t get near them, I couldn’t even get in the door. And later I realized I didn’t have to talk to them, the answer to my question was right in front of me. I just had to think about it.

I don’t know if you know this, but Italians love America and Americans. They love everything about us. Our cities, our food, our music, our cowboys, they really love our cowboys, and our ‘just do it’ philosophy.  And I think it was that ‘just do it’ philosophy that brought about the opening of the cupcake store. I may be wrong but I think they decided to ‘just do it,’ and from the looks of it, it looks like it’s going to be an amazing success story.

Market Day in Chiavari
The week ended with a trip to my favorite bar and an encounter with the numbers 84 and 115, but more about that next time.

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