The island flavor than once

isola del soleI discovered this book in the Ischian library of my cousin Vera Menegazzi Malcovati’s house, where I was used to come for holidays.  I was at the beginning of my English studies and it was not easy for me to read it, but I decided I wanted to put it in Italian. I was young and it took me a long time to translate it, partly because my everyday life was quite busy (I got married,

I had two children and I was regularly working), partly because the capacity the book had to make me “feel” the island made me so Ischiasick that I could not go on with the translation When I came to live in Ischia I finally enjoyed the work of translating it and also investigating everything about the authors and the times and places of their story. I discovered that they were in Ischia in 1930. I found the hotel where they stayed (knocked down when via Alfredo De Luca was created - and I found some photos), and the house they lived in for almost one year (l’Araucaria, at Punta Molino, which in the 40ies became Luchino Visconti’s home).
Thanks to internet, I also discovered something about their life after Ischia: they moved to Rome, as they say at the end of the book, where after one year their first child John was born on June 1932. Then they went to the USA, Putney, Vermont, where Geoffrey died in 1956. Kit passed away in December 1981 in Arizona.  But my investigations still continue…
I wanted to let Ischian and foreign people discover a book which not only brings back the flavour of the island as it was, but also shows the open and generous character of the inhabitants of the island, that, despite appearances, time has not changed. The many positive comments I received made my think I did it.
we had lunched several times at Barano with our good friends the Giustos. What meals! ‘Mama mia!’ kill the fatted calf for us, and this they had promised. But, as Cesare put it, his sisters could never quite grasp the fact that the English and Americans ate at frequent intervals all day long and consequently never had much of an appetite, while the Ischians had only one real meal, which was at midday.
We     protested that our principal meal was also in the middle of the day, but a close cross-examination by Cesare revealed that we ate, in addition to it, a late and scandalously large breakfast, a hearty tea, and a supper that was by no means a mere symbol. as the Ischians say. How did we survive them? We had earnestly entreated them not to The Giustos, on the other hand, rose at four o'clock in the morning, or, if they had kept late hours the previous night, at half past four, and, after a cup of black coffee and a peach, they purposed their various occupations until twelve o'clock dinner. Between this and bedtime they had nothing beyond a light supper of bread and cheese washed down by a glass of wine. It was understendable, then, that this midday colazione was no occasion for toying with food, but was a solid meal prepared by that excellent cook, the Signorina Margherits, the eldest sister.
And what a meal!
Cutting down breakfast the days we went to the days we went to of coping with it, was just about as useless as a drop of water is to the sea. Furthermore, after our first experience, we always gave Dominica the day off, knowing full well that upon our return we should be unable to face any meal, and feeling that we should never require her services in the future. It was not that we arrived wothout an appetite; on the contrary, our fast, the drive, and the invigorating air of the hills brought us to their table with a fine hunger. It was merely that we did not possess the physical space for storing away such mountains of food. From the first, everything tempted us toward gastric destruction. The lofty dining-rum, with its graceful domed ceiling and its high windows in the recesses of the enormously thick walls, was delightfully cool; the snow-white cloth and the neatly laid table, and above all the saporito odours that emanated from the adjoining kitchen, sorely tried our prudence. When the Signora Giusto had said grace, Cesare began uncorking his bottles; first a plain white wine to drink in the place of water, then another simple little wine (his words, not ours) to drink with the antipasti. This preliminary dish consisted of raw and cooked ham, pickled herring and anchovy, red peppers and capers, home-made bread and home-made butter. From the way we set about devouring these excellent things, one might have thought that they formed the chief part of the meal, and were not merely the prelude to it. Yet Cesare, with native courtesy, pressed us to second helpings, and, when we refused, would exclaim, ‘Non avete mangiato nulla!’ and all the family would look inexpressibly shocked at our lack of appetite.
