Celebrate being eighteen - Italian style
Naomi hoped to do something memorable for her eighteenth birthday and it seemed unlikely, until I saw flights to Pescara from London Stansted that were less than £1.50 return. Eco-conscience aside, for that price I wasn't too worried where we went.
According to a guidebook, it is a favourite resort for Italians: hell in August and nothing special out of season. But it’s a city with a port, close to a national park with bears in it. It has local red wine and olive oil. Naomi wants fake designer clothes, Ruth wants a cute Italian boyfriend, Alex wants football boots and I want a bus ride into the mountains. There was a snag – for these prices I would have to take them out of school, but I convinced myself that learning a bit of Italian and eating proper pasta would more than compensate for three missed days and anyway, Italy is on my son’s curriculum.
I borrowed an Italian CD from the library and tried to insist that we play it in the car, and in the middle of the week and four hours later we were there.
Our hotel - Hotel Bellariva - is on Viale Della Riviera 213; the beach just over the road. After fighting over the beds and a bit of Italian MTV we are still in time for dinner so we walk into the old part of the city, past bars and tempting pizza takeaways until our limited vocabulary eventually gets us sent down Via delle Caserme 51, to La Lumaca, where the waitress asks us in over-emphasised Italian what we would like to drink. We guess at Fanta and a glass of the local Montepulciano D’Abruzzio red wine. The chef comes to the table and stabs his finger at number two on the menu. "Must be the special", I say. We think it might be spicy as he puts his fingers in his mouth; shaking them, breathing out loudly, "Hoh! Hoh!" Naomi looks through the dictionary for the eating out section and the chef bangs about in the kitchen with pots and pans. The waitress comes back with bread, a bowl of fresh grated Parmesan and some garlic chilli oil that we dip the bread into, setting our mouths on fire. We look at the menu slowly trying to translate each dish so that we can be ready to order. We are looking up the words when the chef returns with a steaming bowl of penne, covered in a spicy tomato sauce and puts it on the table. "Penne all’ Arrabbiata", he says beaming at us, and we realise we already did.
Next morning we walk the twenty minutes to the city centre in warm winter sun and it’s Ruth’s turn with the phrase book. We have to go to different offices for tourist information, for a map and for bus tickets and in the space of one hour she has repeated every phrase three times, seen off two DVD sellers and a Jehovah’s Witness – all in perfect Italian.
Even in a city with nothing much happening, out of season and on a Tuesday morning, the pizza at Stazione Centrale is better than any restaurant in England so we buy two slices each and we eat them on the local bus to Caramanico. After an afternoon exploring this mountain village, we return to Pescara - the station now magically transformed into a Senegalese night market, full of lights and music. Every stall is laden with ghetto-fabulous fake designer bags, sunglasses and clothes. Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace blatantly ripped off on wooden trestle tables. Now the teenagers are fighting over the phrase books. The bag Naomi likes costs €100 but if she goes out with the stallholder she can have it for €50. I buy it for her birthday present and drag them away, laden with belts and sunglasses.
The next day is Alex’s turn. He has saved up £50 and wants to buy Italian football boots. He has already learned the Italian for "Football boots such as the players of Inter - Milan might wear," and we are pointed in the direction of a sports shop that has a department entirely devoted to football, including a glass case with the first boots ever worn by Ronaldinho. The shop assistant produces several pairs: gold ones, red, green and white Italian World Cup ones, fluorescent ones; all at over €200 each. "There is no way that you are having football boots that cost €200," I tell him. "Look up 'too expensive'.'’ The man brings another pair with Ronaldo’s signature and his philosophy of life on the box for only €160. Alex is looking impressed; these are the boots in his latest football magazine: they are not even in the English shops yet. I have to subsidise him in front of his sister, whose eighteenth birthday present only cost €50. Alex hands over his money and takes his boots and I take a photograph of him in front of the glass case with his arm round the shop assistant.
We walk back via Caprice Di Fabrizio Camplone, voted one of Italy's top cafés for coffee, eat little fruit pastries and gelato and Naomi has a Pina Colada in a country where they don’t need to ask a teenager for ID. Four hours later we are back home and Naomi has decided her Italian has improved so much that she probably won't go to university; she might just leave school and move straight to Italy.