My part of Italy is a generally predicable country as far as weather and customs are concerned. In winter it can be very cold, in summer it can be very hot. Shops and services are usually closed between 12am and 3pm. People traditionally take their holidays in August. The rush hour is at well-defined times and not continuous, as in London. Cash payments are always preferred to plastic. The government is usually corrupt, no matter which party coalition is in power. Feste at week-ends are always a family and friends focus and so forth. Italians are still creatures of habit and I believe this point is closely allied to the greater ease of, and delight in, social interaction in Mediterranean Europe.
The UK is far more predictable as far as the nuts and bolts of daily bureaucratic and administrative life are concerned, as far as starting and finishing times are involved and as far as health and safety come into the equation. I sometimes think that this predictability is an attempt to compensate for the usually unpredictable weather up there.
Another difference I note between the two countries is that in Italy certain processes start off in a complicated, seemingly confused way and then miraculously, at the last minute, resolve themselves with simplicity and success. In the UK things seem to start in a straight-forward way and then, somehow, become complicated and finish off by being unresolvable.
Of course, these are vast generalizations but I do believe that they contain an important core of truth.
Anyway, since the weather here has settled down to a continuous high-pressure area, not too scorching and refreshingly breezy at times, what better way to finish off a day’s work at the paint factory than a trip to the seaside?
It’s just a half-an-hour drive to my favourite bit of local beach near Migliarino. The motorway entrance is near the plant and the Autostrada del Mare (originally laid out in 1933 almost thirty years before the first UK M1 motorway…) winds through the southernmost hills of the Apuan range with eagle-views over Massaciuccoli lake and crosses a plain peppered with sunflower fields, to drop us off at the wonderful Pineta with its umbrella pines framing the sand dunes of the Versilia and that subliminal background of the Apuan alps.
This is the seaside I prefer – not the regimented rows of deck-chairs and umbrellas which characterise the big seaside resorts of Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi etc. and where you must pay for the privilege of being on the beach (it must be emphasised that the stabilimenti balneari do NOT own the beach – they merely lease it from the State for the season, under renewable licenses).
The beach at Migliarino forms part of the extensive natural park of San Rossore and is not in the least built-up. It is a valuable fragment of what the coast around used to be like at the time of Shelley’s disastrous final trip from Lerici to Pisa.
There are, of course, a few facilities here: a first-aid post, a small part of the beach where you can hire a deckchair and sun-shade, a little ice-cream and snacks booth and, near the parking area, a place which sells excellent German beer and also bakes fine pizze and another, which serves cocktails and sea-food.
One day we were there the local rescue service were training Newfoundland dogs for saving drowning holidaymakers from the waves. It was fascinating to watch them and we felt even safer – despite developing numbers of stinging jelly-fish, recent sightings of sharks migrating to the increasingly warmer waters of the Med and the threat of pollution from further up the coast.
No place is perfect – although this one is near to that perfection and is a lot closer home than a Polynesian coral atoll!