Things started in earnest with the appearance of a steaming tureen of soup, a savoury, full-bodied essence of innumerable and, alas, most nourishing things, the secret of which was known alone to the Signorina Margherita. This in turn made way for a gargantuan bowl of rich, creamy pasta fatta in casa - home-made macaroni - accompanied either by an appetising meat sauce or one made of sun-dried tomatoes. With it, Cesare would produce ‘another little bottle.’ This dish was always the beginning of our defeat, partly because it was so innocently deceptive. It slid ingratiatingly down our throats, but, once safely inside, it assumed, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, terrifying proportions. We felt gastronomically paralysed, yet it was the moment we had to exert the greatest vigilance lest the Signorina Margherita or her sister, taking advantage of some remark we imprudently made about the beauty of the view, filled our plates with a second helping! Once on our plates, reasoning or no reasoning, we had to eat it. A lifetime of Ischian traditions were not swept so lightly aside on the feeble excuse that we had no more appetite. ‘Macché! Mangiate, mangiate!’ they would urge with fierce smiles.
It was useless to plead for the intervention of Cesare, for he, by then, had disappeared in search of more bottles. He was always extremely serious about the medicinal properties of his wines, although his modesty prevented him from commenting upon their excellence. This time it would be a red wine, stronger and better than the preceding vintages. It would cleanse the viscera, enrich the blood and far’ bene allo stomaco, and against this filling of glasses there was as little hope of appeal as against the second helpings of pasta. Carrying on a conversation in ltalian after all these libations - for only Cesare spoke English - was extremely difficult, but by then there was no time for talking, as the chief dish of the meal made its appearance. It might be a young kid roasted to a tender brown crispness, or one of those giant rabbits renowned for their delicate flavour, and of course surrounded by a variety of vegetables. By this time Kit had been reduced to silence. The corners of her mouth twitched into an automatic smile whenever she was addressed, but her eyes were glassy and her hand sought mine under the table for a squeeze of encouragement. Slowly, heroically, she munched on, aided only by the soothing vagueness of our host’s wines. At least, we thought, there could only be cheese and fruit to follow, and, according to Ischian lights, one was not obliged to eat them, but this illusion was confined to our first visit. It might be a White Leghorn, a Rhode Island Red, or a Plymouth Rock - a nasty name for anything so tender; perhaps it was just a plain, unpedigreed, but well-fattened native bird, but chicken it was. Never had I thought it possible to view so coldly anything so delicious. I heard myself stammering hypocritical exclamations of delight intermingled with abject regrets and excuses, lying statements about being under doctors’ orders and on a strict diet. The family swept them all aside with the statement that chicken was molto leggero - which by itself was a true enough statement - and that it was, in our case, molto indicato. Oh, no. It was not ‘indicated’ by any means. Much more indicated would have been a stretcher to carry us both out under the shade of a tree, leaving us to recuperate. To make matters more serious, all the best pieces were piled on to our plates.
Cheese and fruit we stolidly refused, but when old Signora Giusto rose from the table and disappeared into another room to return with a sweet she had made with her own hands, we knew that somehow, somewhere, we had to find a little extra place. It looked, and was, delicious, yet like Kit, who paled visibly, I felt that it was a pity we could not politely ask to have it packed up and take it home for consumption the following week.
It was then that Cesare tipped back his chair, and from the side-table deftly caught hold of a bottle covered with cobwebs, which had come to meet the light of day after maturing for nearly half a century in a dark corner of one of his numerous cellars. He admitted that there were few of its vintage left, for the wine had been laid down by his father before his birth, and, in bringing out one of these rare bottles for us, Cesare was not only making a hospitable gesture, but paying a singular compliment to our palates.
The wine was copper-
coloured rather than red, and its medicinal qualities as enumerated by our host would have sufficed to make a watering-place famous. At the sight of it, Kit came suddenly to life; the old New England sea captains in her blood rose eagerly to the occasion. They had sailed the seven seas, and, in addition to being connoisseurs of Jamaica rum, which Kit, thank heaven, is not, possessed no doubt a suitable appreciation for the excellence of Mediterranean wines. Rich as a cordial, mellow with age, it did possess some of the life-saving qualities which Cesare claimed for it. At each of our lunches at Barano, a similar bottle made its appearance as the granfinale.
At this point the family withdrew, leaving us with our host, who invariably offered us the option of a siesta on the matrimonial bed or a stroll in the vineyards. The former was more tempting, but we knew that if we once succumbed to laying our heads on one of the pillow-cases so aptly embroidered Buon Riposo, it would have needed more will-power than we possessed to rise again when the time came to go home. Therefore we chose the vineyards, often sitting down on the shady, grassy slopes under the pretext of admiring the view...


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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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