"COMACCHIO" Comacchio by AsturArcadia
Comacchio Travel Guide: 7 reviews and 31 photos
My next move, to Italy in the spring of 2000, came about largely because the Schraders, both by then in their early seventies, decided that it was high time they sold up the Gasthof and retired in the cottage they had rented to me. By then tourism in the Elbe valley was booming, and the little hostelry would fetch a mint on the market. Had they carried on, I think I would have been quite content staying in Bohemia.
In late August 2002 I received a sad letter from the Schraders informing me that while they had been holidaying at Göhren on the Baltic coast that summer, the storms and flash-floods that had swept across central Europe had left Rathen all but devastated. The Gasthof was little more than a ruin, and the cottage I had rented, now their home, required repairs running into tens of thousands of euros. Fortunately, they were insured against such natural catastrophes, and several months later, in a subsequent letter, they joyfully informed me that the repaired and rebuilt cottage was now in better condition than when it had been new, three centuries earlier.
Italy I chose mainly because since my three years in St. Malo in the early 1980s I had had very little to do with the countries of southern Europe, apart from my visits to Mum in Cajarc, and I felt that it was high time to learn yet another language. Comácchio I selected simply because although a miniature Venezia, it is virtually unknown and unheard of outside northern Italy, yet sports some magnificent old buildings, is not far from the coast and the mountains, and is well-connected to the main transport arteries of Europe by means of a dual carriageway known as the Superstrada, which runs arrow-straight from the coast at Porto Garibaldi to Ferrara.
Ideally, I would have loved to have rented an old house on one of the narrow pedestrianised streets bordering the canal system, but I failed to discover anything suitable at a price I could afford. In the end, I opted for a first floor apartment in a spacious two-storey, semi-detached house, one of about a dozen of similar design built in the early 1950s surrounding a large square plot of fenced-in land which was divided into allotments for all the neighbours and intensively cultivated for vegetables. Along with the apartment came a long, narrow plot sprouting several ancient fruit trees and with oceans more space for growing vegetables, running from the back of the house to where the farmland proper began.
This cheerful little estate was situated on the western edge of the built-up area, in the quarter known as Villaggio San Francesco, and from my kitchen window I enjoyed breathtaking views southwestwards across the limitless arable plains of Emilia-Romagna towards Bologna, particularly spectacular when summer thunderstorms were building up over the Appennini. In the opposite direction, looking towards the town centre, the lounge and bedroom windows offered a jumbled panorama of pale tiled roofs, for all the world resembling crumbled biscuits, above which rose a forest of television aerials punctuated by the occasional brick-built belfry.
Once I had experienced my first summer in Comácchio I thanked my lucky stars that I did not live in the old centre. Above all at weekends it was invaded by hoards of tourists - mainly Italians, thankfully - from Porto Garibaldi and the other Lidi di Comácchio strung along the coast. Otherwise, the town was delightful. The huge weekly market selling everything from strings of garlic and monstrous marrows to ghetto-blasters and solar panels; the succulent apples from the orchard at the back of the house, which had a dulcet taste comparable to none I had ever eaten before; the glow worms twinkling in the allotments after dark on a summer’s night; the humble, family-run trattoria where I dined on at least two nights each week; the crusty, roughly-shaped loaves from the local bakery, which were sold warm from the oven and, containing chopped, dried fruit, were almost a meal in themselves. And the people. There was a spontaneous warmth and friendliness among these happy-go-lucky countryfolk which offered a welcome contrast to the cautious reserve I had frequently encountered in more northern countries.
Though I have to admit that it took some time before I accustomed myself to their extrovert, and often noisy ways, after the subdued societies of Norway, Austria and Germany. My neighbour on one side had a teenage daughter with whom she waged the most almighty of rows. To the point where I feared they were about to murder each other. Minutes afterwards I would see them swarming all over each other with love and affection. A couple of houses away, a lad in his early twenties was passionately fond of the 1980s band New Order, and on Saturday mornings the estate reverberated to high-decibel mega-mix versions of Blue Monday and Confusion while he tinkered with his high-powered motorbike. I gave silent thanks that he was not into techno.
Within a short time, nevertheless, I was beginning to feel part of a community, and the locals went out of their way to ensure that I really did become incorporated in it. The trattoria was situated in the centre of Villaggio San Francesco, and its predominantly male clientele, ranging from builders to businessmen, all lived or worked nearby. A set menu, with a couple of choices available for each of the three courses, was offered at a fixed price both at lunchtime and in the evening. The wine came in half-litre glass jugs, and was of local origin. Casa Luciana was a dying breed in Italy as dining out metamorphosed from a necessity for the away from home worker and labourer into a leisure activity where price and down to earth value for money rated for less than décor, extravagance and ostentation and where the up-market ristorantes battled with the fast food joints and pizza parlours to attract customers. What issued from Luciana’s daughter’s simple but spotless kitchen was ample, nutritious, satisfying, and never burnt a hole in the pocket, though it might occasionally scald the tongue.
Next door but one to Casa Luciana was the home of Giuseppe, the Villaggio San Francesco priest, who was about my age, and who also dined regularly in the trattoria. Wednesday night was when he held a ‘social’ at his house at which all ages were welcome, to share slices of the rich, dark torta tenerina (a hard chocolate cake which is popular in the Ferrara district) and glasses of locally distilled liqueurs, a potent combination indeed. It was not long before I was invited to join in the fun. I even went along to the occasional mass - not to participate, but simply to listen to, savour, and eventually (once I had learned the words) join in the singing, which was of a quality which would not have disgraced the chorus of a professional operatic company and which on numerous occasions stirred one to tears through its wealth of emotions. The church was proud of the cassettes and CDs its congregation recorded and sold in considerable numbers to visitors to Comácchio.
There is one more photo in the Travelogue . . .
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