Moments from a weekend on ProcidaPosted on July 21, 2015
One: Lemon salad
We were on the bus, jolting down a terrifyingly narrow street, when I learned how to make lemon salad. I was perched sideways on a slippery plastic bucket seat that made cracking noises whenever the bus hit a pothole or a poorly placed cobblestone, and Alessandro was wedged in the back with a young family. Like us, everyone on the bus was on their way to the beach and generally looking very relaxed and jovial in the way a person does when they know that they’re minutes from a lounge chair next to the sea.
I can’t remember exactly how the conversation turned to lemon salad. It’s likely that I made a comment about the lemon trees visible from the bus windows – Procida is home to a specific type of lemon that reaches the size of a small, knobby boulder, and it’s almost comical to see them dangling heavily from the slender branches of a tree. In any case, the individual conversations on the bus ceased and then re-formed, as a group, around the topic of Procida’s famous insalata di limone.
The woman next to Alessandro began to reel off a list of the ingredients – the lemons, obviously, but also an abundance of olive oil, chilli pepper flakes, mint, onion – and then a guy jumped in to debate that the onion was, in fact, optional, but garlic was essential. This caused some degree of disagreement and muttering (Italians hold strong opinions on matters related to onions and garlic), which gave the woman seated in front of me an opportunity to twist around and insert herself into the conversation with a detailed explanation of exactly how the lemon itself should be prepared (for the record, you shave off the yellow peel, but otherwise eat the entire thing, substantial spongey white pith included).
That night, at dinner, I ordered the lemon salad. The waiter delivered a little white bowl of it with a flourish – the famous lemon salad of Procida! – and I looked down to see immense chunks of spongey white lemon pith swimming in a luxurious quantity of olive oil, the whole thing peppered with flecks of chilli pepper and bits of garlic, and noticeably onion-free.
It was… interesting. Good, even – or, at least, it certainly wasn’t bad. It exceeded my expectations, but to be honest, my expectations of a dish comprised primarily of a normally discarded part of a lemon hacked up into cubes weren’t exactly high to begin with. I enjoyed trying it. I probably wouldn’t order it again.
Two: Book your sandwich
I was draped over a lounge chair on the beach, half asleep, when a loudspeaker crackled to life in the bar – a hut, really; just a battered espresso machine under a little roof – behind me.
“Attenzione!”, announced a slightly disembodied but authoritative voice. “If you would like to have a sandwich for lunch, you must book it beforehand at the bar! I repeat, you must book your sandwich in advance!”
I laughed. The Italian word used was not the equivalent of to order, but rather to book, to reserve, which seemed fitting for a table in a restaurant or a train ticket but not so much for a few slices of tomato between two pieces of bread. The Italians propelled themselves off their lounge chairs and towards the bar, presumably finding nothing strange at all about this lunch-time situation; one that I hadn’t yet encountered in the larger beach clubs with fully equipped kitchens and a more liberal attitude towards sandwich acquisition.
An hour later, the sandwiches were handed out in little plastic bags along with carefully folded squares of paper towel, which felt oddly reminiscent of a school field trip.
Later in the afternoon, the loudspeaker came to life again: “Attenzione! There is granita di limone at the bar! Granita di limone… at the bar!” It sounded like a warning, not an advertisement.
Three: Just a drop
After returning from the beach I left Alessandro to nap in the hotel room, spread-eagled dramatically over the bed in exhaustion, while I grabbed my camera and headed out to wander through the town. Eventually, deciding that a granita di caffè was necessary, I sat down at a little bar beside the marina.
I was savouring the granita, staring out at the sea and generally ignoring everything around me when a man, tanned to the point where he resembled a well-worn shoe, appeared in front of me, brandishing a glass of prosecco.
“You are alone,” he stated, “and you know you can’t eat alone, it’s bad luck!”
He pointed at the glass of prosecco, then inclined his head towards a group of tables hastily shoved together where about ten middle-aged men, each one tanned darker than the next, were assembling. Someone whipped the lid off a box to reveal a mound of Neapolitan pastries. Someone else plunked a few bottles down. The owner of the bar rushed over with a cake on a foil-covered tray.
“You must come join us. We are celebrating Giuseppe’s new fishing boat”. I shook my head. “Dai!” he insisted, “just a drop of prosecco!” At this point, the men were squeezing another plastic chair around the table and pushing a glass towards me, then loading up a paper plate with pastries. I clearly couldn’t back out of this invitation.
And so I spent the next half hour with a group of fishermen – real island men, who spent each day on the sea – alternating between making toasts to a shiny new fishing boat that I had never seen and answering a barrage of curious questions, all in strong, almost indecipherable Neapolitan accents, about how a Canadian girl ends up living in Italy.