They are always fashionably dressed. The men wear their shirts over their shorts and it’s a sacrilege to wear socks. The women wear free flowing dresses, Raybans perched on their foreheads. Both stroll with a breezy insouciance, Rolex Submariners and golden bracelets nonchalantly displayed. The tourists have arrived.
Orbetello, in La Maremma, at the southern tip of Tuscany, is a small medieval town sitting on the middle of three arms linking the mainland to the peninsula of Monte Argentario. My family and I have been visiting regularly for many years, and I have by now identified several cafés to visit, depending on the position of the sun in the sky.
There is something about sipping a morning cappuccino at a Tuscan terrace, in a narrow cobblestone street, watching the town shake off its slumber, that is deeply satisfying. Bar Rossi is a small café with a good vantage point overlooking the shops on Corso Italia and the Piazza dei Due Mondi. I settle down and enjoy the show unfold. Early in the morning, the square is occupied by retired locals, whilst Corso Italia prepares to open its myriad trendy shops of home decoration, fashionwear and jewelry. The tourists arrive around 10 o’clock. Of course, these are tourists only for the locals. To me, they are Italians from Rome or Milan. This is what I like about La Maremma: the only foreign language I hear is Italian. I know enough to order a caffè or gelato, and that covers a good portion of my needs. But I learned quickly not to order an espresso, expecting, well, an espresso as understood back home in Switzerland. For instead I would receive what we’d call a ristretto, albeit one with enough punch to keep you abuzz for the whole day. I reckon an Italian ristretto would probably need a doctor’s prescription.
Although I always buy a newspaper to accompany my cappuccino, I am really here to participate in La Passeggiata, an Italian play in two acts with two actors. There are those who stroll the pedestrian streets, dressed to the nines, who enjoy being seen, and there are those who enjoy watching from the terraces. Everybody wins. I confess to a guilty pleasure in watching the always fashionably dressed Romans and Milanese strut their stuff. They have a fashion sense second to none; anything looks good on them. Perhaps it is their bold choice of colours, or else it’s the confidence with which they wear them. These are return visitors, as they are recognised by shop owners who greet them heartily.
Orbetello lives on Mediterranean time. There is a natural “lockdown” between midday and 5pm, the intermission between Acts One and Two of La Passeggiata. Act Two takes place at Bar Bagianni on the main square, for an aperitivo. In the evening, the whole town takes part and the streets are buzzing with an eclectic mix of people. There amble a gaggle of laughing teenaged girlfriends, (who, I could have sworn, must have passed by for the third time), fully aware of the group of teenaged boys eyeing them not so discreetly. Parents with small children chat with each other as the children kick the ball around. The retirees are out again after their siesta. Everyone has changed to their evening clothing, proudly showing off their tans, fruits of their hard labour during the day. So many stories are unfolding in a festive atmosphere.
Act Two takes all evening and goes well into the night, but at some point my family and I take a break and go to Da Gennaro for a pizza, followed by gelati at Le Logge Gelateria. This time we change sides and join the Passeggiata as participants on the stage.
If you ever visit Orbetello, look out for a man with The New York Times sipping a cappuccino at Bar Rossi. He’d happily meet you and together you can enjoy watching La Passeggiata and exchange interpretations of its many stories.