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A day-tripper’s time in Portofino

What is it about boat rides, salt water and sun that make you ravenous? Manuela must have anticipated that – or heard rumbling stomachs – because a plate filled with Italian antipasti suddenly plopped down on the table. Harry and I had just strolled back down to the harbor where the Mediterranean sun bounced off the crisp blue waters and luxury yachts were rocking in their moorings next to their more colorful poor cousins – red, blue and yellow painted wooden dinghies. There was even the occasional teak-decked racing boat that brought to mind tense moments in an old James Bond thriller. (Where was the long-legged femme fatale languishing on its open deck?) 

We had arrived in Portofino – this destination of the rich and famous – after a crowded but short ride on a day boat from Santa Margherita Ligure.  Crammed together with mostly Italian natives, we had squeezed into two spots on a peeling wooden bench on the land side of the deck. Definitely the best vantage point for photos and viewing villas with envious views, but also the spot to get lightly misted with salty sea spray each time the boat met a swell. In a strange way it refreshed us and whet our appetite for a taste of the Mediterranean – not sea, but cuisine.

As Manuela poured glasses of slightly fruity white Ligurian wine, she gently insisted that we first sample the Culatelo ham from Parma. In her lilting Italian voice she described it as a regional favorite, but very hard to get. The ham was delicately thin, only slightly salty with an earthy flavor. Taste buds don’t lie. It was absolutely yummy. At this point we knew we had found a bit (or bite?) of local flavor – shared only with a French couple on holiday, our blonde hostess and the flotilla of empty boats just yards away.

Sipping on a second glass of wine – observing another boatload of tourists scrambling onto the dock across the harbor – we knew why we had rushed like children on holiday to distance ourselves from that scene only a short while ago. Once away from the crush of people, we wound our way among the cobbled streets above the tiny harbor. Flower filled doorways, sleeping dogs and exotic, yet comforting, aromas wafted from open windows teasing our senses and hinting of normal daily routines. Avoiding the postcard flanked doorways of the local tourist shops we paused on the quiet south side of the harbor. There – like a mythical Siren – Winterose Portofino beckoned us to grab a front row seat on the local life, far from the maddening crowd of day-trippers. Here we had landed, at a wooden café table, nibbling antipasti, and slowly succumbing to the Siren’s call. Dreams of living the pampered life of the rich and famous crept into our sub-consciousness. Perhaps as the latest rock star on the cover of “Rolling Stone” in his villa above the village or maybe as the raven-haired ingénue on R and R from her last film sunbathing on an anchored yacht. The combination of salty Mediterranean breezes, two glasses of vino bianco, and the surreal scenery in this colorful fishing village was holding our imaginations hostage. It was a delicious moment.

A loud “Ciao!” from the rooftop above hiccoughed us back into the present. Picking at crumbs and sipping the last drops of wine, reality hit that we were mere “day-trippers” ourselves. Reluctantly we relinquished the prime harbor view spot, leaving it for the next untourist to discover.

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